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Awaken Your Brain

The best meeting planners thrive because they are uberorganized. Like a pilot, they follow checklists and procedures that keep their meetings airborne and on a path that avoids turbulence.

But so much structure is like a straightjacket for your brain. Those same well-worn, reliable routes and routines that keep us from short-circuiting in times of super stress can also be lead balloons that quash the light, limber part of the brain where creative thoughts live.

A 2012 study about creativity concluded that by diversifying experiences, “people break their cognitive patterns,” which leads to more flexible and creative thinking.

And if any profession needs to nurture creativity, it is the meetings industry. Meetings are all about ideas and sharing them; it would be sad if the professionals who planned meetings were always doing so by rote.

As an early holiday gift, give yourself a mental massage and kick-start your brain. The supercomputer in your cranium awaits a reboot to start the new year with new ideas. Here are some ideas from the experts.

Take a thought walk. Walking alone or with others is a great way to refresh and restart your brain. Many of the great thinkers, from Thoreau to Freud, percolated their thoughts while perambulating. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was a fan of walking and talking. More than 2 million viewers have watched business innovator Nilofer Merchant’s TED talk in which she suggests turning small meetings into moving experiences that let ideas flow as you walk and talk; see it yourself at

Do everything differently. Shake up your day for a week. If you have coffee in the morning, have tea instead. If you always read the local newspaper online, choose one from a different city, or try a different morning news show. Come up with five different ways to get to your office and take a new one each day. On the drive, listen to a different radio station every day.

Start conversations, then listen. Matt Weiner, the genius behind Mad Men, was asked how he came up with some of his best — and most bizarre — story lines. Many, he said, came from listening to his seatmates on long flights. Apparently, there is something about being trapped in a seat at 30,000 feet that makes people open up to strangers. You don’t have to take a cross-country flight to listen to people, though. From the guy frothing your Frappuccino to the lady ringing up your groceries, people share snippets that get our minds moving in new directions. Victor W. Hwany, who co-founded T2Venture Capital, said simply, “Talk to weird people. Striking up conversations with people who are different from you can be powerful.”

Change your place in the world. Volunteer to do something outside your comfort zone. Instead of sitting at a desk working on your computer, stand on a ladder and install siding at a Habitat for Humanity build. Or abandon adulthood and jump back into your childhood. You won’t be alone. For example, according to an article in the New Yorker, coloring books for adults are a big hit, with two titles, “Secret Garden” and “Enchanted Forest,” topping the sales list at Amazon for a time this year. Coloring lights up the right brain, making it a great spark for creative minds. So grab a box of Crayolas and brighten up your brain.