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Innovative Thinking


Summary: Innovation is a slippery beast – and it’s something that needs to be fitted into the proverbial day job, of delivering on targets, interruptions and amidst tight deadlines.

However, it is the lifeblood of all membership organisations, for without it, members and ‘the times’ will move on, leaving you in their slipstream. So innovate we must. But how? How can one cultivate an innovative mind-set, and come up with good ideas to enhance your members’ experience? 

Firstly, it’s important to know that originality and creative thinking is not a gift handed out sparingly by the gods – we have the ability to summon it ourselves, through training and practice.

But first, let’s take a look at how our brains work.

How the brain works – left side, right side

Left side – deals with convergent thinking

This half examines details and processes them logically and analytically, but lacks a sense of overriding, abstract connections.

When you read a poem, for example, your left hemisphere analyses the sequence of letters and integrates them into words and sentences, following the logic laws governing written language. It checks for grammar and grasps the factual content.

Right side – deals with divergent thinking

This half is more imaginative and intuitive and tends to work holistically, integrating pieces of an informational puzzle into a whole.

So back to our poem - your right hemisphere interprets a poem as more than a string of words. It integrates the information with its own prior ideas and imagination, allows images to manifest, and recognizes the overall metaphorical meaning.

So innovations tend to come from ideas and concepts rippling back and forth across both sides of our brains, like waves that strengthen with each turn of the tide.

As with tides, there’s a sense of evolution of new ideas – they take time to come forth, and will change as they evolve.

Tips on building a more innovative mind-set

  • Wonderment - retain a sense of discovery, a childlike curiosity about the world. And question understandings that others consider obvious.
  • Motivation - as soon as a spark of interest arises in something - follow it. Don’t be too concerned about the end result, let the ideas flow. Keep track of them in a notebook.
  • Intellectual courage - strive to think outside accepted principles and habitual perspectives such as ‘we’ve always done it this way.’ A powerful way of doing this is to ‘shoe-swap’ with someone else and look at a situation through their eyes.
  • Change habits - our lives are surprisingly routine, from commute to shopping - the stimuli of that first trip is gone. So mix it up - brush your teeth with the other hand, commute via a different route, go around the supermarket the “wrong” way etc. Anything that trips your brain into thinking ‘mmm this is new…’ will encourage it to stretch and consider new options.
  • Relax - take time to daydream and ponder, because that is often when the best ideas arise. Look for ways to relax and consciously put them into practice.
  • Walk – famous creators from Charles Dickens to Steve Jobs, frequently walked whilst pondering plots or tough questions, or even having 1-2-1 meetings (ahem, Steve Jobs for the latter, I think!).
  • Challenge – some innovative firms nominate a person in each brainstorm meeting to take the opposite view of the crowd, to ask provoking questions and question assumptions.
  • Put the tech to one side - ‘We live in an age of gushing information through a thousand portals every second’ (Jerry Seinfeld, Comedian) and on every street and every mode of public transport, people are clued to their mobile phones. Our brains are like buckets – if we fill them with the latest Facebook update and a hundred funny cat videos, we’re leaving less room for our creativity to flourish.
  • Choose your filters wisely – review what newsletters, magazines and TV shows you watch, and assess the value of each to you. Add in random filters eg buy a trade magazine for another sector, assess membership organisations in other countries – what do they do well, what do they do badly.

And remember - if you think the way you’ve always thought, you’ll always get what what you always got - the same old ideas. Good luck!  

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