A Vacation From Thinking

John Dickerson delves into the difficulty of finding creative solutions to stop the BP leak:

Federal officials who have been in big crises all talk about a moment when someone figured that the answer was not to apply more of the same remedy (or even "historic" amounts of it) but to look for an entirely new approach altogether. This sounds great in theory, but is very hard to do in the moment because the immediate needs take up 25 hours of the day. There's no time to think, and even if you have a great idea, there may be no organizational capacity to carry it out. There's also the problem that every hour someone spends on your creative idea is an hour they're not spending producing outputs that can be measured by the media and your political opponents. Also, creative ideas open you to ridicule. Why are you wasting your time on that and not ordering more boom?

Jonah Lehrer advises the engineers to stop thinking about the problem:

I imagine the poor engineers trying to fix this catastrophe back at HQ are working around the clock, swilling coffee by the gallon and trying to stay focused amid all the pressure. Their bosses are probably driving them crazy, demanding instant solutions to a seemingly impossible puzzle. And so the engineers drink more coffee. They pull yet another all-nighter. After all, a problem this difficult requires every ounce of their conscious attention.

This post is about why those poor BP engineers should take a break. They should step away from the dry-erase board and go for a walk. They should take a long shower. They should think about anything but the thousands of barrels of toxic black sludge oozing from the pipe.

The reason for this counterintuitive advice is that there appears to be a tradeoff between certain kinds of creativity and the frantic sort of focus that comes when people are put in high stakes situations.