In our current world of information overload, speed, and mandates to increase productivity, people tend to drill down and get into a negative mood. As Martin Seligman states, citing abundant research, "Positive mood produces broader attention . . .more creative thinking . . . and more holistic thinking . . . in contrast to negative mood which produces narrower attention . . . more critical thinking, and more analytic thinking."
It is useful now to promote the more positive state of mind that allows for free play of the mind, rather than demand answers quickly. The hurried, focused, pressured thinker is prone to stifle new ideas or misinterpret what he sees. Let me give a couple of examples of how your first or even second thought can lead you astray.
In logic there is a famous example called the "Monty Hall problem," named after the host of the old TV game show Let's Make a Deal. The problem goes as follows: let's say Monty shows you three curtains and tells you that behind one curtain there sits a new car, but behind the other two curtains lurk booby prizes--a donkey and a rubber boot. He asks you to pick a curtain, and you pick curtain #1. Then Monty opens curtain #3, which reveals the donkey. Now he gives you the opportunity to switch your choice from curtain #1 to #2. Assuming you want the car, what do you decide to do?
Think about it before you read on.
Most people see no reason to switch. But, in fact, you double your odds of getting the car if you switch to curtain #2. At the outset, when you picked curtain #1, the odds were 1 in 3 that the car was behind that curtain, and 2 in 3 that it wasn't. After Monty opens curtain #3, those odds do not change. There is still a 1 in 3 chance that the car is behind curtain #1. That means there must be a 2 in 3 chance the car is behind curtain #2. So you double your chance by switching. Knowing what's behind curtain #3 has helped you. But you have to be adept enough with logic and statistics to take advantage of what that knowledge has given you.
Here are two other examples. The price of a ball and a bat is $1.10. The bat is priced one dollar higher than the ball. What is the price of the ball?
Think about it before you read on.
Most people quickly conclude that the bat costs $1.00, and the ball costs 10 cents. But that would mean the bat costs only 90 cents more than the ball, not the required $1.00. For the total to be $1.10, the ball must cost 5 cents and the bat $1.05. Getting the right answer does not depend on having a high IQ; it depends on other factors that, as psychologist Keith Stanovich points out, IQ tests don't measure but matter a great deal nonetheless.
Stanovich also cites the following problem developed by his colleague, Hector Levesque, a computer scientist at the University of Toronto: Jack is looking at Anne, but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married, but George is not. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person? (A) Yes (B) No (C) Cannot be determined
Most people choose C. But that is the wrong answer. The right answer is A. Think about it. We know whether or not Jack and George are married, but not if Anne is married. If Anne is unmarried, then a married person is looking at an unmarried person because Jack is married and he is looking at her. If Anne is married, then a married person is looking at an unmarried person because George is unmarried and Anne is looking at him. Either way, a married person is looking at an unmarried person, so the answer is A.
Once again, getting the correct answer does not depend on having a high IQ, but rather on not settling too soon for what at first glance seems to be the correct answer.6 In offering the preceding three examples, not only was I demonstrating a point about what the quick, goal-directed mind can miss, I was also providing you, the reader, with a chance to play. If you're like most people, you found the problems fun. Even though you likely came up with incorrect answers (unless you peeked), it was fun to be fooled, get surprised, and learn from what you missed.
Instead of my simply telling you the point I wanted to make, I allowed you to interact with the issue and learn from your own mistakes. This is the great beauty of play: it engages people in a way that straight didactic lecture or linear explanation can't. You remember far better what you discover experientially than what you are told. That's why Confucius said experience is the greatest teacher and why Socrates asked questions.
Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People. Copyright 2011 Dr. Edward M. Hallowell. All rights reserved.
Dr. Edward M. Hallowell is a psychiatrist, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, and director of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health, which serves individuals with emotional and learning problems.