The ideas in this post have been inspired by Think Smarter by Michael Kallet. Make sure to check out my Think Smarter by Michael Kallet: Summary too!
When you are looking to think creatively it can be hard to know where to start. Below are 3 different methods you can use to help get you thinking creatively and coming up with exciting new ideas.
1. Thinking outside of the box
Michael Kallet suggests in “Think Smarter” that thinking outside of the box involves thinking outside of our premises. In my article “How diversity can help both you and your teams flourish” I advocate the case – with the help of examples from Matthew Syed in Rebel Ideas – that the way we see the world is not the same as how the world really is.
When looking at both these ideas together, our box is effectively our perspective of the world – when we face problems and “think inside of the box”, we use our already gained toolkit of knowledge and experience to help us.
When we are looking to think “outside of the box” we need to think outside of our current perspectives, lift the lid off the box and find new things to put in it. We need to acknowledge that there are things in this world we do not know. Therefore, we need to seek new knowledge and be open to change.
How to do it
When you are looking to think outside of the box we are seeking new perspectives to the problems we are trying to solve.
You should speak to others outside of your department, talk to friends and even speak to mentors. Explain to them the problems you are working on and ask for their honest advice and views.
Even though these individuals may not be familiar with the intricacies of the problem you are working on, their high level, uninformed perspective may help you consider things you have not thought about before.
2. Abductive thinking
This method isn’t as fun as the title suggests – it doesn’t involve thinking you’ll be abducted by aliens – it simply means guessing. When your current knowledge is not enough, and you’ve tried thinking outside of the box then this type of thinking might come to the rescue.
When you have been immersed in a field for so long you can become susceptible to “old-dog thinking”. Although you are exceptionally knowledgeable because of your experience, the paradox is that your experience is so strong you are at a disadvantage of thinking up new solutions because you have always had the answer. Because of this you are less likely to guess and take chances – all important decisions when trying to be creative.
Abductive thinking instead tries to inform your conclusions with knowledge rather than experience. You attempt to make an educated guess on what you know according to what you have learnt, instead of what you already know.
How to do it
When thinking abductively you are looking to gain a good level of knowledge on a topic without being influenced by prior experience.
A great way to achieve this is to work on a problem in teams. Put the most experienced people in a room with junior members and most importantly create a psychologically safe environment. Allow the junior members to ask the experienced team members questions to gain knowledge and then allow these junior members to make suggestions without judgement.
This method allows the junior members to gain knowledge on a topic before then “abducting” and making suggestions which are not bound by experience. It’s important to note that nobody should pass judgement – the value in these sessions lies in the fact that people can suggest ideas without the fear they will be judged. Many suggestions may be wrong, however, this type of thinking may let you stumble upon something your team has never considered before.
3. Impossible thinking
When all the other methods have failed and you cannot think of any creative ideas, this method is the last-ditch attempt to find a solution.
Impossible thinking aims to take your mind and ideas well beyond any boundaries and create solutions nobody could have anticipated. When you are looking to think impossibly – things can be whatever they want, conversations may be ridiculous but you should welcome this and encourage it as quieter people with great ideas will be more likely to speak up.
How to do it
One possible way to ignite this thinking method is imagine you have an unrealistic target to meet. Imagine your company needs to increase sales by 7% for it to meet its profit targets. If no good ideas have been mentioned already, ask how you would increase sales by 50% in 6 months. The overwhelming goal will really get people thinking about new possibilities beyond their current perspectives and the original 7% will seem like nothing.
This method should not be taken literally – setting an unrealistic expectation would not be fair on any team. You should instead use it as a topic for discussion. You need to have a bit of imagination within the team too.
You need to exercise critical thinking too. Although an idea may seem like a great idea – try to analyse the risks of doing it. For example, to increase revenue an impossible idea could be to drop prices below all competitors – now although this might work and increase sales to unseen levels, it may not be in the best interests of the company and the product.