A few years ago I was talking to a friend who asked me to explain why I held one of my previous employers in such high regard. It surprised me that I was unable to answer the question - I knew the experience, but couldn't find the words.
About a year after that I was looking for guidance on creativity when I happened across the book Lateral Thinking: a Textbook of Creativity by Edward de Bono - I remembered my CEO from that time used to say "think laterally" occasionally, so I bought it based on that.
Reading the book was like a breath of fresh air - really - it contained so much that I'd tried to articulate over the years and had struggled to get much further than abstract ideas. Initially the most profound thing about reading the book was that it answered my friends question completely - if he asked me again "what was so special about that business" I'd simply hand him a copy of Lateral Thinking and say "we approached everything like this".
As it transpires, the book represents one of the most well respected strategies for effective creativity (if not the most).
To continue deepening my potential to practice and articulate myself more effectively, I have been reflecting on related subjects. This week, I have been thinking how input from inexperienced people is sometimes habitually, and unintentionally, undervalued... In consideration of the principles of Lateral Thinking, not equally valuing the opinions of absolute beginners would be missing a trick... Getting input from an absolute beginner is valuable because they view the subject with an unconditioned mind - and, after all, considering things from many different angles is much of what Lateral Thinking is about.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki
Shunryu Suzuki has something even more valuable to share on this subject:
"Our tendency is to be interested in something that is growing in the garden, not in the bare soil itself. But if you want to have a good harvest, the most important thing is to make the soil rich and cultivate it well."
Involving fresh minds in business decisions, creativity and problem solving has the added benefit that those minds are made to feel valued and don't become demotivated or complacent - it also cultivates a deeper connection to the business' vision within them, and a much more thorough understanding of the business in general... A great leader cultivates passion as a matter of course.
So, what do we do with all this input?
If we want to get really insightful and creative, we can take words of advice from Sam Bacharach:
"some pretty outrageous stuff to start with, or what we've often called divergent thinking. Once you've taken the divergent, or outrageous, extreme - you want to be able to pull them back in - you want to connect the dots, you want to get them to, really, begin to understand what products [what ideas] can move forwards".
This is how we develop deep insight, understanding, meaning and value in our teams - and how we increase the potential for engagement both internally and externally. Taking things to extremes, like this, is especially helpful for our less experienced team-members, it's where the most valuable and memorable learning occurs.
As an aside: In considering the idea that a mixed group of people provide creative diversity, and therefore [potentially] power, I was reminded of Napoleon Hill's 'Mastermind Group' - one principle of the most highly respected success/business mindsets ever presented - the similarity of this idea is striking.
Yesterday, I decided to search for an anecdote to support the idea of including beginners - I exaggerated the idea and started to think about the medieval Jesters, who often acted the fool, and had special privileges in being able to speak incredibly frankly to, even mock, the monarch - but the Jester was considered very learned. So, I wondered "perhaps there's a fool in Plato's the Republic" when, during a Googling session, I came across a Tarot card called 'the Fool' - so I looked up the symbolism on Wikipedia, which says:
"the mystical cleverness bereft of reason within us, the childlike ability to tune into the inner workings of the world. The sun shining behind him represents the divine nature of the Fool's wisdom and exuberance, holy madness or 'crazy wisdom'."
I smiled when I read it - the Fool in Tarot doesn't necessarily have the same negative connotations we associate with the word - it can represent someone with an unconditioned mind, like a young person, or beginner... I realised the words perfectly articulate the idea that these people have something quite different, and equally as valuable to offer.
That being said: the Tarot does have varying interpretations - and some people believe the Fool will momentarily step off the edge of a cliff... So, let's look at the negative for a moment.
In business, employees are sometimes told not to do things - there may be a feeling that certain behaviours are inappropriate. Sometimes these rules are offered with shallow reasoning, or no reason at all. This can lead to all sorts of problems.
If we engage properly in business and explain both sides of the equation, allowing people to express themselves freely, and work together to develop true understanding - engaging in divergent thinking, where we exaggerate and re-connect the dots of formalised understanding - it develops a quality of depth in us that demonstrates to our business associates, partners and customers that we, really, know what we're doing.
Usually, the Fool is said to be at the start of a great journey or adventure: Deepening our understanding will provide us with the insight we need to start that new adventure with confidence.
Perhaps the anecdote of the Fool - who embodies the complete potential to internalise your visions and values - will add something useful to your toolbox. My experience is: the lateral thinking environment is an engaging, happy, co-operative, interpersonally binding, creative and effective business.
If you have any questions, comments, insights, guidance or anything else that you'd like to share with me - please do get in touch. You can contact me by email: Simon@PassionateAboutBusiness.com, you can also stay in touch by connecting via one of these social media channels.