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January 29th, 2019
In the world of computer programming, the Rubber Duck is an unlikely superhero. As it goes, many programmers, when stuck on a problem regarding code, have the experience of trying to explain the code and the problem to someone else and then suddenly hit upon the solution in the midst of explanation. The other listening person is not even needed in this process, which gives rise to our inanimate Rubber Duck, sitting on there on the desk, waiting to listen about any problem we have.
The fascinating aspect of the Rubber Duck phenomenon is that the solution is not found externally. The whole process merely repackages the current situation for the person stuck on the problem. Somehow we see our thoughts differently if we say and hear them as opposed to just think them.
We have all been stuck in a RUT or circular thinking, riding a merry-go-round of the same thoughts. What the Rubber Duck phenomenon helps highlight about this is: If we are stuck on a problem, silent thinking is one of the least effective strategies we can attempt. And yet it’s the most likely.
This might, for a moment sound like it’s in opposition to taking a thoughtful pause, but recognizing this sort of perpetual silent thinking is exactly when we should take a pause and thoughtfully consider what is going on, to realize that we are stuck in an unproductive whirlpool of silent thinking, to realize that we need to switch up our strategy.
Think for a moment about a child alone with a favorite stuffed animal. What does the child do? Talk. Even when no one who can actually listen is around. We may remember doing this ourselves. And we can pause and wonder what exactly is going on? Why do children talk to inanimate objects. It’s unlikely that children really believe that the stuffed animal can actually hear and understand. But then we must also acknowledge that child is not consciously invoking some kind of mental strategy. But at the same time a child is unburdened with the self-conscious constraints of adulthood and experiments and tinkers unabashedly. Most actions by young children are undertaken simply to see ‘what will happen’. Considering the Rubber Duck phenomenon, it’s clear that when we talk out loud to ourselves, something is happening that we do not achieve while silently thinking.
Most all of us can benefit from getting out of our own heads a little more. Perhaps we should all carry around a Rubber Duck for those times when we find ourselves stuck.