Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Observation and Analysis, Part 1: Summing Up Where We've Been to Get to Where We're Going

Creativity: Too Woo Woo for Work?

In the most mundane sense, creativity allows us to live our lives with more satisfaction by finding new ways of seeing. It makes problems easier to solve and life more fun.

Nothing like it for making money, either, as many CEOs have told me over the past three years. But its not the result of a mysterious intangible process. It's the ability to learn continously across contexts.

Curiosity: Something to be Cultivated

Curiosity, particularly when sustained, can certainly drive innovation because it's a short cut to genuine engagement. Genuine engagement can drive anyone to persistent investigation. Investigation, when supported by appropriate skills, will eventually lead to new thinking.

Observation and Analysis: A Big Challenge But Not Mysterious

Even without initial personal investment in a problem, good results can be got in an ongoing dialogue between observation and analysis. In short, this constitutes a discipline of looking, sorting through, and identifying meaning even in unfamiliar circumstances. A lot of it is simply grunt work.

The only mystical thing about this process is its results. It's always quite amazing to find possibilities where there once seemed to be none.

An Advantage of the Human Brain

Because thinking is associative, it seems we as human beings are hard-wired to make connections.

The trick is to continually be open to discovery and to release or add new ideas as they arise. It's a balance of retaining ideas and yet being supple and flexible enough to experiment not just with new information but with new processes of exploring what we already know.

The First Step: Pretend You Don't Know the Answer (Because You Don't)

One key to developing innovative technique is exploring the relationship between innovation and analysis. Let's start with observation.

Show up to a problem assuming that you don't know the answer -- because if you want to come up with a new possibility, you don't.

Don't Even Look for Answers -- Yet

The pressure to produce, the knowledge that your results will be measured, and other forms of performance anxiety need to be left aside for this process.

As much as possible, come to a project with fresh eyes. See the information new. Observation requires the discipline of consistent exploration. When you stay in a rut using one set of practices, find others. There are many techniques for doing this -- one is to cross disciplines. Others are available as well (just ask a good consultant or your favorite teacher).

The Scary Part

Before setting out on the journey for new ideas, accept that learning is disorganizing. Don't just give it lip service -- know it in your bones.

Feeling lost is part of the process. Once you've done it a few times and got good results, you'll understand why the discomfort is worth it. You might even get used to it.

A Different Way of Thinking

Because we as human beings become split to fulfill the seemingly persistent short-term needs of the workplace, we reserve a piece of ourselves for the tasks at hand and save the rest for our families, hobbies. It's the way most people survive every day catering to someone else's needs.

Because thinking is associative, the more of our own resources we've got to work with, the better for innovation. Also, the disciplines, interests, ideas in which we feel genuine ownership are more likely to engage us. The more engaged, the less we worry about the answer, the more we explore.

Some Strategies

One way to do this is to identify and hold onto what engages you. Explore, investigate, immerse yourself, even if it has nothing to do with work.

Once you've come to the end of your interests, find more.

Remember once a day what it feels like to be yourself in that state while in the office. Maintain as much of a connection internally between the pieces of your identity outside and inside the office. Then when it comes to solving problems in the office, you'll have a point of reference that's broader than the narrow parameters in which you usually operate.

Or -- find something you know nothing about -- or a topic that seems to have nothing to do with the problem at hand. Put the ideas side-by-side with the data set from the work day, and explore the connections.

The point is -- in order to see things new, you need to explore connections for their own sake.

At least, at first.

More on honing the process of Observation and Analysis in the next series of posts.

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