Good thinking is the basis of all good work. Our brains are incredible, complex machines – while we tootle about our day, a network of neurons are firing and wiring to enable us to undertake everything from mundane tasks to complex problem-solving activities.
But like all machines, our brains need maintenance from time-to-time and strategy to ensure they’re working at their best, to boot. After all, you wouldn’t try to run a memory-heavy programme on your laptop while also surfing the web, streaming a video and answering emails, would you?
Metacognition – A.K.A thinking about thinking – is a powerful tool when it comes to inspiring creativity and simplifying problem-solving. By learning to recognise thinking traps and putting strategies behind your thinking, you can learn to optimise your thought processes and maximise your business growth in the process.
It’s a trap!
While our brains are powerful, they’re not always accurate. From the proverbial sieve of our memory through to our personal biases, becoming aware of the thinking patterns which shape our approach to the world and work can completely transform ideation and problem-solving. The three key traps I always warn people of are as follows: selective thinking (favouriting pet ideas), reactive thinking (responding in a knee-jerk fashion), and assumptive thinking (assuming it’ll be enough to keep doing what you’re doing).
We’ve all fallen into these thinking traps at one time or another, and the good news is that being aware of them is the first step to changing them. People talk about thinking outside the box, but what is the box? In my opinion, it’s these very thinking traps – biases and conventions – which the box is composed of. By challenging these errors in your thinking you can learn to throw out the box altogether.
If you’re struggling to get started, I recommend using reversal techniques to get you thinking in new, unusual ways. For example, if you’re problem-solving, instead of trying to think of ways to fix the problem, try coming up with ideas to make it worse. It may sound crazy, but by flipping the situation on its head you can often overcome biases and see new solutions to the problem that didn’t seem obvious before.
When there’s so much to do and so little time to do it, taking a break can feel counter-intuitive to good work and creativity. Yet, when it comes to problem-solving in particular, failing to take time away is guaranteed to make your challenges knottier and your ability to tackle them worse. This is because our most creative ideas come to us not when we’re thinking hard about them, but when we’re thinking about something else entirely.
Research from the University of British Columbia shows that when we daydream, more of our brains light up than when we’re doing focused work. Think of it like this: when you focus, your concentration is like a spotlight – it illuminates one thing very well but at the cost of everything around it. When you engage in a repetitive task which allows your mind to wander (think: a walk around the park or some doodling), your concentration is more like a lantern, providing soft focus to your overall surroundings. It is very often in these moments you’ll notice a solution you hadn’t seen illuminated before coming to light. So next time you’re feeling really stuck with a problem, try having your team take a walking break and come back and see what new solutions can be brought to the table.
Thinking traps, of course, aren’t only an individual phenomenon. In fact, the presence of others can intensify the effects of everything from selective thinking to confirmation bias. Most of us have heard of the term “Groupthink” before – as naturally social animals, we humans tend to go with the herd. The problem, of course, is that the herd isn’t always right. You can help eliminate Groupthink through best practice techniques such as having employees come to brainstorming sessions with their ideas already written down. But there’s a bigger picture aspect to this, too.
The people who make up the teams in your company naturally impact the overall efficacy of your corporate creativity. This is of course why employers seek out talent and experience, but there’s something else companies should be seeking if they want to see more innovative thinkers in their ranks, and that is neurodivergent employees.
Neurodiversity refers to representations of people with a number of neurological make-ups, including conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism. By welcoming neurodivergent individuals into your team, their natural aptitude for thinking differently and seeing beyond convention will prove an incredible asset when it comes to problem-solving in your business. It will also make your business a more inclusive and forward-thinking place to work – what’s not to like?
Problem-solving is ultimately all about looking at something from a variety of perspectives. I truly believe that no problem is too big to solve so long as you utilise the right creative techniques. By challenging the thinking traps which blind us to the best solutions, making time for strategic daydreaming, and ensuring you have a high-class, neurodiverse team, solution finding and innovative thinking can easily be the new superpower of your business.
About the author: Chris Griffiths is a keynote speaker on learning creativity, the author of The Creative Thinking Handbook, and the founder of ayoa.com, the mind mapping app helping businesses deliver innovative solutions.