Point Lookout An email newsletter from Chaco Canyon Consulting
Point Lookout, a free weekly email newsletter from Chaco Canyon Consulting
January 25, 2006 Volume 6, Issue 4
 
Recommend this issue to a friend
Join the Friends of Point Lookout
HTML to link to this article…
Archive: By Topic    By Date
Links to Related Articles
Sign Up for A Tip A Day!
Create a perpetual bookmark to the current issue Bookmark and Share
Tweet this! | Follow @RickBrenner Random Article

The Shower Effect: Sudden Insights

by

Ever have a brilliant insight, a forehead-slapping moment? You think, "Now I get it!" or "Why didn't I think of this before?" What causes these moments? How can we make them happen sooner?

The waitress came with the check, enclosed in one of those black leather book things. Since they were a table of 14, Ed was mystified as she unhesitatingly set the check down directly in front of him. He wondered: maybe, waiting table, you gradually learn to recognize groups from work, and then how to figure out who will be paying.

A waterfall and spray cliff in the mountains of Virginia

A waterfall and spray cliff in the mountains of Virginia. Photo by Gary P. Fleming, courtesy Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

He looked at the check. A hundred ten dollars didn't buy as much pizza as it once did, but Ed was sure it was a good investment, and slipped a credit card into the black leather book. He leaned forward, to better see everyone. "I've got this," he said. "Why don't you all get back, and we'll reconvene at 1:30. OK?"

A chorus of 'OKs' and 'See you thens,' as chairs were pushed back and people arose. Marian remained seated. She leaned across the table to Ed. "OK if I ride with you? I have something…"

"Sure, soon as I pay this off."

After everyone left, Marian began, "I hope you aren't doing this pizza on your own."

Ed shook his head. "No, the company will cover it. Especially after someone figures out the answer on the way back to the office from here."

"You hope," said Marian.

"I'm sure it'll happen. It's the shower effect. You know, when it suddenly comes to you in the shower."

Sudden Insight
is often the key
to solving
difficult problems
When we work on a difficult problem, a sudden insight is often the key to the solution. By taking the whole group out to lunch, Ed has encouraged them all to put the problem aside, freeing them to stop working on it. And he hopes that that freedom will help stimulate sudden insight.

If we understand how sudden insights happen, and if we can make them happen sooner, we can solve problems faster and better. Here are some tips for generating sudden insights.

You probably already know what you need to know
Frequently, it turns out that the key to the solution was already in hand. Find new ways to look at the information you already have.
Some of what you know is irrelevant
Subtly clever solutions are often camouflaged by the irrelevant. Try throwing away items that you already know, and then examine what's left.
The irrelevant often isn't
Some of what you think is irrelevant might be relevant. Ask yourself, "What if this matters?"
Abandon the usual approaches
What makes the problem difficult is that your usual approaches aren't working. Try something completely different.
Stop trying to solve it
When you stop trying, you free your brain to stop using conventional approaches. This is one reason why the answer so often comes to us "in the shower."

You might be wondering how this article will end. I wondered too, so I took a shower. Sometimes it doesn't work. Go to top Top  Next issue: Ten Tactics for Tough Times: Part I  Next Issue
Bookmark and Share

Reader Comments
Mickey Kirksey (Trane, Inc.)Trane, Inc.
I keep a note pad and pencil beside my bed, because I normally have those blinding flashes of insight as I am falling asleep and if I don't write them down, they fade like a dream and I can't recall them.
Another reminiscent thought from the same vein, when I was a service tech, and could not figure out the problem, I'd call my wife and talk about nothing for a while. Suddenly, I'd realize the solution. Once I said, "Hey, thanks." she knew I had figured it out and she'd say, "Bye, glad I was able to help."

Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunLove the work but not the job? Bad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? This ebook looks at what we can do to get more out of life at work. It helps you get moving again! Read Go For It! Sometimes It's Easier If You Run, filled with tips and techniques for putting zing into your work life. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? Send me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A page from the Bradford JournalWorking Journals
Keeping a journal about your work can change how you work. You can record why you did what you did, and why you didn't do what you didn't. You can record what you saw and what you only thought you saw. And when you read the older entries, you can see patterns you might never have noticed any other way.

Lewis and Clark on the Lower ColumbiaAstonishing Successes
When we have successes that surprise us, we do feel good, but beyond that, our reactions are sometimes self-defeating. What happens when we experience unanticipated success, and how can we handle it better?

A view of the site known as the Rock Garden, on MarsHow to Ruin Meetings
Much has been written about how to conduct meetings effectively. Here are some reliable techniques for doing something else altogether.

The Japanese battleship <i>Yamato</i> during machinery trials 20 October 1941The Focusing Illusion in Organizations
The judgments we make at work, like the judgments we make elsewhere in life, are subject to human fallibility in the form of cognitive biases. One of these is the Focusing Illusion. Here are some examples to watch for.

Turbulence in the wake of a low-flying aircraftGuidelines for Sharing "Resources"
Often, team members belong to several different teams. The leaders of teams whose members have divided responsibilities must sometimes contend with each other for the efforts and energies of the people they share. Here are some suggestions for sharing people effectively.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.

Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout

The business end of a spark plugComing April 1: Creating Toxic Conflict: Part II
Some supervisors seem to behave as if part of their job description is creating toxic conflict among their subordinates. It isn't really, of course, but here's a collection of methods bad managers use that make trouble. Available here and by RSS on April 1.
A laptop with password stickiesAnd on April 8: Why We Don't Care Anymore
As a consultant and coach I hear about what people hate about their jobs. Here's some of it. It might help you appreciate your job. Available here and by RSS on April 8.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
Reprinting this article
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Politics of Meetings for People Who Hate Politics
ThereThe Politics of Meetings for People Who Hate Politics's a lot more to running an effective meeting than having the right room, the right equipment, and the right people. With meetings, the whole really is more than the sum of its parts. How the parts interact with each other and with external elements is as important as the parts themselves. And those interactions are the essence of politics for meetings. This program explores techniques for leading meetings that are based on understanding political interactions, and using that knowledge effectively to meet organizational goals. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Leading Virtual Meetings for Real Results
LeadiLeading Virtual Meetings for Real Resultsng or participating in virtual meetings — teleconferences, Web conferences, video conferences, and more — is challenging. Miscommunications, misunderstandings, distractions, politics, and interpersonal conflict all thrive in the typical environment of the virtual team. We'll inventory the challenges virtual meeting leaders and participants face, and provide tools for anticipating and addressing them. The focus of this program is practical — attendees will learn concrete techniques for preventing and dealing with the problems that arise in virtual meetings. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Risk Management for Leaders
On 14The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Risk Management for Leaders December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in risk management and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at risk management from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Managing in Fluid Environments
Most Managing in Fluid Environmentspeople now work in environments that can best be characterized as fluid, because they're subject to continual change. We never know what's coming next. In such environments, managing — teams, projects, groups, departments, or the enterprise — often entails moving from surprise to surprise while somehow staying almost on track. It's a nerve-wracking existence. This program provides numerous tools that help managers who work in fluid environments. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Decision-Making for Team Leaders
EffecDecision-Making for Team Leaderstive group decision-making requires far more than knowing how to organize a discussion or take a vote. This program is designed for both new and experienced team leaders or team sponsors, managers, project managers, portfolio managers, program managers, and executives and general managers. It is especially valuable to people who work in organizations that confront fluid environments, in which decisions must be made in the context of uncertainty. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Cognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Making
For mCognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Makingost of us, making decisions is a large part of what we do at work. And we tend to believe that we make our decisions rationally, except possibly when stressed or hurried. That is a mistaken belief — very few of our decisions are purely rational. In this eye-opening yet entertaining program, Rick Brenner guides you through the fascinating world of cognitive biases, and he'll give concrete tips to help you control the influence of cognitive biases. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble StartsLearn how to spot troubled projects before they get out of control.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace -- with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
SSL