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Developing Innovative Thinking Skills

Developing Innovative Thinking Skills

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Innovative thinking skills are not necessarily innate. They can be learned and developed. From how to think creatively, find new ideas, change the way you perceive the world, to working with others in innovative processes, thinking like an entrepreneur, if practiced will become natural skills. These skills include thinking outside of the box, asking questions and getting curious, seeing from other's perspectives, learning to fail, knowing how to let go of emotional attachments to an idea, getting comfortable with uncomfortableness, heightening the senses and playing like a child. That is a big list, but as you begin to learn one skill the others get easier and fall into place.

People who are put into places in life that cause them to struggle in one way or another, learn innovative thinking skills out of a need to survive the situation. Humans who find themselves constrained by circumstances naturally want to break free. Those who seem to have all they need, who want for nothing have no reason to use innovative thinking. Those with a hunger to solve problems, figure out the puzzle, and who look at the world in unconventional ways, will innovate. An adult who questions the status quo, who has an extreme childlike curiosity and is willing to risk will use innovative skills.

One who has never experienced loss, failure, or incompetence will find it difficult to find within them the need to create. Innovation rises from necessity. See a problem, find a solution. It is an entrepreneurial spirit.

Skill #1: Thinking Outside of the Box

Whoever first coined the term "outside of the box" was a person who was skilled at using metaphoric statements. The meaning of "outside of the box" is easy to visualize. It is something that is not constrained, free, beyond the walls, or ready to be used. The question becomes, how does a person learn to think "outside of the box?"

This skill comes easy for those who have little to lose or thrive on risk. It is a way of thinking that might be called out of control thinking. To learn to think outside of the box means to think as though everything in the world is available to you, because there are no constraints. Think not in words or terms but in large concepts or pictures. Think of the opposite solution. If you can figure out how it could not be accomplished then you will understand more about how it could be accomplished. Pick the problem apart and solve only a piece of it. Consider how you would solve the problem if you could only use one tool.

Thinking outside of the box is using illogical methods to try and solve the problem. When you do this, it shakes up the notions in your brain and reconnects ideas in different ways. Try to think about what would happen if you did not solve the problem. Think about solving the problem underwater or in a desert or some other environment.

The reason organizational think tanks often go to odd locales or eclectic places is to shake up how the brain perceives what it is doing. The brain adapts to patterns of thinking that you have always used. To change those patterns is to think about life in different ways or "outside of the box." Practice this in all areas of your life and you will not only improve but find your thinking more successful and meaningful.

Skill #2: Get Curious and Play like a Child

Learn to let down your defenses. Adults are so afraid to be silly or unorthodox. To develop the skill of curiosity this is what you must practice. Learn to play again. Play like children who aren't afraid to know all the rules and just want to have fun. Ask questions about everything. Wonder. Lay beneath the stars and think about who is on the other side of the world.

Get out things to play with. Try bouncing balls, or tossing them back and forth. Skip rope while you sing a song. Crawl, climb, swing and dance. Go biking, swimming, or just run at full speed. Go to a park and watch the children. Get dirty. Play in the sand or sail a boat. It may seem silly but brain research tells us that when we relax and open up to real unadulterated actions our brain is more alert to the world around us.

Inventing is first done as a very small child trying to reach an object beyond them. They will try various measures to get it. They might pull over a stool or chair or jump to try and reach what they want. Children let nothing stand in their way. They play like there is no tomorrow. Practice this skill until others find it awkward to be around you. That's when you will know you have it down.

Skill #3: Look at Life from Another's Perspective

The reason for war is because different people see life in different ways. We tend to close the doors on new ideas or those that seem odd. The funny thing is the other person feels the same way. Unable to accept ideas from a totally opposite perspective seems wrong in every way.

If you put the sense of right and wrong aside and consider how others were raised, what they were taught by their parents, the standards of beliefs about truth given to them, and other cultural ideas, then it might be possible to at least understand the other person more. As parents we try to get our children to see things in light of our experiences while they try to get us to see life from their point of view not knowing about risk or danger.

If a person can look at solving a problem from another's perspective, it might open his eyes to something unseen from where he once stood. If you are on the thirtieth story of a building looking down at people, they look quite different from those who see them from their place on the first floor.

Looking at a problem from a wheel chair or from the perspective of one who is blind will make you see the solution in a different light. Turning life upside down makes a person consider a wider variety of ideas that he might not have thought of before. Sometime it helps just putting yourself in a different environment that is the opposite of where you usually work.

Skill #4: Let Go of Emotional Attachments

Getting caught up in an emotional realm is never a good idea, but for those on innovative teams trying to create, it is especially the wrong thing to do. If you own your idea to the point that you are unwilling to move it through the process of change and reshaping by others for improvement, then you will not be successful. Anyone who is closed minded when they come to the table with an idea will find himself on the outside. An innovative team is set up to consider many ideas, to reshape and combine ideas and to get inventive. If one team member is unwilling to work in this manner both the team member and the idea will soon find themselves booted out.

Sometimes young employees right out of college find themselves still clinging to ideas and projects they developed in their classes and can't move beyond what they feel is a great idea. What they have not learned is that it is not about the individual in these groups it is about the innovation. Working through the process of brainstorming, creation and production is successful in this climate because there are many brains available to shape the product or service. When a person is so attached to a specific idea and it blocks group interaction then that person actually puts themselves outside of the group.

Emotions are actually helpful as a team debates and gets conflictive about ideas but not when one person cannot move at all from his own.

Skill #5: Learn to Fail

You've hear the saying "failure is not an option." When the need for finding a solution to a problem or a successful product or new line is demanded by the company for which they work, a team might think that failure is not an option. But that isn't the case. What it really means is that the team will stay together through failure after failure until they have a product that meets the standards that have been set. Without finding the solutions that won't work, you will fail to find the one great one that will work.

Ideas that are innovative require lots of experimentation. Besides thought, debate and construction, an innovative thinker will need to experiment on the conceptual product in various ways. A company has to know everything about their products. They need to know how it will stand up to pressure, how it might backfire, be unsafe, or get into the wrong hands. There is a lot of questioning that goes into innovation. Unfortunately as young people go to school they are looked down up if they fail. Teachers expect perfection without much practice where learning can come through failure.

Think of all the products that are put on the market and then are recalled. It makes you wonder if the innovative teams really spent time trying to make the product fail. Innovative employees or groups cannot think of everything but they are tasked with that very job. Failure must happen as many times as it can possibly happen for a successful product to emerge. Failure is the road to success.

Skill #6: Get uncomfortable With Comfortable

Those who grow to adulthood never put into situations where they are made uncomfortable cannot grasp this concept or skill. The more a person is uncomfortable the more that person becomes resourceful in finding comfort in the uncomfortable experience. Sounds strange and it is but the truth is that when we settle into comfortable holes, we lose that inner strength to move on.

It is when we are sitting on the cactus that we get the initiation to jump. It is when we are cold that we work hard to find heat or when we are thirsty we go to lengths to find a drink. An innovative thinker must be uncomfortable with being in comfort or with feeling that all is well. Everything is never well. There are always problems to solve, solutions to find, and inventions yet to be thought of. What was put on the market yesterday is already old. What was put out today is on the way to being old. It is only in the idea of innovation, movement, scraping and hammering out that next new thing that we are able to really experience the skill of innovative thinking.

If a people allows themselves to sit too long in one place, to find the thought that contentment is a good place to be, then that person is not practicing the skill of getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. Learning to do without, to live differently, to walk instead of drive, to read a different kind of book, or to have friends of other cultures is a good start. Break out of your mold. Change your habits often. Shake up your way of life and find the road that makes you uncomfortable.

Skill #7: Wake Up Your Senses

If you want to increase your skills toward becoming an innovative thinker, then you must be more aware of the world and all it holds. The world is a place of diverse places, people, beliefs, and cultures. Grab hold of new things often. Open up to what is there to see, hear, taste, feel, and smell. Don't be afraid to have an unpleasant experience because it will open parts of your mind that has been asleep. Go to new places, wear different styles of clothes, listen to varied music and experiment with scents. Try things from other ethnic groups. Get out of your rut and experience the world. Every day that you don't is a day wasted.

Learning to be innovative requires you to reach beyond what you know. It requires you to feel. Take time each day to experience a new sensation. Take a walk in the cool weather without a jacket. Run through a water sprinkler with your clothes on. Really smell the flowers.

Go to the zoo and listen to the animals. Just be still and listen. Sit in your backyard and wait for the birds to sing, the wind to blow through the trees and across your face. It doesn't take money to develop skills needed to be innovative. It doesn't take any more time than you are spending each day now. What it takes is change. Trade your normal in for somebody else's normal. Don't lose another minute of living

Summary: The development of innovative skills

You don't have to be a natural to be innovative. You can learn. Practicing these skills will lead you toward becoming an innovative thinker. The important thing to remember is to work on all of these at the same time. It doesn't help to change the brain if you do it in baby steps. To truly become an innovative person you have to make a decision to change the way you are.

The interesting part of learning to become innovative is that you awaken to life. Those who build the skills of play, asking questions, learning to fail, be uncomfortable and heighten sensory awareness will live a deeper more meaningful life. The same skills that take a person into the creative zone of life will make their brain more flexible in all situations. Experiences that are beyond your regular path can start the development of a new hobby or job. Meeting new people from different walks of life will broaden your own approach to the life experience.

Being creative or innovative or original in your thoughts is a way of being. Walk on the road less traveled.


Jody got out of college and immediately joined the biggest software company in the area. She signed on to be part of a venture team. She was motivated because of a product she had invented in her college labs. She was chosen to be part of the team and when they grouped together she was prepared to show and tell about the software product she was sure would be a hit.

The task before them was to build some new and innovative medical software that might be used in the future, though not knowing what that future might hold, it might be anything. As they began the brainstorming process, Jody shared her ideas. As was the rule every idea was on the table. Every idea would be susceptible to being dismantled and reconstructed. Jody had come with an attitude of emotional attachment to her project. About halfway through the morning her idea was picked apart and joined into another that was morphed further into a still different vision. Before the morning was over her original idea was gone. She felt defeated.

The group coach who recognized what Jody was going through came up to her and made the following statement that change the way Jody looked at her part of the team. He said, "Putting your project out there was very brave and it did the trick. It caused new ideas in others to work. It brought back some of the ideas they had done in the past and put away. Your ability to share and put your ego on the line created the impetus for others to move. Thank you."

Jody thought about what he said and she started to realize that the team was about innovative thinking as much as coming up with the perfect product. By going through the process they would be ready when the future came around.

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