In Matthew May’s excellent, thought-provoking and helpful read, “Winning the Brain Game,” he describes seven flaws in our thinking processes that impede our success at innovating and solving problems in creative ways. One of those flaws, “Leaping,” is something I observe with coaching clients and business students almost daily.
I see this in the cases, thinking problems, and business simulations I deliver to my students. I hear it in the answers to questions from coaching clients. And I see this quick leaping at play in workplaces of all types.
Our fast-paced world has conditioned us to move from issue to action without pausing to consider the nature of the problem. The result is typically a superficial solution that fails to address the real underlying problem or opportunity.
We often attempt to assuage our innate concerns over being less than creative by brainstorming.—which typically moves from identifying alternative options to judging these options in a short period.
The grooves in our minds are well worn.
Of Cheetos and Lazy Brain Syndrome:
The 8th flaw in our brain game might be described as laziness. If given the opportunity to offer a less than creative, quick answer to a problem that seems analogous to others we’ve encountered, or, to rethink, reframe and develop completely different solution ideas, many of us choose the easy path every time.
It takes incredible energy to bypass those well-worn grooves in our thinking processes. It’s easier just to go with the path of least resistance and proffer approaches that come close to fitting, rather than step back and do the heavy lifting of considering the situation from alternative angles and to then develop unique potential solutions.
It’s also easier to sit on the couch in front of the television eating Cheetos (the puffy kind) and skip the daily trip to the gym.
The results are approximately the same…minus the orange finger part.
Thinking Lessons from Einstein:
May’s solution focuses on Einstein’s famous quote: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” This 55 minutes of thinking involves thinking through alternative frames for the problem, and then once a frame is developed, exploring specific solutions.
The notion of framing as a tool to overcome a wide variety of human thinking flaws is well established in the world of researchers, but not so widely used in practice.
Starting today, when faced with a complicated problem in the workplace, jump out of the grooves of your own and your group’s typical thinking.
8 Ideas to Help Your Team Develop Innovative Solutions:
- Consider your situation from all angles—surround it. Use the stakeholder model and review the situation from different viewpoints.
- Ban the rush to solution development.
- Develop different frames (problem, opportunity, neutral) and then develop unique solutions for each frame.
- Eliminate the option of the quick solution to every frame and challenge the group to dig deeper.
- Use a variety of techniques beyond open-outcry to propose ideas. The best ideas may be lurking in the minds of people uncomfortable verbalizing their thoughts.
- As the dominant solution emerges, push the team to develop a solution that comes at the issue from an entirely different perspective.
- Strive to surface the assumptions behind every solution. “What must happen for this to occur?”
- Draw in outside voices to check and challenge assumptions and approaches.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Everything I just described is hard work—much like going to the gym. Many will never get off the metaphorical couch, comfortable with their easy, lazy approaches and orange-stained minds. Those who strive to lead and help their firms and teams thrive need to just get at solving this problem. A bit of heavy lifting is required.