The HeadScratcher Post Archive
December 2008
Stewing Thoughts
        December 2008  The Headscratcher Post © Headscratchers LLC   Edition 44
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Stewing Thoughts - Have you ever gone to sleep with a problem and wake up with an idea about how to solve it or what to do about it?   Or while driving in your car, or taking a shower, or working out in the gym, or eating lunch come up with an idea, or figured out why some of the suggested solutions were better than others?

Without going into a deep physiological explanation of what happens in your sleep or what one part of your brain is doing while other parts are doing something else, we’ll just accept that sometimes this occurs, i.e., a lot of great ideas come to people when they are not thinking about the subject that those ideas are for.

Load up and let it Stew.  We believe you can increase your skill in thinking like this.   Here’s how.  Get data, facts, opinions, have conversations about the problem, have "what if" discussions, all with the purpose of loading up your brain with relevant information about the issue.  You might even draw conclusions about some of that information, but don’t take it all the way.  Create a “cloud” of ideas, but don’t try to reach clarity … at least not yet.  The key here is to get really saturated, almost to the point of being sick of thinking about it. Later, go to sleep, or take a break and workout, or work on some other easy problem.   Let your brain do some background thinking … let the information stew for awhile.   Pick it up the next day or two.  Many times, your thinking will be much clearer, improving your ability to reach well thought out conclusions.

Wait a minute!  Critical Thinking isn’t about stews and sleep, it’s about asking questions, analysis, being able to reach conclusions with a conscious and deliberate thinking process.   How are “stews” and “critical thinking” consistent?

Here is how.  Stewing gives your brain time by itself to work through some of the scenarios, to create some of the questions, to review the data.  Who knows what is really going on in there!  Your brain is a super computer in some regards, so it can handle the saturated stew of ideas and information.   And when it comes out from behind the scenes and you're back to conscious thinking about the issue, you'll be able to use critical thinking skills in a more informed and thoughtful way because your brain has been doing a lot of the thinking for you.

Try this with a meeting.  Instead of scheduling a long meeting to discuss and decide something, schedule two shorter meetings. The first meeting should have the purpose of getting the information on the table, getting people to load up with ideas, vent their views, and ask questions.  Get saturated with ideas.   End the first meeting by stating; “Now everyone should just let this stew for a day”.  The next day, come back with the purpose of reaching conclusions.  The meeting attendees will be more thoughtful and you’ll make a lot more progress than if you had tried to do this all at one time.

The Takeaway: When you’re working on a problem or decision, it’s often helpful not to solve it at one time, but to load up with ideas and let them stew for awhile.  Let your brain do some background, behind the scenes thinking.  Then, at a later time, you’ll have much clearer thoughts because your brain has already done a lot of work for you.
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