For some time it has been recognised that problem solving tends to work through four stages:
- Play – when a problem and all its parts are analysed, stirred up, and understood, whether systematically or by a process akin to a child playing with food on a plate;
- Incubation – when the problem solver’s attention is turned away from the problem in hand, whether by getting up from the desk in search of a drink, or by having a good night’s sleep;
- Illumination – when the solution suddenly presents itself, often with a sense of certainty as to its rightness; and
- Verification – when the solution is tested against the problem and, more often than not, found to be the right answer.
What is going on here?
How can it be that ‘doing nothing’ (during “incubation”) can be so effective?
Our brains are made of two halves:
- The left side, which controls the right side of our bodies and is generally responsible for rational thought; and
- The right side, which controls the left side of our bodies and is generally responsible for creative and artistic activity.
So when we are ‘incubating’ a problem, it’s not that we are doing nothing, but rather we are giving the right side of our brains a chance to chip in and help out. Thus it can be very helpful to create distance between us and a problem, and this is well articulated in Prof’ Richard Wiseman’s book “Did You Spot the Gorilla?” The book makes clear that this can have major business benefits, as well as personal ones: consequently it’s not about Rational VERSUS Creativity but, by using both sides of our brains, its about harnessing Rationality AND Creativity.
Of course creating this distance can be difficult for those not used to it – but help could be at hand through co-coaching. Co-coaching is the process where people, working in pairs, support each other to improve their performance. From my experience as a participant in trials, co-coaching does help create distance between self and a problem. It also helps build urgency to get on and just do it!
For more information on co-coaching, see “cococo” in ‘Interesting Links”.
Accessing the benefits of both sides of our brains, can be a bit like using a campervan. The left (rational) side of our brains looks after maintenance, and keeps us within the law and the Highway Code. But that’s all a bit boring, and not why we buy a van.
The right (creative/artistic) side of our brains can help us decide where to go with the van, so we can wake up somewhere spectacular, and then fully appreciate the beauty of the moment.
As the advert’ puts it: “priceless”.