Founders Week: The Importance of Taking Time Out

As I mentioned briefly in my blog post discussing the launch of the Badger Academy, I went to a retreat back in January to take some thinking time away from work. I was cut off from the outside world. There was no internet. Mobile phones were not allowed. Writing and talking was even banned. It was pretty extreme. But it proved to be an enlightening experience not least for coming up with a plethora of new ideas, many of which were strategic ideas on how Red Badger could be improved.

Out of the back of the retreat, I had lots of ideas, a Red Badger Charity Division being one of them. As discussed in greater detail in the Badger Academy blog post, the Charity Division was all about improving our ability to develop from within, developing young talent to become senior leaders in their field. After 6 months of developing the idea in my spare time and with my colleagues, the charity division has now been superseded by Badger Academy, but the objectives have passed verbatim from one to the other. The mechanism through which we achieve the objective has changed.

This isn’t the first time that cutting myself off from the outside world has resulted in new ideas. At Burning Man, an art festival in the middle of the Nevada Desert which is totally cut off from any wifi or phone signal, I thought about bringing in Non-Exec Directors to help advise Red Badger. The move to bring in Mike Altendorf as a Non-Exec is one of the best things we have ever done at Red Badger. He has helped us to become a much more mature business, faster, stopped us from making mistakes (that he had made in the past) and helped us to re-shape how we do sales.

Building product as part of a pitch (via a Hackathon) was also thought up at the same retreat as the Charity Division this January. This new lean approach to sales “The Proof is in the Pudding” helped us to win the biggest project in our history in May.

I think you get the point. Cutting off wifi and phone signal is important in fostering creativity. It’s become such a distraction in everyone’s lives. If you sit on a bus on the way to work and look around you, everyone’s head is buried in a digital screen. On the bus, people contemplate less, do less book reading and less talking to each other in general. However, more important than just cutting yourself off from wifi or the telephone, taking time out is about giving your mind the space to think creatively and you can’t do this with the distraction of everyday life; internet or no internet.

I’m not saying we wouldn’t have gotten to these decisions or ideas  anyway. I expect Mike Altendorf would have joined our ranks eventually anyway. Or we might have started a Badger Academy eventually. I just don’t know. What I am sure of, is that it would have taken much longer had I not taken time out to just think.

Red Badger Founders Week

Reflecting on the value of the time I have had to myself, I have been doing some reading about it. It seems that taking time out is not uncommon. I watched a great 90’s documentary called “Triumph of the Nerds” in which Bill Gates talks about setting aside a week every year to read all of the books that he had in his “to read” list.

So I suggested to Dave and Stu that the three of us take a Founders Week, to do some more strategic thinking away from the day-to-day of running the business. After I suggested the  idea, it became apparent that Dave had also already been considering taking a week, but to himself, not the three of us together. When suggesting we do it together, both Stu and Dave were sold immediately.

Dave sent me this link: Take a Bill Gates-Style "Think Week" to Recharge Your Thinking on Lifehacker. The article by Michael Karnjanaprakorn talks about Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates all taking regular think weeks in the past. It links to some great articles “Creative Thinking Matters” which focuses specifically on Bill Gates' “think weeks”, what he used to do during the week and how much innovation evolved out of Microsoft as a result.

There is also a health aspect to taking time out. Michael Karnjanaprakorn is starting “Feast Retreats”. He says, Feast Retreats are for 20 people (max) where he will ban cell phone/WiFi usage throughout the weekend. “My goal is to share what I learned during my time off with The Feast community. There will be lots of yoga, healthy eating, and personal development to show the value and power of taking time off.”

All of the articles I have read about the power of time off can’t speak highly enough about the value it brings in promoting creative thinking, innovation and an increase in company productivity.

So, Stu, Dave and I are taking our first “Founders Week” at the end of November. We are going to book a cottage somewhere just outside of London, switch our phones off and take some time to ourselves. We’re not sure exactly what we’re going to do yet, but we all have books we want to read that we just haven’t had chance to yet, we’ll eat healthily and probably do some workshops. Apart from that, it’s just an opportunity to take some time to think, reflect and generally relax our minds.

The benefit I am sure will result in a rapid generation of new ideas that will impact Red Badger for years to come.