A Sneak Peak into The Mind of an Innovator

Introduction

She stood in the middle of the Capilano Suspension Bridge, teetering on 450 feet of swaying, wobbly, wooden slats 230 feet above rocks and fast-moving rapids in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Clipboard in hand, she waited for young men to cross. And cross they did, holding on as tightly as they could.

It was certainly not a task for the faint of heart. She did this regularly over the course of a few weeks, waiting only for young men unaccompanied by women. She approached 85 men in all, telling them that she was doing research in beautiful places. She asked them a series of questions, then gave them her phone number and told them they could call if they had any follow-up questions.

If her purpose was simply to meet men, it certainly was a creative and persistent way to go about it. But that wasn’t her goal; the work was part of an experiment to study attraction between the sexes. The other part of the study was a similar scenario repeated upriver by the same woman, but this time on a wide, sturdy bridge only 10 feet above a small rivulet.

What the experiment measured was the men’s perceptions of the woman’s attractiveness. Of the men who crossed the high, frightening bridge, about 50 percent made a follow-up call to her; of those crossing the lower one, only 12 percent did.

Scientists have known for years that attraction is likely to happen when people are aroused,[1] be it through laughter, anxiety or fear. Fear had gotten the attention of these men and alerted their brains’ emotional centers. The men then attributed that arousal to the woman’s presence, not to the real cause: fear.

People misattribute their feelings all the time, for a host of reasons. Unless we deem something as significant, we often just don’t pay much attention to it. This is actually an example of how efficiently the brain works. It would be too taxing to pay attention to everything all the time, so we focus on the important things.

Emotions take hold of us and cause us to see the world differently. We promise to lose weight, but give in to the temptation of that chocolate dessert. We vow to save money, but that new car or outfit becomes irresistible. We promise to clean the basement, yet somehow there is always something else that we end up doing. Call it procrastination, getting sidetracked, or the need for immediate gratification, but whatever it is, we don’t think too much about it.

Seldom do we think about how we think, or why we feel as we do. But being aware of both will help us understand what drives our behavior. When it comes to innovation, it is critically important to know those drivers, because that is how we develop a mindset primed for creative thinking. By simply changing your mood to a more positive one, you can broaden your view to see more possibilities and find ideas that are qualitatively richer and greater in number, even without using any thinking techniques to go further.

A serious mood will sharpen your focus to apply your analytical skills. This points is little understood, but crucially important: your mood crosses over to your thoughts so that what you feel determines how much you actually see, and one of the best ways to improve your creative thinking is to see as much as possible. This foundation must be in place before you can fully employ the creative skills necessary for thinking outside the box.

There are many paths to innovation, and this book will uncover numerous ones that are highly effective. My purpose in writing this book is to show you that creative thinking is not the sole domain of visionaries or those folks who simply march to the beat of a different drum. Creative thinking is a set of skills that can be learned and developed, and that go hand in hand with an attitude of curiosity. We are born with a curiosity that propels us to constantly ask  “why?” as we interact with our environment. We start out seeing the world with fresh eyes, but as time passes, our increasing knowledge quells our inborn curiosity, and we begin to learn our limitations.

We learn the skill of logic, which is both our friend and our nemesis. It is our friend because it helps us make decisions, and yet it is our nemesis because it prematurely filters our thinking. Seeds of ideas exist everywhere, but to recognize them we need to ignore the ability to recognize them requires holding back the judgment of spoken by common sense. They are only seeds because they are not fully functioning ideas. They need growth, refinement, and development.

This is perhaps one of the most under-estimated, misunderstood concepts of creative thinking, particularly in the corporate world today. Seeds of ideas are not differentiated from whole ideas. When seeds and whole ideas are lumped together, some end up being quickly dismissed because they do not pass the criteria of logic and reason. We rush too hastily to judgment.

The essence of creative thinking is holding your mind open long enough to entertain those possibilities of thinking you normally would not. These are the seeds of ideas that are not logical, cost-effective or strategically aligned.

Imagine the spectrum of creative thinking as a line. At the left side is an idea that is mundane, but logical and doable. By continually making improvements you can develop it into something better.

Moving along the continuum, for example, you can increase the number of flavors to a cereal, add new shapes to a product’s packaging, and build efficiency by streamlining processes. These are examples of the continuous improvement initiative spawned by Dr. W. Edwards Deming, known as the father of the Japanese post-war industrial revival. He helped Japanese manufacturers shift from making cheap imitations to making innovative, high-quality products at the end of World War II by making continual improvements.

Japan, of course, is now regarded as a world leader in quality goods. That is a necessary part of remaining competitive. But it’s not the end of the story: Japan’s competitors also developed high-quality goods. And your competitors, too, are developing quality; top quality is now commoditized and is now the entry ticket to the competitive playing field. Quality is expected.

The question, then, is how do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors to gain a sustainable competitive advantage? In a word: creativity.

This is where the other side of the creativity spectrum comes into focus. Instead of starting small inside and building out, we start outside and come back in. We start with the illogical, unfinished ideas outside the box of reason, and mine them for seeds of ideas.

Be aware that it’s not easy. Judgment sits in wait, ready to pounce like a lion on its prey. Entertaining illogical thoughts puts us into a zone of discomfort that builds tension as we try to make sense of those thoughts. It’s usually a relief when we are snapped back to reason.

But this book will give you techniques to overcome that discomfort and erase the tension, thereby allowing you to think freely and creatively.

In Part One, chapters 1 through 3, you will get underneath your thinking to me more aware of what caused you to think in the ways that you do. We will examine the obstacles to thinking creatively, and also the ways your emotions affect your thinking. We will look at some of the subtle factors that cause you to make decisions that you are not even aware of; once you understand this, you won’t ever be fooled by them again. All of these set you up to more fully appreciate chapter 4 where the concept of boundary becomes vastly porous.

In chapters 5 and 6 we continue with our heightened observations, but now we cast our sights toward a little-known emerging body of knowledge, inspired by nature, where examples of innovation literally surround us, inviting imitation and replication. This discovery shows us how we have been seeing for a long time, but not really noticing the enormous lessons before us.

In Part Two, chapters 7 through 14, we focus on active thinking techniques, exploring a host of different tools that will challenge your current thinking style. These creative thinking strategies have led others to  “game-changing” innovations, and will open up for you your ability to recognize seeds of ideas where you never saw them before.

In Part Three, chapters 15 through 21, you will be inspired by some innovators who have significantly changed our world for the better, despite facing incredible obstacles. Their stories remind us that no matter what the nature of an innovation is, complex or simple, we all have the capacity to innovate. By reading this book and absorbing its ideas, you will have the tools to innovate.

The innovator sees the same world you do, but sees more. This book will foster the deep curiosity that fades when we leave childhood, so that the taken-for-granted will not be taken for granted any longer.

Throughout this book you will engage in thought experiments that will expand the current limits of your thinking. In essence, this book will change the way you think. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimension.” After you read this, you will not see the world in the same way that you did before, and there will be no turning back. But as you experience the journey of increasing mental freedom, you won’t want to.

[1] Schachter, S. & Singer, J. E. “Cognitive, Social, and Physiological Determinants of Emotional State.” 
Psychological Review, 69(5) (1962); 379-399

I hope you enjoyed it and that it whetted your appetite to read more.  Thanks for reading!

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