Innovation is…putting the obscure to work for something useful

To see things in a new way is the hallmark of creativity and innovation.

We know some of our personal and organizational roadblocks already – sometimes we don’t believe we are creative, we censor ourselves, we favor stress and deadlines instead of the mental relaxation that can be necessary to create… and perhaps we also suffer from functional fixedness.

Functional fixedness, says researcher Karl Duncker – happens when we fixate on the common use of an object. Especially under stress or pressure, our brains have trouble seeing alternative uses, or connections (solutions, perhaps) from things right in front of us.

We tend to see just an object’s use, not the object itself.

“When we see a common object, the motor cortex of our brain activates in anticipation of using the object in the common way. Part of the meaning of an object is getting ready to use it. If a type of feature is not important for its common use, then we are not cognizant of it. The result: our brain’s incredible inertia to move toward the common. Efficient for everyday life, this automatic neural response is the enemy of innovation.”

Thinking outside the box means thinking about what else that box can represent.

Researcher Tony McCaffrey suggests the “generic parts technique”, breaking each object into its parts, no matter how obscure, so that alternative uses more easily emerge.

One of my favorite improv exercises, object montage, asks participants to come up with alternative uses to everyday objects, with rapid-fire quickness.

Of course, the next step after we have these new ideas is to “yes, and” them as much as possible.

For if we were to block them, we’d never know where these alternative uses would lead.

Read the full article here:  Why We Can’t See What’s Right in Front of Us – Tony McCaffrey – Harvard Business Review and also check out this recent post in Scientific American for some more great techniques!

1 thought on “Innovation is…putting the obscure to work for something useful

  1. Pingback: Break it down – A lesson in creative insight « Tools for Navigating Business Without a Script

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