The Power of Incubation

The Power of Incubation

While in the shower:
2% Washing
8% Singing


The classic view of creativity is that an idea comes to us after we have been working on a problem for a long time, have made  little or no progress and then we step away from the problem and INCUBATE.  After a period of incubation – a time when you are not consciously working on the problem. Eureka. The idea hits you! 

Incubation, by definition means, the process of incubating eggs, cells, bacteria or even a disease. In creative problem solving it means something else entirely. It means you are your most creative when you are not consciously working on your problem. Or maybe you are doing something else that your mind can pay attention to in an almost automatic or routine way. You could be on a run, working out, relaxing in a lounger, but you aren’t concentrating on any one particular task. You might even be in the shower. Then the solution to your problem hits you right in the face. Then you begin to wonder why you didn’t think of it sooner. Chances are, you were over-thinking the problem.

When your brain is at rest or you do not feel psychologically threatened you are at your most creative. Some think it is because when your brain has been uninterrupted, it gives it time to refresh itself. You can spend too much time exploring solutions, focusing on the problem, looking at it from different angles. Your brain becomes overloaded with possibilities, complications, and the twisting and turning actually hinder your creative process.

Over thinking serves as a roadblock to letting your brain work out the problem. This is the time for you to walk away. I mean, literally walk away. Talk a walk, don’t think, but look around you. Empty your mind and put all those problems behind you. Think of it as a mini vacation. Do something else…give it a rest. To some of you this may seem like a time waster and a little bit new age. What it is really going on is that you are recharging your most valuable asset, your brain. It needs time to un-jumble itself. After your incubation period you will be surprised that the ideas start to flow almost unending.

The incubation period can happen at any point in the creative problem solving process. In a particularly long or complicated Creative Problem Solving session, let everyone break often to process the information. You and your team will come back recharged, often with new ideas or more novel ones. Sometimes it is best to give instructions on how to incubate; which is to not think of the problem but pay attention to something else.  That’s the reason for the walk. Some people have never tried to turn off their brain and the idea may seem strange. But encourage them to try it. They may be surprised by the results. I mean, real workable solutions that provide results… and you can shampoo your hair at the same time.



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