In the detail

Mark McGuiness‘ comment here reminded me of another fascinating story in Made to Stick.

A group of students are asked to think about a problem they’re dealing with and want to resolve. They’re divided in three groups.

The first group are sent home to think about it and come back a week later. The second group are invited to take time to carefully visualise in detail how the problem arose going over the incidents step-by-step.

The third group are invited to do a careful visualisation finding a positive outcome and how great they’ll feel.

After only one night, the second group were feeling better and having more ideas about solutions than either of the others. Even more so after a week.

Interesting huh? Cos popular wisdom suggests we shouldn’t spend too much time “dwelling on the past” and should be focussed on visualising success. This fits my own experience, especially after a tough gig: talking it through in some detail with a friend almost always lifts my spirits and improves my understanding. I go from thinking I’ve failed to realising some new learning. I think in part the patient re-examination creates more choices for how I’m interpreting what happened.

The Heath Brothers make another interesting connection, suggesting that this kind of mental stimulation is what happens when we hear a well-told, detailed story… and that’s why stories are so important in organisations.

2 thoughts on “In the detail

  1. Lloyd Davis

    I think it’s having more than one point of view that makes the difference.

    Dwelling on the past, implies to me an internal conversation with myself about how shit I am. Talking it over in detail with someone who agrees with everything I say (oh I wish!) is just making them a misery buddy.

    I’ve certainly found my past to be a rich source of personal growth, as long of course that I remember that both past and future are just a mind-created illusion 🙂

  2. Johnnie Moore

    Hi Lloyd: Agree about multiple perspectives.

    I think for all these ideas, tiny details of context matter. What works for people in one context may not work in another. Plus there’s something about a focus on what happened as opposed to the meaning we make of it.

    When I do the play-by-play I can usually slow down the thinking process that jumps to harsh judgements (of myself or others) and get into a less charged area where I feel more curious and less judgemental.


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