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How to Achieve More by Thinking Differently

Sean: For nearly all of our clients, and likely for you, there are times when you simply must bust the routine. Or employ what I like to call a paradigm explosion.

Henry: So we’re exploding the cliché. “Thinking outside the box” doesn’t work for you anymore.

Sean: Well, that’s right. I think thinking outside the box deserves some out-of-the-box thinking.

Henry: Okay, so we can end the thinking outside the box cliché festival. In today’s episode, we’re looking at situations that deserve a fresh perspective and ways that we can get our team to achieve that goal, you know, shaking things up.

Sean: So first, let’s get some terminology out of the way. You know, we joke about thinking outside the box and paradigm explosion, but we can employ some more formal terminology. Convergent thinking and divergent thinking. So convergent thinking is the shortest distance between A and B, It’s logical, it’s easy. It’s simple. Convergent thinking is the type of thinking that we’re used to doing.

Henry: But divergent thinking is creative thinking, right? It’s thinking that explores different possibilities, different ways of approaching a problem. And looking at different alternatives that might not seem so obvious or top of mind and would require some nuance in even the way you approach the exploration of the challenge.

So, Sean, with that, would you give me an example of a time where you used divergent thinking, thinking outside the box or paradigm explosion or whatever, in a business context?

Sean: Sure. When I was in my 20s, I was putting together a film and I had my cast and crew there for… It amounted to the second week of rehearsals and talking about the production. And of course I wanted to get everybody on the same page. But what was happening, Henry, was that people were showing up late and they were not doing the things that I was asking them to do on time. I was using convergent thinking and simply asking them to do it and telling them there’s a deadline, and it wasn’t really working out.

So I made a deal with them that ended up being slightly embarrassing but also effective. I told them that for every week where they came through and showed up for meetings on time and delivered what they needed to on time, I was willing to stand out on the corner of Eighth Street and Avenue C in New York City wearing a costume, hawking the new production, telling everybody about my new film, even though it hadn’t yet been done.

So needless to say, it worked. And there were three weeks in a row where I was standing out in the east village of Manhattan wearing a dachshund outfit, wearing a hamburger outfit, and then finally all glitter.

Henry: I’ll bet that was very memorable and also a great example of divergent thinking. Right? Imaginative thinking. And what resonates for me is it did a lot right. It probably created a sense of camaraderie and connection to you as the director and kind of broke the status. It gave people permission to take risks and to take chances in addition to incentivizing them to be on time, right?

So there’s all these ancillary benefits that one wouldn’t imagine if they were just very linear about the problem and the solution. You know, limiting the idea of the carrot and the stick. So that really resonates. You know, when we deal with business leaders quite frequently, you know, there are a number of different scenarios where they need divergent thinking. But what we often hear are things like, well, first we have a fire that we need to put out.

Sean: Right? I’m in hell. My inbox is exploding. So many pyrotechnic metaphors things are urgent and have to get done.

Henry: When we look at things through the lens of, well, we have to just put out fire after fire after fire, we’re not summoning all that creative, imaginative problem-solving that is so crucial in innovating and in all those ancillary benefits that Sean, you mentioned in your example.

Sean: Divergent thinking requires you to slow things down a little bit. So the first case scenario is where things are urgent. The second scenario that might require divergent thinking is when you’re looking to innovate or invent. Needless to say, you’re looking for a new way of coming at the problem, and that can elicit or produce new ways of overcoming the challenge.

Henry: Yeah. So being able to take a breath and think, yes, they’re important and they’re not urgent, so how can I slow down and really come up with an imaginative approach that works?

Sean: The third way that you might need divergent thinking is when there is something monumental that has happened, an acquisition or layoffs or something big that has caused new challenges for the greater whole. This is a time where convergent thinking will give you some of the answers. But divergent thinking is really necessary to overcome some of the challenges that are before you.

Henry: You know, it reminds me of a movie that I just saw called Air about Nike and Michael Jordan and the Air Jordan shoes. Have you seen it, Sean?

Sean: Amazingly, I have not seen that. I’m a big NBA fan, but I have not seen that movie yet.

Henry: Right. So picture this. It’s 1984 and there’s a talent scout named Sonny Vaccaro, and he’s got a budget for the year and he’s trying to promote Nike basketball shoes. And believe it or not, 1984, the number one basketball shoe is made by – you ready? – Adidas, not Nike. And. Vaccaro goes “I want to push all in with this young rookie named Michael Jordan”. And everybody is against it. They all think he’s crazy. Tons of conflict internally, but finally convinces everybody through to the CEO that this is a great idea. But then Jordan’s management says, no way he’s going to meet you. You can’t afford him. And he’s already got his heart set on Adidas.

Vaccaro again thinks outside the box and goes, okay, I’m going to reach out to his family, which is typically verboten. He reaches out to his mother and convinces his mother by saying, Here are all the different things that they’re going to tell you in all these different meetings from our competitors. These are the players and this is what they’re going to say. And here’s why you should say no to them. So he visits the mother in-person and convinces her to have a meeting.

So they finally do, and he throws out the entire pitch book and does this emotional plea. Vaccaro says, “We need you in these shoes. Not so that you have meaning in your life. But so that we have meaning in our lives.”

Sean: Ooh. That sounds good.

Henry: Yeah. So Vaccaro is offering is immortality, right? The legend of Michael Jordan and the rest is history.

So let’s get into some of the ways that teams can use divergent thinking. One of them is innovation days, right? Google does this 20% rule where people can spend 20% of the time on innovative ideas that are not going to be easily accessible quickly, but have a big payoff later on. Right. And I believe it’s Alassian. It’s a software company out of Australia. Does these innovation days. What is it?

Sean: Atlassian.

Henry: Atlassian. Thank you. So innovation days where anybody can come up with any idea and it’s all celebrated as this this day of innovative thought.

Sean: Another way you can use divergent thinking is encouraging multiple solutions. So when you have your team together and you’re looking for new ways of overcoming the challenge, you might say, Well, what if there was an unlimited budget? How would we handle this? What if there were unlimited resources before us? How would we solve it? What if there was unlimited time? What if there was unlimited human resources? What if our team was as big as it needed to be? Suddenly you’re able to think without any constraints and come up with some very unique and oftentimes effective solutions.

Henry: I love it. Lastly, there’s mind mapping, which is simply problem-solving through a visual medium like a whiteboard or even, you know, three-dimensional problem-solving. I believe there’s a course at MIT on innovative thinking and divergent thinking, and they do inspired thinking exercises based on jazz musicians riffs. Or they will use three-dimensional objects to problem-solve.

And by simply just shaking us out of our associations and giving us permission to employ our imagination, they come up with amazing solutions that require courage to come up with. They require systems that you can employ that encourage that kind of thinking and a whole lot of psychological safety so that nobody feels like a jackass doing it.

Sean: Divergent thinking and convergent thinking give you the best of both worlds. We are not saying to throw the baby out with the bathwater at all, but just understanding that having the opportunity and seizing it to use both types of thinking is going to give you the best bang for your buck 100%.

Henry: So thank you for listening and we hope we’ve inspired you to think a little… What is it? Not outside the box. What is it, Sean?

Sean: Explode the paradigm.

Henry: Love it. Catch you on the flip side.

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