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Creativity lies at the heart of innovation.  One of the most popular ways to generate creative ideas is through brainstorming.  Typically a lot of the emphasis in brainstorming sessions lies within the idea generation phase.  The more ideas we come up with the better right?  Not really.  Generating a lot of creative ideas is fantastic, but it will have little to no impact on your organisation if you don’t select the best idea.  What’s the point of coming up with brilliant ideas if you decide to move an average idea forward?  The implications of your choice are huge.  But how do you select the best idea?

I am always interested to hear what decision-making strategies people adopt naturally and found that people typically fall into two categories: List Believers or Sleepers.  List Believers love making lists.  They like thinking about a problem long and hard and write a list of pros and cons.  Sleepers like ‘to sleep on it’.  They think about the problem before going to bed and wake up with a fresh solution in their mind.  So who is right?  What strategy to adopt?

In decision-making literature the difference between writing a list and sleeping on a problem is the difference between conscious and unconscious thought.  Conscious thought refers to the task-relevant cognitive processes that you are consciously aware of while attending to a task.  Unconscious thought is the opposite.  Unconscious thought pulls on the unconscious mind.  As we go through our day-to-day life the unconscious mind extracts decision rules.  Our accumulated life wisdom is stored in the unconscious mind.  To fully access all the information and wisdom we have build up on the decision at hand, we need to access our unconscious mind.

So conscious thought and unconscious thought are each preferable under different circumstances. Conscious thought leads to good choices in simple matters. When faced by a complex decision where multiple variables need to be taken into account the unconscious thought has superior capability.  Unconscious thought pulls from the unconscious mind, which has the ability to integrate, to process and to weigh multiple factors correctly.  When a lot of information needs to be weighed up, use your unconscious thought.  It will improve the quality of your decision.

Here are a few steps that will get you on the right track when you have to make a challenging (work related or personal!) decision.

1.  View the options.  This sounds obvious, but is crucial.  Make sure to do your extensive research and understand in depth what is involved in every idea/option.

2.  Sleep on it!  Or (if you are in a meeting and don’t have that luxury) distract yourself for 5 – 10 minutes.  Research has shown that distracting yourself for a minimum of 5 minutes is effective in activating the unconscious mind.  Make sure you are so distracted you do not think about the decision at hand.

3.  Make your decision.