If you’ve read a few of my blog entries, you’ve by now stumbled on the value I place on thinking. Planned…purposeful thinking.
I try hard to not tell my readers how to think, but will do what I can to help you maximize this important activity. And here I’ll offer tips about where to think.
Some have already found a quiet place where distractions can be shut out and thoughts gathered. But I think that your best thinking is likely to come by removing yourself from that comfortable environment. Allow me to offer a couple of reasons why I’ve reached that conclusive…
While reading Business Traveler magazine I came across the mention of a research project documented in The Journal of Experimental Social Phycology where two Indiana University teams of problem solvers were studied. The only difference between the two groups is that one was told that they were to gather data for a “linguistic skills” program on the IU campus, while the other group was led to believe that they were doing the same work for IU students studying abroad in Greece.
With only that single difference, the work being done for the “distant” program led the second group to come to a significantly higher number of creative answers than the first. Psychologists have concluded that this is a common trait and that we tend to think in concrete terms (construals) when we’re in a familiar environment. But that when we’re geographically distant we tend to think in the abstract.
The deduction reached is that creating spatial distance has a demonstrable impact on creative performance.
While I’m addressing thinking rather than problem solving here, I think you’ll agree there’s a connection. But if you’re unconvinced, allow me to pull in a second example…
Some speculate that the reason that so many Dutch philosophers appeared in the “Early” Enlightenment period was that the Dutch were exploring the world more widely at the time. Seeing new cultures, landscapes, flora and fauna may have stimulated new ways of looking at the world. Seems reasonable to me.
This reminds me of, what I considered at the time to be, a serious problem I was facing in my twenties. I could see no way out. I was stuck…and nearing exasperation over it. But a breakthrough occurred when my father took me for a short jaunt in his plane during which we circled one of the larger towns in our little piece of central Illinois. Looking down, I was struck about how small it looked. Suddenly, my problem had a new context. I recall leaping from the plane with a completely different attitude about finding a solution.
But I’ve proved the premise (to myself, at least) of the above multiple times…As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a Chinese hotel listening to conversations I do not understand…while looking out the window at a cityscape with signage which I cannot read, yet reminds me where I’m at. Some ask me how in the world I can stand to travel so much, to so many far-away places. Yes, travel can be hard with 14 hour flights, unfamiliar food and drink, disgruntled travelers…but I seem to always be energized by it too. I’ve learned that unfamiliar places jar me into thinking outside of my box. And the value of that for me personally has been huge.
You don’t have to find yourself in China to facilitate new thinking…but I do believe that you’ll find new ways of thinking easier to come by when you purpose to think in less familiar territory than your room or office.