Letting ideas percolate

In the book How We Learn, Benedict Carey explores the research that underpins the latest in neuroscience and learning theory. One interesting piece of research is important in how we deal with complex problems like designing new products and services, or implementing large-scale enterprise software applications. It involves us quitting when things become too hard to solve. Bluma Zeigarnik researched the effect of interruption in learning, and what she found was striking. Normally we consider interruptions when we learn a bad thing, but there are some very useful side-effects. When we are interrupted during a task, that task actually becomes more important. Half-finished work remains in our minds for longer than completed work, and actually has more significance. On top of that, when we get to a point where we are stuck, we should deliberately move on with other tasks because it allows the mind to work on the problem in the background. Ideas are marinated and solutions reveal themselves. What this means is that we should start on big problems sooner and have deliberate pauses when things become hard.


Are there any big problems you need to solve? Get started and don’t feel bad to put the problem aside when things become tough. Let your brain figure out how to solve the biggest issues whilst you get on with something else.

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