“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.” -Lao Tzu

Have you ever worked on something for hours only to have the solution magically pop into your head later? That is how Milton Glaser came up with one of the most iconic logos ever.

In 1975 Manhattan was seen as dirty and dangerous. Glaser was hired to change that. After weeks of work he submitted a design featuring blue cursive lettering that spelled I love NY. It was immediately accepted.

Glaser moved on to other projects but seven days later he was sitting in a taxi and had an epiphany. He pulled out a pencil and sketched the following image:

i love ny

This insight came because Glaser was using diffuse mode thinking. In contrast to focused mode thinking, which involves concentrating hard on something, diffuse mode is akin to letting a problem simmer in the unconscious.

In her book A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if you Flunked Algebra) Professor Barbara Oakley recommends starting your day off with the most difficult problem. Then, as soon as you get stuck, switch to something easier, allowing diffuse mode thinking to take over. When you return to the difficult problem later on a solution may seem to just come to you.

Rather than trying to force your way through mental blocks, be soft like water.


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