Creative problem solving is an important skill to have.
And there are ways to improve your skills in this area.
Consider this hypothetical scenario. Your boss asks you to find a creative solution to two different problems. You have three ways to go about this:
- Switch between the two problems at specified time intervals.
- Use part of your time on one problem and then spend the rest of your time on the second problem.
- Randomly switch between the two problems whenever you want.
Most commonly, people would opt for the last option because it allows for maximum autonomy and flexibility.
However a study at Columbia Business School (by professors Jackson Lu, Modupe Akinola and Malia Mason) suggests using the first approach and setting specific time intervals when working on problems.
So, why does regularly working on and off a problem work?
That’s because when we do an activity that requires creativity, we often hit a block even if we don’t realize it. We often find ourselves coming up with the same ideas and can’t seem to move on. Switching between tasks can help reboot your thought process and enable going at the task in a new way.
To reach their conclusion the researchers conducted a few experiments
- First, while attempting to find the right solution to two problems, participants were assigned to one of the three approaches. Those switching between tasks at specified intervals were much more likely to find a solution to both problems compared to their counterparts who switched at their own discretion.
- Another study then measured the creativity of ideas when it comes to solving a problem. Problems that had no right answers were given to participants. Similar to the first experiment, participants who switched back and forth came up with more creative ideas.
Other research also defends that creativity is higher when people take scheduled breaks. Stepping away from your task helps you find a new perspective, instead of circling around the same ideas.