Subconscious Information Processing

It's fathers day and I thought I'd tell a story about my dad and something he taught me a long time ago. I was in middle school and I had a school project due the next day and it came up at dinner that I had not done the project. My dad made me stay up very late that night until I had completed it. And he stayed up with me. He made sure I understood two things that evening. The first one is obvious. When assigned something, you do it and you do it on time.

But the second thing he explained to me was more subtle and way more powerful. He explained that I should start working on a project as soon as it was assigned. An hour or so would do fine, he told me. He told me to come back to the project every day for at least a little bit and make progress on it slowly over time. I asked him why that was better than cramming at the very end (as I was doing during the conversation).

He explained that once your brain starts working on a problem, it doesn't stop. If you get your mind wrapped around a problem with a fair bit of time left to solve it, the brain will solve the problem subconsciously over time and one day you'll sit down to do some more work on it and the answer will be right in front of you.

I've taken that approach with every big problem I've faced ever since. I used this technique to get through high school, college, and business school. I've used this technique to develop a career in investing and technology. I've even used this technique to deal with our own parenting challenges.

I'm a big fan of subconscious information processing. It is why I have my some of my best ideas in the shower in the morning. It is why I write every morning right after I get up. I believe that while I'm sleeping, my mind is churning through the things that I'm trying to figure out and often the answers are back (like a batch job) when I wake up.

Thanks dad for that tip. It's been a big part of my playbook ever since. Happy fathers day everyone.

#Random Posts

Comments (Archived):

  1. LIAD

    Oftentimes I deliberately postpone doing things which I feel I could do competently straight away just so my brain has a little extra time for subconscious optimisation. 

    1. aminTorres

      “Subconscious optimization”   Love it!I  am going to subconsciously optimize this thought today.Hehe. cheersFred. happy father’s day and to all father’s here. 

  2. Jan Schultink

    The #1 secret to designing great presentations: take your time.Creative work is different from killing things on your todo list. When I think back at my previous career as a management consultant I wonder whether sleeping more and planning better would have delivered better answers to my clients.

    1. Robert Thuston

      I like that.  Sleeping more and planning better.  

  3. Sharon

    what a great gift he gave you– and one that keeps on giving, and now to all of us. I will pass it on to my own kids…  Happy Father’s Day. 

  4. RichardF

    +1 like you I’m a big believer in subconscious processing. I often find the the best way to solve a problem is to leave it for 24 hours and come back to it.I have a book that my father bought years ago called the Inner Game of Golf…  which talks alot about the subconscious. It’s a great book if you are a golfer.Oh and whilst I’ve taken the topic off to golf – Go Rory !

    1. fredwilson

      I need to harness the inner game of golf. I’ve been playing for 35 years andit vexes me like nothing else

      1. RichardF

        I’ve been playing golf for almost as long as you.  It used to particularly vex me when I was a teenager because I never had the patience for the game and I always wanted to hit the ball as far as Greg Norman.I don’t know another game like it for torturing you;  just when you think you have it cracked, the next round you play, you hack your way around for sixteen or seventeen holes swearing you’ll give up, only then you hit a perfect drive up the last …and so you get sucked back in.Today is a poignant day for me, tinged with sadness because it will be the last Father’s Day I spend with my Dad.  However some of the best times I spent with him were on the golf course which I hope will be repeated with my own son. 

        1. Mark Essel

          I’m very sorry to hear that Richard.A thousand years from now it’s doubtful anyone will remember who we were, but the world is irrevocably affected by our presence. He’ll be with you and affect everyone you encounter. How many lives will you positively impact, how many others will benefit from your energy and your infectious enthusiasm? Your father is eternal in that regard.

          1. Donna Brewington White

            Really meaningful words, Mark.

          2. RichardF

             thanks very much Mark, great thoughts.

        2. Donna Brewington White

          Sorry to hear this, Richard.  But glad to hear that you’ve had this day with him and that you are aware of how precious it is.  Some of my closest friends have golf as a bond with their Dads.  My Dad was a fisherman.  I wonder if that is one of the reasons I live on a lake.

          1. RichardF

            thanks very much Donna.I can’t think of many better things in life than to be able to enjoy a shared pastime with your family. 

        3. fredwilson

          so sorry to hear that Richard. some of my favorite days have been spent on the golf course with my son. it’s a great place for father/son bonding.

          1. RichardF

            thanks Fred, long may you and Josh walk the course together.  I know it helped my Dad and I survive my adolescence!

        4. Carl Rahn Griffith

          Best wishes, Richard – must be a hard time. Thoughts are with you.I find the day very hard, increasingly – has been some 12 years since my father and I last spoke.

          1. RichardF

            Thanks very much Carl.  It all seems pretty surreal at the moment. It’s something that you know the majority of people experience at some point but nevertheless nothing really prepares you for it.

      2. JamesHRH

        It is mental. physical and environmental, so it requires control, feel, and awareness. Any of the three can be your strength, but you need the others to succeed.Few sports require so much variety of skill for success.

    2. BradDorchinecz

      I almost feel like the subconscious has more impact in golf than the conscious. But most of the time i find myself trying to ignore it! How many times have you played when there is water on the right, you tell yourself to just put it in the fairway, but your subconscious is focused on the water and you hit one right in?I find that golf is much more a challenge to control your mind and ignore outside distractions & the subconscious than a physical activity.I’m pulling for McIlroy as well. Is the torch being passed from Tiger?

      1. RichardF

        I agree Brad because you have so long to think about your round and each shot (as opposed to reacting a moving ball), golf is more about the mental aspect than the physical, once you have the basics of a swing in place.Awesome win by Rory yesterday.

        1. fredwilson

          dominant. i like what Jack had to say about the kid. Jack was my golf idolgrowing up.

          1. RichardF

            Mine too, greatest golfer ever in my opinion (although I always loved Seve’s wild side)

          2. JamesHRH

            Just how dominant?… the line where Tiger’s 2000 US Open win is further ahead of 2nd, than 2nd is ahead of 20th. whoa.

    3. Rdsmith925

      Hence the old adage “sleep on it”…

    4. Donna Brewington White

      Impressive win.

  5. John S. Kim

    In cognitive psychology, this phenomenon is called “Incubation effect” (… ). This can also be used to tackle problem that you are stuck and struggling with (in a local optimum for example) and your brain will go through a wide traversal of solution space when you no longer work on that problem and let it go for a few hours, then suddenly, you’ll feel that ‘eureka!’ moment (reaching the global optimum). Anyway, I believe people in the creative industry must learn to control and pace this incubation effect as you’ve shown in practice.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s great. I always wondered what the technical term for this is

      1. Austin Clements

        Very valuable article and I’m glad someone found the actual term. I’ll definitely look into this.

      2. fictionalui

        I love that wikipedia page’s incipit: “Incubation is one of the 4 proposed stages of creativity: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification”.I think “verification” is key, at least in my field, UX and web design.To generalize the great advice of your post, I’d say: “When tasked with a project, take care to verify your ideas as often as you can, possibly daily, no matter if you can devote only small chunks of your time to that”.In my experience, no matter if I work immediately on a new project or not, incubation always start as soon as I get briefed – that is, unless the project is completely neuter to me, ie if it’s not challenging, not new, not interesting at all.So, I can’t resist to start sketching the project in my mind, on the border of consciousness, and that means that I develop a lot of seemingly great ideas about it that always overlook some trivial detail that later reveal itself as a showstopper in actual implementation.Taking the time to verify daily the practical consequences of my hypotheticalsolutions allows me to keep it real and avoid going to far with impractical trains of thoughts.I feel that’s an extremely painful and chilling sensation to start actual work on a project feeling that I have it more or less sorted in my mind, and realize that I can’t actually do it like that, and that I’ve to erase and reset all my mental representations of it.

    2. ShanaC

      True…I find regular practice helps moderate the anxiety effects of overthinking.

    3. Guest

      Hey John,The incubation effect reminds me a lot of genetic algorithms (…. Through what starts out as an initial random search, will with enough time steps and guidance become a fairly strong solution, albeit not the best solution (i.e. an optimal solution).Julian

  6. Guest

    Nice post today. I believe in that sort of subconscious processing myself. Happy Father’s Day to all of the fathers and grandfathers in the AVC community. I hope everyone has some time to relax with family and friends today.   ~ Geoffrey

  7. hungrygardener

    Happy Father’s Day to you.  Just curious,  what hobbies do you have other then music and writing? Do you draw, paint, woodwork, anything just for the pure personal pleasure of it?  I think your description of how one’s mind subconsciously “works” a problem over time is how artistic creativity (and its subsequent expression) occurs.

    1. fredwilson

      I like to go on long bike rides, practice yoga, ski, golf, and ride my vespa

  8. William Mougayar

    Great advice, and this applies very well to answering emails that sometimes need to be processed for a while before being responded to.

  9. leigh

    It’s why i refuse to charge time and prefer deliverable particularly for “idea” or “strategy” based projects.  If I were to bill all the time i think about a problem (including the shower) it would be too expensive and if i only charged for the time when i’m actually writing, I would be too cheap. It’s funny but i’ve been charging this way forever and now many Agencies ask me “how I do it” because most haven’t figured out a way that works for them and their clients.

    1. fredwilson

      Great point

    2. LIAD

      Would be a funny line to see on an invoice.’subconcscious thinking time – $500’Im sure there’s a lawyer somewhere who has tried it.

      1. leigh

        oh let’s be clear, i tried it – just wasn’t successful 🙂

      2. Se▲n

        Haha, I’m sure they have! Offering an unbeatable service without ever thinking about it 🙂

    3. Kenyan

      I struggle SO much with the whole charging for time idea…..I am particularly prone to concentration “tunnels” and long periods of “subconscious preparation” where not a lot gets physically done…..I had always thought this was just pure laziness…. are we saying there is hope and it might just be how I operate?great post Fred and Leigh….lots to think of!

  10. Tbiii

    I read about you and your family on Yahoo. I too believe in subconscious thinking for those tough or more complicated problems. Thanks for reminding me to discuss it with my sons!

  11. Chris O'Donnell

    I used to drive my girlfriend (now wife) crazy in college by writing my papers at the last minute. What she never got was this post. By the time I sat down to write (literally, this was when only the rich kids had a PC at college) the paper was done. I was just transcribing it from my head to paper at that point.

    1. melissatran

      Me too- and still to this day. Thinking it through until it’s done and then writing it down.I have a tendency to approach projects by picturing exactly what I want the outcome to be… it’s not a visualization exercise or anything like that. More like asking myself “What would “exactly right” look like? Or “If I could have the outcome be anything I want, what would that be?”Once those answers are clear, I think in backwards chunks of time… what has to happen this quarter, this month, this week, today… to make it happen? Then I plan it forward in more detail.THEN I write it all down.Have to admit though, the older I get, the more I have to write down…dates, times, calendar stuff especially. Used to be able to remember it all! But have found that the writing the minutia down definitely frees up my thinking for the big stuff.

  12. Paul Sanwald

    this is a very powerful idea. I’m a software engineer as well as a composer, and I’ve found there’s a pretty big parallel in solving a tough, long burn problem at work, and conceptualizing a composition or orchestration. I have to do a fair amount of thinking before I really start writing any code, or music. my natural tendency is to want to start coding or writing right away, but my experience has shown that things work out better if I spend time understanding and thinking about the domain of the problem/composition, and the overall structure, rather than working out immediately what needs to happen first.I learned a lot of stuff like this from my dad, too, I’m going to call him and thank him right now. happy father’s day.

    1. fredwilson

      What a great combo of pursuits

      1. Paul Sanwald

        I am continually amazed and fascinated by the parallels between music and programming. I went to college for computer science, and took a few semesters off to tour with a band, and my advisor, who was unsurprised, told me that IBM used to hire music majors back in the day, because they noticed there was such a strong correlation between programming and music.

        1. Dave W Baldwin

          On the money.

  13. baba12

    Thanks for giving us this story, 10’000 miles away growing up in India I had a similar experience with my dad back in 1978, and it changed the way I operate. Maybe I have not made the amount of money you have but in terms of my karmic bank account it is extremely full and it is due to this same wisdom imparted to me by my dad.Couple of things that keep the sub conscious well lubes are being true to oneself and ability to meditate and become quiet in the noisiest moments.I have been recuperating from a bicycle accident which left me with 3 broken ribs, 1 broken vertebrae, a punctured lung and torn shoulder ligaments. The recovery time estimated at 8 to 12 weeks. But this concept of working on the problem immediately and allowing the brain to sub consciously work on mending me with a whole bunch of people contributing to the healing process that amazes doctors. Thanks for this anecdote that is interesting to hear from someone else who was made aware of by their dad. Have a wonderful Father’s day.. In India we don’t celebrate these things…

    1. fredwilson

      A full karmic bank is a wonderful thing!

  14. Steve Hallock

    Happy Fathers’ Day, Fred.  I am, unfortunately in NY, 3000 miles away from home and missing my first Fathers’ Day.Thank you for the post.  That feeling of the subconscious, spontaneous solve is one of the best in life.

    1. Steve Hallock

      Had an interesting realization.  I had originally typed that I used to procrastinate in school and do things at the last minute.  However I realized that I was not really procrastinating – in fact I would think about the assignment from the beginning and by the time I completed it, I had already “solved” it.  I still do the same when commissioned to write longer pieces for magazines or writing up anything long – the closest I have to school work.

  15. Avi Deitcher

    Fred, great timing. We just had the same debate with our grade-school son, who left his English assignment until Tue night last week (it was due Wed). Thank you for posting.There is a downside to your brain always working on it, at least for those of us whose mind doesn’t shut down. It can get exhausting never to stop. I am observant (as in religiously), and observed (pun intended) 20 years ago that if I didn’t have the enforced Sabbath day of rest, my mind would have fried a very long time ago.

    1. fredwilson

      I use yoga for that

      1. Avi Deitcher

        I tried once. It was *too* calming for me. I found Karate helped when I did it, 10 years ago. Now I am into ice hockey. As in seriously addicted, have a full set of equipment at regular client locations.

    2. ShanaC

      My dad says that about Shabbos too…I find it makes me restless though…

      1. Avi Deitcher

        Well, it is a day off not from “work”, but from “creative activity”. But I will admit, I get restless myself towards the end…

  16. reece

    my cofounder @spinosa:twitter has ALL of his best ideas in the a company, we make an effort not to schedule meetings in the morning, and allow that to be unstructured time to get work done, as everyone’s minds are processing the backlog. p.s. – happy Father’s Day to all!

  17. ShanaC

    A) happy fathers dayB) Although I know that taking your time over a period can help the formulation of an idea, I’ve also found that dragging something out also doesn’t work. You end up overthinking the problem.

  18. Scientist

    Is there any scientific studies to back this up?

    1. J.R. Sedivy

      There is a great book on creativity called “Your Creative Brain” which touches upon this sort of thing. It was written by Dr. Shelley Carson who is well known Harvard psychologist. There is some great information in this book about how to maximize creativity, to include what Fred touched upon here. The book is definitely worth a read:

    2. Eric Brooke

      A large number.  Unfortunately a lot of them are in paid psychology journals and thus behind subscription firewalls.. Here is a couple off the top of my headProblems are solved by sleeping…We’ll Fill This Space, but First a Nap…The effect of one night without sleep on problem-solving and immediate recall…Duke Nukem sheds light on brain…The military performance of soldiers in sustained operations.…Normal Adult Human Sleep as a Problem-Solving Processhttp://www.hdbkpersonality….

  19. J.R. Sedivy

    The two important lessons passed on from your father equally apply to building a business. Once you make the commitment to start the journey with your co-founders you should begin working right away and always complete tasks that you’ve committed to. Working on the business every day is also important as business building is more of a marathon than a sprint. Although when starting out I was a bit naive and thought the opposite :)Great advice which has apparently served you well!

  20. JLM

    Very interesting post.Most business persons do not spend enough time thinking — just thinking about what they are doing.  At the “brainstorming” level.I stole this technique from a General I worked for.  BTW, Fred’s Dad was a General, so maybe General’s have all the great ideas.I have a tabloid size piece of paper (11 x 17 really thick paper which takes ink very well) and have printed on the front “Brainstorming” and a space for a topic.  I have it folded in half and the inside can be either lined or blank.  I like blank a bit more.  My secretary makes these for me and I always have a stack of them with me.I know when my mind is sharpest and has its spurt of real creative energy for the day — usually first thing in the morning with breakfast and great cup of coffee.Also when traveling because I cannot relax on commercial flights.I then pick a topic — one topic per Brainstorming booklet.  I write down a stream of consciousness of the high points of a topic.  I don’t try to create a definitive piece of work but just outline the high points, the inputs, the considerations, the important thoughts about that subject. Charts, lists, illustrations — highlighted, circled, clouded. Just pulling organization into a set of thoughts.Sometimes the finished product approaches art.I do this on a great number of things — strategy, retrofit, executive compensation, a particular legal matter — anything that is on my “to do” list.Like Fred has suggested, well begun is half done — maybe that was Benjamin Franklin?I can then refer back to these thoughts — my highest quality thoughts on these subjects — and use them as the basis for writing a letter, a memo, creating a training program, white paper, etc.I have a 3-4 inch stack of them at all times.I file them with the finished product.In this way I am able to put my BEST thinking into my work.Again, stolen idea.

    1. fredwilson

      so many great things in this comment JLMwell begun is half done is the motto of this blog. i don’t finish much of what i put up here. the community helps me finish it.also, the general thing. to get to that level in the army, you need brains, leadership skills, courage, and a lot more. i’ve met a fair number of generals over the years and they are almost always hugely impressivea strategy for brainstorming – this is critical. again, i use this blog for that. but there are many ways to do this. its important to have oneand i also can’t relax on commercial flights. i find working helps pass the time best

      1. matthughes

        My dad is a retired colonel. I recently extracted from him that he made over 380 successful parachute jumps on four continents in his career.When I say extracted, I really mean it…I used his known love for ‘jumping’ against him to pry that number out of him – it literally took me years to get this ‘intel’.He is a master of meticulous attention to detail, efficiency & above all, humility and deferring praise to those around him. I am not nearly as humble when it comes to bragging about my dad.Happy Father’s Day everyone –

        1. fredwilson

          my dad is very quiet too about his time in the army

        2. JLM

          My Dad was a lifer but the military was not his life.  When growing up on Army posts, he would never speak of his war time experiences and he was in a bunch of them.When I went to VMI — which he approved of because he had had a Lt who won the M of H in Korea from VMI — things changed and he became more of a mentor and spoke of the “craft” of soldiering but still would not speak of his combat experiences.When I went into the Army — which was literally like joining the family business — he would often provide keen insights at the troop level.I think the most insightful conversation was what enlisted men and non-coms expected of a “good” officer — don’t be unduly familiar, ask for guidance before making a decision, make a damn decision and suffer the consequences, admit it when you screw up, be brave while afraid and look forward not backwards — plan ahead.When I had had some of the same experiences, he would ask me about things and the conversation would then become that of a couple of practitioners and he shared some of his experiences with me.Our feelings — bewilderment, fear, anxiousness, responsibility for other men’s lives, our decisions having determined others fates and the wastefulness of war — were almost identical but I could never have really understood that without having had a similar experience.There is nobody who hates war like a soldier who has seen it up close and personal.  That does not mean once the gauntlet is thrown, that one does not soldier at the highest level of skill, creativity and viciousness.  But it is done in a measured and inevitable manner not with joy.Recently I traced my Dad’s path through WWII Italy, following the fighting of his unit.  I was able to isolate particular farmhouses, rivers, cuts in the mountains and rolling hills.  I would speak to him via cell phone from those locations and I was, in fact, speaking to a young scared LT though he was now 93 years old.It was a spiritual journey.BTW, the very best soldiers in the Army are Colonels who never made Brigadier General.  They had the experience to KNOW and did not have the restraint to worry about promotion.God speed to you, Fred and your Dads.380 jumps is a whole lot of jumps.  I had 92.  It was all for the “jump pay” of $65/month.

          1. matthughes

            Thanks for sharing – your dad sounds like a great man.I admit I felt somewhat awkward sharing what I did, still do.But I hope it was received in the spirit it was delivered – out of admiration and respect on Father’s Day.

          2. melissatran

            Wow. My Mom, Aunt and three of their cousins took a similar trip through France a few years ago.My Grandfather wanted his ashes scattered on Utah Beach. We traveled all around Normandy to the places his unit had been.He was an infantryman, with no special skills and at that time, he could barely read as he’d been working helping hucksters sell stuff off of carts in Baltimore City since he was 7.His job was to go ahead of his troop with a partner and lay communication cables at night. Talk about scary.But he never told us anything really about the whole time he was there except for how much he loved his friends. Those that made it through were in touch for the rest of his life.

          3. JLM

            “…no special skills…” ???You mean like other than safeguarding the freedoms of the Constitution, freeing continents from Nazi slavery and turning back the forces of evil at one of the darkest moments in the history of mankind?Yeah, I guess if you overlook those little niceties, maybe so.  But I don’t think so.The Infantry is the Queen of Battle, the tip of the spear where the fighting and dying and winning takes place.  The Infantry is the Army.For every infantryman, there are about 6-10 guys supporting him.  The motto of the Infantry — “Follow me.” says it all.

          4. melissatran

            Wow, JLM. Let me clarify. I loved my Grandfather madly and admired him greatly. He was brilliant, funny, strong and kind and the type of man that made friends as a teenager that he kept until the day he died.He was incredibly brave, perhaps from being first forward every time his troop moved… or maybe he was first forward because he was incredibly brave.He was promoted several times in the army, although he would never have been had it been found out that he couldn’t read, and eventually after WW2, he taught himself with the help of my Grandmother and her mom, who was a teacher.My comment about “no special skills” was intended to provide a context to his experience. He wasn’t a medic, or engineer. He wasn’t well educated (at that time). And so he was assigned and played his role in the infantry,His role was to go in the dark, ahead of his troop to lay cable so that they could communicate once they arrived. He went first. And he came back.If you read anything other than love and pride in my original comment than I apologize for not expressing myself more clearly. Because I adored him and connected with your experience of retracing your Dad’s steps.

          5. Tom Lynch

            What a great post. 

          6. melissatran

            Sorry if I posted this twice- I think I accidentally replied to my own stream.Wow, JLM. Let me clarify. I loved my Grandfather madly and admired him greatly. He was brilliant, funny, strong and kind and the type of man that made friends as a teenager that he kept until the day he died.He was incredibly brave, perhaps from being first forward every time his troop moved… or maybe he was first forward because he was incredibly brave.He was promoted several times in the army, although he would never have been had it been found out that he couldn’t read, and eventually after WW2, he taught himself with the help of my Grandmother and her mom, who was a teacher.My comment about “no special skills” was intended to provide a context to his experience. He wasn’t a medic, or engineer. He wasn’t well educated (at that time). And so he was assigned and played his role in the infantry,His role was to go in the dark, ahead of his troop to lay cable so that they could communicate once they arrived. He went first. And he came back.If you read anything other than love and pride in my original comment than I apologize for not expressing myself more clearly. Because I adored him and connected with your experience of retracing your Dad’s steps.

          7. JLM

            I read nothing of the kind.  I apologize if my comment created any other impression other than a laudatory view of your Grandfather’s exploits.  My bad, not yours.Sometimes I wonder that we miss the “greatness” of small things which accumulate over time.Because most soldiers did their duty — that which you do when you know it must be done but you really don’t want to do it — we won WWII.It was guys like your Grandfather as well as guys like Patton and Eisenhower who delivered the victory.  But only the guys like your Grandfather did most of the bleeding.Having been a professional soldier, I have an innate love and respect for the average soldier who does his duty and goes quietly about his life.  I knew these guys and they are great.God bless them all.

          8. melissatran

            Thanks JLM – Sorry to have to keep responding out of turn – We are too far down in the layers and I don’t have a reply option on your comments in response to mine.I really appreciate your comments and kind words. Seeing with my own eyes where my Grandfather had been, and trying to imagine through his was one of the most significant experiences of my life. It’s not every day that I meet someone who’s taken a similar journey!Thanks again for sharing.

        3. Tom Lynch

          That is AWESOME dude.Is there anything cooler than the coolest guy in the room acting as if he’s NOT the coolest guy in the room?thanks for sharing this.Tom S.I.,NYC

    2. BillMcNeely

      When I  began writing OPORDERS in Iraq I was intimidated by the format. When I took things “off line” by scrawling notes  on legal pads I found I thought about the idea more clearly and throughly. A good thing to do before commiting our young men and women to a potential dangerous situation.

      1. JLM

        As a Ranger, I had the 5-paragraph field order tatooed into my brain.When I had to use it for real, it was essential.It still today informs my thinking about everything — well, except for the limited necessity of identifying the casualty clearing location.When I was a Bn Ass’t S-3 — because I could type about 100 words per minute — I could produce three different attack orders (typed mind you) overnight and have them ready for the CO by 3-4 AM, then have the final done by 6:00 AM after his final decisions and guidance.I loved briefing the Company Commanders and then seeing it unfold as I had drawn it up.There is nothing like seeing a plan come together.

        1. bart

          What war were you in, JLM?

    3. William Mougayar

      “Most business persons do not spend enough time thinking”. So true. Doing and thinking are often the opposite. If you’re too busy doing stuff, you don’t have time to think outside of your “doing box”. And there are great thinkers that haven’t really “done much”, except producing original thoughts which others act upon.

      1. JLM

        Well said.We spend way too much doing stuff that can be done by others and failing to think about stuff only the boss can think about.

        1. William Mougayar

          Yup, that’s called being in a (corporate) rut.Startups are so at the other end of that spectrum. When you’ve got 10employees, if one doesn’t pull their own weight, that’s 10% of the companydown. When that happens in a company of 20,000 employees, often no one evennotices. But we’re digressing from the original topic 🙂

        2. Carl Rahn Griffith

          Absolutely – is the difference between a true leader and a faux leader.Those ‘leaders’ that micro-manage a team are a case in point. If you have a team that needs micro-managing you have the wrong team – so, change the team composition.More likely, such leaders (sic) are only comfortable micro-managing and don’t know how to do the ‘thinking’ stuff.As someone else described it (something along the lines of) – It’s About Outcomes, Not Activities.

      2. Donna Brewington White

        Really great point, William.  Thinking gets looked down on (as opposed to being action oriented) but without it we’re merely drones. The concept of “thought leader” is laughed at in some circles, but I think those thought leaders will have the last laugh.Don’t get me wrong — I do understand the importance of ACTING on those thoughts.Read a great quote the other day and can’t remember the source — The person who knows “how” will always have a job.  The person who knows “why” will be his/her boss.(Of course this quote probably dates back before the current recession when people from both categories are out of work.)

      3. Mark Essel

        I’ve been caught in the too busy to think mode on projects. It’s terrible wasteful, but is the result of too much work of no or negative value (but is required by management) and not enough critical macro thinking and reviewing.

    4. andyidsinga

      yeah – i also find having a pad of paper or notebook for scratching down drawings and random blinking thoughts is very useful. i like to take my paper notebook around with me instead of a laptop ( even to meetings ) …then ill just take pictures of the drawings with my phone and share later..since we sharing dad stuff :)…what my dad taught me ( and step dad reinforced as an adult ) was to be fearless about taking things apart and attempting to fix things. To this day our conversations are often about fixing this or rebuilding that.they’re much better at gettng past the half done stage then i am ive still got a lot to learn from them.happy fathers day all.

    5. Donna Brewington White

      “Most business persons do not spend enough time thinking…” Not only business persons, but most people (period) do not spend enough time thinking and this is one of my pet peeves in life.  I include myself in this category.  It is too easy to get caught up in the tyranny of the urgent — especially in business.I guess that what bothers me about this is knowing that lack of reflection could be our demise as a society.BTW, thank you for sharing the great advice on brainstorming. This is gold.

    6. JamesHRH

      Basic mind mapping, done at an exceedingly high level.

  21. Dave W Baldwin

    Thought I’d share a local story regarding a Father/Daughter relationship from today’s paper:Cape 12-year-old scores 28 on college entrance exam…Make sure to read the last few paragraphs.  Unfortunately, she will be emigrating from Cape to California… so San Diego gains one.

  22. Adrian Bye

    how do you focus on projects?  if you take this to an extreme, you’re working on 20 things at once and never getting anything done well.  there’s something very powerful about fully focusing on one project and getting it completed right to the end — allowing your mind to put all its subconscious power into that.

    1. fredwilson

      just start them

  23. Craigelimeliah

    Great post for fathers day! Our fathers are meant to impart this kind of practical and tactical wisdom on us and you are very lucky to have had a father who took the time to teach you this particular lesson. In terms of subconscious information processing, one must have the confidence and faith in themselves to rely on this extremely deep kind of decision making process. To know that your mind is truly working on your behalf and that these thoughts and ideas are not just figments of an overactive mind but actually a viable way to work through and assignment or a problem.Most people don’t realize how instinctual success is and think that there must be some kind of exact science behind it all. The science is actually rooted deeply inside each and everyone of of and we simply need to allow certain automatic and ambient thought processes to take place in order to allow our minds to naturally work through challenges. If we trust in our experiences and success, and learn from our failures this kind of reliance will never fail.Thanks for posting and nice fathers day tie in.

  24. Ivan Vecchiato

    My dad used to suggest pretty much the same to me too.He has worked all life with race horses, feeding and training them. Nothing to do with my job as an electronic engineer, but I feel I put something in my job that he gave to me as abstract suggestions. It’s a matter of attitude I got from him.Thanks to my dad, whatever he gave to me to do my job which he knows nothing about, and thank you to remember me to thank him.

  25. debumishra

    Brilliant post. Could relate to it. Started working on a startup idea in June 2010. We now are ready to execute 🙂 90% of the thinking has come from sunconcious processing and establishing connects across different ideas.It is one of the most creative processes….e.g. designers will work on a collection over a period of time, picking up inspirations from stuff around as and when they see it.

  26. Emperors_New_Clothes

    Awesome tip

  27. JimHirshfield

    I’m gonna sleep on it and get back to you in the morning, but pretty sure I’m in full agreement! ! Seriously, your points are exactly why I believe there are no eureka moments; more so the accumulation of thoughts, info, ideas, experiences, etc that inform a great conclusion. Reminds me of Steven Johnson’s latest book, among others.

    1. fredwilson

      yup, steven nailed it

    2. Guest

      Hey Jim,I assume you’re referencing ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’ which is an excellent read. One of my favorite parts of the book is when he talks about how ideas belong to networks and that is how they grow. I see so many people privatize their ideas in their own mind without letting other people contribute to the idea’s evolution. Julian

  28. im2b_dl

    Nice. Time away from the page is the magic sauce in building a story. Ask any writer.

  29. Mike Taylor

    I like the “batch job” analogy.  Read this post to my kids this morning.  Thanks!

    1. fredwilson

      that requires being born before a certain time to understand

    2. Carl Rahn Griffith

      I think I am still more akin to a punched-card than a line of C++   😉

  30. Eric Brooke

    For years I was a communication adviser to politicians and I always found that those who reviewed their speeches the night before, delivered with greater emotion and clarity.   There are also a ton of studies that show when people have being able to ‘sleep on it’ that they perform far greater in problem solving tasks.  I like your fathers advice because it introduces the idea of using all the time available to solve a problem, seeing it like runway or a marathon rather than a sprint. Thanks Fred Dad

  31. Tom Labus

    For the majority of my working career I ended the formal/office part of the working day with a run.  It was then that I did my best thinking, sorting and planning. Some issues could be sorted in one run others took many runs over many weeks.  I knew that some issues were 1 run ones and I could make a call or send a mail to resolve them.  The many run issues were more interesting.  I would start out and soon came back to my open page where I has left off on my last run. The plan was there to build on and add to. At some point a few weeks later it would dawn on me that I was done with it and I was ready to implement that idea.  I really enjoyed the process and was usually satisfied with the results.

    1. JLM

      Same thing for me but swimming was it.I never had an inkling of stress until I was 45 and was engaged in a very difficult and potentially failing business.  I suddenly realized, like a revelation, that I was not sleeping well, eating poorly, blood pressure up and was constantly anxious.I was very committed and was not going to tolerate failure.I live in Austin TX where it was 108F yesterday and we have a native cold spring, Barton Springs, right next to downtown.  The pool is about 1/8th of a mile long and the water is a constant 66F.After a day of unending struggle, I would get in that cold water and swim for about an hour.  Long smooth strokes, full follow through and gliding along.In an hour, my mind was as fresh as possible, my core body temp was cold and I was shivering on the way home with my top down.The stress evaporated.  I slept like a baby.  I was relaxed.It literally saved my life.

      1. Tom Labus

        Ditto, my onslaught came in my late 20’s and I knew my late night nights at the bar we done and went and looked for some other release.

  32. Guest

    Happy Father’s Day Fred,This technique is something I discovered after my freshman year of college. As an engineering student who eventually decided to double major in philosophy, I had to find a way to combat the volume of information I was responsible for. The only way I could do it successfully was to do as you say in this post, to look at an assignment early and often for short periods of time. Over the course of several nights sleep, my brain would sort of work on the problem unattended or subconsciously. What I found, and to this day it is incredibly valuable, is that by using this strategy the amount of time it takes to produce quality work decreases substantially. It helps to reduce stress and most importantly provides an incubation period to come up with something creative.I’ve shared this approach with many fellow students over the years, and oddly very few of them ever embraced it for what it is worth. So on with that, great post and thanks for taking the time to write it. Oh, one last thing. I would have categorized the post under ‘entrepreneur’ because this is something I would look for in any great founder. Julian

    1. fredwilson

      i don’t categorize my posts very well

      1. Guest

        I hope that’s not the impression I made Fred – much more important than categorizing is writing the post well, which you do day in and day out 

        1. fredwilson

          No offense taken. Just an acknowledgement of the truth

  33. azodi

    Great post, many of my friends tell me I’m  “procrastinating” when I do this. I just say I’m “letting it all roll around in my head for a bit”.I’ve found confronting the problem intensely, and then going off and doing something completely different, whether a physical or mental challenge, is the key.Crude methodology perhaps, but it works every time. Just have to put your mind in the mode of background analysis, observing patterns and shifting them to meet the problems you’re currently trying to solve. I love the “pop” feeling when all the information clicks and I see how to solve that problem.Keep up the writing, looking forward to reading more.

  34. Tony Yi

    great tip for both me in my life as a startup junkie and as a father – thanks

  35. msuster

    It’s so true that starting earlier gives your brain more time to process & learn. Stephen Covey wrote about this in his book “First Things First,” which I recommend to anybody thinking about how to prioritize and separate signal from noise.That said, I think all of our brains are wired differently and for people like me who have mild ADD sometimes the “an hour every day” just doesn’t work. I wish it did.  People without ADD have a hard time understanding our limitations (which in other ways are advantages). My creativity comes more from “the urgency addiction” which Covey describes. It’s why I can’t write every single day. I envy you that. I did a summary of Covey’s quadrants here: http://www.bothsidesoftheta…Also, re: thinking in the shower, Betty Edwards wonderful book about drawing & creativity highlighted why many people have great ideas in the shower (and even more so driving). Those activities actually force your brain into the right hemisphere. The book is here: Father’s Day all …

    1. Eric Brooke

      All of Betty Edwards books are awesome.. I learnt about them on a drawing course I did

    2. fredwilson

      i’m mildly ADD too Markyou are right that everyone’s brain works differentlythe way you implement this idea is going to be slightly different foreveryonebut i think it can work in one way or another for everyone

      1. Msuster

        Ah, sorry. Didn’t mean to imply it couldn’t work for ADD. In my post I talked about how important it is to start early, work on “important, but not yet urgent” stuff. So I agree. Yet it’s a daily struggle for me. That’s all I was saying. And those not wired like me sometimes fine the urgency addiction hard to understand. I embrace creative chaos. (posted as guest cuz on iPad)

        1. David Semeria

          I’m totally ADD – but only when I’m not focused (yes, there’s a contradiction there).The hardest thing for me is to start a new task. I end up spending hours  killing time on the web instead of doing what I’m supposed to be be doing. But I’m convinced that subconsciously I’m preparing the ground..Once I get over the hump then I have the opposite problem, the task totally absorbs me and I end up thinking about it all the time (even when I’m  asleep).We’re all different – but the subconscious is where all the action is.

          1. Donna Brewington White

            I can relate to that.  I think that “tunnel” that you go into might actually be one of the symptoms of ADD.  I never thought I was ADD because when I am focused, I am very focused.  I’m probably only mildly ADD, but didn’t realize that I might be ADD until my husband pointed out my tendency to “go into the tunnel” as he describes it. Funny how marriage serves as a mirror.But the tunnel time is rich because of the subconscious preparation leading up to it.  It can look like procrastination but really it isn’t.

          2. Mark Essel

            I zone out a little too often, and lose track of time when I’m in deep, but I chocked that up to “lost in thought” or bored. I don’t find much utility in discovering if I’m classified as mildly ADD, I just need ways to leverage the cognitive abilities I have more effectively.I bet you’re right about the AVC crowd and ADD tendencies though. Walking helps me focus, it’s a pretty potent form of meditation.

          3. Donna Brewington White

            I do some of my best thinking/meditating while walking, too.I try to do early morning beach walks as much as possible. Harder now that I’m working with a NYC team and coordinating with your time zone much of the time.

          4. fredwilson

            what is it about three letter acronyms starting with A?

          5. Carl Rahn Griffith

            It’s that dreaded novelist scenario – the blank page of page 1 – not even a title at that stage.Know the feeling all too well, David!Key is finding empathy with one’s ideas – a sounding board – I love it when after having bounced ideas around in my bijou mental squash court (ie, my little brain) I find a partner to bounce the idea/s around with for a sanity check and their objective good/bad/indifferent feedback – then the idea/s can begin to iterate and become alive!And page 1 at least – maybe – gets a title! 😉

          6. David Semeria

            Bang on Carl.I spend of lot of time circling round the field before finally deciding where to land…

          7. melissatran

            One of the little know symptoms of ADD is called “Hyper-focus”. For many, many people, ADD isn’t so much a matter of lack of ability to pay attention. It’s more of a struggle to manage your attention in a way that is balanced, productive and effective.People with ADD often “Hyper-focus” on what’s interesting to them, or what they enjoy. That could be playing video games. It could also be creating a masterpiece or building a business.The problem, even for people who “hyper-focus” productively is that things fall through the cracks… like paying bills on time, or being on time for meetings or remembering to call your Dad on Father’s Day.

          8. David Semeria

            Wow. That’s me alright! Thanks for sharing this – I didn’t know…

          9. Carl Rahn Griffith

            I hope my wife doesn’t see this, lol 😉

          10. Donna Brewington White

            Hmmm…hyper-focus…I have found a name for my pain!

          11. Parafly

            Yeah, I was going to say Hyperfocus is a big …HEY, what’s that over there? – walks away to check out shiny object –

      2. Donna Brewington White

        It would be very interesting to take a poll of how many AVC frequenters are ADD, even if mildly.  I have this sense it might be higher than the norm, but don’t know this for certain.Read an article once that said that many entrepreneurs are ADD. I can believe this.

      3. Ian Botham

        Thank you, Fred for the article. I always implemented the ‘thought process’ that occured to me while in shower. 8 out of 10 times, it yielded positive results ,however, it failed miserably in a few other cases so much so that I have been questioning myself about the idea generation process itself. This article of yours helps me validate the importance of sub-conscious effect and your Dad cannot be more right with his explanation.I am able to reckon something today and this is to wish you a very Happy Father’s day . 

    3. Nick Grossman

      Thanks Mark — I’m an Urgency Addict as well (though I didn’t know the term until now), and I’ve been working on it for a little while now.  I’m curious — is that something you’re trying to change, or have you come to accept your addiction?  Curious to hear if any strategies for getting the juices flowing in advance of crunchtime have worked for you.Fred, thanks for the post.  It’s good advice and something I’m trying to take to heart.

    4. Parafly

      Dunno if this sounds ridiculous or not but I believe that ADD  is more positive for entrepreneurs than not. I also have a “mild case” of ADD and I think the hyperfocus that comes along with it is what enables those long nights and cram sessions where shit just gets done at a ridiculous pace.Also, it enables you to process information from so many sources at once and assimilate that in a way that makes sense – for entrepreneurs, identifying opportunities and markets in a way that some people perhaps have difficulty doing.I think there is also a lot of creativity that stems from ADD. Look, here I go on another ADD tangent 🙂

  36. Michael Schade

    Love it!Every night before I go to bed, for as long as I can remember, I lay back for awhile and just think. The quiet and darkness before sleeping is a great opportunity to think about a hard problem I’m working on, visualize features for something I’m developing, or think about the future. This tends to be a great way to either think of ideas right then (which can sometimes not be so great sleep-wise, because then I of course have to get up to scribble them onto the white board, and they usually lead to more ideas, which means I’m up all night) or focus my dreams on them and then write them down in the morning.I think this is similar to why you write first thing in the morning: it’s a great way to get those ideas flowing.Thanks for sharing this.

    1. tyronerubin


  37. William Mougayar

    Another point on this (now that I’ve had an additional 4 hours of subconscious information processing on it) is that you want to give yourself a mental deadline because there comes a point of reaching diminishing returns on the amount of thinking one can do before acting.

    1. Mark Essel

      There’s a balance between action and thought. Either without the other is worth little. I see the working early and subconcious processing as an iterative process. Practice, fail, think, try, mild success, think, etc

  38. Justin Dunham

    This post definitely resonated with me – it’s a surprisingly simple trick that improves performance considerably. I think the subconscious information processing part is important, but I also think working further in advance (a) reduces anxiety, which contributes to learning, and (b) allows for more critical assessment of knowledge gaps. I wrote a bit more about that here:…

  39. Kimia Kline

    wow, so true. i use this while making all of my paintings.

  40. Brandon Ferguson

    Such a great thought. When I was studying design this was one of the things they taught us. I think at the time I missed a fine point which your father pointed out: Start as early as possible and keep working on it a little every day. For a long time I’d simply look at the problem or work on it a little to get my head going only to find out the true complexities were a few more levels deep. It’s like you have to keep clearing the queue of things you think you know so you can get to the stuff you don’t know. Once there it’s so wildly powerful. (also it feels like it has a bit of relation to what you see athletes (particularly skiers) do with visualization before a race – like your head doesn’t know the difference between the thinking of the thing and the doing of the thing that when the doing comes it’s far more ready)

  41. bmeadowcroft

    I take this approach with nearly all problems… read through, think about it and let my mind go to work.  The best part are the “moments of inspiration” when the pieces fall into place and the solution seems so obvious.  This is a great post.  I’m glad someone laid it out… I get the strangest looks when I tell people that my mind is working on a problem even though I don’t look like I’m doing anything.

  42. derek

    This is exactly how my brain solves complex problems. I never had someone tell me about it; but i figured it out during organic chemistry in college. They would give us a pro own set a few weeks before a major test that was open book, yet about twice as hard as the test. And “open book” didn’t help much – the reactions were all.complex and did not necessarily follow.easy rules or conventions. After the first one which i, and everyone else, effectively failed, I started looking at things earlier and found out about empirically about subconscious processing. I use.this a lot in.thinking about building my company’s business (as well as thinking.about the nyc biosciemce ecosystem in general.). Great post – and happy fathers day 🙂

  43. Mark Jeffery

    Phew!  thanks for sharing this Fred – I always thought I was ‘slow’ feeling frustrated I couldnt get to where I wanted to be quickly.   Invariably it takes me a while subconsciously ruminating over a problem. I liken it to peeling back the onion skin. it takes a while to get to the solution ‘simplicity is genius’ but it takes a journey through confusion and complexity to get there.

  44. jonsteinberg

    Without reading this, it was my lunch conversation today.  I noted that over a given month, if I’m relaxed and give my mind adequate time to wander, I’ll have anywhere between x and xy moments of “inspiration.” I never know the exact amount, but ideas always come when I’m thinking through a problem.My favorite example: I spent several weeks in college trying to come up with the ideal outline for my senior thesis.  Then one day on Prospect Avenue, in the snow, I pulled out a book, turned to the last blank page and quickly jotted down an outline complete with sub bullets.  In the cold, leaning up against a stone wall, it took about 15 minutes.  I tore out that page, taped it above my writing carrel in and never needed to deviate throughout 150 pages.That combined with hustle and grinding is a formula I can always count on.

  45. Vasudev Ram

    Nice post, useful advice. Reminds me – from my school chemistry textbook – of the story of how the scientist Kekule discovered the structure of benzene:…Relevant excerpt from the (longish) article:”The new understanding of benzene, and hence of all aromatic compounds, proved to be so important for …  chemistry … that … the German Chemical Society organized an elaborate appreciation in Kekulé’s honor… Here Kekulé spoke of the creation of the theory. He said that he had discovered the ring shape of the benzene molecule after having a reverie or day-dream of a snake seizing its own tail … This vision, he said, came to him after years of studying the nature of carbon-carbon bonds.”

    1. Tom Lynch

      THAT is a mind blower. What an awesome thought; and a GREAT piece of information!By the way, the image of a snake seizing it’s own tail is called an “ouroboros.” It’s an ancient symbol that crosses the spectrum of cultural beliefs.THANKS for this post!TomS.I.,NY

      1. Vasudev Ram


  46. Donna Brewington White

    Fred — I think that you and your Dad have just given me something vitally important to pass along to my 16 y.o. son who is literally brilliant but just barely passed a course that the PSAT indicated he should have aced (99th percentile in writing) due to procrastination.BTW, I scored major points with this same son by showing him your Canvas picks, and then the response by @andyswan:disqus . His comment: “I like your world.”  Doesn’t get much better than that for a mom.Happy Father’s Day to you, Fred.  You are an inspiration as a Dad.  Thank you for letting us get an occasional peek into this side of your life.And on this same note, I am often inspired by the evidence that comes through in this community of how many wonderful and caring Dad’s we have in our midst.  Happy Father’s Day to all of you! 

  47. Nate Boyd

    Absolutely.  I often talk about this in terms of “planting seeds.”  Planting mental seeds in the minds of others is something that effective leaders and visionaries do all the time.  An idea might not be quite well formed or the solution may be out of reach, but get those background processes started before you need the answers!

  48. John

    One of my 2 favorite professors in college taught me a similar principle.  Although, he called it spaced repetition.  It’s so much better than cramming and is related to what you describe.  I’m all about spaced repetition.Now that I think about it, this also is what I’ve been calling slow and steady entrepreneurship.  The spaced repetition over time is incredibly powerful since you end up working smarter since your subconcious thinking improves what you actually do.

  49. Pete Griffiths

    Profoundly true.And here’s a related hypothesis I have.  When you prime your subconscious in this way what you are doing is setting up a source of creative tension.  The more such questions you set up the more such tension.  I have a strong suspicion that one of the things that most distinguishes highly effective/creative people is their ability to live with the associated tension.  Some people experience this as uncomfortable, they have a low ability to deal with cognitive dissonance.  Others can handle it.  It’s a big difference between people.

    1. fredwilson

      some great thoughts in this short comment Pete. I am sure you are rightabout creating and sustaining cognitive dissonance in the mind.

  50. Todd_Andelin

    You should watch the movie: “The Quantum Activist”  Its very enlightening.You can program your brain radar to accept things you are interested in.Then the processing happens automatically.Awesome post!

  51. Mark Essel

    Totally agree with your pop Fred. There’s an open definition to completion in much of my work, and meeting/exceeding expectations is one way to execute.There’s always something gnawing away at the corners of my thoughts. Gotta balance commitments with interest and availability and ability. If there was a way I could fork myself to explore several possible decision paths, I’d gladly consider it.

  52. ESTHER Fink

    Just discovered your blog. Awesome. 

    1. David Semeria

      Fink Esther, fink!

  53. Daniel Severns

    Inspiring. thank you for sharing.

  54. howardlindzon

    happy fathers day…man I cant get max to do this….

    1. fredwilson

      happy fathers day howard (a day late)i struggle to get two of my three kids to do thisteenage boys are particularly hard. but my strategy is to wear him down!

      1. howardlindzon

        you are in shape,….i am using this summer with max away to prepare for warin grade 7dropping 15

  55. Thomr Leonard

    Your article was great stuff, we often times sell ourselves short thinking that we can’t do a task, where I have found that if I just think it out and give it to my subconscious, my answer comes back faster than you might think.It could be that I like puzzles, even though I struggle with them. I like the challenge.Trust in Your Self.

  56. Karthik Ramakrishnan

    Classic! Love IT!

  57. Ataub24

    Love the post. So true. My own father’s day story, which I will put here instead of my own blog (alexsrandomtechthoughts.tum…). My father always told me to find a way to “fund my passion.” He was a wall street stockbroker but always had an entrepreneurial side to him.He explained to me that if you are really passionate about something, you will do everything in your power to be the best at it. If you are really good at something, you will find a way to make a living doing that. He always told me that passion equals happiness and that even if you have a terrible day at work, you will be happy that you are doing something that you love.I have always kept this advice in mind and think I’m doing pretty good at funding my passion. 

    1. fredwilson

      that’s as good advice as a father can give. and spot on.

  58. Robert Thuston

    Fred, when the AVC community shares what they value in their comments (in this case “subconscious processing”), I find myself recording the names of specific people for future reference.  I record names of people that reflect my own values, because I see potential to work with them in the future.  I also find myself doing the same thing in the real world these days, asking new and old friends early and often, “what is it you want to do long term?” “what is it that fascinates you about your work or hobbies?”  “what would you like to be doing in the future?”  When I find people with a similar passion for solving certain problems as well as valuable skills, I make note of that for future reference.I want to find more people.

    1. tyronerubin

      Finding like minded people, definitely Robert I totally agree. 

  59. Youssef Rahoui

    Very true. There is even some scientific evidence that dreams, with their fantasy, their wilderness, play an important role in that process. Thanks.

  60. Rupert Edwards

    Thanks for this great encouragement to fathers. I also found this father’s day post uplifting:…

    1. fredwilson

      that was a good one

  61. Qngozi

    This is one of the best write ups i’ve read on Subconscious Information Processing. Guess its true that when we sleep the brain is still at work.thanks.

  62. Carl Rahn Griffith

    That’s perfect. Thanks, Fred.

  63. Steve

    Thanks for sharing that story Fred. I couldn’t agree more that it does in fact work. I am a digital marketer and the Father of two great teen-aged kids. My son is 16 and my daughter is 14. I have tried to help them understand that its best not to wait until the last minute to complete a project many times, but your personal story does a great job of illustrating why.- Steve Copertino  http://scopertino.wordpress

  64. RyanN

    Whilst I dont disagree with everyone’s theorising and comments, my personal preference is for the ‘blink’ theory…  – although its obviously not applicable to all problems, I’ve find it consistently successful.

  65. thenewgreen

    It’s nice when you can pin-point defining moments in your life. When I was 24 I was working as a waiter in a restaurant. The bartender was talking to a guest at the bar about a recent trip he had taken to South Africa to study architecture via the University of Michigan. After he was done telling of his adventures I said to him in front of the guest, “you’re so lucky”. The guest turned to me and said, “you know, you create your own luck in life”. As simple as that moment sounds, it changed me forever. He is right, you do create your own luck in life. I have worked hard ever since to create positive situations for myself and my family. Now, nothing bothers me more than when someone says to me, “you are so lucky”. No I’m not, I just work hard and enjoy the journey.Another defining moment was when my grandfather quoted Tagore to me (It was paraphrased)”I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and found that it was duty. I acted, and behold the duty was joy”. -Still gives me chills.I enjoyed this blog post very much. btw, I found it on hubski.comCheers,-a new fan.

  66. Steve Poppe

    I’m so down with this advice.  I forwarded it to my son, because he may not listen to me but he may listen to a VC.  Hee hee…Steve

  67. ian_peterscampbell

    I use that very same process with engineering problems. It’s amazing how an intractable problem can become easy if you put some heat under it and give it a few days to simmer

  68. goinmobile

    A day late for this blog, but I cherish the time I did have with my father.  As a Dad now, I enjoy the wonderful impact we have in young child’s mind to be their key and goto mentor.  I use subconscious processing all the time but as Fred says you’ve got to get into ASAP to start the process of problem solving and evolution for a solution.  Time perfects, so the more you have…   I will also add another process I use and that’s called brain “compartmentalization.”   Being able to “bucket” my tasks, to do’s, chore’s, projects, self fitness, family issues and more keeps the running list from generally ever getting overwhelming and in fair priority.  It helps keep me feeling like its all doable, so I can focus on the big stuff yet get to it all soon enough.  Probably one of the best classes I ever took in college was “Motion Time Management.”  Meant for physical labor tasks, a lot of those theories can be applied to brain usage and management.PS The other great gift my Dad gave me was the ability to work with my hands and do a lot around the house.  It made me self sufficient, but taking on a new challenge and researching it, I also learned what NOT to take on that would be an over risk.  i.e. I leave plumbing to the pros 🙂 !

  69. Louis B. Shalako

    The subconscious mind is a powerful tool we often neglect. Thanks for the reminder.

  70. MartinEdic

    My usual way of engaging the subconscious for problem solving is to frame the problem then put it aside and take a long walk…BTW, read this yesterday on my iPad but apparently Disqus commenting does not work in Safari on iOS. I could not enter text.

  71. Steve Lim

    it’s true as our subconscious mind will always know more than us.

  72. Aruni S. Gunasegaram

    This is SO true and I do the same thing.  I always start working on or outlining big problems or tasks as soon as I hear about them.  I’m a bit ADD like that.  I’ll start on it and then set it aside to do something else or more mundane tasks and I’m always glad I did it that way because I hate the last minute rush.  I never pulled an all nighter in college or grad school for class…just figured it was inefficient use of time.  I know I might be the exception, but I need my sleep or at least I need to pretend I’m getting sleep. 🙂

  73. S. Anil Kumar

    When I was in B-school a few years ago, our new-venture strategy professor hosted a guest lecture by Jim Duggan, who was visiting from CBS (http://www4.gsb.columbia.ed….Prof. Duggan had recently written a book called Strategic Intuition, in which he explains how flashes of insight, of the kind that we get in the shower, differ from expert intuition (think Malcolm Gladwell) and can inform strategy.  Readers of your blog may find the book interesting.  Here’s a link to an introductory chapter: “Flash versus Blink: An Introduction to Strategic Intuition”

  74. Graham Swan

    This works incredibly well for developers (or anyone tackling technical problems).The strongest offense to a seemingly unsolvable problem is to sleep on it. It’s amazing how many times I’ve went to bed after being defeated by an issue, only to wake up knowing the solution.The human mind works in mysterious ways.

  75. Lyndon Williams

    Great post.I am a strategist / planner. I am forever taking in new information. In fact, it is almost an obsession of mine. I used to worry about my “technique” when I approached a project, because I did not seem to follow the same path as others who did what I did. I would always seemingly go beyond the boundaries that they would consider and sometimes drift away here and there. Quite randomly as it appeared to be to some. Often there were those who were concerned that I was losing my focus, and even I was too at times, until I realised that I always managed to hit my mark with deft precision. That through moments of doubt and sometimes dismay, when I could not seemingly solve my brief. Intuitively I knew when the time would come to put everything down and organise it in to a coherent whole and lo and behold, it always happened. The thing is, and I really only just quite recently stopped fretting about my process, because I looked at the results and they were good. That was what I was after. It reminded me of some advice I heard from a successful entrepreneur; “It’s now the how that matters, it’s the what. If you don’t know what you’re after, just how you get there is unimportant!” I know my post is a little off topic. Well, the beginning of it. My process is starting to kick in now. I just wanted to really say that I like to make a broad and deep evaluation of the problem or issue I have to consider and then let things percolate. When the final insight strikes me, it is like the first rays of light that come across the horizon to signal dawn. From the darkness of the unknown, suddenly I realise I have been building my ideas all the time and that even though most of it has been done gradually in the dark, I’ll know that I have something to work on. That and I will deliver something which is quality. I place a high value on generating quality. Anyway, that’s my 2c. Thanks for the post and thanks to everyone who has made a comment here. It’s all equally as valuable. My grandfather was a soldier and some say a hero in WW2. Apparently when he learned that some of his soldiers were caught whilst trying to retreat, he went back in to the fray, big guns blazing, and brought them all out alive. Unfortunately for him, he took some shrapnel in the lungs. His act of bravery cost him dearly as he was an Olympic athlete. He would never compete again, but knowing him as I did, he never once complained or said a word. He did his duty. 

  76. Nitish Pandey

    Well i just experienced. I have struggling to map the open source ERP opentaps to the work flow  at our organisation. Hammering away at it for past 4 weeks and were under the impression that we had to do a major tweak to it or go with a costly SaaS like And lo! out of no where an answer came to me just before i dozed off for the day. Subconcious or not, but yes, digesting the problem over time (getting in the zone) would undoubtedly give a sustainable solution. Hammering not only creates heat and noise, it also ends up screwing it up. Use a screwdriver, that takes a longer path on the same route, so that you don’t screw up your mission.

  77. Mike Bell

    Dear Fred,Given the latest market share numbers of iOS vs Android  devices, do you still recommend startups to start on Android first? iOS has something like 97% of tablets (ComScore numbers) and iPhone is now outselling Android and Android is in a first ever quarterly decline. Since you caused that huge storm with your earlier article, I’m really interested to hear what your thoughts are.Thanks,Mike

  78. Q_v


  79. Q_v


  80. Ishwari Singh

    Fred,  As someone who prevaricates and tries to do everything at the last minute, this one resonated.  I am going to try and integrate that in my workflow.Great job with the blog.  I have been reading for a couple of blog and it is a great learning experience.