The power of focus: unlocking creative insight and overcoming performance barriers

Date

2007-09-05T17:25:28Z

Authors

Walinga, Jennifer

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Publisher

Abstract

Abstract Challenges, problems, and conflicts can be the seeds of growth, or the seeds of destruction. It seems worthwhile to develop skills for addressing and resolving life challenges in ways that promote growth. Problem solving skills are a component of any performance challenge whether athletic, academic, professional, or personal. However, the cognitive and physiological resources and processes associated with problem solving have the potential to act in ways that both enhance and inhibit effective problem solving and performance outcomes. The threat appraisal mechanism, the subconscious process of evaluating whether a challenge poses a threat, is designed to preserve the individual but can also work to interfere with an individual’s capacity for creative problem solving. Focus, a process capable of galvanizing an individual’s attention and energies toward a singular purpose, can erode performance just as powerfully by drawing energies away from performance goals. Insight into the interactions and interdependencies of underlying cognitive and physiological mechanisms and principles comprising the problem solving process would better inform the design of facilitative performance interventions for a variety of realms including business, academic, athletic, and interpersonal. The following experimental and quasi-experimental field study explored the relationship between cognitive appraisal, attentional focus, problem solving, and goal attainment. The research examined the influence that threat focus, assumption focus, goal focus and ‘integrated’ focus had upon coping strategies, cognitive stress appraisal, and performance outcome on problem solving tasks. Shifts in focus were achieved using questions designed to direct thinking. Qualitative and quantitative analyses were conducted in the form of three separate but interrelated experiments. The first experiment compared the impact of three focusing interventions on problem solving rate and approach on a variety of insight problems. The second experiment evaluated a refined intervention against a control group on the same tasks. The final experiment applied the refined intervention within an organizational field setting and evaluated the impact of the intervention on problem solving approach and outcome when faced with challenges related to a workplace injury. Outcome was based upon correct solutions in the lab and sustainability of solutions in the field. Analysis of variance results demonstrated that the focusing intervention significantly and positively affected problem solving rate, outcome and approach in the lab and moderately and positively affected problem solving outcome and approach in a workplace setting. The research has implications for other individual, team and organizational settings suggesting that performance on a wide variety of problems may be improved by utilizing an integrated focus.

Description

Keywords

performance, creative problem solving, insight, return to work, barriers, intervention

Citation