It has occured to me that a lot of the better thinking and better decisions I've made in the past happened when I wasn't concentrating on the problem. For instance, the idea to originally not host pictures on HOTorNOT but instead send people to Geocities and then have users submit their image's URL (in order to avoid paying for bandwidth) was thought of while I was sitting in the drive thru line at In-N-Out Burger at 1am when I was supposed to be figuring out whether I wanted a single burger or a double double.
I also seem to have random thoughts about problems when I am talking to people, and something they say triggers thoughts in my head that may have very little to do with what they are talking about, but still.. some keyword they said triggers something in my brain.
I've always wondered if this is why I tend to be a bit A.D.D, because I do my best thinking this way rather than concentrating. Not sure if they are related, but it would explain a few things.
One time I was interviewing a guy for a job position, and he was close to the solution but for some reason couldn't get it. So after 10 minutes of frustratedly watching him almost getting it, I told him to stop and that I wanted to try an experiment. I aksed him to put the paper aside, and i asked him a series of random questions.. "what is your favorite fast food restaurant," "what is your favorite tv show", "what books have you read lately", and then i immediately told him to look at the problem again.. and within 10 seconds, he got it!
So I saw this journal of experimental social psychology abstract today and wondered if this was all related, and found it interesting.. Moral of the story is, when you have a really hard problem, do something else for a while.
Ap Dijksterhuis and Zeger van Olden
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, September 2006, Pages 627-631
This work compares conscious thought and unconscious thought in relation to
quality of choice. Earlier work has shown that people make better choices
after engaging in unconscious thought (i.e., unconscious activity during a
period of distraction) rather than in conscious thought. However, the
evidence was obtained for choices between hypothetical alternatives with
quality of choice operationalized normatively. As quality of decision is
essentially subjective, in the current experiment participants chose between
real objects with quality operationalized as post-choice satisfaction. In a
paradigm based on work by Wilson and colleagues, participants were briefly
presented with five art posters, and chose one either (a) immediately, (b)
after thorough conscious thinking about each poster, or (c) after a period
of distraction. Participants took their favorite poster home and were phoned
3-5 weeks later. As hypothesized, unconscious thinkers were more satisfied
with their choice than participants in the other two conditions.