4 Tips to Increase Insights for Problem-Solving

Pic Credit: Typography by Jeff Jarvis on design.org

Pic Credit: Typography by Jeff Jarvis on design.org

How do you solve problems?  

People with different Type preferences may use different means:

  • Do you use logical analysis?  (e.g. introverted Thinking)
  • Discuss it with your friends / colleagues?  (e.g. extraverted Feeling)
  • Go to past experiences?  (e.g. introverted Sensing)
  • Brainstorm multiple alternatives? (e.g. extraverted Intuiting)

But what if your usual way of problem-solving doesn't work? After all, as has been attributed to Einstein: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."  

From David Rock's "Your Brain At Work"

However, with the amount of change today in how business is done, "noncreative" people increasingly run into brand-new problems, problems with no procedures to follow, no obvious answers, and where solutions from similar situations don't work. For example, what's the rule for reducing the production cost of a product you don't understand, one that is manufactured in China, serviced from India, delivered into Europe, and managed by people who have never met? What's needed here is not a logical solution, but one that recombines knowledge (the maps in your brain) in a whole new way. And that's called an insight.

For example, and if you read on the answer will be revealed to you, take a simple word puzzle: What does H I J K L M N O stand for?

Take a moment to figure it out. 

How are you trying to solve this puzzle?

  • Is your brain going straight to possible acronyms?
  • Trying to find explanations you've heard before?
  • Are you googling it (which is another way of asking your friends)? 

Either way - it's hard to break existing thought patterns, isn't it. To allow for more insights to happen, we have to go into our right brain hemisphere, and that has more chances of coming online when we stop or more analytical prefrontal cortex of butting in.

Here are some tips: 

1. Be in a good mood

Happy subjects in Jung-Beeman's research solved more puzzles using insight than unhappy people using logic.  If you're not in a good mood, try smiling or allow yourself a 3-minute video of whatever you find humorous. 

2. Lighten up

Focusing on the details and sinking your teeth deeper into the intricacies of the problem won't help you solve it, on the contrary. Better: think "big picture", or 10,000 foot overview. If you go into the details, you're less able to tap into the holistic goodness of the right anterior temporal lobe that helps pull different ideas together. This don't-sweat-the-small-stuff approach also helps with

3. Avoid distractions

Jung-Beeman's research also showed that your brain sends a signal right before the insight reaches your consciousness. Subjects closed their eyes as if to shut out any distracting input to help let the insight reach them.  

4. Practice mindfulness

From David Rock's Your Brain At Work: 

Here's what Beeman found. People who have more insights don't have better vision, they are not more determined to find a solution, they don't focus harder on the problem, and they are not necessarily geniuses. The "insight machines," those whom Beeman can pick based on brain scans before an experiment, are those who have more awareness of their internal experience. They can observe their own thinking, and thus can change how they think. These people have better cognitive control and can access a quieter mind on demand. 

In other words, if you needed yet another reason why meditation and taking mental breaks from beeping cell phones is good for you, a reason that goes beyond health and wellness that might actually benefit your job - this is it. 

And you know what else is super healthy for you and you've heard it a thousand times? Drinking water. Not sugar-water or poppy sodas - water. Incidentally, that's what the letter in the alphabet from H t(w)o O stand for. Let's pour ourselves a glass and toast to that.