It happens. You’ve done something so often and so well you’ve stopped thinking about it. And the next thing you know that assumption—that you know all this already—undercuts your performance while someone with half the experience and a quarter of the know-how creates a fresh spin no one’s thought of before. You were stuck; you just didn’t know it.
I wonder if Dr. Spencer Silver was stuck. He churned away, promoting his clever invention at every opportunity but without much success until a colleague came up with the idea of using Silver’s adhesive to “anchor his bookmark in his hymnbook” and presto! Post-it Notes were born.
The hard, cold fact is the more familiar we are with a task or a topic the more easily we can overlook a novel, fresh approach. Coupled with a dose of anxiety (about a deadline or a diagnosis) and we have the perfect formula for unproductive problem solving and teeth gnashing. The surprise factor is when it comes time for creative thinking focused concentration may not be your best friend.
While you may not want to share this with your focus-challenged teen, it turns out that people with ADHD who are prone to zoning out have an advantage. New Scientist reports, “If a person’s mind is wandering, they outperform their peers in a range of tasks where flashes of insight are important.” Who knew?
Unfortunately the dentist I worked for when I was 18 didn’t quite see it that way. (Apparently day dreaming with a suction device near the uvula isn’t such a good idea.) As you might imagine, the two types of thinking—focused concentration and creativity—are best chosen depending on the result we’re shooting for. Need an analytical slant while balancing your budge? Go for the focus. Solving a thorny problem? It may be time to take a break from heavy thinking. Substances, too, can help or hurt depending on your goal. Caffeine, for example, boosts focused concentration while a smooth Cosmo relaxes you enough to get your creativity on.
Relying on alcohol for novel solutions though could complicate your life and lead to tricky consequences so before you uncork anything consider these 4 concepts to get out of the box quickly: 1) Know that moments of insight can come from periods of relaxed day-dreaming; 2) To make this work ‘on demand’ requires personal mastery over anxiety—the creativity killer; 3) Taking a deliberate break from thinking or ruminating about the problem leads to faster and fresher solutions; and 4) Any type of relaxing meditative practice—a moonlit stroll, weeding your garden, listening to music or doodling lubricates the creative cogs.
As you notice each type of “thinking” chart your results, insights, and discoveries and share your findings with the next generation. As schools cut programs for the arts the fallout extends to hard sciences like engineering and physics, as creative thinkers in any discipline are prized. (Consider the rise of Apple for example.) We sell ourselves sort when we relegate creativity as a sole commodity of artists or choreographers. It’s actually related to our potential and a crucial ingredient of a happy, healthy lifestyle—something so important I ask clients to carefully consider in our work together. Of course, the most salient aspect of our creative work is designing a life that suits us. So relax, let a daydream carry you away and imagine what might be. And remember the next time you reach for a sticky note to look around and see where you might be stuck.
For specifics, stories, and research relating to the above listen to the live interview here.