People laugh when I tell them I sometimes do my best work at the 7-Eleven. “How can you get anything done standing in line?” The truth is, you can get a lot of thinking done while performing mindless activities. Einstein is said to have developed the theory of relativity while shaving. Emptying your mind gives you the necessary room to reframe problems and situations. And this can be one of the most effective ways to strategically boost your creativity.
A few months ago, I supported a business process modeling initiative for a multinational corporation. The organization wanted to understand how blockchain technologies might reduce costs associated with critical aspects of their business. Specifically, they were interested in learning how stable-coins might reduce their reliance on external banking services.
After reviewing the information, I felt the pressure building. The client needed a turnaround in less than 24 hours, and I had little knowledge of their internal processes. A spreadsheet that detailed process deficiencies and desired outcomes provided a general summary of the situation. To finish the task, I had to rely on my general understanding of their business, the spreadsheet provided, and my business process design experience.
Could I create a compelling solution in such a short time with so little information? Challenge accepted! Thankfully, I’d recently bought a few books written by Edward De Bono on lateral thinking during a trip to Malta. The concepts I learned helped me produce significantly more creative output in a fraction of the time.
Lateral thinking is a systematic approach to boost creative thinking.
The term was coined by Edward DeBono to explain the form of thinking that is not linear, sequential, or logical. The Oxford Dictionary defines lateral thinking as “a way of solving problems by an indirect and creative approach, typically through viewing the problem in a new and unusual light.” According to DeBono, “You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper,” is the simplest explanation of lateral thinking.
Lateral thinking is the opposite of vertical thinking.
Vertical thinking is positional. In this mode of thought, you take a position and build on it to progress your thinking on possible solutions. Logic determines our movement along a sequence of events. Past information provides information to analyze the current position and potential next steps.
Chess is an example of applied vertical thinking.
Each piece has a predetermined pattern of movement. This pattern, along with piece selection, current position, determine possible next steps. By playing the game, the user gains experience. This experience creates a foundation for game strategy.
You can use lateral thinking to develop new ideas and concepts to solve problems.
Lateral thinking deals with different perceptions, concepts, and points of entry. Rather than seeking to understand what is true, lateral thinking explores “possibilities” or “what might be.” The use of logic to create new ideas or solve challenging problems often leads to a prolonged lack of insights. Lateral thinking, however, emphasizes the use of different perceptions, approaches, and ways of looking at things.
“You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.”-Edward De Bono
Here’s the approach I used to boost my creativity at work.
I needed a game plan to reduce my workload and stress levels before moving forward. Without a game plan, I might easily get lost in the details of the situation. When we get lost in the details, we waste time and energy.
First, I reviewed the spreadsheet to understand the project better.
After a few moments, I started to feel the onset of acute anxiety setting in. If you’ve ever experienced a tight deadline based on abstract details, you probably know what I mean. Negative thoughts began to race into my head, such as:
- We’re going about this using backward by trying to force a solution onto a problem. We should start with fully understanding the issues before we try coming up with solutions.
- Each of these scenarios involves operational efficiencies. You can’t grow revenue through operational improvements.
After a few moments, I realized what was happening. At some point in the process, I had inadvertently put my Black Hat on. When we wear the black hat, we enter a mode of judgment and negativity. Black Hat thinking is excellent when used at the right time. Getting started on a project wasn’t the right time for me to use this mode. I needed to get out of black hat, thinking fast! I organized my thoughts around the Six Thinking Hats.
I created a mind-map based on each of the Six Hats. The Six Hats mind map initiated “Movement” along the creative process. I decided the excel spreadsheet would serve as an excellent source of information. This information would form the foundation of the White Hat thinking. I began breaking each of the rows and columns into central themes, concepts and desired outcomes.
Let’s assume the client wanted to achieve the following outcomes:
- Decrease Bank Transfer Fees
- Hedge Foreign Exchange Risk
- Reduce Administrative Cost
- Increase Capital Efficiencies
Working backward, you could organize into the following concepts:
- Reduce Bank Fees
- Improve Cash Management
These concepts form the central theme of “Optimize Money Flow.”
After reframing the spreadsheet information under the White Hat, I went through each of the other modes. By the end of the process, five insight themes emerged under the Yellow Hat with more than fifteen ideas for reducing cost and increasing revenue.
The insight themes included:
- Stablecoin Opportunities
- Workshop Opportunities
- Smart Contract Opportunities
- Security Token Opportunities
- Software As A Service (SAAS) Opportunities
Next, I created a business process flow diagram.