Browsed by
Category: Creativity

Why Two Problems Are Better Than One

Why Two Problems Are Better Than One

When you are trying to solve a very difficult problem, you may try to think about only that problem so you can remain focused.  However, research done at Binghamton University in 2007 shows that this may be a mistake.  Sometimes trying to solve two problems can help you come up with solutions you’d never find if you only focused on one problem.

In their study they took 293 students and gave some of them a model problem with a solution first, then one problem to solve.  Another group of students got a model problem with a solution, then 2 problems to solve.

The model problems had a solution that was analogous to the problems that both groups had to solve.

The results: Only 13% of students in the first group that had to solve one problem came up with the solution.  The group with two problems to solve were successful 51% of the time.

Researchers concluded that trying to solve two problems causes you to form generalizations based on previous learning that can help you solve a current problem.  So the second group was able to use what they learned from the previous problem they were shown.

Most people it turns out are not able to quickly see how the solutions of past problems can help them today and that’s why the first group had such a low success rate.

This means that by trying to solve two similar problems today, you can profit from lessons learned in the past more effectively.

The key though is that the two problems you try to solve must have a similar underlying structure.  So to use this idea next time you have a problem you might ask yourself “What’s a similar problem that also needs a solution?”

If you consider that problem in addition to the one you’re working on, you may find that you come up with a solution a lot quicker.

So how will you use this information to solve your next problem?  Please leave me your answers in the comments section below.

Think Of This To Boost Creativity In 43 Seconds

Think Of This To Boost Creativity In 43 Seconds

Research has shown that many types of creativity require abstract thought.  And thinking of events in the future causes people to think more abstractly.

So researchers set up several experiments to answer the question “Does thinking about the future improve creativity?”

Here’s what they did in one experiment.

They divided participants into two groups.  One group was asked to think about their lives one year from now to get them to think about the future.  The other group was asked to think about their lives tomorrow, to get them thinking close to the present.

Both groups were given three insight problems to solve commonly used to measure creativity.  Here’s an example of one of the insight problems.

A prisoner was attempting to escape from a tower. He found a rope in his cell that was half as long enough to permit him to reach the ground safely. He divided the rope in half, tied the two parts together, and escaped. How could he have done this? [Solution given at the end of this post.]

Those participants that imagined their lives a year from now solved a lot more problems than those that thought about the next day.

So thinking about the future did improve abstract thinking and creativity.

It’s also important to note that in follow up experiments they gave participants creative tasks and analytical tasks.  And people who thought about their lives a year ahead did worse than those who thought ahead only 24 hours.

So when facing a creative problem that involves abstract thinking, spend some time thinking about the future.  But when you’re deep in analysis think about the present.

So how will you use these ideas today?  Let me know in the comments below.

[Solution: He unraveled the rope lengthwise and tied the remaining strands together.]

Reference to study above:

Förster, Jens; Friedman, Ronald S.; Liberman, Nira Temporal Construal Effects on Abstract and Concrete Thinking: Consequences for Insight and Creative Cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 87(2), Aug 2004, 177-189.

How A Simple Arm Movement Can Increase Your Creativity In Just 10 Seconds

How A Simple Arm Movement Can Increase Your Creativity In Just 10 Seconds

Would you like to solve problems more effectively?  Or just come up with more creative ideas on demand?

Research on how body movements affect the mind can show you how physical actions can make you much more creative.

In one study published in 2002 by Friedman and Forster, researchers asked participants to complete various creativity tasks.  One group was asked to put their right hand under the table and pull it towards them gently.  The other group was asked to place their right hand on top of the table and push down.

The group that was asked to pull the table towards them did much better on the creativity tasks as scored by independent reviewers than the “push” group.


Because the mind interprets pulling actions as meaning that a situation is safe and safety triggers creative thinking processes.  Pushing actions signal that a situation is not safe and triggers analytic processes.

This result has been validated in many other experiments over the last 15 years.

So how can you use this idea to help yourself?

The next time you need to produce creative ideas, try taking one hand and pulling your desk towards you for a few moments.  And when you want to think more analytically try pushing things away from you.

These simple actions have been shown over and over again to affect how you think.

So when will you apply this information?  Leave a comment below telling when, where and how you will experiment with the idea above.

Reference to study above:

The influence of approach and avoidance motor actions on creativity.

Friedman, R. & Forster, J. (2002) The influence of approach and avoidance motor actions on creative cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 41–55