Thinking out of the box

Creative thinking comes in many forms, from coming up with breakthrough ideas to ingenious ways of solving deep-rooted problems… or simply coming up with an easier way of doing things.

Our perception of ‘coming up with ideas’ is often fashioned by cartoon images of a light bulb above someone’s head, or that ‘Eureka moment’ in the bathtub – both of which suggest some flash of inspiration has hit someone. In most cases, perhaps in all cases, ‘coming up with an idea’ is part of an ongoing process that just happens to manifest itself at a particular time. Rather than leaving everything to inspiration, however, there are certain environments we can create, and things we can do, to promote or improve creative thinking at an individual or team level.

One of the paradoxes about ideas that provide solutions, in business or any aspect of life, is that often, finding the solution is relatively easy, it is identifying the problem accurately that is harder. And this calls for discipline and technique, things that seem to run counter to the ‘inspired idea’.

Organizations usually prioritize the finding of a solution before having correctly identified the problem, wasting valuable time and resources. As a result, many companies spend a great deal of time and money undertaking improvement projects and initiatives to address perceived problems. These initiatives can look convincing, supported by logos, names, and features to gain the backing they need, but are they really solving the problem they were intended to? One major drawback is that the people identifying or framing the original need or problem are disconnected from those who supply the (costly) solution. Einstein stated: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

For certain, helping product teams change the way they work, or solving workflow issues, can come from one fundamental idea, but on a consistent basis, it can be achieved by the simple expedient of ‘re-framing’ people’s views, either by education or insights. Can education change the world, as Nelson Mandela once said? In the bad old days of Apartheid, education certainly helped change world opinion. Likewise, when it comes to business, scenario planning can help solve challenges by redefining them. In other words, reframing people’s views so that they gain a different perspective on the problem leads towards finding a more suitable outcome. The conclusion may not be a ‘big idea’ as such, but it can lead to a big transformation.

Similarly, innovation itself, surprisingly, isn’t always about new ideas. Very often, innovation comes from changing perspectives. In this respect, VFQ uses hypotheses and experiments to see existing challenges with ‘new eyes’ – it’s a technique that we can use rather than relying on pure ‘inspiration’. We often think that good ideas come out of the blue, but in reality, they often come from looking at a long-established situation (or problem) with a different perspective. By taking a new way of looking at things, and being open to new insights, it’s more likely you’ll come up with a good idea or solution. The writer, Marcel Proust, put it best when he said: “…the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” In a working environment, testing assumptions by experiment and putting forward hypotheses are all ways to ‘see with new eyes’ – and keep coming up with great ideas.

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