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Sleeping on It May Be Great Advice for Decision Makers

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If you have ever “slept on it” before making a decision, or put a complex problem aside to let it “simmer,” you may be engaging unconscious thought to help you better process the information.That, at any rate, is what a Harvard professor thinks, as his research into “conscious” and “unconscious” decision-making proceeds.

“Careful consideration of all the options can be done by our unconscious mind,” saysHarvard Business School postdoctoral fellow Maarten Bos. “Our conscious mind is pretty good at following rules, but our unconscious mind—our ability to “think without attention”—can handle a larger amount of information.”

We came across this intriguing idea in an article posted to HBS Working Knowledge, written by Martha Lagace.

Bos has crafted a series of experiments that you can read about in the article, but the main thesis is that when we turn our conscious mind to other matters, in the background our brain is still processing the information about the previous problem, and actually pushes the information-sifting and conceptualization process forward. Thus, the surprisingly productive results that can occur when coming back to a decision after a break might not be so surprising, and could be predictably productive if approached in a controlled way.

If Bos keeps getting good research results, the good reputation that “sleeping on it” has may turn out to have biological underpinnings!

In the meantime, as a leader you may want to consider whether pressing for immediate decisions on urgent issues is truly critical, or if finding some time (even a few minutes) to let the mind’s wheels turn might end up the better course of action.

Of course, a fully engaged workforce will push issues up the line for resolution more promptly, diminishing the need for quick decisions, allowing both conscious and unconscious thinking processes to work their magic, further boosting productivity!

What do you think about this line of reasoning? Sleep on it and get back to us!


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