While focusing 100 percent of your energy on your business may seem the path to success, having varied interests can be the key to making you better at your work. Erin Hopmann, co-founder and CEO of Dabble, a Chicago-based company that offers one-time courses in everything from pasta making to calligraphy and glassblowing, says dabbling in different interests can stimulate the creative juices, expand your network, and aid in the pursuit of better balance.
“I don’t know an entrepreneur that doesn’t say I could have a better work-life balance. Taking a one-off class can give you some pause in your schedule that’s needed, especially when you find yourself burning the midnight oil,” says Hopmann. Not only does being knowledgeable in a number of areas make you more interesting and well-rounded, it can make you smarter and improve your business.
Neuroscientist Jeff Stibel, author of Wired for Thought, says Dabble is definitely onto something. “The brain is a multitasking machine,” he says, arguing the most successful entrepreneurs are those who have an intense amount of focus and discipline across a number of subject areas. “That’s quite a unique thing and it’s why we prize entrepreneurs in our society,” he says.
Entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk, who runs multiple multi-billion dollar companies, are good examples. “People wonder how can he do that, but I suspect if you talk to Musk, he’d say, 'How could I not? If I didn’t do this, I wouldn’t be good at what I do,'” says Stibel.
What happens to the brain when we dabble?
Dabbling is cross-training for the brain. Pursuing interests in a variety of subjects stretches the mind and pushes the imagination, causing us to be more creative. Dabbling is simply a way of gathering new information and experimenting with new ways of doing something. It causes you to think differently about everything else that you do, a process which can lead to incredible innovation. “The best way to discover something is to take an existing concept in one discipline and apply it to another,” says Stibel. Hopmann says Dabble fields lots of fan mail from people who have felt inspired after taking their courses, showing inspiration can come from the most unexpected places – even a glassblowing class.
We build a stronger brain. Dabbling in diverse interests strengthens neural connections in the brain. Your brain is a muscle, so just as your abdominals get stronger with the more crunches you do, the more you exercise your brain, the better it will perform.
Recharges. While you might feel taking a personal-interest course in knitting, for example, is giving your brain a break from the problem solving you spend all day doing, Stibel says far from turning off the brain, taking a personal-interest course changes the challenge for the brain which makes you more efficient and productive when you return to the task at hand. “The way you’re recharging is stopping a particular problem and doing something very different,” he says. While the brain can only handle so much of one task before it starts to shut down, Stibel says it can handle a lot of many different tasks. “When you hit that breaking point and take a break and hit another one, your brain can ramp back up, so you’ll be twice as productive as you would have been otherwise by just doing a single task,” says Stibel.
As the CEO of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp, Stibel has encouraged the idea of dabbling by allowing employees to create clubs that match their personal interests. From the whiskey club, to the Russian club, a running club and even a push-up club, these organically-formed groups provide employees with the opportunity to dabble in their personal interests while at work and has resulted not only in a happier workplace, but a more productive and innovative one as well.
“They’re designed to free the mind from the core tasks that people are doing and refocus on other things then come back [to the task] refreshed with a new perspective and jump back in,” he says.