Business Adept Blogs

Intuition - Distraction

I talked last time about ‘sleeping on it’ to allow subconscious processing to find solutions to problems. Thank you to all those who contributed thoughts and examples.

Of course, ‘sleeping on it’ is not always an option. An earlier response may be required. This is where another facet of the same phenomenon comes in – distraction. I can’t remember a specific example that alerted me to its value but I have used it a lot, as do most of us.

The concept is simple and well known. If your mind is stuck in a rut and you can’t find an answer, do something else for a while; preferably something that will employ your conscious mind and leave your subconscious free to work on your problem. I’ve found a quick conversation about a completely different topic works wonders. Though a walk in the park may be more pleasant, it takes longer and carries the risk of continuing to think about your concern.

An early example for me, and one that stuck me with particular force, happened several years ago, when I was working on a major Business Process Re-engineering project. I was leader of a team that had the task of defining all non-core activities, eg support such HR, finance and resourcing, and management such as strategic planning. I was struggling with the concept of work management.

This was early days in the application of BPR and, as far as I know, no-one had as yet considered charting work management as a process. My colleagues were convinced it was not worth doing and so I was alone in my effort to address it. It seems straight-forward now but at the time I could only perceive it as an amorphous mass of activity.

I’d been puzzling over the topic for hours and getting nowhere, when a colleague interrupted me. He asked about a totally different aspect of the overall project, which we discussed for about 15 minutes. As soon as he had left, the whole concept of the work management process fell into place. After refining the detail with the help of my team, my ‘not worth doing process’ was deemed capable of saving the organisation £440 million per annum. [It was a LARGE organisation.]

What was so memorable was the way the whole answer suddenly fell into place after a short distraction, with no conscious effort on my part. I had been thinking around the issue for 3 or 4 hours beforehand but had made no conscious progress towards a solution.

Subsequently, I was often accused of spending more time wandering around than at my desk. However, there were no complaints about my rate of progress.

I know I’m not alone in experiencing subconscious processing in this way. I’d love to hear your stories, if you’d like to share them.