Creativity, Energy and the Zeigarnik Effect

Posted on April 14 2019

Creativity, Energy and the Zeigarnik Effect
“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” — Ernest Hemingway

In a recent short video Chicago Booth’s Linda Ginzel discusses how Hemingway leveraged the psychological phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik effect, and how executives can as well.

Have you ever had a problem you were working to resolve, and weren’t really thinking about it consciously, but say you’re in the shower, when all of a sudden an idea comes to you? Or say you wake up in the middle of the night with an idea on something you’ve been working on? That’s the Zeigarnik Effect.

Linda says Bluma Zeigarnik is the psychologist responsible for identifying the Zeigarnik Effect; the tendency to remember incomplete tasks better than completed ones. She says Ernest Hemingway is said to have used the Zeigarnik Effect to his advantage. At the end of each writing day, he’d stop mid-sentence. Instead of completing his thought, he’d allow the Zeigarnik Effect to work for him.

Executive tend to rush closure, according to Linda. They have a bias for action and want to move on so they can get a lot of things done. But, she says, perceptive questions are much more important than answers. This is because questions are tools. Questions generalize across time and place, where answers are specific to a given context.

Linda says she hopes we’ll practice staying in the question, where creativity and energy often reside, along with uncertainty and anxiety. You can view her full comments here.

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