What do we do when we’re faced with a problem and we don’t know how to solve it? In fact, what we know may get in the way of a new solution: Our brain’s electrical activity may inhibit other circuits, and other ideas. We tend to think of creativity in terms of art and music. We recognize that artists and musicians are creative people, but what about the rest of us? Does that mean we’re not at all creative or that creativity is not useful in our lives?
Insight is the sudden solution to a long-vexing problem, a sudden recognition of a new idea, or a sudden understanding of a complex situation, an Aha! moment. Solutions found through insight are often more accurate than those found through step-by-step analysis. In the several seconds before people have an insight, or an Aha! moment, brain activity slows down, attention becomes more diffuse and less focused on the problem. To encourage insight, this means that we need to step back and let our minds wander or sleep on the problem. Insight cannot happen when our minds are constantly engaged.
In the business world, there is more and more pressure for increased creativity: for developing new products, streamlining delivery systems, optimizing managerial structure, and dealing with employees and clients. Constant innovation is the game.
One form of creativity is Insight. It’s the sudden solution to a long-vexing problem, a sudden recognition of a new idea, or a sudden understanding of a complex situation, an Aha! moment. Einstein once described how he achieved his insights by making “a great speculative leap” to a conclusion and then tracing back the connections to verify the idea.
Insight may also be an important agent of change for helping people change their habits and way of thinking because of the enhanced and perhaps distinctive way in which people remember ideas achieved through insight. And we can all get closer to that magical spark of insight thanks to what we’ve learned from the neuroscience of insight.
Enter John Kounios and Mark Beeman, two researchers who have studied the neuroscience of insight extensively. They have found that, in the several seconds before people have an insight, or an Aha! moment, their brain activity slows down! Their attention becomes more diffuse, less focused on the problem. Then, a t the moment of insight, their brain activity spikes. Mark Beeman has seen this so often, that he can tell by people’s brain activity who will solve the problem analytically, in a step by step fashion, and who will solve the problem using insight: He calls such people “insight machines”.
Solutions found through insight are often more accurate than solutions using analytical thinking. That’s because insight is an all-or-nothing phenomenon while analytic solving is incremental. Incremental, step-by-step analytic solving produces partial information on which you can base a guess, and guessing increases the likelihood of being wrong. Insightful, all-or-none solving does not yield intermediate results and people will not offer a solution unless they “know” it is right. Nevertheless, not all solutions reached through insight are accurate. So, after you have a moment of insight, it’s important to evaluate your solution.
What can you do to increase your insight potential? Insight can’t be forced, but there are things you can do to foster it. Engage in activities that encourage an open mind. Gather a wide base of knowledge, ask how you could do this differently, engage in a new hobby that uses completely different skills, or just generally relax and let your mind wander. Sleeping on the problem, meditating, or stepping away from it and concentrating on something else may help your unconscious mind to cultivate a creative solution. Insight cannot happen with a cluttered mind. Therefore insight, or aha moments, can happen in the shower or when you’re daydreaming, when your mind isn’t focused on anything in particular.