Do You have Innovative Ideas?
by Cil Burke BSN
Twitter works for me. Facebook? Not so much.
I re-tweet with abandon, but only if I think the original tweet is too funny to keep to myself, or it would be helpful to a wider audience. In short, I’m not a robotic retweeter.
Twitter led me to an article from the Harvard Business Review about functional fixedness, something I would never have discovered except for Twitter.
I realize fixedness is not a word. You tell the guy (Karl Duncker) who first tweeted, or um, explained it in the 1930′s.
Functional fixedness describes how the function of an object (or concept, really) is fixed in our brains. When we see an object, we tend to see it for its traditional use, not the object itself, and its possibilities.
One common example is a hammer. When we see a hammer, we see something that pounds nails. We might not think of it as a good paper weight, a potential door stopper, a work of art, or if tied to the end of a string a perfectly good pendulum.
The author of the HBR post uses a Titanic story to make his point. The poor souls on the ill-fated ship looked only to the life boats on board for rescue. The mammoth iceberg that took down the unsinkable Titanic offered solid ice on which passengers could wait for the rescuing ship that arrived 4 hours later.
Those who drowned never recognized the iceberg as a substitute for a life boat. What if the captain of the Titanic had turned to his First Mate and said, ‘Good God, man, I see a floating surface that is 200 feet long. Pull this ship up to it, use our anchor chains to make us fast, and let’s unload the passengers there, while we still have a chance!”
The author posits these fixed thoughts we have about objects are an enemy of innovation. As a studier of creativity for many years, he has a technique to help us rid our brains of these non-innovative fixed thoughts. He suggests a method he calls the generic parts technique.
Generic Parts Technique
Using the generic parts technique requires looking at an object in a new or unique way- by breaking it down and describing in detail its various components. What they are, not what they do.
Here are the steps:
- Describe the parts of the object in generic terms. (Romance Book: A pile or stack 1″ thick of 250, 6″x8″ papers. Each paper contains typewritten words, bound by glue on one side of the stack, enclosed in cardboard cover on front and back 3mm thick with a picture of a muscular man holding a beautiful woman on top and a picture of a grey haired woman on the back sitting at a typewriter…..The papers are arranged so that an idea flows from one sentence to another that appears to tell a story….)
- Then divide the individual parts of the object, and describe them further. (Each page is made of cotton fiber paper and contains words of varying lengths and sizing following a regular pattern with a number in the top right corner…)
Breaking Down Items Into Component Parts:
This breakdown of an object into its basic components may allow you to see the object for it’s components or features, rather than the commonly accepted function of the object. This process allows your creativity to be released without your functional fixation paralyzing your thoughts.
This is probably what allowed the backwoods dwellers with out-houses to identify the Sears Catalog not as a way to acquire “stuff” because they had no money to buy stuff. Their poverty did begat the necessity of finding alternative uses for items, so ‘Eureka’, here is a whole stack of toilet paper, or kindling for the fire and “they gave it away!”
In the article at the Harvard Business Review, the author shares the story of teaching his students the Generic Parts concept by looking at a candle. The candle has been around for 5000 years-and basically looks the same now as it did then. We may have different colors and widths but otherwise a candle is a candle.
But no, the study group, using Generic Parts Technique altered the candle and came up with new design concepts. Innovative designs even after 5000 years. The new designs were attractive to current candle manufacturers…
How cool is that?
What if we made a conscious effort to use the GPT ideas to view problems, objects or concepts in our daily lives that may need improving.
Maybe allow us to use things we currently own in a new and unique way. Who knows maybe we can simplify our lives and save money in the bargain.
What if we used GPT to examine our path to financial success? Maybe we think of financial success in a fixed way. Go to school, learn a skill, get a job, get a paycheck, save money, blah, blah blah….
What are the basic parts to financial success?
- Less spending-how do we spend our money now, so what are the generic steps involved in our shopping Is there any unique way to change what we are doing to improve and save more?
- How do we save money now? What are the steps involved from getting a paycheck to actually depositing the money into an account. What can we do to make the process more likely to work, compared to what we are doing?
- How do we increase our income? What are the methods we use now to make money? What are the steps? We have knowledge and abilities we are paid to share. Are there other ways to use our talents that might allow a different income stream? We may need to break down our jobs into functional generic components and shine a creative light on each part.
We all want to embrace innovative ideas, but how do we go about having them? The secret is looking at each aspect of our lives from a different angle so that a new or improved solution can jump all over us.
It’ll make our brains work more creatively, a good thing, and might even make us happier, wealthier and more motivated.
What do you think? Could your creativity use a boost? Are the building blocks right in front of you, if you would just look at things a little differently? Get into the habit of looking at problems and breaking them down into generic steps. If you can get your whole team looking at things in this way, the number and variation of new ideas could be limitless..
Go forth, and avoid functional fixedness-your life will be the better for it.
Don’t you just love Twitter?
Cil Burke BSN, Co-owner of The Millionaire Nurse Blog.
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