Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bathroom thinking

After reading one of the classical books on creativity, James Webb Young's "Techniques for producing ideas", I had an epiphany. Young says that to come out with a new idea, after writing down all the components that describe certain problem, product or service one should try to mix all these chunks to produce an idea, an improvement to an existing situation or a solution to a problem. After that, he suggests to "Drop the whole subject and forget about it. Turn the whole problem to the unconscious mind and to what stimulate your emotions".

This step reminded me of those times at school, during examination of certain subjects such as maths, physics or other logical and rational tests. The mould used to be more or less the same: two hours for the whole exam, and the permission to go to the bathroom after at least one hour.
Logical challenges, defying reasoning and of course memory, require the candidate to possess some skills: to dominate the subject, having done lots of exercises to familiarize with the typical problems but also to be flexible enough not to panic when the proposed exercise is different from anything seen until that moment.
And I think that's legitimate, reasoning and improvisation should be taught at school, or maybe at least introduced: it's not so straightforward to teach how to improvise.

Toilet built inside a Baobab Tree (Kayila Lodge, zambia)

The scenario was often the same. Students who had studied could easily obtain a very good mark. But I have only seen the excellence when personal interpretation and analysis of a problem was proposed. You might call that kind of personal touch, at the time of answering an exam, inspiration, creativity or genius. I don't know what it is. But what I know is that when I was stuck on a problem and could not discover the solution by using normal logical reasoning, I needed to go for a cigarette.

Asking the teacher to go to the bathroom, where I could smoke ─unseen─ a cigarette leaning out of the window, used to help me. Five minutes for me to completely disconnect from the examination and to forget problems by feeling in a relaxed mood: "I have done what I have done, and I have done it well. Probably I was not sufficiently prepared for the exam. But perfection has its own price".

I assure you that after some puffs of the cigarette the enlightened moment "But what if...?" automatically arrived. The inspiration was there, and suddenly the idea to unblock that problem and reach the solution was there too, clearly drawn in my mind. Not because of the cigarette, of course. The cigarette was just the pretext to enjoy the relief related to nicotine addiction. But the pleasant moment together with being locked in the bathroom, thus creating a relaxed and private space as if at home, contributed to produce wellness and the context switch, the shaking of concepts in my mind and the production of the idea.

Today I still discover that when I have to take a decision, solve a problem or look for compromises in my daily life, the bathroom helps me; often times unconsciously.

So this is what is for me "Bathroom Thinking": "To pause the routine when looking for the best solution to a problem by switching the context and taking a break with food, cigarettes, drinks, or any other pleasure facilitator in a familiar and private space".