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I Want Innovation...That I Have Seen Before

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As an architect, one of my biggest challenges is to help people think differently about the problem they want to solve. Open mindedness is essential when trying to provide innovative solutions and often I am opening people’s minds to unfamiliar and new possibilities in order to help change their mindset.

When a client says they want something innovative, by definition they are asking for something new, something they haven’t seen, something that hasn’t been done before. Quite often when presenting a new innovative idea, I am asked by a client to show them where it has been done before. How can something be innovative if it’s already been done? I recently saw this great cartoon that illustrated this point precisely….that thinking differently requires us to take a chance on the unknown, to change our perspective.

Think about the rapid pace of change since the turn of the 21st century. We communicate and exchange information differently: FaceTime, YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and on and on. We get our news differently: instant phone alerts, Flipboard, Twitter, Circa, Digg. Think about how we travel around our communities: Uber, Zipcar, Segway, bike rental stations, etc.

With all of these changes it requires people to think differently–to change their mindset. But how do we do that? How do we get others to change their mindset so they can think differently? When change is proposed, do you often hear one of these typical responses?

  • “Why do we have to change?” 
  • “That was good enough for me.” 
  • And my favorite – “This is the way we've always done it.”

Therein lies the problem: how do we get people to give up what they know, what they perceive as the only way or perhaps the best way to do something?

I offer these 3 ideas to help others think differently.

Unlock Your Imagination
Once you unlock your imagination you can start to think radically different from what you know. This allows you to problem-solve in a fantasy world that eventually can become reality. Case in point, many of today’s technological advances can be attributed to the TV series Star Trek. What was first merely imagination has now become reality, like my handheld communicator…although I am still waiting on the transporter.

Let Go of What You Know to Be True
Are you a glass half full or glass half empty person? Do you say "tomayto" or "tomahto"? If all you know to be true is a touch-tone phone how will you get past it to a touchscreen or even voice command? By asking "what if" statements, you begin to let go of what you know to be true. What if we didn’t have a dial on our phone, what if we didn’t need a wire to connect something, what if we didn’t have to physically go to a bank? Letting go of what we know helps open the mind to think differently about problems and solutions.

Another beneficial question to ask when challenging what you know to be true is "Why is it that way?" – Why does a bike wheel need spokes, Why do I have to get on a plane to experience Thailand? Why can't my car drive itself?

Listen, So You Can Reflect
Thinking differently requires us to allow for different perspectives other than our own. In order to hear other perspectives, we need to make time to listen and reflect on differing views. By absorbing others ideas or ways of thinking we are able to consider these differences while not putting it in conflict with our basis of thinking.

One of the most successful stories of changing a mindset was the Apollo 13 mission. It’s an example of listening to others, absorbing what they are saying and then changing a mindset to accomplish a goal. As uttered in the Apollo 13 movie: "failure is not an option." It is a statement that changed the mindset from impossible to possible.

When looking to do something different, to create a better experience and to be innovative–remember to unlock your imagination, let go of what you know to be true, listen & reflect. Then…anything is possible. Beam me up Scotty.

Robert Vajgrt, AIA, LEED AP, CDT

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