Debunking the Eureka! effect

This past weekend, I had attended a School of Life course with Cathy Haynes where she gave lessons on how to free our imaginations and cultivate our own thinking styles. In this ninety-minute interactive session, we sleuth for ideas and clues, making discoveries about our creative selves.

The first thing we were taught was to demystify the idea of cultivating a “Eureka!” moment, that ideas from everyday life do not come from only one blinding bolt of originality. The creative process usually comes from the unusual and unexpected combination of ordinary things. It derives from the friction between our memories and what is obvious (in our daily life).

Whether we’re trying to solve a tough problem, start a business, get attention for that business or write an interesting article, creative thinking is crucial. The process boils down to changing our perspective and seeing things differently than we currently do.

So, how do we take inspiration from what is around us, and use this to develop our thinking?

1. Unlearning what we already know. 

We are able to expand our potential by unlearning what we think we already know. By getting out of our own territory, we are able to experience the world not with our eyes,  but with other senses. It is important to recognise that we create our own imaginary boxes simply by living life and accepting certain things as “real”. The difference is, enough people agree that it is “real,” so we’re viewed as “normal.” This is good for society overall, but it’s that sort of unquestioning consensus that inhibits our natural creative abilities. One of the worst aspects of formal education is the focus on the correct answer to a particular question or problem. While this approach helps us function in society, it hurts creative thinking because real(life) issues are ambiguous. There is often more than one “correct” answer, and the second answer we come up with might be better than the first.


2. Embracing tangential thinking vs. logical thought.

In a society that champions deductive reasoning and logical questioning, break through the glass. Allow for openness and fluidity to enter. It is when we are in our dreamiest state that we can see through the mist.  All day long we  go in and out of different states of consciousness, so embrace it. It opens up huge potential when our minds are trained to look both inward, and outward. One of the best ways to escape the constraints of our own logical mind is to think metaphorically. When we realize that “truth” is often symbolic, only then we are actually free to come up with alternatives.


3. Welcoming blocks.

Consciously setting up mental roadblocks can provide a period of internal processing. Many assume that mental blocks are a negative thing. Just look at the many self-help articles on the subject and you will find more often than not advise on how to overcome them, and how much a hindrance it is to achieving success and progress. But, what if setting up mental blocks allows us to re-frame the issue in several different ways in order to prompt different answers, and embrace answering inherently ambiguous questions in several different ways?


4. Distinguishing between failure and risk. 

Also known as the Einstellung effect, many people try to solve a problem by pursuing solutions that have worked for them in the past. This is repeated over and over again, defining what success and failure looks like.

Take this challenge:

Solve this problem: Count how many red discs are there in this picture?
Solve this problem:
Count how many red discs are there in this picture?

What was your answer? 10? Well…if you read the question, counted, then yes. You were successful.

But by counting the number of red dots on the photo as requested, were you able to notice that the man in this picture has in fact, 12 fingers? This is Yoandri Hernandez Garrido, also famously known as “Twenty Four”. He has six perfectly formed fingers on each of his hands and the six impeccable toes on each foot. Most remarkable.

What we need to consider is that familiar solutions may not be optima. It is in this ‘autopilot’ state that we are missing out or wasting an opportunity. By no mean feat, we are more likely to fall back on solutions and approaches that have worked in the past for the fear of the ‘unknown’ is just too great.

So, what can we do in this situation? Try two ways – test and learn, and fail fast, fail smart. We need to make a conscious effort to take risks, as to be courageous is to get into an arena and risk wholeheartedly – preferably with dignity, honesty and vulnerability.

5. Don’t try to be original

In society, we seem to over-value the inventors. Throughout history we celebrate, award and are most likely to remember the people who create things. But today, it seems to be all we have – things and plenty of ‘stuff’. If we haven’t acknowledged already, is that ideas come from things that already exists. It is our responsibility not to invent more stuff, but to think how we can improve, hone and develop existing ideas. To make them better, to make them relevant in every day life. We need to start valuing the improvers and the fixers of this world. Get help and collaborate to solve problems. There is nothing more important than following our passion and curiosity. It is  this path we are able to expand our personal potential – not just in ourselves, but by positively effecting the world around us.


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