Five Tips for Truly Opening Your Mind

Innovative thinking requires work. Here’s where to start.

Can you truly change the way you think? We all have “thinking patterns,” ways and methods we tend to approach problems that we default to. But the old adage applies to problem-solving strategies as well as tools: When all you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail. Here’s how to break out of thought processes that limit your innovation.

Be ‘Impractical’

“We could never afford that!” “We don’t have the materials!” Well, so what? Ideas are in the realm of the mind, not the realm of the real. And great ideas have a way of manifesting themselves despite a lack of money, materials, or anything else. Almost every great leap forward happened in the absence of a “practical” way to get there, so why let practical concerns constrain your thinking? Put ideas first, and worry about how they’ll be rendered in code or metal or policy later.

List Your Axioms

An axiom is defined as something taken as so unquestioned nobody even mentions it. And we all have them, these assumptions about our job, our industry, our work that we don’t even think about or consider as part of our thought process. These can be so deeply buried they might not even be conscious, in fact.

So, make them conscious. Sit down and write out your axioms, the things you take for granted that affect your innovation. Writing them down can illustrate just where you’ve blinkered your thinking, and free up your thoughts.

Talk To An Outsider

Another useful way to break out of your line of thought is to ask somebody who doesn’t work in your industry at all for their opinion. How often have you seen an ill-considered idea and asked yourself “Who the heck approved that?” The answer is almost always that nobody at a company bothered to ask anyone outside the industry about the idea. So, find somebody who isn’t studying the trees and ask them to take a good look at the forest you work in; they likely have surprising observations.

Opening your mind isn’t just for vacations.

Listen To Customers

Customers naturally have a different perspective on your work than you do. They likely don’t know all the work that went into a new product; they just know the end result. And they likely have opinions, — good, bad, and middling — about every aspect of the products you’ve created. Even if you haven’t heard from them, they have them, so look them up or ask for them. Understanding how your customers approach what you do might be a bit shocking. No product is used entirely as we intend it to. But understanding that will shift your perspective.

What’s The Next Step?

Another aspect to consider is that sometimes innovation is hampered by success. It’s easy to rest on your laurels after you’ve knocked it out of the park, especially if it’s making money or pushing your business further. So, whenever you complete a project, whenever something takes off, always ask yourself what’s next, where you should go, and not just within the confines of this project or even your industry. Always be asking where the future is taking you, no matter what. When you’re ready to innovate, start an IdeaScale community.

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