People are More Creative When Thinking Abstractly

This is fascinating research to me because it, like the recent Evolution kick I’ve been on, unifies a number of different ideas I’ve had or read about over the years.

The research showed that those solving other peoples’ problems were more creative than when they were solving their own. And subjects drawing fictional aliens for other peoples’ stories drew better aliens than when they thought they’d have to write the story themselves.

The article abstracts this from distance from the problem, which I agree with. It’s as if you can’t see the true shape of something if you’re too close to it.

This lights up my brain in a lot of different ways.

  • Consulting vs. being permanent at a company. I feel like I’m far more productive as a consultant because I always have fresh eyes. I am always seeing something different, and always approaching with fresh tools. When you’re internal you get into ruts. Energy. Focus. Perspective. They all start to lock into a mold that it’s hard to break from.

  • The ‘explain the problem’ solution. I heard an idea a while back that I love, which is when you have a problem you can’t solve, write an email describing the problem to a colleague. Explain it from the beginning, and describe what you’ve tried, why you think it didn’t work, etc. Often times, as you’re working on the explanation you’ll notice something you’ve missed despite (or because of) your constant attention.

I naturally tend towards abstract thought, with a particular focus on how to make it practical and actionable at the end. But I always start with larger themes and concepts when looking at little things.

So this resonates strongly with me. I like having names and models for things I was doing previously based on gut.

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