Creativity Requires Wild Abandon

I stood on the sidelines at the rock climbing gym as the experts harnessed my extended family like a team of sled dogs.

“Once you clip yourself into the harness, you can climb as high as you want,” the wiry, sun tanned, mountaineer shouted. “When you want to come down, just lean back and the ‘auto-belay’ will ease you to the ground.”

All seven of them were bouncing with excitement.  That is, until they first started scaling the wall.  Then, muscles tightened.  Faces puckered.  Lips quivered.  I was relegated to the role of observer, (thankfully) nursing a sore knee. It took a good fifteen minutes before any of them got more than twelve feet off the ground, but once they got the hang of it, whether they were five years old or fifty, there was no stopping them…until they reached the top. 

And that’s when I noticed it.

The kids joyfully pushed off the wall, giggling with glee as they swung back and forth, supported ever-so-slightly by the tension of the auto belay. 

In contrast, the adults could NOT lean back and trust.  At first, each one clung to the wall like a wayward cat splayed out on a toilet seat, trying desperately not to fall into the abyss.  Then, they would slowly climb back down to a spot much closer to the ground before letting go.  They had all developed a healthy relationship with gravity over the years. But while their choice may have been prudent, they also missed out on an amazing opportunity that the kids enjoyed.

Our organizations are a lot like those climbing adults when it comes to innovation.  We say we want to “think outside the box.” But in doing so, we forget that “the box” is also our comfort zone. Stepping outside is scary and potentially dangerous, so we proceed with caution and miss out on the groundbreaking idea.  Here are some ways to drive innovation without risking too much.

  1. Channel Your Inner Child – I know it’s obvious.  When you are problem solving during meetings, frame your brainstorming session by stating, “How might we solve this if we were seven years old?” This technique has been shown to produce more original ideas.
  2. Defer Judgment – When generating ideas for potential solution, avoid discussing each one in the moment. Save your questions and thoughts on how the ideas might be implemented for another time.  More ideas of better quality emerge this way.
  3. Plan to Fail – Find a way to implement the more far-fetched ideas in a safe way as either a pilot project or limited release.  Integrate what you learn from the failure into future projects.  And even if the ideas fail, you may not need to throw them out entirely, but rather, tweak them so they’re successful.

At Action Management, we have been helping clients innovate for nearly forty years.  We are experts in teaching tools and techniques for creative problem solving.  If you would like tips on scaling your own mountainous challenge, just give us a call at 800-386-5611.  We would love to help!



















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Creative Problem Solving | Problem Solving Training | Decision Making | Teaching Critical Thinking Skills | Critical Thinking