Ideas drive business. Developing new products, improving processes, making effective decisions, and solving complex problems all require innovative ideas. Often our attempts at ideation fall short of expectations. We struggle to develop new ideas using ad-hoc methods, ineffective brainstorming meetings, or “our gut”.
The problem we have when developing new ideas is how our brains have evolved. To improve our creativity and be able to develop new ideas deliberately and systematically we need to overcome the brain’s tendency to stick with what it knows, take shortcuts, and avoid new perspectives. The brain’s evolution has focused mainly on survival, not creativity.
Our brains have evolved to ensure our survival. The brain did not bother waiting around to determine the accuracy of what it was experiencing. Is that a lion or a deer? Our ancestor that waited around to be 100% positive was dinner for the lion – the survival of the fittest. Our ancestor that did not bother waiting around to figure out if it was a lion or deer, ran away and survived, and that is who we evolved from; the guy that lived. Our survival also depended on developing biases.
How did we know if that person is a friend or foe? If they looked different, they were probably an enemy. No time to wait around, either run or attack. Live or die. Familiar is good, different is bad. The problem with our brain is it seeks patterns to avoid having to analyze every situation.
This is how we get through every day and not consciously think about what we need to do or what we are doing. This is extremely effective for us to survive and get things done. The problem is our brain loves shortcuts and avoids things that are unfamiliar. This makes it very hard when we are trying to solve complex problems or be creative.
The brain wants to focus on what it is familiar with, not taking its time and analyzing a situation thoroughly. We see this in meetings when people fallback on what they know rather than sit back, be objective, listen to all the information and perspectives, and then make a decision. Knee-jerk decisions or maintaining the status quo are just our brain doing its thing. We need to fight this to develop new ideas. We need to breakout of our usual patterns and see things from multiple perspectives and be objective.
The brain’s love of intuition from experience and what is familiar does not help us when we need to create new ideas. As we understand how the brain operates, this knowledge helps us overcome these innate tendencies. These biases to new information are what we need to overcome.
Our brain will often mislead us to stay with what we know or focus on the first solution we are familiar with, rather than hold off and fully analyze the situation. Understanding this allows us to deliberately work to overcome these biases and focus on patience and structured processes. Logical thinking was not in man’s best interest to stay alive. The brain evolved to quickly analyze a situation and move on, and keep us alive.
It becomes hard to overcome the innate mindsets our brain has developed. For example, if we think Iran is the evil empire and wants to kill us, it is very hard to change our minds. We have to fight our brain’s tendencies to ensure we are objective and view multiple perspectives before making a final decision. We need to use critical and creative thinking to analyze the situation and make a decision based on information and a thorough analysis.
As we understand how the brain works, it helps us deliberately focus and work hard to gain new perspectives. We need to be aware of our biases and mindsets and use a rational and systematic framework to analyze problems and develop new, creative ideas. Using tools and techniques to structure our analysis ensures we are focused, and avoid wasting time. We need to train our brain to stop, analyze, synthesize, and then decide.
Structured tools and techniques help us avoid trial-and-error. We need to balance rational and intuitive thinking to use our entire toolbox to ideate. We must keep an open mind, ask lots of questions, and seek out new perspectives. We must force ourselves to have the discipline to wait until all analysis is complete to determine the optimal solution. Focusing on multiple alternatives and being objective will allow us to create valuable differentiation and drive competitive advantages. As we understand the forces against creativity, the better we can work to overcome them, and outthink our competitors and wow our customers.