Category Archives for Drawing Insights

Over thinking thinking?

To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends what the definition of “thinking” is.

An interesting interview on Seed‘s website with the Jonah Lehrer, author of “The Black Box of Decision Making”

Short version of an article worth reading: do we over think important decisions?  The reductive: what is the optimal way to think about important decisions?

It turns out the answer is out is yes, we rely too much on our conscious analytic abilities to make important decisions.  Apparently our conscious brains cannot process huge amounts of data (e.g. the rise and weed proliferation of Twitter).  Thankfully we do have a cerebral processor that can handle huge amounts of data – our unconscious mental processing:  “Research suggests that it’s complex decisions, the ones that involve lots of information, that benefit the most from unconscious emotional processing. The conscious brain can only handle a very limited amount of information at one time?—?seven digits, plus or minus two. Unconsciously, however, you can process tons of information.”

To make matters worse, our self confidence in our conscious analytic capabilities only exacerbate the decisions making process.  By ignoring or diminishing the value of new information, we essentially seal our unconscious brain away from new data to process and synthesize into new insights.

The articles recommendation? Be open to new information, go with your gut, and for heaven sake, don’t over analyze those big decisions.  Your brain has already done it for you.  Just trust it.

Seeing the World Differently Makes You Crazy?

I read a blog posting on the Idea Connection blog about creative types and mental illness.  The main point of the posting revolved around original thinkers and the prevalence of mental illness, even in a mild form.

Conducted by Dr. Arnold Ludwig, the study surveyed “1000 original thinkers in a wide array of professions – art, music, business, science, politics and sports. In his research spanning close to 10 years, he studied these people’s mental fitness, their chosen professions and the relationships between their mental health and career selection” (quote taken from the actual Idea Connection blog post, not Dr Ludwig)

Results from his study (”Method and Madness in the Arts and Sciences”) showed that:

  • 9 out of 10 poets studied had diagnosable mental disorders (!)
  • 77% of fiction writers had mental disorders
  • 74% of theater people
  • 73% of painters and other visual artists
  • 68% of musicians (not sure if there is a difference between classical/jazz vs. rock)

I commented on the blog post.  I pondered not the actual results, albeit I do find them interesting.   What struck me was the “why”?  Why does there seem to be a correlation (at least based upon this one study)?

My theory based upon not one shred of empirical evidence: people with mental illnesses see things (no pun intended) that others do not.  Specifically, these people see connections where many see noise among verse, ideas, patterns, and themes.  Perhaps the mental illness removes filters that allows for these connections to be drawn.  After all, creativity is seldom drawn from obscure hard to access information.  Actually it is quite the opposite.  The raw materials for creativity are often in front of our noses.  It is the catalyst and connections that are seemingly evanescent and hard to pin down.