Letting your subconscious help solve business problems
Perhaps it should not be surprising that about 10% of the respondents to our CEO Survey said they used dreams to help solve their problems. Dream expert Sheila McNellis Asato* says people have always used dreams to solve problems.
During the industrial revolution, the development of mass-produced cloth outpaced innovations in sewing, which was still done by hand. Nobody could figure out how to build a machine that could sew. That’s when Elias Howe started having recurrent nightmares about being attacked by cannibals thrusting spears in his face. He’d always wake up in fright, but one night he decided to just keep dreaming. He let the cannibals get closer until he saw their spears had holes at their tips. Voila! The secret to inventing a sewing machine was to move the eye of the needle from the end to the tip. A contemporary example is that the origin of Google was a dream the Founder and CEO Larry Paige had during college.
Sheila says the answers come from our subconscious, not only while dreaming, but also in those fringe zones just before we fall asleep and just when we awaken. This conforms to the comments we received from several CEOs:
“I dreamt I had a conference call with potential investors for a start-up I own called OOTA. They peppered me with very substantial and challenging questions. I was able to answer all of them and have a full conversation, taking in new information and balancing that with my own ‘owner bias.’ I was able to see their perspectives as to the challenges they see in making the investment. I also did math on the call. And the math was right. :)”
—Andrew Eklund, CEO, Ciceron
“I’m not sure if I’m actually dreaming— it could be kind of be a daydream — but at night all of a sudden I’ll wake up with a revelation about how to solve a problem that I’ve been stewing over. Usually get up and write it down because otherwise I’ll forget it. Then I can’t get back to sleep because I’m excited about having discovered this new solution. This happens about once a month, but If I’ve got a lot of change or stress, it might happen more frequently, a few times a month at the most.”
—John Palen, CEO, Allied Executives
“When I have an overwhelming problem and think about it before I go to bed, I’ll dream a solution. This happens quite often with me, because I’m so obsessed with my businesses. Then I don’t actually recall the dream, but I wake up and the solution is there. I’m like, why didn’t I think of that?”
—Lynn Gordon, Founder & CEO, French Meadows Bakery
And finally, there’s the dream that saved St. Jude Medical:
“A challenge with making the St. Jude heart valve is that we were the first ones to use pyrolytic carbon. Like glass, it can shatter with too much compression. You have to distort the ring to get the leaflets in, but that kept breaking the ring. In February, 1978 we made 100 rings but only three survived. I got used to hearing all the engineers say, ‘Manny, we got it. We got it.’ But they were wrong. Then one night in March during the middle of a blizzard, I get a call at three o’clock in the morning. At the other end is Peter Grombrich, who was in charge of physics and production. ‘Manny, Manny,’ he says, ‘I got it, I got it.’ I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah of course. Of course you’ve got it.’
“He says, ‘No, no, Manny. I really got it. I had a dream and in the dream it told me how to do it. Come on, I’ll meet you at the office at five o’clock in the morning.’ At which point I said, ‘No Peter, I’ll see you at nine o’clock.’”
“When I got to the lab there were 13 rings on the table. I sat down and I did all 13. I asked, ‘What in the world did you learn in your dream?’ He told me, but I’ve never told anyone else. We made it a trade secret, and without it, I almost closed down St. Jude.”
—Manny Villafaña, Founder & CEO of eight startups, including St. Jude Medical
TIPS FOR DREAMING BIG
1. Before going to bed, fix your intention by thinking deeply about your problem.
2. Formulate the dream you would like to see.
3. Create a short phrase of 10 words or so and repeat it as you fall asleep.
4. Write down any solutions as soon as you wake up; don’t talk or start thinking about anything else.
5. Reflect on all of your dreams; sometimes the answer is hidden.
6. Purposeful dreaming is a skill, so keep practicing.
7. You may have to repeat your search for several nights to get an answer.
8. Have sweet dreams!