Posts Tagged creative thinking

There’s Probably Another Way to Do It

Tunnel vision is both extremely powerful and potentially debilitating. When we need extreme focus, tunnel vision blocks out distractions, making us more effective. More often, though, we need to see the bigger picture in order to be most effective, and tunnel vision can get in our way. That was my gym lesson for the week.

Readers of this blog and people who know me know that my body is an enigma of peculiar strengths and weaknesses. This creates unique challenges when I attempt simple tasks, like loading weights on some of the machines at the gym. To load one machine, I must move weight from knee level to head level. To do this, I grab the weight with my abnormally strong left arm which has no problem moving it to shoulder height, where an almost completely unusable left shoulder should take over. Since it can’t, my weak right hand must catch the weight and move it the final few inches to its target on the machine. If I time everything right and am feeling good, this isn’t a problem. If something is off, the weight comes back down, straining my back. Picture a track athlete trying to set a personal best on the pole vault.

Smaller weights are not a problem, but the biggest plates – those that I want on the machine – are. It’s a good day when the machine is already loaded or I can find a friend to help me load it. That wasn’t the case last week. I thought about trying to hoist the weights myself, but I have been recovering from a knee injury and didn’t want to make things worse. I was about to skip the lift when I realized that I can load the same weight as the large plates by simply using more of the smaller ones. Graduate school finally paid off!

Obviously, it wasn’t the math that created this “aha!” moment – fourth-graders could have figured out the numbers – it was looking past my tunnel vision. My mind saw only one way of performing that lift; I needed the big plates up there. If they weren’t up there, my mind erased all other possibilities. I was about to walk away when my vision suddenly widened.

Think about how that happens in other areas of life. Imagine a big project, like changing the landscape in your backyard. Maybe you have attempted something similar and achieved less-than-desirable results. That earlier failure might make you hesitant to even start the project, but is there another way to do it? Not even attempting the project is already a failure.

The challenge often isn’t dreaming up a new solution. Many times, like my example at the gym, the solution isn’t even that complicated. The challenge is recognizing that alternative solutions even exist.

Swedish furniture maker IKEA is an extremely popular company worth billions of dollars. IKEA’s packed, ready-to-assemble furniture is not only easier to transport than traditional furniture, but it is also less expensive. IKEA became a pioneer in this regard in 1955, and remains a recognized brand for it 70 years later.

The idea that made the company famous and prosperous came when one of the company’s employees was having a difficult time loading a table into a car. (Good thing the customer didn’t have a pick-up truck.) To solve this problem, the employee removed the table’s legs and stored them underneath in what would become known as a flatpack, which is what you would buy in one of their stores today.

Again, the solution was simple, and it was born in response to a problem.

The next time you encounter a problem, before walking away in defeat, consider: is there another way to do it? You might surprise yourself with what you can do.

 

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.”

~Albert Einstein

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Subconscious Ahead, Proceed with Caution

The older I get, the more I like predictability in my vacations, and fewer things are as predictable as sunny weather in Scottsdale, Arizona, especially in March, especially to a Nebraskan. For that reason, and many more, like I have for several consecutive winters, I recently spent some time in the Valley of the Sun.

Not only do I travel to some cities consistently, I tend to dine at the same restaurants during my visits. In Scottsdale, staff in some of my regular haunts even recognize me. That’s why I was thrown off when I prepared to meet a former student at one of my favorite sports bars and discovered it was closed. On a recommendation, I decided to visit another watering hole in the area. The directions I was given included a series of right and left turns, and an admonition that “you can’t miss it.”

Well, I missed it. I spent nearly 20 minutes driving around a shopping area on the other side of the street, because I was sure that I knew where it was. In my mind, that’s where a sports bar like the one I was looking for would be, and I suspect that I tuned out the directions almost immediately as they began. Though I had never been there and had no idea what was over there, the possibility that my desired destination was on the other side of the street never occurred to me.

When I heard “sports bar at the corner of Scottsdale Road and Bell Road,” my mind automatically took me to the southeast quadrant of that intersection, because that’s where all my related experience had been. Subconsciously, I sought familiar territory, at the expense of other possibilities.

Our subconscious is often extremely effective in situations like this; and it allows our progress to benefit from our experiences – we don’t have to start with absolutely no context. It’s why we feel more comfortable surrounded by friends at a social gathering than we do in a gathering where we know few people. Familiarity allows us to make assumptions, which accelerate our thought processes.

On the flip side, those assumptions can mislead us, as they did in my Scottsdale experience. As I searched for the sports bar, my subconscious overruled my conscious, logical thinking. While my rational mind focused on the admonition, “you can’t miss it,” my subconscious said that my destination had to be in the southeast corner, even though it wasn’t as apparent as the directions I was given led me to believe.

How often does that happen in the business world? Maybe you call on a prospect, excited about all the potential in the account, based on your experience in the industry and with similar prospects. Maybe that prospect reveals itself as a far lesser prospect than you had anticipated, but you are slow to disengage because your subconscious overrules rational thinking. Maybe a project in which you are involved appears to be unraveling, but is instead leading you down a more productive path. If you can’t separate from your negative-leaning subconscious, you might never see that path.

Back in Scottsdale, I finally gave in to rational thinking – and my wife’s pleas – and drove over to the southwestern corner of the intersection where I saw that the sports bar was indeed in a “can’t miss it” location. I had no other choice, as I had finally convinced myself that I wasn’t going to find it in the southeast corner.

Don’t make my mistake. Examine your current challenges to see if you have unwittingly allowed your subconscious to mislead you. Challenge yourself to let go of the subconscious assumptions that stand between you and your goals. Don’t spend time driving around in circles ignoring logic and your wife.

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