Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 6, Issue 4;   January 25, 2006: The Shower Effect: Sudden Insights

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: I  Next Issue

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? rbrenkDNaxkxZwTHjiQsSner@ChachXVcRWTDvFiKIBfpoCanyon.comSend 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 checklistKeep a Not-To-Do List
Unless you execute all your action items immediately, they probably end up on your To-Do list. Since they're a source of stress, you'll feel better if you can find a way to avoid acquiring them. Having a Not-To-Do list reminds you that some things are really not your problem.
Jack-in-the-boxNo Surprises
If you tell people "I want no surprises," prepare for disappointment. For the kind of work that most of us do, surprises are inevitable. Still, there's some core of useful meaning in "I want no surprises," and if we think about it carefully, we can get what we really need.
A Rough-Legged Hawk surveys its domainTake Any Seat: II
In meetings, where you sit in the room influences your effectiveness, both in the formal part of the meeting and in the milling-abouts that occur around breaks. You can take any seat, but if you make your choice strategically, you can better maintain your autonomy and power.
My right foot. Arrow indicates the location of the break.My Right Foot
There's nothing like an injury or illness to teach you some life lessons. Here are some things I learned recently when I temporarily lost some of my independence.
A light bulb, the universal symbol of creativityAsking Brilliant Questions
Your team is fortunate if you have even one teammate who regularly asks the questions that immediately halt discussions and save months of wasted effort. But even if you don't have someone like that, everyone can learn how to generate brilliant questions more often. Here's how.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Passing the baton in a relay raceComing January 24: Understanding Delegation
It's widely believed that managers delegate some of their own authority and responsibility to their subordinates, who then use that authority and responsibility to get their work done. That view is unfortunate. It breeds micromanagers. Available here and by RSS on January 24.
A serene mountain lakeAnd on January 31: Nine Brainstorming Demotivators: I
The quality of the output of brainstorming sessions is notoriously variable. One source of variation is the enthusiasm of contributors. Here's Part I of a set of nine phenomena that can limit contributions to brainstorm sessions. Available here and by RSS on January 31.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenJdULmIZcQpqfBIPLner@ChacbAsSZtjssqklBbYVoCanyon.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

Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applications
When Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applicationswe talk, listen, send or read emails, read or write memos, or when we leave or listen to voice mail messages, we're communicating person-to-person. And whenever we communicate person-to-person, we risk being misunderstood, offending others, feeling hurt, and being confused. There are so many ways for things to go wrong that we could never learn how to fix all the problems. A more effective approach avoids problems altogether, or at least minimizes their occurrence. In this very interactive program we'll explain — and show you how to use — a model of inter-personal communications that can help you stay out of the ditch. We'll place particular emphasis on a very tricky situation — expressing your personal power. In those moments of intense involvement, when we're most likely to slip, you'll have a new tool to use to keep things constructive. Read more about this program. Here's a 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 a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
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?
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.