To Solve a Problem, Stop Thinking About It

by Jackson G. Lu, Modupe Akinola and Malia Mason for Harvard Business Review

Imagine that on a Friday afternoon, you’re asked to solve two problems that require creative thinking. Do you:

  • Attempt the first problem and then attempt the second?
  • Alternate between the two problems at a regular, predetermined interval (e.g., switching every five minutes)?
  • Switch between the problems at your own discretion?

If you’re like the hundreds of people to whom we posed this question, you would choose to switch between the two problems at your own discretion. After all, this approach offers maximum autonomy and flexibility, enabling you to change tracks from one problem to the other when you feel stuck.

But if coming up with creative answers is your goal, this approach may not be optimal. Why? Because when attempting problems that require creativity, we may reach a dead end without realizing it. We circle around the same ineffective ideas and don’t recognize when it’s time to move on. Conversely, switching back and forth between two tasks at a set interval can reset your thinking, enabling you to approach each task from fresh angles.

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