Saturday, August 24, 2013

Creative Problem Solving Pt. II - Getting out of Mental Ruts

In the previous post we learned about mental set, the tendency to solve problems in a fixed way.[1] We learned that mental set can lead one into a mental rut, an inability to switch from an inappropriate solution plan to a more productive one.[2]
Today we will learn about the concept of insight, a sudden understanding or unexpected development of a creative idea. It is often known as an “aha!” moment or as I like to think of it, the Geordi La Forge moment. Since mental set can inhibit the achievement of insight, it is important to examine both concepts together. 

Understanding Insight
Insight moments do not have to give rise to profound ideas like the theory of gravity, they merely have to be sudden and unexpected.[3] 

An insight can also be thought of as a restructuring one's representation of the problem. Every time we face a problem we engage into a set of operations that draw on previous knowledge or experience (mental sets) on how to solve the problem. Whenever an initial representation leads to a solution, then it requires no restructuring. However, as discussed in the previous post on mental rut, an inappropriate plan will not only fail to lead to a solution, it will also continue to act as a hindrance to the correct solution - a metaphorical roadblock. This is because our prior knowledge or mental sets cause a fixation on certain aspects of the problem blocking more important aspects that are necessary to solve the problem.[4] Therefore, mental rut is analogous to a truck being stuck in the mud. When one persists with a counterproductive strategy they are merely spinning their wheels and getting further entrenched in the mud (the incorrect representation).[5]

Representational Change – Key to Overcoming Mental Ruts
The key to overcoming the impasse and solving the problem is a representational change.[6]
Representational Change through Incubation
Incubation, a term we are already familiar with, is a good strategy for achieving representational changes.[7] Incubation encompasses putting the problem aside momentarily and waiting for the incorrect strategy to decrease in priming, in turn allowing more correct strategies that have been hindered by the repetitive activation of the incorrect strategy to come into awareness.[8] For this reason when we are doing an unrelated activity we often find a sudden solution to a problem we had momentarily shelved.

Sticking with our truck in mud analogy, incubation represents the idea that rather than continue to spin your wheels, it is preferable to instead wait until conditions become more favorable for getting the truck out of the mud.[9]
The next post will address how to achieve representational changes through strategies such as chunk decomposition, and constraint relaxation, as well as more on incubation.

[1] Michael Ollinger, Gary Jones, and Gunther Knoblich, Investigating the Effect of Mental set on Insight Problem Solving, Experimental Psychology Vol. 55 (2008), 269.
[2] Deborah K. Smith, David B. Paradice, Steven M. Smith, Prepare Your Mind for Creativity, Communications of the ACM 43.7 (2000), 113.
[4] See Ollinger, supra note 1, at 271.
[5] See Steven Smith, supra note 3, at 245.
[6] See Ollinger, supra note 1, at 271.
[7] Id.
[8] See Steven Smith, supra note 3, at 241.
[9] Id. at 245.

No comments:

Post a Comment