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Good times ahead.


Step Back

That's what first responders say to people gathering around an incident on the street.

It's also what a subject matter expert might say when asked to offer advice.

In the first instance, "step back" is simply a matter of physical space. First responders need not be tripping over their patient.

In the second, "step back" is clearly metaphorical. It says to people, "Wait, there is a pattern here that you might recognize, but you can't see it because you are zoomed in too close."

There's yet a third way to hear this (and probably many more). It says, "slow down, take a break, go do something else for a while."

This version puts faith in Bluma Zeigarnik's theory that we are more apt to remember unfinished tasks that finished ones. When people are deep in a task it does not seem logical to stop doing it for any reason... but it works.

We know from her work and her fellow Gestalters is that an interrupted task gets more attention from the mind than one that's already finished. It's one reason to set goals in small increments. It allows us to complete something and then free our minds to start the next thing. By telling our mind that a task is finished it removes it from our proverbial desktop and clears some RAM for the next task.

Adam Grant, in his book Originals, spends a fair amount of time speaking of this in terms of 'planned procrastination', postulating that if we step back from a task before completion that our minds will more likely find potentially new and interesting variations on patterns relating to that task as a matter of memory maintenance. These new patterns are the source of 'originality' that were less available to us while we were still actively hammering away at the task.

It's not clear yet whether the pending forced break in our work patterns will have the same effect as a break of our choosing, but it won't surprise me when researchers in the future step back and find myriad pattern shifts across industries that led to inventions that will appear as though they were right in front of us all along.

We were just too close to see them.


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