When you really need new ideas or fresh thinking or a creative solution to a challenge, a typical day-to-day approach to your thinking is not the optimal process. Using the same old way of thinking will just lead you to the same old ideas you’ve had or tried before.
Instead, you need to do something different, something that will stimulate your brain in various ways and change your perspective on issues. Here are some ways to make sure you (and your team) disrupt your thinking so you actually find the new ideas you need.
1. Change your environment
Get out of your own conference room or office. Debrief the latest research findings or industry report at an art museum. Or take your team to the zoo with the goal of coming back with new ideas. Depending on what part of the country you’re in, you can send your teams to the Mall of America, Walt Disney World, or a trendy neighborhood in Manhattan to seek inspiration and new ideas.
If you can’t physically get out of the office, find a way out metaphorically. Ask people to imagine how they would solve the problem at hand if they lived in Antarctica or were seen from the perspective of a submarine captain.
2. Bring in strangers
Openly invite other perspectives into your discovery and idea generation processes. For example, for a project on new packaging and product ideas for a beverage company, invite a boat designer, stormwater management expert, sculptor, and water park designer (among others). Your project team will be amazed at the range and diversity of new ideas that arise when exposed to new perspectives on their challenge. They will think of ideas that they agree they would never have come up with on their own, due to their own assumptions about the subject.
3. Truly engage with your customers
Don’t rely solely on second-hand data to understand your customers’ needs. You really have to talk to them. Go to their home or office to see what problems they need solutions for.
Too often, teams looking for an idea generation project will say, “We don’t need to do any discovery up front because we already have ‘lots of data’.” This should always make you suspicious, as it usually means they have numerous reports with loads of customer stats. Unfortunately, this rarely means they’ve uncovered any genuine new information about customer needs.
If you expect your team to understand the customer by reading a presentation or watching a Power Point presentation, challenge yourself to find a more engaging and interactive process. It will be much more effective to immerse your team in a true understanding of the customer.
4. Question everything
Do specific exercises that force people to confront and challenge their subconscious assumptions about the topic. An easy way to do this is to first ask for ideas that the team thinks would solve the problem, but probably couldn’t implement for some reason.
Then ask them to reframe each idea by saying “We might be able to implement this idea IF…. . Of course, some of the obstacles will turn out to be real, in which case, spend no more time on these ideas. But in all the cases where I’ve done this with client teams, they also discover many supposed obstacles that they could actually solve.
5. Leave a little crazy in the room.
The academic definition of creative thinking is “the process of creating new and useful ideas”. The only way to get new ideas is to start with seemingly crazy ideas. Any truly innovative idea seems a bit crazy at first. If you only start with ideas that are comfortable or clearly easy to implement, they are probably not very new.
So encourage people to come up with wildly crazy ideas. Then play a game called “If We Could”. Ask the team to temporarily drop the problems of the idea and ask “If we could implement this idea, what would be the benefits?” » Once you’ve identified the benefits of each crazy idea, narrow it down to a few of the most promising ones and ask the team to research possible solutions to the obstacles.
A team was about to kill off a truly original idea for a new children’s cereal because they didn’t know how to create the essential component. However, after “If We Could”, they agreed that the idea was so interesting and unique that they needed to explore it. The R&D team made a few calls to other experts, and within weeks they had solved the problem. This idea resulted in the most successful new product launch in the brand’s history!
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to simply approach each new challenge using our typical everyday way of thinking. It sounds familiar, it’s easy to access this type of thinking, and it works on most daily challenges. So you subconsciously assume it will work on any challenge. But it is extremely useful to do a meta-analysis of your thinking. Ie think the way you think. Not all problems will benefit from the same type of reflection.
Once you recognize that this new situation requires some new thinking, it’s quite easy to do some things to shift into a more productive mode for this particular challenge. Then return to the more familiar daily thought for your daily tasks.
Frequent contributor to Snow magazine, business coach Susan Robertson brings a scientific basis to the improvement of the creativity of its customers.