“If you want to understand phenomena, you should understand it in its most developed, fullest form,”
via Where the research takes you | Harvard Gazette.
Reminds me of the long-term memory’s role in creativity. In fact, creatives tend to obsess over an idea for seemingly no reason, while other people don’t see the point. There’s a reason for this: if you have a dialogue around a topic, either an internal or external, you’ll understand it better in principle. And understanding principles teaches you how to be resourceful with that idea.
The Boy and His Pencil
I use the pencil example to teach this principle. A child goes to school and learns about a pencil. While many kids simply use a pencil, this kid obsesses over it. He wants to know what it’s made out of.
Over the years, he discovers that pencil lead is actually graphite, which is mostly useless trivia. But to him, it’s interesting. He also discovers that liquid graphite is used to lubricate locks.
When he’s 26 years old, he’s locked out of his house when his sticky, neglected front door lock finally decides to quit moving. As he contemplates his options, he wishes for some liquid graphite. He then realizes he has a mechanical pencil with some graphite “lead” in it. He clicks it a few times to extend the lead, puts it in the lock and breaks it off. He works the key around a little bit and lock starts operating freely.
Why it Matters
We call this resourcefulness, ingenuity, innovation and creativity. But it happens in the long-term memory, when the nodes are formed in the brain that organize our information on what a pencil is. If those nodes are set up to contain basic knowledge about a thing, it’s more likely to seem to connect to another thing.
For instance, some of us might think of a pencil as good for writing only, where others think of it in its more basic form: a piece of graphite, wrapped with wood, topped with a rubber eraser, held on by metal. If it’s a writing utensil, it’s only good for writing. But if it’s all those things, it’s good for kindling (wood), holding the back of an earring on in a pinch (eraser) or lubricating metal.
For creatives, this means you’re not wasting time by obsessing over things related to your task. For strategists, this suggests that obsessing over a problem a bit before trying to solve it yields a real competitive advantage.
So if you’re building your understanding by obsessing over the fundamental principles of a thing, let’s just say there are worse ways you could use your time.
For more on this: Necka, E. (1999). Encyclopedia of Creativity. (M. A. Runco & S. R. Pritzker, Eds.). Academic Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=cpc7CJH1-s8C