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Have you ever been stuck with a problem, racked your mind for ages trying to think of ways to solve it, and then, when you’ve given up and gone for a walk, suddenly the answer came to you? It’s both an infuriating and a liberating feeling. But what if there was a method that could help you solve the problem more quickly? Well, there is, and Dr Dance knows the right moves to make you smarter.
‘When people move in new and different ways it has an impact on their thinking,’ says Dr Dance, who is better known as Dr Peter Lovatt. ‘It speeds up their ability to solve problems.’
Lovatt, who is an ex-dancer, has taken this a step further – and worked out which moves are likely to help us with which sort of problems. A principal lecturer and reader in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, he has carried out tests to find out, asking people general knowledge questions before and after specific types of dances. His findings are fascinating.
There are two principal types of problem, suggests Lovatt – convergent and divergent ones.
Do the hand jive to solve convergent problems
Convergent problems have a right answer: the person trying to solve such a problem is looking for one correct answer. It might be a maths question, to which the answer is a specific number, or ‘what shoes go with this dress?’, to which the answer is a specific pair of shoes. Lovatt’s research has shown that if a person has a convergent problem to solve, he or she will solve it more quickly by performing a structured, predictable set of dance moves – such as the hand jive. ‘By moving the body in predictable ways, people become faster at solving convergent problems,’ says Lovatt. ‘Their cognitive processes speed up. They find bits of information quicker.’
Do crazy dancing to solve divergent problems
Divergent problems, on the other hand, have multiple answers: the person trying to solve this is looking for many answers, such as a brainstorm or, as EF Schumacher wrote in his 1977 book A Guide for the Perplexed, ‘Is discipline or freedom the best way to teach?’ Lovatt’s research has shown that to speed up the cognitive processes required to find answers to these sorts of problems, the problem solver needs to do unpredictable dance moves. ‘When people move in unpredictable ways, with improvised movements, they become better at solving divergent problems,’ says Lovatt. ‘They become better at generating a wider number of solutions. They don’t get stuck in set patterns and become more creative.’
Lovatt has not yet worked with any brands – but LS:N Global thinks his breakthrough discoveries could have multiple applications.
Top five take-outs
1. Dancing helps people to think and solve problems.
2. Predictable dancing helps people solve convergent problems.
3. Unpredictable dancing helps people solve divergent problems.
4. You and your teams could do wild-style unpredictable dancing to be more creative, and think of better and more innovative ideas.
5. Your brand could use these insights to influence the way your friends, fans and customers behave, and the choices they make. For instance, if you prefer that they choose a particular product or service, design your offer so that they use a set of predictable movements. Or if you want to unleash their imaginations, engineer your offer so that their – ideally dance-like – movements are unpredictable.
Dr Lovatt speaks at the School of Life, the London-based ‘apothecary of ideas’ that asks big questions for everyday living.