Have you ever had a problem that has you absolutely stumped … and you ask a co-worker for assistance or post a message to an online forum (like a midrange.com mailing list) for assistance.
Then, quite soon after you ask for assistance, you finally discover the answer yourself?
This is called the ‘Cardboard Analyst’ phenomenon … where the person (or people) you are asking for assistance don’t necessarily provide direct assistance, but force you to look at the problem from a different perspective.
It’s my theory (which may or may not be backed up by research) that forcing your brain to break the problem down into terms that you can describe to someone else, gives you a new perspective on the problem and new insight into what the problem actually is.
Personally, I’ve found that if I just try to explain what the problem is to someone (even my wife, who’s not super technical), I’m able to find the solution I want. Occasionally, I’ll be explaining a problem to someone in my office when my voice will trail off and I’ll start thinking about another avenue of exploration. Often I’ll thank the person I was talking to for their assistance … to which they will respond “Glad I could be of no help”.
Oddly enough, the person I am talking to has to be able to respond … often asking me questions that make me think about it. I once tried using our cat as a cardboard analyst … but it didn’t work 🙂 .
So next time you’ve got a problem that’s got you particularly stumped … try explaining it it someone. You’ll be surprised how much help someone can be even if they don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.