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The greatest enemy to innovation: Experience! How our thinking makes us blind to new ideas.

Magazine contact #23

Paradoxical but true – we are often prevented from having the most exciting ideas due to our own entirely unconscious attitudes, which compel us to think in familiar patterns. Yet there are means and techniques to break out of the routine ways of thinking and thus encourage innovations!

From complex budget decisions to routine grocery shopping – we all act on the basis of experiences which we make daily. Learned attitudes and behavioural patterns make our lives significantly easier as we go through day-to-day life without having to constantly make new time-consuming and difficult decisions. But it is precisely these supposedly good and quick solutions that stand in the way of the company's innovative spirit.

The phenomenon is called the problem solving set and was researched back in 1942 by the American psychologist Abraham Luchins. The psychologist Merim Bilalic explained our brain’s bias by using a chess experiment:

He had players confronted with a chess constellation and posed the tasked them with finding the quickest checkmate. It was astounding that once players had decided upon a solution they were no longer able to find a shorter variation. Bilalic’s conclusion: People’s brains tend to relax once an initial solution has been found, which leads to people being blind to potentially more efficient solutions.


Thinking outside the box!
It is nowadays considered of vital importance for companies in particular to make an impact on the market with constantly new concepts, ideas and innovations. Therefore primarily major corporations – but also increasingly often smaller businesses – rely on creative strategies:


Creativity is contagious.
New ideas, which are combined and grouped together often lead to fabulous projects and innovations. It is therefore important for companies to create spaces for new ideas that inspire, and offer employees possibilities to freely exchange and thus broaden their viewpoints.

Classic techniques for this are common recreation areas and working cafés, which are not only symbols of employee appreciation but also valuable places for encounters and communication in the company. Meeting areas and workshops should, however, also encourage vitality and promote interactions between employees using intelligent and inviting design.


Creativity wants to be learned.
Extraordinary creativity is not born but can be learned by anyone given the correct creativity techniques. The integration of these techniques into the work routine brings long-term benefits as well as the increased ability to compete. Many years ago, Edward de Bono (1967) described the potential of conscious lateral thinking in his book “Serious Creativity – The Development of Ideas through the Power of Lateral Thinking”, a book about innovative solutions for company challenges. The foundation is the ability to think, “laterally”, to delay judgments and deviate from traditional thought patterns.

One proven technique from de Bono is the 6 Thinking Hats method and it is above all helpful in making complex decisions. It is a guide to a kind of group discussion – all of the participants play a role, thus making a more open discussion possible.


6 Thinking Hats Method, by Edward de Bono.

At the centre of this technique are six different coloured hats (or instead index cards, flipcharts etc.), which symbolise different roles. Each hat corresponds to a certain way of thinking, whereby an efficient discussion is stimulated without neglecting any perspectives:

  • White stands for analytical thinking: Objectivity, neutrality.
  • Red represents subjective experiences: Personal opinion, feelings.
  • Black expresses critical thinking: Doubt, scepticism.
  • Yellow stands for a positive approach: Opportunities and best-case scenarios.
  • Green is meant to take creativity into consideration: New ideas.
  • Blue combines all of the “hats” with one another, serves as a summary.

The 6 Thinking Hats method is an instrument which makes it possible to have different positions with respect to a question and thus run through various points of view. This results in receiving a wealth of suggestions and ideas which can then be evaluated.

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