People often say that doing something after you haven’t done it for a long time “is just like riding a bicycle”.
Which is essentially saying that once you’ve managed to do something, it’s a lot easier to do again in the future.
In this interesting video above by Destin Sandlin from Smarter Every Day, he tries to find out why almost everyone fails at the simple task of riding a bicycle that is just slightly different from the ones everyone knows how to ride: When steer in one direction, the wheel moves in the opposite direction.
The problem with this is that while your brain is very good at learning new skills through repetition, this can leave it stuck with a bias. When it is faced with a new problem which is similar to one it has previously mastered (like the above example of riding a bicycle), it will automatically try to use the previous solution. This will happen even if the person has the information (knowledge) on how to come to the solution; the brain will still try to use its previous understanding.
You actually have to unlearn the automatic response in order to find and master the new solution.
What’s also interesting is that the video shows evidence of how much more plastic a child’s brain is than an adults brain, in that they can overcome their mental bias and learn the new skill more quickly.
This is one of the reasons why even intelligent people end up making mistakes even though they know how to avoid them.
And it’s one of the main reasons why people with extensive experience in a field often find it so difficult to find a solution to a new problem, even if it may be obvious to outsiders. Essentially, learning the “right answers” to problems and approaching new problems in new ways can indocrinate experts into approaching challenges with a narrow mindset of what is possible.
So when you’re setting yourself an innovation or idea challenge, try these two things:
- Get some feedback and ideas from someone who should know little or nothing about the field. Their lack of history in the field means they might approach challenges in a new way. While this might not provide the ultimate answer, it may give you new hypothesese to test, or ways to approach the challenge
- Always ask yourself how someone without your knowledge would approach a problem. This is called “Vuja De” (the opposite of Deja Vu), where you approach everything as if it’s the first time you’ve experienced it, and it can provide you with significant insights.
BONUS: Another effective way to help overcome your mental biases is to regularily do some creativity training exercises. I have a free Creativity Training Tracker which includes instructions on how to fit this into your daily habit to make you more creative over time, which you can get for free here. It is also available to everyone who signs up for free membership to Idea to Value.
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