5 Simple ways to unleash new ideas for Peak Performance.

A fundamental part of every leader's role is finding ways to solve problems. So, if being a confident problem solver is really important to your success and performance, much of that confidence comes from having a good process to use when approaching a problem. With the right process, you can solve problems quickly and effectively. Without one, your solutions may be ineffective, or you'll get stuck and do nothing, with sometimes painful consequences.

When I listen to 'experts' who talk about solving problems, they can really make it sound so complex. They  typically say things like:

There are four basic steps in solving a problem:
  1. Defining the problem.
  2. Generating alternatives.
  3. Evaluating and selecting alternatives.
  4. Implementing solutions.
I totally agree that these steps are important. But I've often found that my best solutions come from when I'm not thinking of the problem at all! You know what they say: "good ideas don't keep office hours". In other words, when the conscious mind is busy defining the problem, it's not allowing the subconscious mind to do it's job..... I get ahead of myself.

The process of problem solving - to me - is very simple. And, it's more of a natural process too.

1. Understanding the process of solving problems

i) Conflict

Now, before it looks like I'm a 'conflict advocate' keep reading and stay with me.
The general definition of conflict has to do with a serious disagreement or argument. However, did you know that it can also mean a state of mind in which a person experiences an internal clash of opposing feelings or needs? In Leon Festinger's research, he coined the phrase Cognitive Dissonance to illustrate this point. 

The theory of Cognitive Dissonance is another way of saying that you're throwing your internal mechanisms 'out of order'. When you create a problem, you're basically forcing yourself to look at two opposing ideas: Now and Later. These two ideas create a state of discontent, which then makes you want to bring yourself back into order. You will automatically create the order which feels the least strenuous and provide the most relief. This is why people tend to go back to 'the devil they know'. But, if you create a kind of excitement for a new reality, your order would be 'restored' to this new reality.

How does this work in problem solving? Well, if there is no problem, your brain will not activate any energy or creativity to bring about a solution. You will simply keep things as they are. In other words, if you want to become a top notch problem solver, you must become comfortable with creating problems for yourself!

Activation Questions to create problems look like this:
  • Is this the best it can be?
  • Could there be more?
  • How could I improve this?
  • What will make it ideal and how can I go about achieving it?
  • What do I really want?
High performance people, who seem to always come up with the best ideas, ask these types of question ALL THE TIME.  Consciously and sub-consciously. They would say it comes naturally but, the good news is, this way of thinking can be learnt.

ii) Incubation

 As the word suggests, this is a period of resting, nurturing and leaving things alone. That's right, now that you've created a little stress by throwing your systems out of order, you must allow your thoughts to incubate. As counter intuitive as this sounds, it really works! Most of us want to jump straight into the doing of things when we feel the stress of cognitive distance, but in reality, we tend to come up with half-baked solutions, which can often lead to more frustration as we're forced to go back to the drawing board.

The reason that the best ideas don't keep office hours is precisely because the best idea has been allowed to go down to the smartest part of your brain; your sub-conscious. Inside your sub-conscious lies a vast, extensive and limitless reservoir of stored knowledge and information.  When we're not consciously aware of the world and its accompanying distractions around us, it frees up our sub-conscious to play around. This is why dreams can be so randomly interesting and disturbing. Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night and went: "I got it!!!?" While you're sleeping, you conscious and all the interference, which happens on that level is shut off.  Your brain tries to piece together different elements of stored knowledge and tries to help you find a solution. This is probably where the phrase, I'll sleep on it comes from. 

But, do you have to be fast asleep for your brain to create plausible and dynamic solutions? No, not at all. Archimedes famously discovered the law in hydrostatics while sitting in his bath! Eureka!!! Apparently (during the war in Syracuse) he was so absorbed in his calculations that, before being killed by a Roman soldier, he asked his killer not to disturb him.

 Great ideas lie within all of us.  Perhaps our real enemy in finding great solutions is haste and its twin brother speed. I do realise that 21st century workplace demands of us the ability to think on our feet and come up with quick-think and rapid solutions. Agility. The truth is, in our haste, we provide just enough order to make a problem go away. We do not aim for our brains' highest and most excellent capacity to make magic happen! Perhaps Archimedes and Isaac Newton had more time to think; really think.

iii) Illumination

The illumination phase is really exciting. This is where your solution pours out of you with such dramatic force, that you cannot contain yourself! You're unable to sleep, you jabber on and on to anyone who would listen and you are already starting to think of improvements!  When you've allowed you sub-consious to rest on the idea, it will astound you how much knowledge and information you've had in your possession all that time. 

This would be a good time have a pen and paper, a wall, a recording device or any other way of storing the solution, at hand. Unfortunately these amazing ideas don't stick around. They want you to be present when they're ready to jump out. Have you ever had a really good idea which came to you at an 'inconvenient' time and you promise yourself to think about later? Well, if you're anything like me, the idea never comes back again. This can be so frustrating, because I think all my ideas are brilliant! I don't know how you feel about yours...

iv) Creative implementation

Once you've recorded your ideas, the lasting impression of a top-notch solution is in the implementation of it. When I have time, I often send the implementation part right back to my sub-conscious and wait for an answer. Generally where there's a deadline, you've got to move quickly. Find others who can assist, get advice, draw up an action plan and make it happen.  Most great ideas fail at this point. Getting into action is vital to problem solving. 

If you're not great at execution, then you must be able to communicate your vision so well, that others can create what you're explaining to them. 

Think of the best innovators of our time. If you look closely, they're probably not much smarter than you and me. They may have just found ways to use this process more effectively. 

So, to recap ... 

1. Give it to your sub-conscious and - go away!
Avoid the urge to interfere with the process 

2.  Set yourself up to find clues.
Consciously decide that you will see and hear the clues in your daily tasks and conversations.

3. Explore beyond your sphere of interest.
Explore ideas in areas, which normally don't interest you. 

4. Ask stupid questions.
Be bold and courageous, step out of your comfort zone, just once.

5. Be ready to record at any time!
Be on your guard for a download. It might come while you're driving, as you drift off to sleep or in the shower! 

I'll leave the last word to the 20th century's most memorable innovator.
Steve Jobs

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” – Wired, February, 1996


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