How to think what no one else thinks

How to think what no one else thinks

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Want to think what nobody has ever thought? Easy, question assumptions.

There comes a moment in time where everyone agrees with everybody about pretty much everything. For any sized organization that are focused on creating a culture of relentless innovation, hardened dogma is an innovation obstacle they must overcome.

Yesterday I gave a talk about Creating an Innovation Democracy to the Tijuana Innovation and Development Cluster. In the talk I told a story about how I’ve managed to be effective at changing cultures, and making an impact, by simply questioning stupid rules no one has thought about.

How I’ve managed to do that is very simple: I anticipate that there will be a dominant mental model; dogma.

That means people and organizations have been operating in a common bubble for a long time, so my immediate task is to question assumptions in their mental model.

Dogma is everywhere, even in nature, for example take a fish that is born at sea. A fish doesn’t know how it got there, it simply lives underwater and it doesn’t know why. As Derek Sivers points out in a “Fish don’t know they’re in water” article:

Fish don’t know they’re in water.

If you tried to explain it, they’d say, “Water? What’s water?”

They’re so surrounded by it, that it’s impossible to see.

They can’t see it until they get outside of it.

The same phenomenon happens with people, we never ask “how did we get here?”; we simply go along with whatever is happening around us. It’s easy to forget that what surrounds us is only normal because it’s what we know. To others, those surroundings might seem pretty strange.

With that said, a simple way to identify dogma is to ask yourself: What does everybody agree on?

If you can identify a delusional popular belief, you can find what lies hidden behind it: the contrarian truth.

Once we identify those truths, it’s time to twist them like a Rubics cube through various methods to help us think differently. The best way to develop a unique point of view that might lead to creating a new thing is to think in first principles, which means we have to understand and question what came before to get down to the core of the challenge; what really matters.

People and organizations that are capable of identifying and busting assumptions will free themselves from the straightjacket of precedent, to see anew and do new things. Starting from scratch isn’t a prerequisite for innovation, but it is the only approach that leads to breakthroughs in any type of business domain; including management.

Bottom line: To think what no one else thinks we must shift our perspective by asking questions, look at a situation from someone else’s perspective and by reframing. Albert Szent-Gyorgy, who discovered Vitamin C, said, ‘Genius is seeing what everyone else sees and thinking what no-one else has thought.’ If you can identify the standard viewpoint then survey the situation from a different viewpoint you have an excellent chance of gaining a new insight.

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