“CHANCE FAVOURS THE PREPARED MIND”. This mantra was made famous by Louis Pasteur, the famous French chemist and microbiologist, who amongst many accomplishments, discovered the principles of vaccination and pasteurisation. While these discoveries were accidental, he admits with his quote, that his mind was conditioned and ready.
In the fields of observation chance favours only the prepared mind.
Sadly, most of your staff are not as nimble minded as Pasteur. But they could be. Pasteur was not born with any incredible supernatural power, other than to ability to overcome blockages in innovative thinking. So what are those blockages, that prevent us from ‘thinking outside of the square’? They include:
1. Fear of Failure
3. Following the (cultural) rules
4. Over reliance on logic
5. Not enough inputs
Let’s look at each in turn.
Fear of Failure
Before Yao Ming and Liu Xiang there was Michael Jordan and Manchester United. On arrival to China, in 2001 I was surprised to learn that domestic sports stars were relatively unknown to the Chinese market, and foreign sportsmen and women, and their teams, were far more popular. Why so? Partly because of the immaturity of sports as a consumer product in China. The other reason is that Chinese culture rarely backs an underdog.
A person who never made any mistakes never tried anything new.
So how does a leader reduce the fear of failure in their organisation? First, they should not demand innovation and creativity from staff one day, and then lambaste them for the occasional stuff-up, the next. Says Albert Einstein, “A person who never made any mistakes never tried anything new”, so this means letting your staff make mistakes.
School can form some hard-to-break habits. Now, don’t get me wrong – school is vital to a successful upbringing. However, school does impose bad habits, and one of the worst is our habit of answering questions. Kids start formal schooling at around 6 years of age, and graduate from a bachelors degree at the age of about 22. That means that for the average global student they have 16 habit forming years.
Now why is this so bad? Here’s an example:
When a teacher asks a student a question, say, “What is the capital of Saudi Arabia?”, the student has three options. One, they answer the question because they know the answer. Two, they say, “Sorry, I don’t know”, and sit down. Or three, they have a guess. Know, don’t know, or guess. It really doesn’t matter, since the teacher is only asking the question to ‘test’ the student. Those are the three, and only three, methods of answering a difficult question at school. But then that student graduates and starts working at a company.
For 16 years, the student has formed a habit that when asked a question there are only three responses – know, don’t know, or guess.
None of these options suit a business environment, because, after all, the purpose is not to test the employee, but rather to get the answer. I demonstrate this problem in my training courses, where I pick on an unfortunate trainee; normally the youngest in the group, so that the habit of answering questions is still strong. I first explain the difference between questions at school (to test) and questions at work (to get the answer) and then in a firm voice, and determined expression on my face, I point at my victim.
“What is the capital of Saudi Arabia?” I shout.
Why this question? Because only a few people in a group would ever know the answer, and I am hoping that my selected trainee does not. Without fail, the following conversation will occur verbatim, every time:
Trainee: “Sorry, I don’t know.”
Me: “I don’t care if you don’t know. Get me the answer.” The trainee looks at me confused.
Trainee: “Really, I don’t know the answer!” The trainee’s voice begins to quiver.
Me: “I know you don’t know that answer. This is not school. I am not testing you. Now get me the answer!” I raise my voice, and snarl.
Trainee: “Huh?! I’m sorry, I really don’t….” And then something clicks inside their head. The habit of 16 years of school is suddenly broken, and an expression of relief washes over their face.
Trainee: “Ok! Does anyone here know the answer to Morry’s question?”
It is at this point that the interrogation ceases. The trainee has done what many are incapable of doing, and that is breaking a long standing habit; one that prevents them from using the resources around them, and limiting their creative growth.
Following the (Cultural) Rules
You might be surprised to learn that, at the time of writing, 349 American citizens have been awarded Nobel Prizes, while only 19 Japanese citizens have reached the same honour. Homogenous societies fare worse in Nobel Prize nominations, and I believe that this is to do with status quo. Being creative means thinking differently, and when everyone around you thinks the same way you do, thinking differently can be extremely difficult.
Over Reliance on Logic
“I think there is a world market for about five computers”. This is a remark attributed to Thomas J. Watson (Chairman of the Board of IBM) back in 1943. How was he to know any differently? After all, logic told him that computers were large, expensive and difficult to use, and that wasn’t going to change any time soon. How often do we make ‘Watson-like statements’ based on our reliance of ‘what is’?
“I think there is a world market for about five computers”.
Dr. Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, famed for his development of the Six Thinking Hats with Edward deBono, and Principal of the School of Thinking, devised the concept of ‘CVS2BVS’. CVS, or Current View of the Situation, reminds us that what we see now (our logic) does not have to be so. There is always a BVS, or Better View of the Situation, or in other words, a better way of doing something. A CVS is ‘bread’. A BVS is ‘sliced bread’.
CVS2BVS is a simple switch that reminds us to step away from the problem, and look from a different angle. There’s a number of techniques that can assist with this BVS, including ‘Omit a Given’ and ‘Random Word Generation’. All get the user to step away from logic and into the unknown.
Not Enough Inputs
If you are reading this post, then you don’t suffer from this form of creative blockage. Alas, I meet people weekly who limit their ability to think creatively because they do not expand their minds with new inputs. They travel to work the same way each day, eat the same lunch, and do the same activities with the same friends on the weekends. Not much changes, week in, week out. Consequently, their mind is not prepared to accept new ideas. Networking, joining clubs, undertaking training, or using ‘Stumbleupon.com‘, are all ways to increase the variety of inputs, and therefore become more prepared.
Your staff might not discover the next medical breakthrough, but with a little advice, and maybe some training, they are more likely to condition their minds for creative thinking and increase their chances of solving problems.