Why the best to fix a problem could be to take a holiday.

One of the most enduring challenges we face today is the ability to problem solve, and quickly. With the information deluge and glut of technical expertise the most valuable contribution to our sustainable competitive advantage is our ability to think creatively.

Sorry that was a bit of a mouthful – what that means is that to do well, it helps to be able to think quickly in a more creative way.

It’s not that we’re not naturally creative, despite the brain-myth folklore of being either right or left brained, but heavy workloads, gollops of stress and multiple demands all vying for our attention can make accessing this way of thinking tricky.

Which is why having greater brain awareness around how to tap into our natural creativity is so important.

When facing with yet another “urgent” challenge, our natural response is often to knuckle down and keep focusing hard on the problem, after all that’s how we were taught to think at school.

“Jones, I needed you to be working on that Omega debacle yesterday! Tell me when it’s fixed” 

But does this actually work?

Well sometimes it does. A little bit of logic, analysis and reasoning can go a long way to resolving a problem.  Just ask Holmes “It’s elementary my dear Watson.”

But not always.

Sometimes the best way to solve a problem, especially one of those gnarly toe curling ones that’s keeping us awake at night needs a completely different approach.

Just leave it alone.

Yes, ignore it, pack it away, and maybe book yourself a little holiday or long weekend away.

Whaaaat?

Well perhaps you’ve experienced what happens if you’ve done this in the past. You’ve just driven to a country retreat, unpacked the cases and settled in for a nice glass of wine and then Bingo! Or as Archimedes said “Eureka!” After struggling all that time on a problem for weeks that had more departmental brains working on it than a neurosurgical team, all of a sudden the answer arrives by Express Cerebral Post, neatly gift wrapped and it’s the most perfect and obvious solution that seemed to have been waiting for you all along.

The bliss of insight. Ahhhhh.

Insight is guided by our brain’s right hemisphere. It is fast and can be elusive, but is available to all of us if we remember to do one thing: uncouple from our focused thought.

The advantage of insight is that being primarily a subconscious process it doesn’t chew up our limited conscious thinking energy. As you know thinking hard can be hard work!

The biggest challenge to engaging this alternative route to problem solving is often the way a workplace is set up. Operating according to rules, policies and procedures, because “that’s the way things are done around here” is fine for consistency (and sometimes safety) but terrible for innovation and ‘free-range’ thinking.

Just as free-range chooks are happier egg layers, free-range thinkers enjoy the freedom and joy of feeling safe (and encouraged) to think laterally and not be judged for suggesting a new or better way of doing. When our brain is relaxed and unfettered from too much focus we enjoy the benefit of accessibility to our prefrontal cortex and the deepest caverns of our unconscious thought.

So can you develop more creative and insightful thinking? Sure. Here are a couple of things that can help the process.

Take time out to think.

In addition to some comfy clean straw for the chook pen (just kidding) having a work culture that encourages time out to think fosters imagination and new ideas. In certain professions – think lawyers, accountants and doctors where they are paid for billed time this can be harder, but can be worked around. That means scheduling in regular thinking space for 10-15 minutes or more each day.

Stay in a good mood.

Feeling happy and positive opens our mind to new ideas and alternatives. It makes it far easier to switch between options and strategies and helps us make the best or appropriate choice at that time.

Relax.

Taking time out is not time wasting but the perfect time to revitalize and allow your mighty subconscious to enjoy a little productive mind wandering. Relaxing in a different environment away from work broadens our perspective and encourages new associations of previously unlinked thoughts. Which rabbit hole do you fancy exploring today?

Get outside and move

Yes there’s another good reason for getting out of the office because aerobic exercise boosts the brain’s natural plasticity AND enhances neurogenesis – the production, survival and maturation of new neurons. Yes our marvelous brain is a renewable resource (in a somewhat limited capacity), capable of delivering around 700 new neurons every day.

Not only that it reduces stress levels as well as boosts our mood, the perfect ingredients for greater creativity. Blanchette and others in 2005 showed how our creative potential is increased immediately and for 2 hours post exercise. What are you waiting for; let’s get those trainers on now!

Sleep tight

Tired brains don’t operate at their best. Period. Getting enough shuteye is crucial to better thinking and access to our imagination and creative thought processes.

While it may not be practical to go on ‘hols’ every time a new problem shows up, adding in some cerebral creative space is ideal for providing our brain the choice of which route it believes will offer the best solution most quickly.

How do you solve those tickly problems?

Are you an analytical logic seeker or do you also enjoy playing in the sandpit of creative thought and insight?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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