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  /  Innovation   /  How to Create Wise Innovative and Out-of-the Box Smart Thinking

How to Create Wise Innovative and Out-of-the Box Smart Thinking

Clients regularly ask about innovation workshops to help their teams or organization have better out-of-the box thinking.  After we talk a little, a better understanding begins to emerge, what they are really asking for is help with the processes and skills creating the environment and opportunity for new and even transformational ideas to emerge.  The core processes and skills leading to an out-of-the box outcome most frequently include creating an environment where ideas can be shared openly, embrace listening, and encouraging the growth of ideas by using thoughtful questions to deepen understanding.

We’ve all heard and experienced brainstorming in one setting or another.  Quite often, brainstorming ends up as a handful of dominate personalities sharing their prepared ideas at the beginning of a meeting.  They strive to defend their idea and seek support or worse, to minimize other voices in the room. This may be a fast path to a solution, the solution may not actually solve the problem, in fact, because the problem wasn’t probed and explored by multiple members of the team, the proposed solution may be doomed for failure from the beginning.  One way to get others to speak up and share their wild ideas is to establish a process by which everyone has an equal voice, feels safe to share what might seem like crazy ideas, and allow people to be vulnerable in front of the group.  Brainstorming is a process in which ideas are both provided by all participants and built upon by each other.  Great out-of-the box thinking, and innovation emerges from a collection of ideas building upon one another.   That comes from creating a place that is safe for talking.

Exploration is the engine that drives innovation. Innovation drives economic growth. So let’s all go exploring. – Edith Widder


In order to get people to start talking and keep talking, the team must practice actively practice listening.  As professionals, we all know how to listen, but many of us balance listening with thinking about what we want to say next.  Our intent is to contribute, we aren’t trying to be rude, but because we are getting ready to launch into what we want to share we aren’t listening deeply to the person sharing their idea.  As a result, they begin to shut down bit-by-bit, and maybe the inspiration for a great idea that would propel your team’s effort forward doesn’t get verbalized.  Good listening isn’t just staring at someone while they talk and waiting for them to be finished.  It includes listening for message, asking clarifying questions, and allowing others on the team to ask questions.

Questions are the secret weapon to move a group toward out-of-the box ideas.  In the right environment, questions asked in an authentic and thoughtful manner encourage people to speak up, share a fragment of an idea that may create an idea on the part of another member of the team, or allow the team to explore new territory.  There are a variety of strategies behind good questions, one of the best – and one of the easiest to implement into your daily life right now – is to avoid the use of ‘why’ questions.   Asking why someone believes or feels something can immediately cause the person you’re asking to feel like they have to defend their idea, even though that is not your intent.  Instead, attempt to use exploratory questions such as, tell me more about that, or use ‘how’ or ‘what’ questions to arrive at similar answers.

Out-of-the box thinking is a result.  Those innovative ideas come from establishing processes where everyone can be heard, people can feel safe to share small or seemingly crazy ideas, and teams ask questions to learn and explore.  By embracing these processes in meetings specifically meant to focus on specific problems, people will begin to incorporate some of these valuable communication and idea generation ideas in smaller groups.  As a result, your team or organization can begin to thrive in unexpected areas.