There’s a popular technique among programmers called “rubber duck debugging:” put a rubber duck (or a cardboard cutout of a dog) next to your computer, and whenever you get stuck, you talk to the duck.
Yes, you talk your problem and walk your code with that inanimate object. And you perpetuate the stereotype that we geeks are a socially awkward bunch.
“Showing It to Someone Else” isn’t just a way of telling the other what you think; it’s a way of telling yourself what you think. Just the act of slowing down and explaining your problem and its context can bring about a moment of illumination.
Rubber duck debugging is related to what psychologists call “incubation.” The best solutions can strike suddenly and unexpectedly when you aren’t actively working on your problem. Think of Archimedes and his Eureka moment.
Idea for Impact: Talking is often a part of thought. After many failed attempts, switching your brain from problem-solving to problem-explaining—even to a cat, parent, sympathetic coworker, or somebody who may not know much about whatever it is that’s bothering you—can break you free from fixation and trigger creative breakthroughs.
Hat tip to reader Nick Ashcroft.