We’ve all had that experience of having a great idea or flash of insight while having a shower or walking the dog (I don’t have a dog so just walking for me).
In the research this is known as incubation — we all kind of know it, we have the expression “sleep on it” but I still see, so many times, business folk in rooms desperately trying to solve a tricky problem. Also the research doesn’t always show an effect and this to varying degrees.
So what is the best thing to get our brain to solve those tricky little and big problems?
It does indeed depend on the type of problems. So let’s review:
- Incubation has strong effect on complex problems
- Incubation has a strong effect on creative problems
- Light activity helps the incubation effect (hence why you get those ideas when walking or showering), but not intense activity or intense cognitive activity
- Easy problems should be focused on, difficult ones are helped by incubation
- Visual and linguistic problems don’t seem to be influenced by incubation
- Structured thinking processes can help insight (so it’s not just incubation!)
- “Fixation” may be the problem — when we become too fixated and limiting cognitive resources, rather than incubation
- Therefore short breaks can be effective as well
- Incubation helps tap into implicit and explicit knowledge — if we don’t have the knowledge base or experience, it may not help us as much as we expect
- And if we didn't know it, pressure tends to decrease problem solving ability, often dramatically
So take a rest, and take a walk, for better creativity and problem solving — read about this in my post on the brain and the potent impacts of walking here (including how it boosts brain growth).
Andy is author of leading brains Review a monthly e-magazine on all things the brain, behaviour, and business