6 Ways to Spark Innovative Thinking

The pandemic has proven that we have a lot of capacity for problem solving and adapting to change—we probably had more capacity pre crisis than we were fully utilizing. So rather than waiting to respond to the next challenge, actively place yourself in the right mindset to spark innovative thinking.
Proactively seek out problems and treat them as opportunities
Once you’re forced to respond to an urgent problem, your options for addressing it are limited to what’s possible short term. By allowing urgency to dictate where you’re channeling your energy, you might be overlooking problems that have greater potential for innovation. But by proactively looking for problems to solve, you’ll find new avenues for improvement that could offer better chances to differentiate your business. Even firemen have realized the potential impact they can have working on prevention rather than putting out fires.
Think of the problem as part of a system
When facing a problem, ask yourself if what you’re looking at is actually the problem or if it’s a symptom of a larger issue. Think about the system that could be creating the issue and investigate the different places you can intervene within it. Instead of trying to invent a better mousetrap, it’s probably better to think of ways to prevent the mice from getting in. Is there a hole in the wall? Are the kids leaving the door open? When you stop limiting your thinking to mousetraps, maybe all you’ll have to do to keep your house mouse-free is put your cat on a diet.
Run in the opposite direction of your assumptions
Before coming up with your first idea on how to solve a problem, you’ve probably unknowingly handcuffed your thinking. In fact, the more experience and knowledge you have in a field, the more assumptions you bring with you. But assumptions can guide you. Any time you think,
we can’t change [x] because of [y],
run a quick thought experiment:
what if you were forced to change [x]? Can you change [y] and then change [x]
? Every time you recognize when an assumption is limiting your thinking, you’ve also found a new potential area to buck tradition and innovate. Not that long ago we all thought we had to go to the office to work.
Force yourself to come up with too many ideas
When generating ideas, even while we’re alone, we’re censoring ourselves. We try to come up with the
solution and we avoid ideas that seem weird or dumb, which keeps us from a lot of good solutions. Graphic designers will generate 50–100 logo sketches before choosing the best three or four to present to their client. More often than not, it’s the later designs that end up being chosen as the best options. Pick a number of ideas you think is too high, then double it. By relentlessly iterating and stretching our imagination, we get past the obvious and enter truly novel territory. Without this kind of exercise, we might not have brilliant innovations like stuffed crust pizza.
Get outside perspective
Though there’s some difference between the way you and your coworkers approach a problem, there’ll be a greater variety outside of the company and greater still outside the industry. Explain your problem to someone in a different field to see what they think. An artist, a teacher and a computer programmer will each bring a completely different set of tools to approach the same problem. It’s been said that when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail—what does the problem look like when you also have a paint brush, classroom and laptop?
Change your setting
Whether you’re at the office or working from home, sometimes a change of scenery is all you need to think through a problem in a new way. Get out of your normal space, leave your phone behind and let the problem you’re trying to solve turn over in your mind. This is the basis of the
shower thoughts
phenomenon. Heck, if you’re working from home, why not take a long shower. If you want your mind to wander into a novel solution, the easiest way to start is taking it out for a walk.
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