Operating rooms are wonders of science where miracles are performed daily. The surgical teams that run them are highly skilled and meticulously trained; experts at repairing the most complex machine on earth, the human body. Why then, are medical professionals trying to problem solve by turning to the gear heads and grease monkeys of top-tier pit crews? 1 It’s because, as disconnected as car racing and surgery seem, they are both striving for the same goal, choreographing grace within chaos. Whether it be completing 80+ tasks on a car in 7-9 seconds(!), or performing a delicate heart surgery with 20+ people in the OR and no room for error.

Success in both realms relies heavily on a highly technical team, with diverse skill sets, working on critical tasks where time is of the essence. Don’t forget that physical space is a challenge in pit lane as well as in operating rooms! The doctors that initiated these innovative developments, which have become popular around the world2, didn’t come by these ideas while scrubbed up and performing a procedure. The ideas came while merely watching the Grand Prix on TV, nothing medically related at all.

Alternative Worlds and Where to Find Them

In design terms, this tactic is commonly referred to as “alternative worlds”3. It consists of breaking down a challenge or problem into its key components then taking a step back and identifying other disciplines or fields that have faced and overcome similar principle problems. Deconstructing obstacles can be done using 80/20 analysis4, root cause analysis5, or any other method that you find effective. I would like to focus on the less-addressed issue of finding alternative worlds.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone brings up problem solving? “Oh! Let’s brainstorm!” Not so fast, my friend!6 A 2010 study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology focuses solely on why brainstorming, while a very popular tactic, is inefficient in its common application. Its inefficiency is mainly attributed to an effect dubbed “fixation”:

“…experimentally provided stimuli can cause fixation, defined as ‘something that blocks or impedes the successful completion of various types of cognitive operations, such as those involved in remembering, solving problems, and generating creative ideas’ (Smith, 2003, p. 16)….” Kohn and Smith, 20107

Incubation, aka taking a break from the problem, is a proven way to beat fixation and enhance productivity and ideation8,9. It’s theorized that focusing on something besides the problem gives your unconscious mind a chance to work on the problem and make deeper connections. I can attest to having those miraculous moments of inspiration where I’ve grown so frustrated with a problem that I just had to walk away, only to find myself coming up with multiple solutions when I least expected it. (Unfortunately it occurred most frequently while leaving a test…) But how can you use incubation to help you find alternative worlds? When you explore the world not just for breathtaking Instagram pics but for understanding and respect for how things works, you are stocking your mind with more context and opening yourself up to making connections and finding the alternative worlds that you seek. To do that, though, you’re going to need to leave your home or office.

Use Your Vacation Time (If You Get It)!

I will readily admit that I’m quite bad about using my vacation time. So for those of you that effectively use all your allotted time, you have my utmost respect! However, I do know that I’m not alone. It’s enough of a problem in the USA that there is a coalition of large companies who’ve banded together to do research on the topic. The results are staggering:

Project Time Off - Vacation Days Infographic
2017 Vacation day trend infographic (Project Time Off)

236 BILLION (Yes, that’s a B)! I was utterly amazed when I saw the actual numbers. Then to find out that there are even some startups, Buffer and Evernote, who actually pay people to use their vacation days! Another study found that among 28 countries across Asia, Europe, North America and South America, the USA was tied for 7th in lowest percentage of used vacation days. Which countries used less? Only Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, India, South Korea and Japan.

A few more interesting stats:

  • Fear of returning to a mountain of work (43%) was the most popular reason for not using vacation. To those of us who fall in that category, I’d suggest asking yourself “What’s the worst that could happen?” and weighing whether the reward of an adventure is worth the risk.
  • “Work Martyrs” were less likely to report receiving a bonus or raise and were equally likely to receive a promotion as the average worker
  • 96% of all workers say that vacation time is important to them

And Use Them Well

When you decide to take that time you’ve earned, take a second to decide which view you’d rather focus on:

Technology distraction
Don’t let your technology observe for you. (Credit: Christian Widell @ StockSnap.io)

Keep your head up and your mind active. Be aware of what’s going on around you and always be asking questions and striving to understand. Doing so will make every day more interesting, and may even help you solve those problems you left. (Don’t worry, we’ll check out your pictures when you post them all at once!)

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it” – Ansel Adams

Thanks for reading! If you like it share it. A few quick things before I go…

  1. Plan a long weekend/vacation/staycation. 52% of people who plan out vacations take all of their time off, while only 40% of non-planners do.
  2. Sign up to join the community! I’ve been getting the question recently, “What is the blog about?”, and honestly I’m not sure yet. You can help influence that. The email list is where I’ll solicit feedback for future posts and make sure that what I’m putting out is something you’ll find value in!
  3. Teachers, Administrators, Counselors, Community Advocates I need your help. I’ve put this survey up and have received great responses but a few more would really help round out a post I’m putting together. I’m looking for feedback on the challenges seen in education from the “boots on the ground”.

Originally published at dooleynoted.org