Thought Leadership: Reframing the Big Picture — 3 Steps to Lateral Thinking

By SHARE'd Intelligence Editor

Imagine you’re driving along a dark and stormy road in a two-seater sports car. Suddenly, you see a person standing along the side of the road, clothes soaked. You slow down and realize it’s your best friend from years ago who saved your life. As you pull over to let him in the car, you notice an old lady in his shadow. Then you see a third person — the man or woman of your dreams. This is your once in a lifetime chance to meet them.

Now you’re really faced with a quandary. Who do you pick up: your best friend, the old lady or the individual of your dreams? Do you pick loyalty, charity or love? Believe it or not, there is a right answer, and it may be one you least expect.

If you give the keys to your friend and have him drive the old lady into town, you can have a romantic date in the rain with the love of your life.

Changing perspective

This is how lateral thinking works, explained keynote presenter Shane Snow, CCO of Contently and writer for numerous publications, including The New Yorker, Wired, Fast Company, New York Magazine and more. In a stirring keynote presentation at SHARE Atlanta, Snow discussed how true innovation occurs.

“Once you reject false rules and look from a different angle,” Snow said, “a better set of solutions come to light.”

When it comes to securing your network, this type of thinking becomes critical as hackers and programmers tend to think in a lateral way. The best example of lateral thinking: MacGyver and his ability to repurpose common, everyday tools for a different use.

Snow admitted that he’s been obsessed with lateral thinking, studying people and companies who have done incredible things by keeping ahead of the game. “Every time there is a shift in art, society or business it’s from people changing the game and not playing by the same rules,” he said. But, Snow admitted, it’s hard to learn how to embrace this kind of thinking. You have to know the underlying rules and principles to help you start on your journey of lateral thinking.

Bigger or better

Snow and his friends used to play a game in their home town called “bigger or better,” in which each team started out with a small object, like a toothpick, and they went door-to-door to trade it up for something a little bit bigger and a little bit better. At the end of the night, they would all come together to see who had managed to attain the best object.

Snow explained two lessons to draw from this example. First, the concept of a parlay, or a cumulative series of trades, in which, if one doesn’t work out, you can move on to the next. The second lesson focuses on small wins. If you look at a problem — such as trading a toothpick for a TV — it can seem like a monumental task. But if you break that problem into small steps, each win serves as motivation to keep going.

Elegant simplification

Snow shared the story of Jane Chen, a high-powered management consultant at a top firm, was on the path to a successful career. That all came to a halt when she realized that nearly 20 million babies born prematurely die, particularly in Asian countries where citizens have limited access to health care. As Chen looked into ways to save premature babies, she realized that most hospitals use an incubator, or a glass box that keeps the infants warm. For this to be effective in countries with limited health care, the incubator had to be 100 percent cheaper.

Chen tried to invent a cheaper glass box, but the lowest cost she could achieve was a mere 50 percent cheaper than the common model. And that wasn’t good enough. So she went back to the drawing board and asked, “What’s the real problem? Keeping the babies’ body at the right temperature for eight hours at a time.”

She threw out the idea of a glass box and created the embrace warmer, comprising insulated material that wraps around a baby and keeps them the right temperature for up to eight hours. Simple to use and it doesn’t even need an instruction manual. In looking for the simplest solution, she created an elegantly designed product that is changing the game for keeping premature babies warm.

10x Thinking

Astro Teller, the individual in charge of Google X, said, “It’s easier to make something 10 times better than 10 percent better.”

To better explain this radical concept, Snow shared the example of Elon Musk and his company SpaceX, which builds rockets and space craft with the goal of making human life multi-planetary. The first task: Build a rocket that could travel to Mars. The end goal: To die on Mars, “just not on impact.”

Musk rented an island in the Pacific Ocean, hired the best scientists and engineers and put enough of his own money into the project to build three rockets. His goals were huge, and he kept asking, “How can we make that 10 times better?” The first and second rockets blew up. The team put together its third and — and supposedly final — rocket. They all watched it launch with bated breath. It surpassed the first rocket, then the second. Just as the team thought it was in the clear, the rocket exploded in the sky.

Disappointment palpable in the air, Musk stood up and told them all that this was the most important mission of their lives, and he would keep finding funding for a fourth and fifth and sixth rocket until they accomplished their goal. Three weeks later, SpaceX became the first private sector company to send a rocket into orbit. Then, they made a self-landing rocket.

The power of 10 times thinking lies in the psychology of human beings. We are competitive and we want to be part of a critical mission, Snow explained. In multiple research studies, scientists have found that higher goals lead to higher achievement. In Musk’s case, it was the combination of the near-impossible goal alongside the power of Musk’s words that led to a feat never before accomplished.

“It’s easier to start a revolution than a lemonade stand,” Snow said. “People care violently about really big things. You need to support the mission that is 10 times better. People want to change the world. And when you think about plateaus, think sideways, find the inspiration, you can make the breakthroughs.”

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