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Essential: Combinatory Play

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What do you do when you get stuck on something?  Do you buckle down and work through it?  Or, do you take a temporary break?

I recently learned about the term Albert Einstein coined as ‘Combinatory Play,’ where Einstein developed some of his best scientific ideas during his violin breaks.

Combinatory play is the act of opening up one mental channel by engaging in another.  This is taking unrelated ideas and putting them together to generate new ideas.  In Einstein’s case, he used his violin breaks as a form of combinatory play.  When Einstein was stuck, he would set aside his work and play the violin for a few hours.  It was during these times, while playing the violin, that he would suddenly get an idea(s) that would help him solve the problem he was working through.

Combinatory play includes everything from studying new subjects to playing instruments to engaging in physical activity, etc.  So, the next time you get stuck on something, set the task aside and focus on something that you enjoy doing and you will be amazed that you are able to solve the problem that you have painstakingly been working to solve.  While using the treadmill, I usually get some of my best ideas and answers to problems that I am working through.  Maybe you already engage in combinatory play and you didn’t even know it!

“Combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.” — Albert Einstein

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Anonymous #

    Very interesting. I think I subconsciously do this sometimes. (especially if it is a problem I don’t want to deal with). In my case, it’s also called procrastination.

    March 15, 2016

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