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Summertime - doldrums, downtime, deadlines and discovery

CHICAGO, July 11, 2014 () – There are a few pretty distinct seasonal fluctuations in most industries, including packaging. Some are broad-based, others a bit more regionalized. For an example of the latter, I need look no further in my background than the prevalence of manufacturing plant shutdowns during the opening week of deer hunting in November in Wisconsin. Similar traditions exist in other regions and you’ll have your own that quickly come to mind.

The most extended seasonal impact is summer in the Northern Hemisphere. It seems especially sweet this year after a long, brutal winter to enjoy the days and nights, even if punctuated by unusually high rain.

Taking the dog for the last walk of the day in the rain feels far better than bundling up and slogging through the drifts. We’ll see how long that lasts, with the sure knowledge that the upper Midwest carries the firm promise of seasonal variety. I’m for enjoying the moments as they come.

Our experience of time changes as we dedicate some of it to the pursuits of summer, including vacations and holidays. Time can slow, at best deliciously so, but deadlines always have the ability to speed up the clock.

Is there a seasonal ebb and flow of packaging innovation and progress, and what should we do about it? For brand owners who have planned their product cycles to coincide with what they have determined are the most favorable introduction times of the year, implementation timetables don’t come to a halt. Key actions are still key actions and resource planning may become more complicated in light of people taking time off, but product introductions work on very firm deadlines, with major financial implications for missing them.

So the reality is that we all have to make adjustments, and those I speak to almost to a person recount the extra push required to get their desks cleared of critical items before ‘going away’, and the catch up game upon return.

Most have decided to spend some time each or every other day keeping current on email to minimize the inevitable deluge, and taking a call or two on vacation has always been quite common, but both can now be done in more pleasant circumstances with sophisticated mobile technology. Just don’t talk too loud, or you’ll annoy or wake the person next to you at the pool!

Yes, it’s harder to reach people, especially if that person is from a country in Western Europe where everyone appears to have gone on vacation at the same time. (Is it just me, or has this been dialed back a bit, perhaps another regional impact of globalization)? And lead times for samples or pilot plant time may be extended. But even so, it’s possible to get real and good work done on real and good initiatives.

In fact, a lower level of normal interactions and requests can be just what is needed to generate focused and dedicated time to tackle particularly difficult or nagging problems. Or to do the speculative thinking that can lead to breakthrough ideas to move things forward. And some of that can actually be done on break, without wrecking your vacation.

A change in scenery, culture, activity, people, or whatever - breaking the patterns of normal work-centered life - can be a dramatically empowering source of discovery. A valuable creativity tool is to adapt and adopt some characteristic from a seemingly disconnected source to be part of a solution.

Inspiration can come from looking at things from a completely different perspective, and being playful with what you see, hear and experience.

Please don’t knock yourself out asking how everything you encounter can be the source of the Big Idea you seek or need; it will tire you, and frustrate those you are with. This isn’t something that works better the harder you work at it; sort of how we can remember the name of that movie after we stop thinking so hard about it.

Instead, make a small, generalized list of some things that have been resistant to solution. Tell yourself you want to generate some new approaches for them while you are taking the pattern break, and then stop worrying about it.

My experience is that with a little confidence and practice in staying relaxed about it, you will have thoughts pop into your head, seemingly at random. Trust that the many levels at which a mind operates is capable of doing some background processing, while you experience new things (or even old things in a new way). Just don’t forget to jot down the essence of the idea when it comes to you so you can access it easily later.

I’m not channeling my inner Yoda (“Always in motion the future is”). (Well, maybe I am!) What I am suggesting is that with a conscious decision to be more open to possibilities, turning things around, and being more playful with ideas and connection making, breaks from work can be sources of insight into solutions for problems of work.

It is really interesting to see how well it is possible to think when we allow ourselves to take the pressure off. Give it a try.

Timothy Bohrer is the owner of Pac Advantage Consulting

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