It will come as no surprise to many of you that the best ways to solve problems is to talk them over with other people, but the same is equally true for creative and mental blocks as well. One psychologist studied why we solve problems so much more effectively in groups, and why the next time you're struggling with a problem in private, you should talk it over with friends or colleagues.
Psychologist Kevin Dunbar studied four microbiology research labs to see when the researchers there did their most ground-breaking work, and what process they used to break through the setbacks they had. He discovered that even though each researcher spent most of their time plugging away on their own projects and tasks, their creative breakthrough moments occurred when they were sharing their experiences and challenges with their colleagues in meetings. Plus, Dunbar discovered that the very process of sharing those problems quickly led to solutions:
Dunbar discovered that as the researchers developed analogies, and as other researchers built on the ideas around those analogies, the solutions to their problems just seemed to develop. Sometimes, a researcher would spend a week vexed by a problem and the solution would seem to present itself in just 10 minutes of discussion with peers.
The more diverse the lab — with researchers of different backgrounds, experiences, and education — the easier those solutions came. The major takeaway from Dunbar's research is that quietly working in isolation with a problem may yield solutions, but not as efficiently as sharing your problem with others. The next time you feel out of ideas or facing a problem you just can't wrap your head around, talk it over with your colleagues or friends — they may not have the answer, but it helps more than struggling with the issue in private.
What do you think? As someone who's worked in a lab, I can vouch for Dunbar's research, but does it match your experience, or do you work better alone? Let us know in the comments below.