In Search of an Unrelated Epiphany

Sun, Dec 31, 2017

Simplicity Rules

It was the last day of the year, and I intended to end it with an empty inbox. The only emails left were strangers reaching out for help with API comparisons. I enjoy these conversations, but I admit I saw them at that moment as a blocker between me and Inbox Zero. As I prepared a succinct-but-helpful reply, something wonderful happened.

I had quickly searched for some documentation to answer the query. I skimmed the content, copied the URL, tabbed over to my email window… then tabbed back to the documentation, because my brain had noticed something familiar. On this same page was the answer to another question I’d been noodling on for a few weeks. A completely disconnected search led me to a solution.

Wouldn’t it be great if that kind of unrelated epiphany could be controlled?

Maybe it can be. You’ve probably experienced the benefits of going on a walk when you’re looking for a breakthrough. I often return to my desk with a new perspective. A 2014 Stanford study explained why, finding that walking increases creativity:

The overwhelming majority of the participants in these three experiments were more creative while walking than sitting, the study found. In one of those experiments, participants were tested indoors – first while sitting, then while walking on a treadmill. The creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when the person was walking, according to the study.

Walking must be like a reboot for your brain, clearing out the cobwebs. Maybe I got a similar jolt of mental energy from answering those last emails. I already enjoy helping people, but now I have another reason to assist. These often one-off basic inquiries are like taking a walk–they help my brain reboot and, maybe, find an unrelated epiphany.

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