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Stop Trying to Solve Your Problems

Creative Thinking and Leadership is Doing/Not-Doing

by Jeremy Nulik

If you think back to the last idea you had that generated the most value for your company, it did not occur to you during that two-hour planning session. That idea, the one that solved the seemingly intractable challenge, also did not occur also when a group of consultants introduced you to a problem-solving method. It happened when you were applying a second coat of paint to a wall in your basement. And the way that the paint moved across the wall triggered some fundamental explanation of the challenges you were having. Suddenly, you had it. The idea came to you.

You can replace painting with showering, walking or alphabetizing a record collection. The mindless and repetitive task made the answers clearer.

The reason this happened is because you are human. Psychologists call this the Zeigarnik effect, named after the person to study the phenomenon, Bluma Zeigarnik. The effect describes Eureka moments. They occur because humans tend to keep unsolved challenges in our consciousness, and problems tend to be solved when we are not focused completely on the challenges. New insights tend to happen when we focus on something mindless.

You may be aware of this phenomenon for yourself. However, this understanding of cognition is important also for your brand, here’s why. If you hold innovation or creativity as a value, you must create an environment for the humans in your organization to have Zeigarnik moments.

Even if you don’t value creativity or innovative solutions, you have at least experienced the deluge of inbound change and unpredictability that exists in the world today. The problems we face in business are complex. So diversity in solutions is critical for future relevance.

Of course, creating an environment that is conscious of human cognition is, itself, a tough challenge. But here are ways to get started:

Move the focus of your influence from process to outcomes. Presumably, the people in your organization are adults, so you can treat them as such. Instead of focusing on how people ought to solve problems, get your team excited about possible and alternative outcomes. Once you can get a group excited about vision, you can ask them to take some time and evaluate how they would get there. Schedule time to discuss the ideas and let them share also how they came to their conclusions. The insights you can gather on their processes are more telling than even the solutions they create. Everyone can try new ways to think.

Encourage the seemingly ridiculous. A business owner I know has the following mantra for his workplace culture, “Love every idea for five minutes.” If you are seeking divergence and new thinking, you must at least display a patience and openness for ideas that seem ridiculous. The next time you are looking for a solution, ask your team to offer ideas and reward the most irreverent or least expected. In the long run, the thinking that led there will be useful for future challenges.

Consult your network. Bring in people from outside your industry and allow them an opportunity to present their point-of-view on the world to your team. Seeing the diversity of thinking will help your team to approach problems in novel ways, and it opens the emergent possibilities for new projects.

These are just a few ideas to get your started. The real work begins with you. It begins by recognizing the kinds of ideas that will make you more competitive and more capable of facing change are the result of a conscious amount of time and space for divergent thinking.

Jeremy Nulik (jeremy@bigwidesky.com) is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a human business consultancy, in St. Louis, Mo.
Submitted 78 days ago
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