Daniel Pink wrote an interesting piece about research that shows how people are more creative when “they tackled the problem on behalf of others rather than for themselves.”
It seems that “the more remote the recipient [is from the person providing the solution], the more innovative the gift. (Which might explain why many of use are useless in choosing gifts for our spouses and partners.)”
We have all experienced this at one time or another. Have you noticed how clearly we seem to understand and solve problems experienced by acquaintances or even television/movie characters?
“When we think of situations or individuals that are distant – in space, time, or social connection – we think of them in the abstract. But when those things are close – near us physically, about to happen, or standing beside us – we think about them concretely.”
“Over the years, social scientists have found that abstract thinking leads to greater creativity. That means that if we care about innovation we need to be more abstract and therefore more distant. But in our businesses and our lives, we often do the opposite. We intensify our focus rather than widen our view. We draw closer rather than step back.”
It seems that abstract thinking is the key to creative problem solving. And abstract thinking is only possible when we are not intimately involved in the problem, which inevitably forces a focused, concrete, and sometimes emotionally-charged approach. Put another way, when we are in flight-or-fight mode, we are less able to think in the abstract.
Daniel Pink provided several suggestions for how to improve your organisation’s creative problem solving ability:
- Create “loose alliances of distantly-connected people” to maximise access to remote or removed problem solvers.
- “Harness the power of peers … from different industries – and gather periodically to exchange ideas and offer solutions from new perspectives”
- “Find a problem-swapping partner”
- Practise dissociation. ”Create some psychological space between you and your project by imagining you're doing it for someone else”
The article is well worth a read.