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HOW ELASTIC THINKING COULD BOOST INNOVATION AND CREATIVITY

Posted by Mark Davies 1 May 2018 Innovation Consultancy

There are arguably as many publications about how to inspire creativity and foster innovation as there are approaches to doing so. Yet just as there is no one way to encourage creativity and innovation that will work for every organisation, each publication can bring a different insight and takeaway that could work for you.

MLODINOW ON “ELASTIC THINKING” 

One of the most recent publications to be released about creativity and innovation is Leonard Mlodinow’s Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Constantly Changing World. Leonard Mlodinow is a theoretical physicist, screenwriter and author who has used his extensive research to write a number of highly acclaimed books about psychology, thought and its impact on peoples’ lives. As someone who clearly works across a number of fields (he also wrote some of the Star Trek screenplay), Mlodinow is well placed to explain the benefits of what The Guardian has called ‘boundary-hopping cognition.’

This is where “elastic thinking” comes in. Mlodinow uses the term “elastic thinking” to explain ‘the way new and creative ideas pop up into the conscious mind in moments of insight.’ This is ‘contrasted with “analytic thinking”, which is our rule-led, logical, conscious thought’ that dominates much of our daily lives. Mlodinow doesn’t suggest that analytical thinking should be discarded completely, because it is this skill that is used for idea selection. Analytical thinking allows you to differentiate between the potentially great ideas that your elastic thinking throws up and those ideas which should not be pursued.

THE IMPACT ON YOUR ORGANISATION’S INNOVATION STRATEGY

Mlodinow believes that most people could benefit from a greater amount of time spent using elastic thinking skills. This state can be achieved when your mind is not focused on a particular task and is therefore more able to explore new ideas and solutions to problems. But what does this mean for your organisation’s innovation strategy?

According to an article by The Financial Times (FT) on Mlodinow’s theory

‘Instead of relying excessively on top-down, conscious deliberation, we should be allowing more ideas to emerge bottom-up from the unconscious. Similarly, organisations need less command and control and more involvement from across their membership.’ 

This creation of an organisational culture that nurtures ideas from employees and team members across the complete spectrum of your business is a notion that many innovation commentators have been advocating in recent years. By creating an inverse funnel that feeds ideas and suggestions from the bottom up to the highest levels of management, you can not only increase the amount and variety of ideas being generated but simultaneously boost employee engagement levels.

While this notion may not be entirely new, tying organisational practice to thinking methods is an original way to explain and therefore approach innovation and creativity. By adopting a similar approach, whether on an individual or communal level, these practices can be constantly improved and accepted as part of any innovative thinker’s arsenal.

THE NEED TO UNPLUG

One of the biggest challenges to fostering elastic thinking is that it requires your brain to sit idly, thereby allowing it to wander and explore hitherto unconsidered ideas. Yet in a world where we are constantly connected to the internet, our phones, emails and sometimes all of these at once, finding this mental space can be tricky. 

According to an article by bigthink, ‘we consume, on average, a staggering 100,000 words of new information each day from various media—the equivalent of a three-hundred-page book.’ Compared to around 28,000 words a few decades ago, it is little wonder that our brains are crowded and we find it increasingly difficult to think.

In the context of your organisation, this requires creating time and space for management and team members alike to get away from technology and think creatively. While this may be difficult on a day to day basis, creating a culture that not only tolerates but actively encourages some time away from the screens and constant stream of emails to find creative solutions is important if you’re going to integrate elastic thinking into your culture.

Mlodinow’s book is a timely reminder of the continued need to think creatively and innovatively and the steps that can be taken to achieve this. By understanding the rationale behind his term “elastic thinking” and understanding how this can be implemented at an individual and organisational level, you can foster an innovation culture that approaches problem solving and idea generation positively, rather than seeing it as an obligation or a chore.

As global innovation specialists we aim to help and encourage people and organizations to become more nimble, boosting their ability to generate ideas. We bring pace and focus to your innovation initiatives using our unique innovation techniques, which are constantly being developed by our professional licensees. If you’re interested in becoming a licensee for the think team, contact us here.

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