The ‘Other’ Way To Find Your Next Breakthrough Idea

The ‘Other’ Way To Find Your Next Breakthrough Idea

Create March 05, 2019 / By Larry Robertson
The ‘Other’ Way To Find Your Next Breakthrough Idea

Sometimes it's the simplest of breaks in your routine that hold the key to the biggest breakthroughs.

In the beginning, travel planning didn’t happen online. And then came Expedia. In another beginning, there were only old faded versions of Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, and Scrabble. And then came Cranium – not just one game, but half a dozen crazy and original games that stretched minds and gave the board game market new (and highly profitable) life. And in these beginnings and many more, there was Richard Tait – a seeming font of breakthrough creative ideas and related business successes. 

How exactly did Richard come to be at the nexus of not just one, not two, but numerous innovations? More pertinent, how can you? The answer is more surprising, hopeful, and pedestrian than you probably think.

Seeing The World – and Creativity – Differently

No doubt, Richard sees the world differently. As he puts it, he’s a guy who flies through life by the philosophy that Orville Wright didn’t have a pilot’s license – why then does he need one to venture into the possible or even the impossible time and again? Having spoken with Richard, I can tell you that he means this statement not as a separator whereby he’s the creative hero and we are, well, something less, but as invitation to the rest of us to take similar journeys. Alas, too often we miss the invitation and misread the reference. “Richard the risk taker,” or “Richard the exceptionally unique creative thinker” –translation: “Obviously that guy, but not me.” Most often we conclude this because we’re looking at the Richard Taits of the world and the creative outputs they produce when we ought to be looking at just the opposite.

It is our great tendency, some might even call it our societal default, to look at creativity in the rear view. That is to say, most often we focus on the innovation – the output, the value it generates, even the seemingly irresistible desire to credit it all to one idea and one person. Hail the Orville Wright-like hero! What we fail to recognize is the true beginning: how we take in the world each and every day. 

Pausing to See How We See – and How We Can See More

In the beginning of the creative process there is space – not physical (though it is both well known and proven that a change or expansion of the physical space can be powerful in freeing the mind), but mental. For the mind to see something new, or even just to see things old in a new way, requires openness. But like our inclination to see ideas in reverse and from a grand and glorified end result, we similarly (and wrongly) conclude that the kind of openness we need must be imposing. We distort the truth further whenever we assume that being open will always yield grandeur – as in the perfectly formed breakthrough idea, arriving immaculately and at once, and yielding instant value and success. Really it’s simpler than all that. All it takes is a pause. 

Powerfully Simple

The ‘trick’ to becoming a Richard Tait – or a Muhammad Yunus (‘father’ of microlending and Nobel Peace prize winner), a Nell Newman (founder of Newman’s Own Organics), a Bill Drayton (founder of the first investment fund for social entrepreneurship), or a Robin Chase (co-founder of ZipCar) – is far more pedestrian than we think. Each of them, in ways unique to who they are, consciously, deliberately pauses as a matter of practice. Yup. That’s it, that’s the big secret. The deliberate pause, no matter the form it takes, is the habit that unleashes all the rest. 

Exploring examples is helpful, but only if we remember that the pause is truly a simple act, not grand theatre. And however we take it, it must be wholly our own. I’ve always liked sharing one of Richard’s ways of pausing because it shows just how universal the power of the pause can be and how easy it is to incorporate. Here it is: Every day Richard goes to lunch, that is to say, he leaves his workspace and ventures out. That’s important step one – to get outside your borders. Step two is that when he goes, he also deliberately varies his path – sometimes by going to a new place to eat, other times by taking a different path to the same place, even just circling ‘left’ around the fountain in the park when yesterday he went to the right. In two simple moves he’s varied place and pattern, and neither move upsets his apple cart in any way. They merely open up his mind. And then he does one more thing, one vital third step. He engages others.

The Necessary Power of ‘Others’

We tend to think of big ideas as coming in ones – single ideas, appearing all at once, like lightning out of the blue. We think of creators in ones too, one heroic ideators, innovator, or leader who births such ideas and singlehandedly saves the day. But we do what we do, and more, are capable of doing it, because of others. Yes, we need our space, and true enough our ideas often gel when we’re alone. But before, after, and in between there are others, be they mental partners, challengers, or the audience we innovate for and hope to reward. Though we at times are wont to be free of them, as much or more we need them. Often we must take a pause to see that they are important. In that pause we can also begin to see that engaging others isn’t as hard as we often build it up to be – just ask Richard Tait. 

The final step Richard takes each time he does his lunchtime pause is to engage others and to do so newly. Newly can mean talking to someone he sees on his outing that he already knows, but about something unexpected and out of their routine exchange. Instead of a “How’s the weather” bent, it might be a, “What do you remember most about 4thgrade?” angle he tries, just to see where it takes them. The upshot is simplicity, surprise, playfulness, and harm-free experimentation for the shear purpose of dabbling in the ‘new.’ It’s the same with strangers, that verboten other that our mind tricks us into concluding is more taxing and risky to engage. Richard renders the act harmless and low risk. A low key comment to the person standing behind him waiting to order at the deli of, “Boy, have you ever seen the line this long before?” could garner anything from a cautious smile or “Yup,” to the slightly more inviting, “I was just thinking the same thing.” What happens next is wide open. The response is secondary in importance. It’s the habit that matters.

The habit of pausing to engage others in a fresh and deliberate way inevitably reveals… what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, the power of listening, a different view of what you already knew, sometimes even those head tilting new ideas you dream of. Oh look at the clock? Time for lunch!

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