Think and drive

Drive safely and think creatively with the AA's seven point plan

arrive at your destination safely, with new ideas, solutions, and wiser decisions

arrive at your destination safely, with new ideas, solutions, and wiser decisions

Your car journey is probably one of the best opportunities in your day to make the most of your potential to think creatively, generate great new ideas or reflect on profound decisions.

Our brains have got this amazing ability to multi-task: while you are concentrating on your driving and focussing on making sure you arrive safely at your destination, your brain can also be working in a background mode on many other things.

Imagine a car with a chef and kitchen on board: while you are travelling your brain is able to cook-up new things.

We all have great creative potential but most of us fail to unleash our potential. Among the biggest enemies of creativity are lack of time and not knowing how to manage your creative thinking.

Driving is a great creative opportunity because:

  • Your focus is on driving
  • It has a distinct start and end
  • The journey is a change of environment for you
  • You are free from most distractions that can capture your attention
  • The car trip is often combined with different phases of the day – such as going to or from work
  • The journey has the potential to be better managed for your creative thinking

Get your brain in gear

Our brains essentially have three gears:

  • Gear 1 is where you do the immediate, the obvious, without having to consciously think about it
  • Gear 2 is focussed concentration
  • Gear 3 is ‘unconscious musing’ when you let your unconscious mind freely wander and drift off. It is here we often get our best ideas from what is called ‘incubation’


You will get your best quality ideas from incubation: the problem is getting it to work to order. You can manage how you incubate to encourage, prompt and capture new ideas, solutions and more considered opinions on difficult decisions.

By following these tips you can manage your brain to drive in Gear 1 and 2 modes to get you safely to your destination, but also engage your Gear 3 in a background mode during the journey and safely incubate while you drive.

Our seven point ‘Think and Drive’ plan

1. Define your problem as a question

The first step in being creative or innovative is asking a question:

So you might be asking yourself “How can I get my children or the boss to…”, “What better ways are there for…”, “Why do we….” , “Where do we need to…?”

Challenge yourself to ask better quality questions. At the heart of outstanding creative thinking is asking what are called ‘beautiful questions’.

You can always tell you have a beautiful question because your ideas ooze out, there is no stopping you. Equally, you can tell when you have an ‘ugly’ question because you cannot think of anything.

Challenge every assumption in any question, and make it as specific as possible.

Avoid fuzzy general questions like, “How can I be happier?”

Use a combination of scoping questions such as: “What is the real problem here?” Then develop more specific questions such as: “How can I get the children to do their homework between 4pm and 6pm?”

2. Forget about your question

Concentrate on your driving.

While you are focussed on driving safely your unconscious brain is at work. 

By incubating it allows your thoughts to forget about what you might have identified as obstacles and barriers. It allows you to think of other alternatives.

3. Add variety to your journey

By doing things differently it will encourage you to think differently. On every journey you could...

  • Listen to a different radio station
  • Go by a different route
  • Start at a different time
  • Vary any routines when you start driving

4. Use new triggers on your journey to nudge your thinking

  • What is it you like about any favourite car on the road? 
  • What makes the design or logo on a vehicle work?
  • What is unusual about any landmark you have passed?

Use any good or bad details you observe to feed into your thoughts.

5. Capture your ideas

Crucially, it is vital you capture your ideas; otherwise they will disappear often forgotten forever.

Ideally, pull over if safe to do so, or use some tricks to help you remember such as visualising your idea, repeatedly say it out aloud, or create some association with another idea to help.

6. Keep an 'ideas log book'

Keep your ideas in your own ‘ideas log book’. Identify what action steps you need to take to make them happen.

7. Positive frame of mind

Congratulate yourself on completing your journey safely while also making full use of the creative opportunity. Go on with your day in a positive frame of mind.

What sort of creative driver are you?

When it comes to using your creativity what type of creative driver are you? By recognising your different strengths and weaknesses you can make best use of your talents and potential.

Destination driver

Your focus is very much on a specific goal you want to reach – and be the first to arrive there. Your strengths are that you are literally, very driven. You will make things happen. The problem however, is sometimes other routes or interesting diversions can be overlooked in your single-mindedness to get there first.

Questions to ask on your journey:

  • Are there better alternatives?
  • Do I need to think longer term?
  • Do I need to be sensitive to the needs of others?

Mapbook driver

You are very methodical and pay attention to detail. You plan well and make sure you complete the journey and can be guaranteed to turn up on time. Your weakness is that unscheduled alternatives, which could make things better, may get ignored or overlooked.

Questions to ask on your journey:

  • What is the really important thing here?
  • Do I need to be more flexible?
  • Is the schedule getting in the way of things?

Hairpin bend driver

You drive fast, with the music on full volume. You are comfortable in changing direction, adapting to whatever comes up on your journey, both good and bad, even getting lost. Sometimes, however, you can go the long way around, when there is a shorter, more direct route. Although you start off on more journeys – you don’t always complete them.

Questions to ask on your journey:

  • Is there a simple, more obvious solution?
  • How do I make the idea happen?
  • If I am in other people’s shoes, what would they think of my idea?

Scenic route driver

Enjoying the scenery, getting there in your own good time without any stress is more important to you than getting their quickly or to a schedule. A careful, considerate driver who is willing to go off route to please others, yet in wanting to ensure everyone is happy you may sometimes avoid making any decision. You can also exasperate others who want to go faster, to a plan, or with the music on full volume.

Questions to ask on your journey:

  • What are the urgent first small steps I need to take?
  • How do I make others aware of all the issues in a situation?
  • How do I avoid taking any negative reactions personally?

(12 April 2012)