Do you allow enough time for percolation and incubation when solving problems?

Most people don’t spend time on either – and that gets us into hot water.

Speaking of hot water, coffee percolators mesmerized me in my youth. I remember the shiny pot sitting on the countertop, gurgling hot brown water into the glass knob on the top, as the aroma of coffee filled the kitchen.

Webster’s defines percolation as “to cause (a solvent) to pass through a permeable substance, especially for extracting a soluble constituent.

The percolator passed water through the coffee grounds to extract the taste, color, aroma, and stimulating beverage known as coffee.

Incubation might make you think of chickens and eggs. And while I’m still not sure which came first, it’s all about maintaining the right environment for development.

How percolation and incubation combine to solve problems

Consider the two keywords from the description: extraction and development.

  • Percolation extracts the best part, the value
  • Incubation takes and develops the value

We need to percolate on problems, ideas, and solutions to extract the best part, the value. Then we need a bit more time for the value we just extracted to incubate and develop into the clarity we need to understand and solve hard, complex problems.

Here’s the trick: write it down.

Then give yourself space to incubate and time to develop. Your brain will work on it.

How much time does it take?

For the last two decades, I’ve suggested we allow a minimum of 24 hours for percolation and incubation, often experienced in a series of intentional breaks between the stages of writing, preparing a presentation, or meeting to solve problems.

Some folks suggest allowing more time, up to six or more weeks, to get the space and distance for successful percolation and incubation.

It comes down to your ability to come back to the problem or work with ‘fresh eyes.’ We need enough distance to clear our minds and see what we have.

When you have less time, spend what you can – and look for a way to give your brain a rest. Less about distraction, and more about intentionally clearing your mind.

Walking is great for this — and if you’ve done this, you know it really speeds up the percolation and incubation!

Be the leader who percolates and incubates to deliver more value

After getting some distance, percolate. Maybe in a small group. Maybe just yourself. But actively look for the pattern. Squeeze it through some sort of structure or other device to help extract the best part.

Then allow more time and space for incubation.

Then come back to the group and share your extracted and more fully developed idea. You’ll likely find clearer focus on value that is easier to communicate, easier to understand.

Clarity is the fuel for acceleration.

Percolation and incubation sets the stage to solve complex problems and deliver value faster.

About the Author Michael Santarcangelo

The founder of Security Catalyst, Michael develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success.

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