Need to Solve a Complex Problem? Stop Thinking About It. How many times has an answer, big idea or significant insight come to you when you least expected it? I know that for me it seems my best ideas either come to me in the shower or after I’ve “slept on it”. New brain research is shedding light on why this is the case. And even more importantly, it provides some really interesting insights for how to use that knowledge to think deeper and more effectively at work. This topic was one of many at the 2012 NeuroLeadership Summit that I attended a few weeks ago in NYC. This annual conference is hosted by the NeuroLeadership Institute, is an international research association that uses scientific understanding of the brain to transform how businesses and leaders think, develop and perform. The research shows that to solve complex problems and have big insights, the brain needs to use both conscious and unconscious thought. Instead of continuing to push at a problem, we need to build in breaks and find small distractions (whether it’s for a few minutes or a few hours) to have the breakthroughs and solutions that are so important in today’s idea-based work culture. In other words, we need to stop thinking about it. Sounds simple enough, but in reality, it can be quite challenging in today’s busy workplace culture. When back-to-back meetings and overflowing inboxes are the norm, the result is usually a busy, but not always productive or inspiring, work environment. Small Steps to Big Ideas As leaders, one of our most important responsibilities is to help our teams do their best work. Giving employees the permission to take the time for the brain to do its best work, and then setting the example, is a small but important way we can inspire big ideas and insights. At Beehive, our goal is to always be uncommonly sharp for our clients, so we work hard to create a culture of productivity. This means providing a level of flexibility that lets our staff create the time and space they need for unconscious thinking, in whatever way works best for them. Whether it’s a 15-minute walk, using the on-site gym or simply heading to a coffee shop, these small distractions and breaks consistently add up to some really big ideas. At the Summit, speaker Saku Tuominen shared some of the simple ways that he enables his team to build additional thinking time into the workday, including:
- Conducting group brainstorms on Fridays, allowing participants to share insights the following Monday
- Scheduling 45-minute meetings instead of 60-minute meetings
- Encouraging employees to make time for regular exercise and to build two-minute breaks into each day’s schedule
More information about ideas like these can also be found in a recent Harvard Business Review blog called Three Ways to Think Deeply at Work. Understanding how our brains are wired can help us work smarter and more effectively so that we can regularly bring high-value insights to the table. For leaders, it also gives us fresh perspective for how to help our teams be more successful, more productive and happier.