The music industry didn’t imagine the ipod, airlines didn’t conjure up “go-to-meetings”, and TiVo wasn’t the brain-child of the cable company. The disruptive technologies that radically alter markets are the genius of outsiders that have the freedom to identify what others are too entrenched to imagine. Innovation requires an open mindset that sees the possibilities and solutions that no one on the inside is looking for.
All the best practices we’ve found out there suggest that developing a creative divergent-thinking mindset comes down to 3 things:
1.) Investing in Speculation
You have to invest in speculation to develop a creative divergent-thinking mindset. At 3M, researchers are encouraged to spend 15% of their time and energies on speculative projects and new ideas, which 3M insiders happen to refer to as the bootlegging hour. Bootlegging is an idea and innovation technique that’s been time-tested and implemented at other progressive companies known for R&D and innovating forward, like Google. Invest your time and talents in new ideas. Invest time in exploring curiosity, in testing seemingly random concpets, in thinking forward. Imagine what if? Ask questions and explore answers.
2.) Taking Breaks
The bootlegging hour isn’t the only tactic developed at 3M to improve creative inspiration and spur radical problem-solving. 3M also encourages “flexible attention.” If the answer isn’t coming to you, 3M suggests you take a walk, or play some ping pong. Why? Because when our minds are at ease, the alpha waves in our brain work differently. Differently in a way that triggers those “ah-ha” “eureka” moments. Which is why so many of us get our best and brightest ideas in the shower or on the john. It’s also the reason companies that value creativity and innovation tend to have stellar in-office play spaces. Practical example: Einstein actually conceived of the idea for his Theory of Relativity while “imagining himself riding on a streetcar traveling at the speed of light.” Einstein also rode his bike to help rev his mental faculties.
Great ideas need to incubate. They need to time to rise, time to bubble, time to distill down to their core brilliance. A good creative process incorporates taking breaks and giving ideas time and room to POP.
Looking for a great read on playing hard and taking breaks? Check out Stuart Brown’s book “Play: How It Shapes the brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.”
3.) Swapping Outside Perspectives
3M’s bootlegging hour only has one requirement- “that the researchers share their ideas with their colleagues.” Why idea sharing? Sharing ideas spurs innovation, sparks revelations, and jumpstarts creative problem solving.
When innovation becomes too insular, it tends to lose sight of the bigger picture ecosystem it depends on- which leads to blind spots. Blind spots that miss opportunities, overlook potential, and fail to identify the constraints to manage. Blind spots can cripple the best bets, the most radical technologies, and the most relevant ideas. Example: In the mid 1980’s, Phillips was first in the HD TV game, and in the market. Then the brilliant minds behind the scenes hit a hard reality- their technology depended on an ecosystem they couldn’t control. Until HD-capable devices were more readily available to customers, and transmission standards improved, HD technology wouldn’t be worth the cost, or hold the necessary value, for users. Phillip’s brilliant idea was a flop, and a $2.5 billion loss. It took 20 years for the market to be ready. A few conversations beyond the think tank may have informed the planning and buffered the losses.
Knowing your customer and market are critical to knowing your ecosystem. Keeping your finger on the pulse means exploring beyond the lab and seeking the insights of outsiders.
So, the moral of the story is- if you’re looking to generate brilliant ideas, think divergently, and innovative creative problem-solving solutions:
1.) Invest time in speculative projects and new ideas
2.) Take breaks- let new ideas and solutions come to you.
3.) Swap Stories and seek Outside Perspectives- sharing ideas spurs other peoples’ thinking, hearing other peoples’ wild imaginings will spur your own. Open exchanges will keep possibilities in tune with the cultural pulse and in sync with the ecology of innovation going around all of us.
In the meantime…
Here’s the skinny on BlackDog’s creative idea-swapping coffee meetup: Fika http://blackdogstrategy.com/blog/2013/04/16/coffee-the-secret-to-innovation/
And, here’s another coffee-break tradition we’re pretty fond of around here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Heard-in-the-Office/486623001378945?fref=ts
And, here are 29 ideas to help jumpstart your creative mindset:
29 Ways to Stay Creative: https://vimeo.com/24302498
1) Stuart Brown, M.D. “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.” New York: Avery, 2009. P. 93.
2) Image courtesy of Duncan