The delights of the Christmas period, apart from the time to catch up with family and friends over way too much food (at least in my case) is the chance to catch up on my professional reading. I collect great titles all year and as they slowly build up on the bookshelf I get a wonderful sense of anticipation as December approaches, knowing that I will have time to read at least some of them over the break.
The title I dug into this time was Choke, by Sian Beilock. ( You can read more about the book in our favourite resource section this issue). It is a great read and I highly recommend it but what I wanted to talk about was Sian’s proposal that in regards to the brain sometimes less is more. Now this is not usually what we think about when we talk about the brain, after all, research has shown that the higher your working memory is, the better you will perform on academic tasks such as reading or maths.( Your working memory is not just how much information you can store, it also reflects your ability to hold information in your memory while doing something else at the same time). However, it appears that this capacity actually restricts us whenever thinking creatively or “out of the box” is required. What is even scarier is that this seems to be even more true if you have a great deal of knowledge about a particular subject. The more content knowledge you have, the more trouble you have breaking free of it to come up with creative solutions to tasks.
Of course having good cognitive horsepower is beneficial in a wide range of circumstances, but there are examples of people getting stuck because they have too much knowledge. This makes me think of all the times type 2’s ask me in training – “Why are you getting us to do this task? We can’t do it. You know we are not the creative ones!” So if you are trying to stretch yourself into becoming more creative in your thinking around a particular task or problem, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Widen your span of attention – Take a broader look at all the information and don’t just focus on what appears to be the most important/relevant to your question.
- Learn more like a child. Start your learning off with small chunks of information rather than devoting brain power to all the complexities from the beginning of the task.
- If you have been working with the information for a while and still haven’t had that brain wave you were after, relax and do something else for a while. Using up your working memory on another task might allow you to generalise the information into new, more creative combinations.
Author: Melinda Zanetich - Director & Master Trainer - 4MAT 4Learning - Asia Pacific Region