Inviting Insight

How To Generate Ideas and InsightsYou can’t will yourself to be more insightful or even will an individual idea to arrive. All you can do is set the conditions in place where ideas and insights can arise.

“My research on this shows up to a 500% improvement in having insights can be reached, by following a few simple rules,” says David Rock, author of Your Brain At Work.

Here are his top four suggestions:

Insight Invitation #1: Hush Up.
Brain scanning shows that insightful thoughts and ideas tend to involve connections between smaller numbers of brain neurons. More mundane thoughts like what to have for dinner, or more analytical reasoning, fire thousands more neurons in the brain. We experience this as these thoughts being noisier in us. Overall brain activity has to fall – typically by enjoying something easy and repetitive, by relaxing deeply or meditating so the inspiration can surface. Insights require a quiet mind, because they themselves are quiet.

Insight Invitation #2: Daydream.
Insights are more likely when you are inner-focussed, looking inside yourself and not directed towards the outside world.

Insight Invitation #3: Elevate Your Mood.
The Buddhists say: “Gladden Your Mind” and lots of creativity research concurs, showing that being on the happy end of the bellcurve, rather than on the anxious side, makes us more likely to notice a wider range of information and have good ideas. Anxiety, pessimism and worry all induce ‘tunnel vision’ – with few or no insights.

Insight Invitation #4: Let Go.
In the brain, wrong solutions push out other possibilities and we need to ‘inhibit’ the wrong ones (see: inhibition theory) for the right answers to come to our attention. We do this by letting go of the problem and whatever solutions we have come up with and allowing non-conscious processing resources to deliver the best solution.

“In an organizational context, we tend to do almost exactly the opposite of what the brain needs,” says David Rock. “When trying to solve complex problems with others, we tend to put pressure on ourselves, or have that extra coffee, or gather a lot of data, all of which tends to make the brain noisier instead of quieter. Or worse, we brainstorm as a group, which creates a lot of mental noise.

“A better approach… is to define a question as a group, then for individuals to take time out and do something interesting but repetitive and simple for a while, and allow their non-conscious brain to do the solving.”

For more see David Rock's Blog, Your Brain At Work, at Psychology Today.