The work leading up to trial is often hard analytical work -- the kind of gradual and methodological grind in putting the pieces logically together. But sometimes it is creative work -- the kind of work involved in resolving a problem, hatching a strategy, or discovering a theme. That creative part of the work often depends on a moment of insight more than it depends on the hours of hard work. A sudden, fresh, and novel idea can be just what it takes. When I am working on messaging recommendations for a client, following a mock trial for example, sometimes the great idea will happen early, maybe while the mock jurors are still on site. But at other times, I find myself waiting on a truant muse and the idea emerges only much later. In a past post, I've warned about the danger in over-relying on imagination and using it as an excuse to avoid creative work, since the research shows that inspiration can sometimes be a result of perspiration. But one fact about inspiration is that you know it when you feel it. And according to some new research, when you feel it, you should trust it.  

A new study in the journal, Thinking and Reasoning (Salvi et al., 2016) has been covered in ScienceDaily and in Scientific American. Entitled, "Insight Solutions Are Correct More Often Than Analytical Solutions," the research reports on several experiments showing that the "aha moments" involving sudden insights lead to correct solutions more often than the "hmm moments" involving gradual and analytical problem solving. The experiments involved puzzles requiring research participants to find a common term linking several other terms (for example, the terms "crab," "pine," and "sauce" are all linked to the term "apple"). After solving the problem under a deadline, participants were asked how they arrived at their answers. Overall, the solutions that emerged as sudden insights were more likely to be correct than the solutions that arrived after careful analytical thought. The research provides an interesting and creative reminder to litigators: Do the hard analytical work because you have to, but trust your sudden insights as well. 

The Problem With Being Analytical 

What does it mean to, as the law schools say, "think like a lawyer?" For the most part it means reasoning systematically and analytically. The psychological bias of "effort justification" makes us think that anything that is the product of a lot of effort is better than something that isn't. The problem is that high-effort analysis isn't necessarily better. "Conscious, analytic thinking can sometimes be rushed or sloppy, leading to mistakes while solving a problem," says research team member John Kounios in ScienceDaily, "However, insight is unconscious and automatic -- it can't be rushed. When the process runs to completion in its own time and all the dots are connected unconsciously, the solution pops into awareness as an Aha! moment. This means that when a really creative, breakthrough idea is needed, it's often best to wait for the insight rather than settling for an idea that resulted from analytical thinking."

Consistent with that, the study found that while 74 percent of the responses described as coming from analysis proved to be correct, fully 94 percent of the responses categorized as coming from insight were correct. 

Finally, A Defense for Your Procrastination

An interesting companion finding to the study is that participants who tended to have more sudden insights also tended to miss the deadlines. In other words, those participants were more likely to wait for the right idea rather than providing an incorrect but on-time response. The deadline itself seemed to deaden creativity. The research team looked at the answers given in the final five seconds before the time limit and found that a surprising 72 percent of those answers were wrong, and that a majority of those wrong answers were based on analytical thinking. 

"Deadlines create a subtle -- or not so subtle -- background feeling of anxiety," Kounios said. "Anxiety shifts one's thinking from insightful to analytic. Deadlines are helpful to keep people on task, but if creative ideas are needed, it's better to have a soft target date. A drop-dead deadline will get results, but they are less likely to be creative results."

The more successful participants didn't guess, they just didn't give an answer until they had an "aha" moment.  

Space for Insight

We obviously won't be doing away with the deadlines anytime soon in litigation, but the research results are a good reminder, even in the crush of systematic and analytical work that litigation brings, to reserve some space for insight. For myself, for example, I often find that the strategic thoughts I have during a bike ride are more valuable than the ones I hatch while hunched over a computer at the office. As Dr. Kounios concludes, "This means that in all kinds of personal and professional situations, when a person has a genuine, sudden insight, then the idea has to be taken seriously. It may not always be correct, but it can have a higher probability of being right than an idea that is methodically worked out."