Like millions of others, I had projects cancelled last month and have now retreated into isolation with my husband and one of my three kids.
I believe we will get through this. I also think we will come through with a greater appreciation for our health, for connection, for abundance and for our planet. In the meantime, we will have to deal with very real concerns for our elderly or the immune-compromised amongst us, the difficult of staying connected separately and — for many of us — a loss of income.
Lots of people are already leaping into online offers. Others are taking crash courses on making videos. Still others are using their isolation to pause, reflect, write…
I intend to do a mix of all three but, as someone who trains businesses on how to think differently using what they have, I am challenging myself over the next few months to practice what I preach and teach and rethink how I work. For many of us, there has never been a better time to learn to think — not outside — but inside the box.
For many of us, there has never been a better time to learn to think — not outside — but inside the box.
Four of the principles I teach — and will be applying to myself — are the following:
1. That constraints foster creativity. Or, as I shared in a separate post, even limitations that we don’t choose can make us limitless. Indeed, there is lots of research to show that we think more effectively and certainly more resourcefully when we are constrained as opposed to blue sky, out-of-the-box thinking. So if we think of our home and all the resources we have in it (including the wealth of technologies we have at our fingertips, of course), we are probably going to realise that we are richer than we think…
2…but we have a major blind spot. One of the obstacles that will stop many of us from doing anything new with what we have is what is called ‘cognitive fixedness’. Cognitive Fixedness is a state of mind in which it is easy and natural to perceive aspects of the world in a particular way and very difficult to see them any other way. It can be based on assumptions, considered to be facts, beliefs accepted without questioning and tendencies that we fail to challenge. This translates as a set of practices that serve us well on a daily basis BUT when we need to think creatively, it becomes a barrier because they make it difficult for us to imagine doing things differently — or doing different things. We see cognitive fixedness play out in almost every situation from product design through to the steps we take in a process. We lock them in and lose the ability to envisage alternatives.
3…the cool news (and we need lots right now) is that while it’s hard to keep biases at bay, it is possible to scan for them and ‘bust’ them, if only temporarily. If we don’t , we might leave better ideas or opportunities on the table. One neat way of doing this is to work with an Israeli method and mindset called Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT). SIT developed inventive thinking tools that not only bust fixedness but give you a great chance of coming up with truly inventive ideas. These tools are based on the observation of patterns — a sort of a DNA — in the some of the most creative ideas (in turn inspired by the likes of TRIZ — another pattern-based method). One such pattern is ‘Subtraction’ whereby an essential component from ‘inside the box’ (the resources available to you) is removed. The innovation of the iPod to the Shuffle was a nice example of this — where both the screen and the choice of music were removed. Right now, you could say that essential component of ‘face to face interaction’ has been subtracted. What is interesting is to see the range of creative ideas that are emerging out of necessity and constraints: online pizza meetings where the boss sends pizza around, smart use of breakout rooms in Zoom to simulate workshop environments, clever ideas for using what you have on your desk (eg 2 large paper clips) to hold your iPhone or your notes for an online video…and the list goes on. Socially, we are also seeing beautiful ‘inside-the-box’ ideas such as replicating art works using only what’s in the house (check it out — it’s ingenious).
Another pattern is ‘Division’ — where a step or component is moved in time or space. Without using the term, in Australia, the PM, Scott Morrison has been urging corporates to apply this by bringing forward the payment of smaller vendors. I was delighted to have one of my bigger clients do just that; pay now following a COVID-19 cancellation and receive the training later.
4. Just as everything is topsy turvy right now, one of the best ways of ensuring you don’t embed bias in your thinking is to flip the way you think.
…One of the best ways of ensuring you don’t embed bias in your thinking is to flip the way you think.
SIT calls this ‘Function Follows Form’; you start by defining the ‘box’, apply a thinking tool and then assess the desirability, feasibility and viability of the strange virtual situation we have created. Often, when we apply this in workshops, the ‘Form’ feels like an accident; like something is broken. It’s a bit like they must have felt in 3M when they created a glue that didn’t stick — but look where that got them! Kids are very good at this. Give them a box and it becomes a plane or a rocket ship. Many of us have forgotten how much our brains like to work this way and force ourselves to work from a problem or function to a solution or form. We are there now. It is anything but ‘virtual’ but if we use the thinking tools and apply FFF thinking, we might uncover some ways of using the resources we have that we would not have otherwise conceived.
5. Maybe the most uplifting idea that I will be working with is that EVERYTHING is a resource — even the problem itself.
Everything is a resource — even the problem itself.
This is the sort of growth mindset/abundance thinking we need now. If we were to build a causality chain of the situation most of the planet is in right now, we could not change the root cause. What we can change is how we respond to it. We can also have an impact on how far we push ourselves to be inventive in the way we resolve our situation (I’m not referring to medical solutions and vaccinations here….). What if we were to push our thinking to more inventive solutions that harness the problem in the solution? We are seeing some of this happening by default. In phone calls, many friends and clients are sharing that they “have never spent so much time with their kids”, or that they have more time to connect with colleagues on a deeper level. How could isolation be advantageous?
What if we were to push our thinking to more inventive solutions that harness the problem in the solution?
For example, what if we looked for ways of working that satisfied new conditions such as “the less we see our colleagues, the more aligned we are as a team”. It’s probably time to embrace this sort of paradox…A client of mine posted yesterday that he held a company-wide meeting online but — just prior — had pizza delivered to every home. The photos of them chatting and eating pizza had an uncanny virtual synchro about them. They will all remember that more than had they been together!
See you on the inside!
Go gently. Keep your distance. Wash your hands.
Rachel Audigé is an innovation architect who works on fostering innovation in organisations and a certified Systematic Inventive Thinking Facilitator. She runs SIT Australia and New Zealand, based in Melbourne.