Less is More

Ever wake up in the middle of the night with a great idea?  Or, perhaps when you awake in the morning, you have a new insight to a nagging problem.

Well, neither of those would surprise a sleep researcher for it is now well established that your brain does not shut down just because you nod off.  In fact, some believe that the brain is really doing some cool stuff when you are fast asleep.

There is a group of brain scientists who believe that during sleep the brain is not only storing the memories of the day's events but also attempting to make connections between your stored information and your immediate needs - in other words, solve problems that may have preoccupied you during the day. 

Studies of REM (rapid eye movement) have proven that our brain cells are definitely firing during sleep. While tomorrow I am going to tell you about a fascinating study that establishes the brain's creative activities during the night, let me give you the headline today … a quote from the study's senior author:

"There is evidence, in fact, that REM is this creative memory domain when you build different associations, combine things in different ways, and so on."

(Emphasis Added)

The good news is that a good night's sleep can be much more than just a time of rest.  As you will learn in future blog posts, a good sleep (and even a nap) can be a very valuable tool in building on the creative process.  

Jim Randel is the founder and author of The Skinny On book series, condensed explanations of important life skills.  One of his books is The Skinny on Creativity.

Randel's books are currently best sellers in China - three of his e-books in the top 100 best- selling e-books in China.

OK, so hopefully I have persuaded you that there are times when a creative idea comes best when you stop thinking about (obsessing over?) a particular problem.

You unleash your mind to freely associate - to roam as it sees fit.  This is the incubation period we have discussed in prior blog posts.

So, can you enhance this incubation period?  Can you take steps to make it more productive, i.e. more likely to come up with a great creative idea, and perhaps more quickly than it otherwise might?

After reading everything I could find on the subject, I have concluded that the answer is YES.

I do not believe that what happens during incubation is totally random.  Instead, my research suggests that during incubation your brain is subconsciously processing all sorts of relevant information in an effort to unlock your puzzle.  It calls on memories, on experiences, on readings and observations you have made during your life.  It looks for connections and parallels and solutions to similar challenges.

And so, by engaging in activities that may have some connection to the problem at hand, you may be providing hints and cues to your incubating mind.

Let me give you a very simple example.  Every Sunday, I like to do the New York Times crossword puzzle.  This is a large and sometimes challenging puzzle, and I almost always get stuck at some point.  So, knowing about incubation, I put the puzzle down to come back to it later. 

Now, let's say I have a free hour.  Should I go to the gym?  Or, should I finish a book I am in the middle of?  Well, there are arguments for each of course but the question at hand is which activity is more likely to help unblock me so that I can finish the Sunday crossword puzzle?

I believe reading a book will.  I believe that even though I am not thinking about the crossword puzzle, I am processing words and letter combinations and ideas in written form.  In other words, I am prompting my unconscious to find letters or words for the empty spaces in the crossword puzzle.  

In future blog posts I am going to give you examples of studies that suggest I just might be right.

Jim Randel is the founder and author of The Skinny On book series, condensed explanations of important life skills.  One of his books is The Skinny on Creativity.

Randel's books are currently best sellers in China - three of his e-books in the top 100 best- selling e-books in China.

In yesterday's post we discussed the four steps to inspiration - finding a solution to some puzzle or problem or budding idea.

Those four steps are preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification, the most fascinating and studied of which is incubation.

Incubation is the period when you are doing and thinking thoughts that have nothing to do with your problem and then out of the blue comes an answer.  How can that be?  Where did that idea come from?

The brain is an organ that is only partially understood.  We know that it includes about 100 billion neurons - cells in the brain that communicate with each other creating thoughts.  Exactly how and when these neurons interface is to a large degree still a mystery.

However, we do know that there are many times when these neurons are firing and sending electrical impulses to each other - even though we have no conscious awareness of this happening (e.g., when we are sleeping).  So, just because you stop thinking about a particular problem, the brain does not necessarily stop working.  In fact, by directing our consciousness to other thoughts, we free our neurons from the task at hand - letting our brain roam without our getting in the way.

"In a sense, the letting go allows people to get out of their own way, giving the subconscious a chance to toil on its own, without the conscious brain telling it where to go or what to do."

            How We Learn:  And Why it Happens, Benedict Carey (Random House, 2015) 

So, while you are social networking, or doing a crossword puzzle, or watching a movie, your brain is still plugging away.

"The brain is playing with concepts and ideas, pushing some to the side, fitting others together, as if absentmindedly working on a jigsaw puzzle."    How We Learn

Lesson for the day:  when you are stuck and need a creative solution, stop thinking about it and go do something else.  Tomorrow we are going to discuss how you might enhance your incubation phase.

Jim Randel is the founder and author of The Skinny On book series, condensed explanations of important life skills.  One of his books is The Skinny on Creativity.

Randel's books are currently best sellers in China - three of his e-books in the top 100 best- selling e-books in China.

That wonderful feeling when all of a sudden the answer arrives … the solution to some problem, the approach to some challenge, the idea that could make you rich!

But, where does it come from?  How can we accelerate the process and boost our creative energies.

Fortunately scientists and psychologists have studied the process - going back at least 100 years.

In 1926 a man named Graham Wallas (who happened to be one of the founders of the London School of Economics) made an in-depth study of the path to inspiration.  The four steps he identified are still accepted by scientists today:

1. Preparation - this is the process by which you research, you think, you brainstorm and eventually you realize that you have no solution.  But, you have prepared yourself to know it (the solution) when you see it.

2. Incubation - begins when you put aside the problem and do something else.  While your conscious is engaged elsewhere, your subconscious is swirling.

As Wallas said:  "A type of internal reorganization of the information seems to be going on without the individual being directly aware of it."

This is the step that we are going to discuss in great detail in subsequent blog posts because this is the step that we can improve upon, i.e. how to make our incubation period more effective.

3. Illumination - this is the "Aha Moment". 

4. Verification - this is when we double check our thinking, test and retest that our idea makes sense.

In the last 100 years, we have learned a lot about the path to inspiration - the creative process.  I will share those insights with you in subsequent blog posts.

Jim Randel is the founder and author of The Skinny On book series, condensed explanations of important life skills.  One of his books is The Skinny on Creativity.

Randel's books are currently best sellers in China - three of his e-books in the top 100 best- selling e-books in China.

Image result for aha moment

 

Great ideas. Where do they come from?

My view is that there are great ideas all around us. But most of us don’t open our eyes wide enough to see them.

Curiosity is a great asset to the innovator. Opening our minds to new and strange possibilities can be the gateway to a great new business.

One example is Airbnb - a fascinating story of growth and wealth in a very short period of time.

Airbnb was founded by two guys with almost no business experience. Trained as designers (graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design), Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia knew they wanted to do something together but had had no success in the 3 years since their graduation.

In October, 2007 they were living together in a 3-bedroom apartment in San Francisco about to lose their apartment for non-payment of rent. At the time there was a large conference of designers in SF and yet limited hotel space. So, one of them had a “crazy” thought:

“Maybe we put down some air mattresses in our apartment and rent out rooms by the night.”

Fast forward ten years and Airbnb is now worth in excess of $30 billion. It operates in 191 countries and 34,000 cities.

The story of how they got from October, 2007 to March, 2017 can be found in a well-written book, The Airbnb Story, Leigh Gallagher (Houghton Mifflin, 2017) but for now I want to give you two take-aways:

1. Chesky and Gebbia did not ever envision starting a home-sharing business. They saw a need one day, capitalized on it, and turned it into a “great idea.”

2. Chesky (the CEO) has a near-pathological curiosity and an obsession for constantly absorbing new information.

Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn) says this: “Brian’s biggest strength is that he is a learning machine … it’s a skill set for all successful entrepreneurs - the phrase I use is ‘infinite learner’ - and Brian is a canonical example of that.”

My point for today’s blog - great ideas are all around. Often the core of a great idea is a problem that needs solving (need for revenue + more demand for housing than supply = the idea that led to Airbnb).

Open your eyes and let your curiosity run free.

Jim Randel is the founder and author of The Skinny On book series, condensed explanations of important life skills. One of his books is The Skinny on Creativity.

Randel’s books are currently best sellers in China - three of his e-books in the top 100 best- selling e-books in China.

We have all been there: needing a solution to some problem and just plain stuck.

Sometimes, the way to get unstuck is to change the question you are trying to answer.

Until the middle of the 15th Century, astronomers and mathematicians were stumped in trying to come up with answers about the earth’s movements. Everyone knew that the sun revolved around the earth. The scientists just could not explain certain phenomena about that process.

Then along comes Nicolaus Copernicus (1475 - 1543) who asked a radical question: “Hey, wait a minute here … what if in fact the earth revolves around the sun??”

“This startling idea solved at a stroke many of the old problems that had plagued astronomers.” Ken Robinson, Out of our Minds: Learning to be Creative (Wiley, 2011).

Here is a more recent example:

There was once an office building with two elevators. It was an older building and the elevators were very slow. As a result, people going from the lobby to the upper flows had long waits. Occupants of the building started complaining, and the owner had a problem.

So, he retained an architect to come up with ideas to replace the old elevators with newer faster ones. The architect reported that the construction of the building was such that to replace the elevators (and the related equipment) would be prohibitively expensive.

The building owner and the architect were stuck. Then, one day the architect had an idea.

Instead of asking how we can replace the old elevators, maybe the question should be:

“How can we appease the people in the lobby waiting for an elevator?”

And with a new question in front of him, the building owner placed mirrors on the lobby walls and offered free coffee to people waiting for elevators. The elevators were still slow of course but the people waiting for an elevator were much less impatient as they could now use the “downtime” to look at themselves in the mirror and/or sip a free cup of coffee. Problem solved.

Sometimes the way to break a creative logjam is to rephrase the question that you are trying to answer.

Jim Randel is the founder and author of The Skinny On book series, condensed explanations of important life skills. One of his books is The Skinny on Creativity.

Randel’s books are currently best sellers in China - three of his e-books in the top 100 best- selling e-books in China.

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