Conformity, compliance, and obedience are the enemies of a healthy creative mindset. Social structures designed to hem us in, contain our enthusiasm, and restrict our intellectual musings are with us from the day we are born. So, it’s no wonder new leaders have a difficult time embracing innovation, creativity, and experimentation.
We were all children once, and as children, we could dream big colorful thoughts. If we agree that to be competitive in business demands imagination, drive, and insight, how can we reinvigorate the lost child in all of us, so we are truly competitive?
Relearning how to think like a child
Divergent thought isn’t about antisocial behavior, nor is it aimed at destroying the structure of controls that help regulate our worst collective and individual impulses. Instead, divergent thought in the context of leadership is the ability and the willingness to push back on what’s considered normal. To constructively identify a new method, a new path, or new horizonal objective, leaders need to learn how to comfortably sidestep their robotic application of the “rules” to effectively see the opportunities that exist all around us every day.
All industries, markets, and economies have operational rules. These rules are established through edicts (laws), the physics of business operations (capitalism and its methodology), traditions (our firm always does this), and common agreement among participants (ethics, morality, and communications norms).
New or aspiring business leaders can make their mark in significant ways by learning how to think differently. It doesn’t have to be adversarial, conflict driven, or rough. Bending, breaking, or making your own rules should be accomplished professionally and with an eye to creating and implementing an effective communications strategy to influence outcomes.
The term “thought leader” is loosely applied to people who are willing to express their insights on subjects related to their expertise. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are divining a new tomorrow or advocating a different way to do things. Most of the time they are simply willing to step up to the microphone and opine openly.
Divergent thinking requires the suspension of individual or collective conformity long enough to see what possibilities lay just outside the established boundaries of business engagement.
To become a divergent thinker requires more than technical expertise, it requires more than a willingness to express opinions. Divergent thinking requires the suspension of individual or collective (team) conformity long enough to see what possibilities lay just outside the established boundaries of business engagement.
How can you as a rising star learn, or relearn, how to think like a child again, unencumbered by the inhibiting weight of “mature” thought processes? Here are five tips to help you reap the rewards of thinking differently:
- Understand the order of things
Artists often reflect on the value of understanding the foundational aspects of light, texture, context, and color before diverging to create something wonderfully new or outrageous. Architects have the same basic approach to designing buildings; understanding physics, the properties of building materials, laws, regulations, and so on is a legitimate starting point before imagining the impossible.
As an aspiring leader, you too should learn the primary logic behind your organization’s standard operating principles before you open your mind to color outside the established lines. This approach keeps you grounded, and more importantly, it prepares you to win your influence campaign.
- Establish a divergent mindset
To establish a divergent mindset, you must have:
- Intellectual humility. This is a state of mind which allows you to see new information and insights in a clear light. To achieve intellectual humility, you will need to set aside any fears and anxieties, as well as your ego and confidence from past successes.
- Intellectual curiosity. This is having rapt attention to odd sources of inputs. Intellectual curiosity is almost impossible to achieve unless you have intellectual humility.
- Intellectual creativity. Once you have gathered your data, which may include both strange and not-so-strange insights, it’s time to influence or to build your thought pattern toward a desired goal. The value of intellectual creativity is amplified by adherence to the first two stages of thought exploration.
Humility, curiosity, and creativity should together become a new mindset, and for them to become a habit, you must practice.
- Practice, practice, practice
Turning a new way of thinking into a habit requires repetition. Make it an intellectual exercise where every day you pick an area of your life or your business that you think needs improvement. Follow the stages of establishing a divergent mindset and practice until you become proficient and comfortable.
Start with humility, and then follow it with curiosity, where you search for new insights. Don’t shortcut the curiosity stage. If done right, you will be forced to seek ideas and information outside your normal groupthink relationships (friends, family, coworkers). Ask strangers for their opinions; read, so you can learn from sources outside your comfort zone. Finally, when you're ready, apply what you’ve learned to the change you think is warranted and start creating a solution.
- Pick your battles
Divergent thought is a catalyst that drives innovative and inventive outcomes. While your practice sessions will establish your habits, they won’t necessarily prepare those around you for your divergent ideas. If your divergent solution is going to impact organizational normalcy in a big way, you’ll need to make allies.
Convince, influence, communicate, and sell your vision. If you've thought it out and presented it well, you will gain support, even before pitching it to the people in power who can say yes. Make sure your communication and presentation skills are professional, and look for any weaknesses in your argument.
- Never, ever quit
The Navy SEALs screen and select candidates based on intellectual factors, such as high emotional IQ, high creativity, and high psychological resiliency. All these traits boil down to a simple mantra: Never quit! In problem solving, there are always options, but quitting is never one of those options.
Applied divergent thinking is arduous. If presented professionally and constructively the blowback will be minimized but not eliminated. Tension and friction are a part of business, and every great new idea will attract naysayers and intellectual adversaries. You need to be prepared to take the hits, roll with the punches, and stay on your feet to finish the fight. As they say in the SEALs, “You have to stay in it, to win it.” Never quit thinking divergently.
Encourage divergent thinking
Young minds, young leaders, are always ready to help organizations. They want to improve the situations they experience, but are often unable to convert their passion into a constructive format that will contribute to change management success.
Adopting divergent thinking as a habitual mindset, combined with superior presentation and communications skills, will prepare any young mind to positively influence their organization. Creatively guiding your organization to a brighter future is not only rewarding, it also sets you up for incredible success in the years ahead.
Be different, embrace divergent thinking!
About the author
Marty Strong has been a leader and business consultant for decades, first in uniform as a combat-decorated Navy SEAL, and then in commercial business. Marty is a thought provoking writer, speaker, and guest expert, as well as the author of Be Nimble – How the Creative Navy SEAL Mindset Wins on the Battlefield and in Business. For more information visit martystrongbenimble.com.
AllBusiness.com is one of the world’s largest online resources for small businesses, providing essential tools and resources to start, grow, and manage your business. AllBusiness.com brings you real-world expertise and practical advice from some of the best minds in small business. To learn more and subscribe visit allbusiness.com.
Contents of this article remain the property of the author and/or publisher.