the vibrant voice quarterly newsletter summer 2015
Want out-of-the-box ideas? Go wild.
by Denise DeLuca and Linda Graf
Don't think of an elephant.
Did you think of an elephant? Of course you did! Once your brain is triggered by the word elephant, the idea of an elephant pops into your head. That’s how our brains work.* And why 'out-of-the-box' thinking is so challenging.
For example, if you’re given the assignment to come up with an idea for a radically different mobile phone, images of existing mobile phones immediately come to mind. Once those images surface, they become the starting point for what’s imagined next. Ideas for a new mobile phone will likely be incremental – modifications of what already exists.
So what can you do if you’re looking for radically different ideas?
Think of an elephant!
Thinking about elephants, and the rest of nature, can catapult your imagination way beyond normal boundaries. If you want to avoid ending up with a version of what already exists, go wild - look to nature as your starting point.
How does this process work?
Imagine your assignment is to come up with a radically different idea for a mobile phone.
First, think of an elephant. Then, consider what an elephant has do to with a mobile phone.
Stumped? That’s the point. This new starting point will first cause confusion, then spark curiosity … then generate radically creative thinking.
Take a moment to reflect on what you want this new mobile phone to do. Facilitate communication? Share information? Navigate a journey? Now ask: How does an elephant facilitate communication, share information, navigate a journey?
Stumped again? Good! Get curious. Get on the internet. Within minutes you might discover …
Elephants have a keen sense of smell. When we want to learn more about what an elephant might be thinking or where her attention is directed, we look not at her gaze (as we would with a person), but at the tip of her trunk. It's always on the move, turning this way and that, up and down, forward and backward taking in new smells, searching for more information and, mirroring the focus of her mind.**
Perhaps this makes you wonder... Don’t humans send and receive a tremendous amount of chemical information about one another, often subconsciously? Smell, for sure, and maybe pheromones or other hormones or chemicals? What if a mobile phone had sensors that could detect chemicals and temperature and translate that information into text, imagery, or sound?
And what if those sensors could detect health status? Providing instant feedback as well as logging data over time… perhaps directly into medical records. What if the phone could track an aging parent’s insulin level and call a caregiver when it’s too high? Maybe everyone’s phone could measure and track air quality… real-time… big data. What if…???
By thinking of an elephant and a mobile phone, new ideas start flowing – new functions, new directions, new possibilities. Most important, thinking this way trains the brain to start the imagination process outside your normal mental boundaries.
Want out of the box thinking? Try thinking of an elephant!
*Wegner, D. M. (1994). Ironic processes of mental control. Psychology Review,101, 34-52.
Kick start creative thinking and get wildly innovative ideas from everyone at the table.
Bring Creative Burst! to your next team or association event. Topics for each Creative Burst! are chosen by the team leader, event host, and/or participants.
Offered as a full day, half-day or 2-hour program.
Curious? Download the brochure or call 415.309.9995 to learn more.
Stunning! 2014 Academy Award for Nature Programming
As Wisdom Quest clients are introduced to Glacier National Park, MT, we're often asked where they can 'see' the glaciers the Park is named after. Sadly, there's not much left of the glaciers in the Park these days. But there is an amazing film available via Netflix...
Chasing Ice is the story of environmental photographer James Balog's mission to gather undeniable evidence of our changing planet. His hauntingly beautiful videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate. With a band of young adventurers, Balog deployed 25 revolutionary time-lapse cameras across the brutal Arctic (and two in Glacier Park, MT) to capture a multi-year record of the world’s changing glaciers. This is a film about change, determination, adventure, and beauty. Don't miss it!
Notes from the Field
A conversation with Microsoft's Danielle Decatur
about how she uses Vibrant's Nature Inspired Leadership Tools™
How do you use the Ask Nature™ tool at work?
It’s great for problem solving. Constraints are pretty constant in the corporate world. They’re often related to time and money, but our thinking is also constrained. We tend to believe that there’s one ‘right’ answer and we need to get to that one right answer as quickly as possible.
There’s something about the Ask Nature tool that flexes and frees up my mind just a little bit. It allows me to think through the problem from a different angle. So if I take just a moment to look away from my computer screen and shift my attention toward something in nature, it puts things in perspective and I can think through problems in a fresh way.
I can look out the window at a bird or a tree, or shift my attention to something as simple as the pinecone I keep on my desk, and ask, “What might this pinecone tell me about this problem?” The answer is often surprising.
You mentioned diversity. Tell us a little more about that.
Most big companies have some kind of diversity program. But everyone seems to think that if you are committed to hiring a diverse workforce, it automatically means you are open to diverse ideas. But that’s not true. What typically happens is that people are hired to fill out some criteria of diversity, but then they’re pressured to act and think the same way as everyone already in the organization - to conform to the social norm. You lose the new hire’s ‘flavor’ (diverse thinking/perspective) completely.
In addition to talking about and being aware of diversity, I think it’s just as important, maybe more important, to figure out how we can apply diversity so that we can do what we do better. The Nature Inspired Leadership Tools are great for bringing out the rich and unique thinking that each person brings to the table.
What do you think nature can teach us about leadership?
Because of the ‘Jack Welch’s’ of the world, leadership has become formulaic. People think that if you want to be a good leader you have to do X, Y and Z, and they paint a picture for themselves based on that formula.
So if you’re an ambitious person in business and want to be in a position of leadership, there can be a tendency to think there’s only one way to do it. I think that can create a very bad situation for employees and for teams. Not every leader is meant to be ‘out in front’ owning a line of business. Maybe the best way a person can lead is as an individual contributor, leading as a subject matter expert, or mentoring others.
There’s so much diversity in what a good leader can be, but people who aspire to be leaders often don’t know how to take advantage of their own natural abilities. Each person is different, and I think everyone can deliver a necessary piece of the puzzle. Instead of trying to be something they’re not, what if everyone led by utilizing their natural strengths and brought their much needed piece of the puzzle forward? And what if every leader encouraged the individuals on their teams to do so, too?
I’m not a biologist, so I don’t know the exact scientific corollary, but I think this is how nature works: Each plant and creature has a role to play, and everyone’s contribution is crucial to the success of the whole ecosystem. The same is true for my teams.
Note: The opinions expressed here are Danielle Decatur's and do not necessarily reflect those of Microsoft.
August 2015 | Biomimimcry Institute's Global Design Challenge
Denise DeLuca is honored to be on the judge's panel. Entrants are eligible for a wide range of prizes, including the first Ray C. Anderson Foundation's "Ray of Hope" $100,000 prize. Learn more about the Challenge here: challenge.biomimicry.org
September 2015 | Leadership for a Vibrant Culture™ | Seattle
This is for you if you're interested in building highly collaborative, innovative teams.
In partnership with Sustainable Seattle, Denise DeLuca and Linda Graf will be facilitating this 5-part series in Seattle. Cohorts meet once a month. If you’re interested in joining a cohort (limited to 25) contact Linda for an application: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or go to programs to find out more.