What Inspires Original Thinking?

Original thinking is that flash behind inventions, breakthroughs and discoveries. That moment you come up with an idea that is really new, not an adaptation of something you already know.

We might get there occasionally, but what inspires that moment? Why is it so rare and elusive to be an original thinker?

Nancy Kline, Founder of Time To Think, believes she has the answer.

I heard Nancy speak recently about original thinking. She’s a wonderful storyteller, has an eclectic vocabulary and she plays your emotions like a violin.

She says the quality of our work depends on the quality of the thinking we’ve done before hand. She asks if most of our thinking is recycled or repeated ideas, how good can our work be?

I hear you moan as you read this.

In creative industries we want unique work, but we never have the luxury of being allowed time to think.

Getting stuck with the obvious…
I was talking to one of my favourite Creative Directors about a pitch she was working on. She was frustrated with the whole process.

The creative work wasn’t very good and she said she was fluffing it up around the edges to make it look more substantial.

Her struggle was with the strategy, there wasn’t anything new or interesting in the way they were thinking about the product.

She had hoped to spend time trying to discover something really unique about this brand or thinking about the category in a different way.

Instead the team kept offering tactics and taglines that would deliver creative executions like frosting with no cake.

Her hope wasn’t for cake, it was for something far more gratifying, something game changing. She wanted original thinking.

I checked back with her later to see if the pitch had generated a new way to look at things, a unique purpose for the brand, something that felt exciting and unexplored.

Nope. Same old, same old. There just wasn’t enough original thinking.

Fresh thinking versus shared experience
Most of the meetings we sit in are an endless swirl of sharing our experience. They are an exchange of existing ideas that we swap with each other in hopes the combination will look like something new.

Nancy Kline believes the only way to generate fresh thinking is by giving someone uninterrupted attention without judging their thought process.

Of course we all have our own ideas, so sitting silently without interrupting isn’t easy.

But how often do we encourage someone to continue with their own thinking, prompting them on to see how far they can get, before we leap in?

I suspect your answer is that you haven’t got time for fresh thinking. You need a conclusion, a decision, a result and you need it now.

So we stick to what’s tried and true, born from things we have experienced already and we end up with a new iteration of something that existed before.

For truly original thinking, we need to take that time to push past our boundaries.

A formula for Original Thinking
Nancy has a formula for original thinking, you can explore her 10 Components of a Thinking Environment here.

Try it yourself with this simple process. Find a partner that will help encourage YOUR thinking. Plan the period of time that you’ll spend on this and commit to the subject you want to work on.

Agree in advance that your partner’s sole focus will be to help you develop your thoughts.

Ask them not to interrupt when you’re thinking out loud, and not to fill the silence while you let your imagination explore beyond the boundaries of the known.

Ask them to prompt you with encouraging questions when you get stuck, “That’s interesting, what would you do next? What else would you need? Who else could be involved?”

Your thinking partner’s role is vital, they are there to give you the quality attention you need to keep yourself focused and moving your own thinking on to new areas that are original and unique.

If you find success, if you push beyond the limits of your experience and venture into thinking about things that are new and exciting to you, you’ve achieved a result.

Your next challenge it to carry that ability to generate original ideas back into your chaotic work environment and develop a culture that nurtures and respects quality of thought.

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