Thinker’s Block

I love my subconscious. It always seems to be on, even when I am not. It does have its drawbacks. I suspect that it is responsible for my fear of spiders, but I can’t prove it. I didn’t know I had a fear of Spiders until I saw the movie “Arachnophobia” some years back. About half way through the movie I couldn’t stand to have my feet on the floor of the darkened theater because I thought I felt things on my legs. I guess that is the price I have to pay for having an active subconscious. But I know it is always there, ticking away. “Ticking” makes it sound like my subconscious works like some sort of fine Swiss watch. I am pretty sure it doesn’t do that either. It actually seems to go in fits and starts, and leaps and bounds. I have also learned to trust it almost implicitly when it comes to business issues and finding answers.

When we are faced with an issue or a problem it seems to be our nature to obsess or grind on it until we have a solution. In general this approach will usually work. The conscious application of experience and knowledge, focused and brought to bear on a finite and defined problem will usually yield a workable solution and good results. We learned this by studying for and taking examinations in school. We learned the basics and the tenets of our various disciplines and then tried to apply them to the questions posed to us to see if we knew how to properly apply them, not just memorized them. This was a good process to use when you knew going in that there was a “correct” answer to be found. Hopefully we have brought these good solutioning habits into our business environments.

But what happens when you do everything you are supposed to do, and the solution does not present itself? In business you are not assured that there is ever a “correct” answer to be found. Perhaps the best you can do is finding an answer that is not as bad as any of the others. You gather the facts and check the data. You understand the needs and availabilities, costs and prices, supplies and demands. You have got it. Just like all the previous times. But for whatever reason unlike all the other times, the answer to your issue this time is just not there.

You have the dreaded Thinkers Block.

I call it thinkers block because for the most part we are all knowledge workers. When a writer finds that they are unable to write for any reason, it is usually referred to a “Writer’s Block”. It only goes along the same lines of reasoning that if a knowledge worker is unable to perform their knowledge based work they must have Thinker’s Block. I guess you could use “Knowledge Block”, but it just doesn’t seem to communicate the issue at hand as well.

You might think from empirical observation that there are many people out there in the world in general and the business environment specifically who spend their entire lives in this state of mind. I have come to the conclusion that this is not the case. I think that most of these people have probably made a conscious decision on their part to not think anymore. If pressed these people can like riding a bicycle, remember how to think and deliver a solution, but for the most part will not do so. For whatever reason it seems that they have learned that it may be easier to let other people ride their bicycles while they metaphorically take a cab.

So where does the unconscious come into all this discussion of conscious decisions, problem solving and thinkers block you might ask? What I have found is if I have truly done my due diligence on an issue, done the research and applied myself to a solution and still have not arrived at a workable conclusion within a reasonable time frame, then the best thing for me to do is to take a break. It’s time to step away from the issue, work on or do something else for a little while, and let the subconscious take over. What I find is that while I am away or when I come back to the problem that there can be a new way of looking at things or an unexplored direction may be a new path to a solution.

Now you might think that this is such a neat trick that it might be best to just go ahead and bypass all the seemingly unproductive conscious effort and skip right to the unconscious part of the problem solving scenario. I have actually tried this as well. It doesn’t work, at least for me. It seems in this scenario my subconscious does not readily accept direct input. Unless the input is filtered through a direct and significant effort at consciously finding a solution, my subconscious does not seem interested in becoming engaged in the process. I am pretty sure that this is some sort of a built in safety mechanism since from what I can tell I probably do not want to be able to directly access some of the other things in my subconscious directly on a regular basis. If there is anything else in there that is worse than the spider thing I don’t think I want to know about it.

I have actually seen this subconscious problem solving process captured in a movie; “Men in Black III”. When presented with a conundrum that despite their best efforts they couldn’t solve, they didn’t keep pounding their heads against the thinkers block brick wall. They went and got pie. They took a break. And low and behold it worked. Now some script writer must have noticed the same principle that I am writing about or it probably wouldn’t have found its way into that movie.

Now in movies everything has a tendency to work out just fine. In reality, not so much so. However I have found that if I do encounter a situation where I am not able to come up with a solution via the normal analytical process, where I have worked hard at finding a solution but seem to have come up against a brick wall, that if I set it aside for just a little while and either take a short break or work on something else, when I come back to it I seem to have a refreshed view of the situation and can find a way around my thinkers block. I don’t necessarily have to go for pie like the Men in Black do. I usually go for a diet soda, or more recently a bottle of water as I try to take on more of the aspects of a healthier life style.

Sometimes when you have Thinkers Block, the best thing you can do is take a break. When you come back the issue, you may also find that your subconscious has also been busy, and will enable you to look at the problem with fresh eyes and to see an answer.

Now if I could just get it to work on that spider thing.

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