Beating Complexity And Gaining Clarity – How To Invent A Time Machine

How is it that there’s always someone who comes up with the good ideas? The ones which seem to make sense and the ones which appear simple yet brilliant? How is it that they seem to find an idea or a spark of creativity when others don’t? Do they possess some special gift or talent, or is this the result of a particular approach and certain set of behaviours?

In the beginning…

The clock in the middle of the picture says seven minutes to eight. All around it are other clocks and pendulums. A digital one appears to the right displaying 7:53.

As the camera pans down and to the right, a themed clock with a man drinking in time to a swinging pendulum comes into shot, before more ornate and character clocks symbolise an obsession with time.

The camera pans out to reveal a newspaper article, old photographs and some rubbish before the radio alarm clock clicks on.

The coffee percolator starts but with no jug, the hot water pours onto the vacant hot plate.

The morning news is on TV and the story being presented is of a nearby plutonium theft.

The toaster, also linked to a timer, ejects two slices of burnt toast; and then continues to do so repeatedly.

An elaborate network of clocks and wires comes into shot and a can is released down a short ramp before being grasped by a mechanical arm and swinging 180 degrees to an electric can opener.

The can is opened before the arm shifts back half way and tips what turns out to be dog food into a bowl on the floor – although most of the contents miss the intended target.

The arm continues and swings back to its original position; before the empty can is released into a bin containing half a dozen similar cans.

A door to the left opens to reveal an entrant wearing jeans and Nike trainers with a skateboard by their feet. The rest is history.

Watch it here.

So what?

If you’re an 80s child you know these images well, as the opening scenes to Back to the Future and an example of one of Doc Brown’s complex and intricate, yet mediocre inventions.

As the story goes, Doctor Emmett Brown is the perennial under-achieving inventor, creating failed invention after mediocre invention, suffering as much from a propensity for unnecessary complexity as from his over-thinking and desire to try too hard.

It seems his creations and inventions are forever destined for failure.

However, after falling whilst hanging a picture and banging his head on the toilet, he wakes with clarity of mind and draws a picture of his greatest and most successful invention which subsequently allows time travel – the flux capacitor.

But these moments in time aren’t only reserved for under-achieving inventors; for scientists or movies; and they aren’t limited to such feats as changing the space-time continuum. No, with the right approach, these moments are just as accessible to you and I on a daily basis.

Things don’t have to be complex. In fact, better that they’re not. Complexity is created out of several factors, but contributing to that include; trying to work too quickly or too hard, being overly focused on a task, having a narrow view and ignoring your inner sense; trying to create perfection and not sharing ideas.

In in a recent survey by David Rock, it was shown that executives come up with their best ideas during working hours only 10% of the time. And in fact the most common place for ideas to come was when taking a shower. This is in part due to the fact that at that point in time, the mind has slowed, there is no or little effort being given to the process of thought; the person is not focused on the problem and they have a clear and open mind which is listening to their instinct.

And in fact these are some of principles behind simple creative thinking which, if embraced, will inevitably lead to your best ideas.

7 Ways to Beat Complexity and Gain Clarity

1. Slow down and relax

Research has shown that when we take time off, when we slow down and reduce our output, then we change our context which can activate different parts of the brain and thus stimulate productivity.

Trying to move too quickly or work too fast can actually be counter-productive. So if what you want is fast output then go ahead – keep rushing; but if what you’re looking for is creative thinking or a considered approach then just pause, slow down and relax. In fact, do something completely different.

Hang a mirror, take a shower, go for a walk, take a break, talk to a friend or read a newspaper.

2. Don’t try too hard

Don’t over-think a problem. It often leads to limiting options or a narrowed perspective. Make a conscious effort to broaden out your thinking and ask yourself, ‘how else could I approach this?’ Divergent thinking is about opening your mind, exploring new options and is a key trait associated with successful leaders.

But don’t be afraid to leave the issue, idea, situation or decision and move on to something else for a while. In doing so, the likelihood is that you will open your mind to different possibilities.

3. Be an artist

When we’re active and expending energy we release dopamine which has been shown to increase creative thinking and problem solving. It’s why you’ll often have a good idea if you’re running, cycling or swimming. In these instances our minds become quiet and there is room to think; and we’re more likely to turn our attention inwards. However the same has been shown to be true when we write, paint, draw, or sculpt; listen to music or dance.

So make the time daily to be active or to be artistic. It all counts and can make all the difference.

4. Notice things

In research studying the notebooks and journals of creative figures from time, such as the Wright Brothers, Charles Darwin and T. S. Elliot, it’s clear that creativity doesn’t happen in a flash of brilliance but in a chain reaction over time.

I wrote here about the virtues of keeping a record of any ideas or thoughts as and when they arise. In addition, if you write down your ideas then they won’t clutter your mind. And if you write them somewhere and review them regularly, they may well just spark that element of creativity at a time you need it most.

5. Trust your instinct

If you’re gut tells you it’s a good idea, that it’s simple and makes sense; that it’s easy to understand and the right thing to do, then chances are you’re right. Conversely if it feels over complex, burdensome and difficult to comprehend then again, chances are you’re right.

Listen to that feeling and it’ll serve you well.

6. Make mistakes

Don’t be afraid to fail. Trial and error is key to creativity and often great ideas evolve from bad or mediocre ideas. The difference between them is sometimes marginal – but that difference can only be realised through evolution.

In the examples of the Wright Brothers, Darwin and Elliot, it was clear that all of them failed multiple times in theory and in practice before they became successful. And the only reason they succeeded in the end was that they kept going, kept trying and kept evolving.

7. Share your ideas

Don’t be afraid to share your ideas with others. Don’t worry that they’ll steal them. Similarly, don’t worry that they’ll laugh.

They may well criticise them, but that’s ok too. Listen to their comments openly and without being defensive.

Ultimately you can do what you want with their feedback, but hopefully, if you’ve chosen well, they’ll provide you with a different perspective – an insight – which might, just might, be the catalyst you need to move from a good idea to a great idea.

Develop a network of people you can share ideas with and do so frequently.


There are times when we could all benefit from that creative spark – that flash of brilliance which turns a difficult problem into a clear and inspired idea. But that creative spark is somewhat elusive in that it tends not to happen whilst we work to find it; more that it evolves as we allow our minds to relax and clear over time.

To GO NAKED is to embrace these ideas, to beat complexity and gain clarity. And in doing so you may very well create something of immense value which sets you apart from the majority.

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