I am currently reading 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman. I wasn't sure about it at first but the more I read the more it is growing on me.
A chapter I read recently talks about the work of two psychologists named Ap Dijksterhuis and Teun Meurs. They worked on some experiments around creativity and the unconscious and published it in 2006 in a paper called "Where Creativity Resides: The Generative Power of the Unconscious Thought"
I am going to paraphrase from a book that was paraphrasing from the paper, so forgive me if I don't cover all the details but essentially one of the experienced involved asking two sets of people to come up with creative names for new types of pasta, examples were given that all ended in the letter 'i'.
One group was tasked with immediately getting to work whilst the other group was given another task first, a task that took up all their concentration (it was following a dot move around a computer screen and monitor when it changed colour).
The group that got to work immediately showed a far higher instance of coming up with more names that ended in 'i' than the group that had a break from actively thinking about the problem.
The conclusion that was drawn was that when your conscious is focused on a task it gives you unconscious time to process and think about other problems in a creative way.
To quote from 59 Seconds;
The results were remarkable. The volunteers who had been consciously thinking about the task produced more pasta names ending in 'i' that those who had been busy chasing a dot around a computer screen. In contrast, when the more unusual pasta names were examined, the dot-chasing volunteers produced almost twice as many suggestions as those in the other groups.
Now, how does this relate to programming? Well my take away was if I am addressed with a problem and jump straight into it, I am likely to solve it the way I have always solved it, or with some variation of something I have done before, but perhaps if I focus my mind on another task first I might be able to unlock the power of the unconscious to come up with a more novel or interesting solution to the problem.
It is certainly something I am going to try out the next time I need to solve something creatively.