Daydream Believers

Don't enter Walter Mitty land just yet--read this article first, and find out how some entrepreneurs are using reverie to shape reality.
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7 min read

This story appears in the May 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

While Lonny Kocina's body jogs around a track, his mind runs free. The 43-year-old founder and president of public relations firm Media Relations Inc. couples his daily workout with an exercise in daydreaming that helps him solve problems, identify opportunities and boost his creativity.

Dictating daydreams into a tape recorder as he jogs, Kocina returns with ideas for projects that have ranged from an alliance with an ad agency to bedtime stories about a fictional Camp Wacki Kooki for his children. These dreams aren't ephemeral, Kocina stresses. The ad agency alliance is generating referrals, and a series of recorded tales about Camp Wacki Kooki is now sold in retail stores nationwide.

Corporations such as AT&T and advertising firm J. Walter Thompson also use daydreaming and the related technique of guided imagery to create new products, research consumer attitudes and suggest answers to knotty problems. It's not as crazy as it sounds, says Harry Barrett, a consultant with Synectics Inc., a Cambridge, Massachusetts, management consulting firm that specializes in innovations and creativity. "Guided imagery or daydreaming is simply giving permission to the mind to wander and come up with some new connections," Barrett says.

Fans say daydreaming is simple, inexpensive, powerful and flexible enough to use for a broad spectrum of business challenges. Kocina has grown his company to 50 employees, making it one of the largest media relations firms in Minneapolis. According to him, "It was the result of doing all this daydreaming."

Mark Henricks is an Austin, Texas, writer who specializes in business topics and has written for Entrepreneur for nine years.

Early Dreamers

One of the first practitioners of productive daydreaming may have been Archimedes. In the third century BC, the Greek scientist and inventor was taking a bath--another technique modern daydreamers use to relax and free the mind--when he suddenly grasped a method for determining whether a gold crown was alloyed with a cheaper metal.

More recently, Sigmund Freud wrote extensively and influentially about the psychological importance of dreams, including daydreams. Synectics began investigating daydreaming as an invention and problem-solving tool about 40 years ago, Barrett says, after consultants noticed famous inventors often reported making key discoveries while their minds roamed in relaxed states.

Daydreaming is appreciated as a valuable tool in other arenas as well. Visualization, for instance, in which athletes essentially daydream their own superlative performances, is widely used to enhance sports proficiency. Despite its history, however, daydreaming is in poor repute today with many.

"Daydreams are often seen as a waste of time," says Diane Barth, a New York City psychotherapist and author of Daydreaming: Unlock the Creative Power of Your Mind (Viking Penguin). "Most of us have to train ourselves to pay attention to them."

Yet many of us daydream, and productively, too, says Barrett. "A lot of people say they have their best ideas at night, when they get up in the morning, in the shower or during a long taxi ride," he says. "Basically [when] people are in a semi-trance state, their mind is free to wander and come up with new ideas."


Barrett describes daydreaming as "putting yourself in a position to let an accident happen." At the same time, however, productive daydreaming is often purposefully planned.

The idea is to relax and enter a semi-trance state with means ranging from leaning back in a soft chair in a room with dim lights and soft music to driving a car. A problem or question is posed, and the subject lets his or her mind wander. The resulting images are recorded or written down for evaluation and implementation. In Inquire Within: 24 Visualizations for Creativity & Growth (Whole Person Associates), author Andrew Schwartz, president of A.E. Schwartz & Associates, a management training and professional development provider in Boston, describes numerous techniques, including progressive relaxation and breathing exercises, to get in the right frame of mind for productive daydreaming.

Schwartz provides written guidelines to be read aloud, recorded and played back while you daydream. A typical exercise instructs the daydreamer to imagine he or she is in various settings such as a tropical paradise or preparing to dive into a pool of water. Narration guides the daydreamer through imagined activities or experiences that often serve as metaphors for real-life situations. The Decision Dive exercise, for instance, relates the experience of making a difficult decision to dive off a tall cliff.

The idea is to provide the daydreamer with an experience that will help his or her real-world performance, Schwartz says. "The most obvious area to work with is sales," he says. "Let's say somebody is afraid of cold-calling; they've been rejected 20 times, and they're emotionally paralyzed." Daydreaming can help a reluctant salesperson relax, experience a call with less stress and become open to learning new skills, Schwartz says.

Exercises may also be done in groups, often with the help of a trained facilitator. Joey Wolff, a partner in Solomon/Wolff Associates, a Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, market research firm, first gathered corporate executives together to daydream ideas for marketing telecommunications to small businesses in 1987. In a dimmed room, dreamers were taken through a creative visualization process and encouraged to imagine running a small business. Afterward, they wrote down their dreams and compared notes. One such session can generate hundreds of potentially useful ideas, says Wolff, who still uses the technique today.

You can also daydream successfully while exercising, walking or bathing. In fact, it's a good idea to occupy at least part of your mind with something else while letting your daydreams spin, Barth says.

Barrett teaches a technique for daydreaming that prompts you to listen to someone else talk, and take notes on what you hear and what you imagine. "Quite frequently, people come up with connections between seemingly irrelevant things they're thinking and what the speaker is saying," he says. "It's very powerful."

Ripe For Analysis

Writing down or otherwise recording a dream session is vital. "One of the worst-case scenarios is that you have a great idea and it pops out of your head [before you can record it]," says Barrett. Dreamers should always be prepared: Keep a pad and pen or recorder nearby.

You also must carefully evaluate, through research and analysis, the real value of your ideas. "At some point, you have to step back from the daydream and figure out what's reality," says Barth. "Daydreams aren't going to show you what's viable. That's not their job."

Daydreams can even be dangerous if you fail to distinguish fantasy from reality, adds Barrett. "The risk is expecting too much and taking [your daydreams] too seriously," he says.

Daydream without action limits your ideas to figments of your imagination, reminds Kocina. "That's a step people miss," he says. "Everybody's out there daydreaming something. Not too many people take a pencil and write down how they can accomplish it."

Real Men Daydream

One ever-present fear of daydreaming is that you'll look foolish. "We risk being misunderstood," acknowledges Joe Phelps, CEO of The Phelps Group, a Santa Monica, California, integrated marketing communications company that uses a combination of light hypnosis and daydreaming to probe consumer attitudes. "Hypnosis isn't an official word we use."

Kocina isn't reluctant to be branded a daydreamer, however. In fact, he's kept and framed his second-grade report card that noted "Lonny is a dreamer and getting worse every day."

"I've always been a daydreamer," Kocina acknowledges. "It's what business is really grown on."

Next Step

The Synectics Corp. Web site ( contains background material on daydreaming's practical use in business.

Contact Sources

A.E. Schwartz & Associates, fax: (617) 926-0660,

Media Relations Inc., (800) 999-4859,

The Phelps Group, (310) 752-4400,

SolomonlWolff Associates, (973) 263-1409,

Synectics, (617)868-6530,

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