“Eureka, I’ve got it!”
That’s what Archimedes was reported to have shrieked as he jumped from the bathtub and ran through the streets sans clothing. It turns out he had just figured out how to calculate density and volume. Exciting, eh?
OK, so maybe not that exciting in this day and age. But what IS exciting is what this tells us about insight and where it comes from…and what this means to the personal growth profession.
On Friday, the Wall Street Journal – Science Journal published an article called “The Wandering Mind Heads Straight Toward Insight”. In this article Robert Lee Holtz explains some of the latest research about how the brain creates breakthroughs, and why daydreaming may be a valuable business practice.
In our fables of science and discovery, the crucial role of insight is a cherished theme. To these epiphanies, we owe the concept of alternating electrical current, the discovery of penicillin, and on a less lofty note, the invention of Post-its, ice-cream cones, and Velcro.
There is new, strong evidence from the neuroscience community that the work we do as Personal Growth Professionals reaches far beyond the “feel good” effects. In fact, scientists at Drexel and Northwestern Universities have found that even before we are presented with a problem, our state of mind can affect whether or not we will likely resort to insightful thinking. People in a positive mood were more likely to experience an insight, researchers at Drexel and Northwestern found. “How you are thinking beforehand is going to affect what you do with the problems you get,” says Dr. Mark Jung-Beeman of Northwestern University.
While we’ve known this intuitively for a long time, we now have science backing us up. Think about what this means for your next proposal. How might you use this to “make the case” for bringing personal development work into the business setting?
Researchers have been evaluating what is really happening in the brain just before a breakthrough. What they have found is that people who solve problems using insight are using their brains differently than those who solve problems analytically. Their brains actually generate different brain wave patterns because there are different brain mechanisms involved, according to psychologist John Kounios at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
This isn’t actually a new thought, though the scientific research supporting the statement may be. Herbert Benson and William Proctor wrote about this in The Break-Out Principle, published in 2003. (For those of you who have been around awhile, you may remember Dr. Benson as the one who was laughed at for suggesting back in 1975 that heart disease, blood pressure and lifestyle were somehow related.)
What research is now showing us is that our brains may be most active – and at their problem-solving best – when we’ve lost track of our thoughts. Also known as “daydreaming.”
We used to think someone’s mind was empty when they were daydreaming. But apparently our brains have a mind of their own. Some of the complex problem solving parts of the brain scientists used to think were dormant during daydreaming, are actually activated – in fact they are “much more active than during reasoning with a complex problem,” says cognitive neuroscientist Kalina Christoff at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, who reported the findings last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Think about how you would apply this in your business? What exercises and activities might you utilize to help people develop this part of their brain? How can you help business leaders understand the value this has for their bottom line?
You will want to read Robert Lee Holtz’s article to get the whole story.