I’ve been exploring how leaders and managers can facilitate high performance in people through creative insights.
Albert Einstein is reported to have said that if you gave him an hour to solve a problem, he’d use the first 55 minutes to consider if it was the right problem.
A problem typically leads to an impasse because you’re asking the wrong question. When you focus on misleading features, you risk going down rabbit holes. We need to become aware of the mental traps that cause us to fixate on the wrong problem.
The Perils of Fixation Thinking
Many years ago, people in a high-rise building complained about slow elevators, so the owners brought in engineers to solve the problem. Each professional said the same thing: Modifications would cost a great deal of money and wouldn’t result in a noticeable increase in speed.
It seemed to be a hopeless engineering problem—until another consultant offered a different kind of solution: Line the elevator cars and doors with mirrors. Passengers were so distracted by looking at themselves that they stopped noticing the passage of time. Complaints ceased.
Studies have shown that even thinking about unusual people or events primes the brain for creative insights. On the other hand, thinking about conformity, rules and the way things are usually done enhances analytical thinking.
Achieving psychological distance — even if it’s only imaginary — increases insightfulness. Try to think about the big picture, the 30,000-foot view.
Only a handful of programs train people to solve problems insightfully. Some focus on making you more systemically aware of your assumptions and the fixations that prevent you from solving a problem. This allows you to dismantle an incorrect perspective and construct a new understanding that points to fresh ideas.
Let me ask you this: as a manager or leader, how much encouragement have you given to people for creative thinking and fresh ideas? Do you allow everyone to explore possibilities, or only specific teams and R & D people?
Creative insights can come from anywhere, if you’ve planted the welcoming seeds. And fresh ideas can just as easily come from new employees as from your experts.