I write a lot about efficiency and quality in life and business transitions and that's because it fits to the core of what Industrial and Systems Engineering is all about as well as the value it provides my customers. How to accomplish what you need to with the minimum resources (time, money, effort, etc.) with the maximum output and doing so with the "best possible" outcomes as possible is probably important to everyone in business and/or in life. However, focusing on solutions purely from an efficiency and/or quality perspective will likely limit how innovative, elegant, simple, or powerful your solutions can and ought to be.
A recent conversation with a trusted and long time friend, mentor, and previous undergraduate professor inspired me to share several of the approaches I've used to think creatively in my work, life, and service to the world. While I am most often analytical and overly structured in my thinking, both from natural inclination as well as formal schooling, I've learned over the years the importance and power of approaching my creativity and deep thinking from non-obvious or ways other than the strictly linear and analytical. I find deeply rich experiences and powerful results come from ways you probably won't find in any engineering curriculum, formal corporate training, but maybe SOME flavors in a Philosophy department. Before I get too deep I want to say I am no expert in any of these methods, you can get formal training and experiences with these areas, and there is much more depth to be found in specialists elsewhere. I invite you to share your methods for creativity, inspiration, and non-linear thinking in the comments below!
I'll start out my list here from the higher level, strategic view of methods then dive down into tactical and tool level approaches. For me, they've all proven valuable in their own ways as well as I find they have unique interactions that result in creative insights I wouldn't have discovered otherwise. Enjoy!
- Mindfulness and Meditation - I've written about mindfulness practice as well as meditation as an applied form of mindfulness before and so I won't belabor it further here but rather describe quickly the difference in my words as well as how I've found value in the creative process. Mindfulness is simply the "paying attention" to what's going on, in the moment and circumstances you are in, at any given time, and doing so with the intention of being in this state for a period of time. It's taking more notice of your variety of external and internal sensory experiences and shifting your attention to this stream rather than what's more common in our world as the ongoing internal dialogue or reactionary mind states. Meditation is more a practice (and there are a variety out there) where you use various techniques to achieve and practice a mindful state of consciousness. I practice as often as I can both approaches, in vastly inferior ways, but have found a lot of creativity can spawn from the process and state, especially in that transitioning "quieting" state. An Engineer would describe this as shifting the Signal-to-Noise ratio where you've been able to shed a lot of noise and so the Signal that surfaces is clear, sometimes novel, and uncommon to your "normal" brain states. And voila! Creative thoughts and ideas emerge! Surrendering to these experiences and moments is a huge component of its power so make sure to wrestle with that a bit as well. Now, any serious meditation and mindfulness practitioner would probably chastise me for seizing these ideas and "paying attention to them" in my practice but even still, they can be quite powerful. These are sort of akin to the "epiphany" moments we often have at varying times throughout our days like just as we drift off to sleep, in the morning shower routine, or perhaps on the drive to work.
- Experiencing Nature - I'm not suggesting some sort of Gaya related experience here but rather experiencing natural settings and really letting the lessons they have to teach take hold. This is another angle on mindfulness but as we are a part of and originating from much more "natural" settings than we are used to, we can be far more in tune with Natures lessons if we shed our typical stimulus of city life and affluent living and take a long hike, go camping off the trails, or backpack deep into the backwoods. Three great resources that can really describe these experiences far better than any attempt I could make are Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, in particular the metaphor of the River towards the end of the book, almost everywhere in John Muir's Wilderness Essays, and much of J. Krishnamurti's works. You can also find many metaphors and teachings from nature within the Martial Arts and in particular Aikido and Kung Fu. These lessons can be inspiring as well as provide much needed variety in your perspective that if practiced well, can be a wellspring of creative energy and idea generation.
- Therapy and in particular, Psycho-Analytical Approaches - after my mom died I spent a number of years doing great work with a Psychotherapist with an existential philosophy and Buddhist perspective. This work was extremely valuable during this tumultuous time in my life but it also proved valuable from the standpoint as a way to approach creative thinking. Throughout the experiences I came to realize my form of "progress" and feeling like healing and transition were happening was when I would have that "tingly feeling" on the back of my neck and internal to the grey matter that I likened to experiences of something like epiphany. This was most often when I had new realizations and connections between varying thoughts and feelings that I hadn't consciously realized were there before. As time went on, I began to recognize this process was not only effective healing but also opening a new door of creative thinking and experience for me I hadn't expected. A book that my therapist recommended that I found really valuable and tied together a number of subjects was Thoughts Without a Thinker by Mark Epstein. This book explores the variety of similarities and distinct differences between much of the Buddhist framework and the Freudian worldview of the psyche and much of what causes our suffering. You'll also find a really great overview of the therapeutic process as well as how it relates to meditative and mindfulness experiences.
- Creative Thinking Methods and Tools - at the tactical level of tools and techniques I've read and employed a variety. Edward DeBono's Six Thinking Hats is a simple and straightforward way you can personally or in a group solve complicated problems by embracing and putting on a number of "hat's" that help you see the problem from a variety of perspectives. As the next level of tools and techniques Michael Michalko in his books Cracking Creativity and ThinkerToys provides a wealth of methods that many of the greatest thinkers in human history developed and applied to their work. Michalko was commissioned by NATO to work across various intelligence and armed services community lines to compile the creative thinking methods used to solve some of our hardest problems. The TRIZ problem solving method is another amazing (and sorry, "engineery" approach) to systematically solving problems and creating innovative solutions.
- Creating a Personal Board of Advisors or Directors - this is a form of the mentoring experience in which you purposefully craft a group of trusted advisors that provide you with meaningful feedback in your endeavors in Life and Business Transitions. They may or may not be monetarily involved in your business or a close family member but what they allow you to do is have a powerful and articulate conversation around an idea you might already have or perhaps around shaping a notional direction of an idea. I find this group of mentors I have provides me with really great and hopefully mutually beneficial relationships and experiences first and foremost but also the right kinds and variety of perspectives to approach ideas and problems in ways I can't seem to drum up on my own. Look at this group across a number of dimensions like personal background in life or business, educational background, interest areas, even areas in which they may have failed a number of times, there is much to learn from all these perspectives and much creativity can result.
- Mind Mapping - I've spoken about this tool in other posts but I've found this technique to be one my most powerful approaches to synthesizing a large amount of thoughts, ideas, and information, in a creative and free-flowing way. Not only does it organize the information but I find for me, I generate almost 70% more content, connections, and novel ideas when practicing this approach. This goes for life or business transition related problems. You can find a vast amount of free resources online by searching for "mind mapping" in your favorite search engine. I use a good quality notebook like Moleskine or my trusted 4x8 whiteboard as the hardcopy mediums for these maps. I often will then take a picture with my smartphone and upload it to my Microsoft OneNote notebooks (Evernote is another great note taking App with similar functionality).
All of these tools and methods barely scratch the surface of what's available to you as philosophy's, methods and techniques, and tools to spurn more creative thinking in your Life and Business transitions. They all allow for conscious space for me to find "Epiphany" and "Serendipity" in my work and life and they may do so for you as well. Try a few, let me know what your thoughts and experiences are, and once again, thank you for reading the Next Callings Solutions Blog, I hope it's been of value for you!