There are always times in a mediation where you might feel that you are stumped. There are no more solutions available to you; you might as well pack up your bags and go home. The case is not going to settle. In those difficult times, sometimes the best thing that you can do to help you arrive at a solution is to do something completely different. Maybe you take a walk, take a mental break, go get a cup of coffee, or maybe this would be the time for you to use the restrooms. Research has shown that mental breaks where you do not focus on the task at hand, but instead let your mind wander can help you arrive at the solution. Think about it. Isaac Newton discovered the laws of gravity while sitting under an apple tree. Einstein hails his moments of mind wandering as part of his creative genius, and Steve Jobs could probably credit the bathroom for his idea to create Pixar Studios. According to U.S. News and World Report:
“Look at the way Steve Jobs designed Pixar studios. He insisted that everyone work in same building so that different cultures would interact. Then it wasn’t enough to put everyone in same building—he had to make them mingle. There was a single cafeteria, but groups would keep to themselves while eating. Then he decided there would only be two bathrooms in the entire building, and he put them both in the same lobby. That forced people to mix and mingle on their way to the bathroom. It was annoying for some people to have to walk 10 minutes to pee. But it worked. People at Pixar talk about these bathroom epiphanies, creative ideas they developed while talking to people in or near the bathroom.”
Other researchers have attributed creativity to the hormone dopamine. Dopamine is the pleasure hormone and it is released when people are in a more relaxed state of mind. When people take breaks from the activity at hand and de-stress or daydream, there is a greater release of dopamine. That in turn, helps the creativity process. Recently, I had the epiphany experience during a mediation. The parties had negotiated all day. They were a considerable distance apart in their negotiations. They both agreed that a mediator’s proposal would be worthwhile. However, they couldn’t agree on the timing of the proposal and when it could expire due to the fact that one side didn’t want to waste time on litigation if it was going to try to settle. Each party drew the line. Deadline today versus Deadline next week. This was the bright line in the sand! Each side had packed their bags and had thanked me.
I found a way to delay the departure and went to the bathroom (legitimately so). As I was minding my own business, the idea hit me that the issue was not that they didn’t want to try to settle, not that they didn’t want the proposal, but that they each had legitimate concerns regarding the increased costs associated with the delay in making the decision. Once I calculated the actual cost of that delay we had quantified the objection to only a few thousand dollars. Once the parties understood that the deal that was being proposed was at risk of being destroyed by a minuscule dispute over a few thousand dollars, the parties decided it wasn’t worth the time. But if I hadn’t had the time or mind-space to arrive at the solution which came to me, the parties were at risk of waking away. So next time you are about to hit that wall. Take a break, and maybe the answer will hit you instead of you hitting the wall.