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Some people (like me) have their best ideas exercising, as they try to sleep, and others at completely different occasions. There seem to be some more popular than others. In any case what does scientific research say into how people differ from each other (which factors contribute) in being more likely to have ideas at given environments and occasions, and what contributes to their being so?

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Best Ideas come from intense focus on the subject matter followed by time exposed to unrelated subject matters. This is when you get cross-over from other domains of thought.

Structured Serendipity

More recently, research in Mark Jung-Beeman's lab at Northweste rn has found that sudden bursts of insight — the Aha! or Eureka! moment — comes when brain activity abruptly shifts its focus. The almost ecstatic sense that makes us cry "I see!" appears to come when the brain is able to shunt aside immediate or familiar visual inputs.

In my view, we should each invest a few hours a week in reading research that ostensibly has nothing to do with our day jobs, in a setting that has nothing in common with our regular workspaces. This kind of structured serendipity just might help us become more creative, and I doubt that it can hurt.


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Not directly answering your question, but I'm currently reading the book Pragmatic Thinking and Learning and there is a whole chapter explaining that we have two "processing modes" in your brain: Linear-mode and Rich-mode cognitive processing, the Rich-mode is the one that we use when we have those "best ideas", but the Rich-mode is also somehow hidden behind the Linear-mode (we can only use one mode at a time). So the idea is to allow time to Rich-mode and this can be done for example by painting, sleeping exercising... In fact everyone should find out how to better activate Rich-mode... (I know it's much better explained in the book :)

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There was some research a while back at the Australian National University that the best place for doing creative thinking was lying down.

I can vouch for this myself; often when I am struggling with a problem, if I lie down I start to work out all sorts of things in my head; as soon as I sit back up I start to lose my train of thought.

So the challenge for me (which I haven't yet found a really good solution for) is how to capture my thoughts while in a prone position.

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I have read somewhere a while back that there has been research to what kind of environment helps more when brainstorming.

They had two rooms;

  • One very messy with all kinds of stuff everywhere,(small toys, decorations, some magazines, etc.) and with the room painted in multiple contrasting colours (something like Red, Green, Yellow).
  • They also had a second room, which was completely white, and this room was mostly empty.

Both rooms had chairs and a table of course, to enable people to brainstorm in there.

After brainstorming multiple times in both rooms, it turns out that:

  • The Best ideas (i.e., ideas that are more probable to be the solution to your problem) are proposed while in the calm, white, room.
  • The Most ideas are proposed in the messy room.

This might not be a direct answer to your question, but I hope it helps in some way. :)

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That's a good thing to keep in mind! – Vic Goldfeld Nov 28 '11 at 0:24

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