We all love to hear stories of sudden inspiration, such as Isaac Newton and the apple, but for those who have to be creative on demand, these stories don’t offer much practical advice on how to have a Eureka moment of their own.
Eureka moments feel like flashes of insight because they often appear when the mind isn’t focused on the problem, what psychologists call a period of incubation. Incubation is the stage where people briefly step back from their work. Many of the most productive creative people intentionally set a project aside and take a physical break from their work believing that this incubation stage is where ideas begin to come together below the threshold of the conscious mind.
When presented with complicated problems, the mind can often get stuck, finding itself tracing back through certain pathways of thinking again and again. When you work on a problem continuously, you can become fixated on previous solutions. Taking a break from the problem and focusing on something else entirely gives the mind some time to release its fixation on the same solutions and let the old pathways fade from memory. Then, when you return to the original problem, your mind is more open to new possibilities.
Research has shown that an effective way to incubate a problem in need of a Eureka moment is to switch to an unrelated, but still work-related, task. This could be a totally different work project or even something more mundane, like responding to emails or cleaning out your contact. If you need a creative insight on demand, consider structuring your workday to leave some mundane tasks undone, saving them for when you need to incubate. When you switch back, you might just find yourself shouting “Eureka!”
Share your Eureka moments.
Adapted from an article by David Burkus, Harvard Business Review