December 2004 Insight Newsletter

Holidays & Innovative Thinking

Extended holiday seasons can stimulate new ideas. Changes of mood and spirit during a season take us away from daily ruts in our thinking for one thing. Meeting less familiar relatives and friends and explaining what we’ve been doing helps us see things from new perspectives. Seasonal parties and celebrations bring some stress, but also further distances us from routine patterns and the repetitive stresses of “normal” life.

Having trouble solving a problem? Surprisingly, some good advice turned up with these quotes from some creative people at, of all places, the Saskatchewan government: “Put your problem aside. Think about a topic completely outside your current situation (e.g., sports, politics, ancient history, travel).”“ They hit the nail on the head, but even better they go on to say, ““Test a new idea with others….”“ These are exactly the opportunities that holiday events afford.

1. Four Elements to Problem-Solving

In the five-strategy model of leadership I present, innovative thinking is the most challenging area for many people. New ideas pop up fairly often, but we may have trouble finding a useful one for a problem of the moment. It sounds odd, but the stranger our conversations at holiday time, the more innovative our thinking is likely to become. Thinking may wander more widely, but with an added value – we’ll spend time explaining our issues in ways we normally wouldn’t.

The key to truly innovative problem-solving encompasses four elements. First, jog ourselves out of routine mental patterns. Second, try explaining the issue even to a small extent to others who have distinctly different points of view and you are likely to find your views changing, too, as you try to clarify them. This is essentially Edward De Bono “Six Hat’s” methodology. He suggests imagining the issue from others’ viewpoints, but there is nothing as powerful as experiencing the real thing.

The third element is not as easy to explain. Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” The fact that holidays generally mean we chat with people we’d never otherwise spend time with adds this element in a way that De Bono’s model doesn’t necessarily suggest. When we search for answers normally we envision points of view from the same sources – at the office, among our peers, boss or fellow employees or at home with our spouse or closer family relatives.

Holiday events seem destined to make us talk with people who are likely to provide “other levels of thinking.” These are often people who don’t know what we do or how we live and who live in very different circles from ourselves. These differences automatically mean we’ll frame our conversations in new ways.

The fourth element is critical. We, ourselves, have to be open to paying attention to the conversations we have, considering whether there’s anything there we should try and then turning them into ideas we can test. I can’t count the number of times I’ve made “small talk” with people outside my normal circle and only later found myself thinking something new that probably resulted from one of those conversations. Creating the chance for innovative jogs is perhaps one of the most important hidden reasons for encouraging holiday hoopla.

So enjoy your seasonal events. They may at times feel joyous and at others, regrettably, somewhat like chores. Either way they offer opportunities for new ideas if you stay open to them. Whether you’re having a ball with uncle Bill or wondering what you can possibly say to cousin Jane, remember you’re recharging your mental batteries for on-going challenges.

2. Innovative Thinking Competencies

The Saskatchewan government’s interesting page on the mechanics of innovative thinking is here: http://www.gov.sk.ca/psc/MgmtComp/Innovative_Think.htm. In last December’s newsletter I asked whether creative thinking could find better ways to bring peace to the world. I’m sure it could. Let’s hope other governments pick up on this good advice.

3. Some Great Thinking Resources

I can’t leave this subject without mentioning some great advice from Randy Park another Canadian speaker who’s primary topic is the thinking process and who’s written a book called “Thinking for Results“. He’s at http://www.randypark.com. He suggested that the narrower term “innovative thinking” might be more useful when talking specifically about new ideas. As he pointed out “creative” tends to suggest more than “innovative,” and sometimes there’s benefit in actually narrowing the focus. It’s such seemingly minor distinctions that make for better solutions. A Google search on “innovative thinking” actually yields many more interesting “how to” references than the other term, which is so much broader. In particular it turned up this site which seems very useful for anyone interested in developing innovative thinking for organizational, team or personal use: http://www.creativity-theory-and-tools.com/.