Re-examining the familiar

I reread something I wrote back in 2006 about Ellen Langer’s work on mindful learning. She makes this point:

When people overlearn a task so that they can perform it by rote the individual steps that make up the skill come together into larger and larger units. As a consequence, the smaller components of the activity are essentially lost, yet it is by adjusting and varying these pieces that we can improve our performance.

It’s not just rote learning that’s to blame here: I think any task with which become familiar tends to get chunked by the brain for perfectly understandable reasons. And it’s sometimes really good to give fresh attention to the smaller components if we’re looking for change.

As I said back then, it’s one reason I get wary of the cult of big ideas. It’s also one of the reasons I created the Crumbs! workshop: trying to find the new in the detail of the familiar is an under-rated behaviour; we don’t always need high-octane “brainstorming” to improve our world.

Hat tip to David Gurteen’s newsletter for prompting me to revisit Ellen Langer. (Noticing and following breadcrumb trails is another aspect of creativity…)

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