Thinking differently is a team sport

By Carl Heise

We all know the importance of thinking differently, right? The old “if you use the same thinking you end up with the same problem” chestnut, right? So why is it so hard to do? One of the challenges with thinking differently is that not everyone understands the importance of it, and even when they do, they fail to do it as a team.

Thinking differently is a disposition

Thinking differently requires a genuine disposition to listen to and collaborate with others. It requires a shared sense of alignment on process and objective. It requires plurality: multiple things happening at the same time that all add value.
Often when people are working in a group they are just taking turns speaking as opposed to collaborating. Or worse listening to a homogenous voice, where one person is doing all of the thinking and the talking. But you can’t think differently if only one person is thinking.
Thinking differently requires people thinking together, at the same time, for the same reason.
And if you’re not doing that, it doesn’t matter how wizz-bang your design creative bit is, you’re not aligned and you’re not going to get there.

Let’s get physical

If you’ve read this far you’re interested enough to go all the way. And that will involve taking part in a physical exercise. There’s a phrase, “on the balls of your feet,” and this very neatly illustrates what is taking place when people are thinking collectively.
Stand up and roll the weight over your body onto the balls of your feet (just behind your toes), then observe how that feels. Now rock all the way back so you are on your heels and observe how that feels.
In one of those positions you feel ready, when you are on the balls of your feet. When you are on your heels you are literally flat-footed. If something happens you can’t move as quickly, you can’t respond as quickly, you are not as flexible. What we have discovered is that these two distinct physical positions affect people’s thinking.
Similarly in a room full of people, those who are engaged and ready for thinking will be doing the equivalent of being on the balls of their feet. They will be leaning forward, making eye contact and letting a speaker know that they are listening through body language. The opposite of being on the balls of your feet in this environment is being on your phone, crossing your arms, leaning back in your chair. If you just change your physicality and lean forward into the collaboration you will be ready for thinking. You are saying to your mind, this thing that I am about to do is valuable. I am going to take the disposition that I can do it and that I’m an important part of it.
In a collective environment there is collective physicality, there is collective body language, there is a collective way that we use space. Creating that sense of the collective through dispositions that encourage different thinking is vitally important. I know, you’ve heard it before, but it democratises thinking. There I said it. Time for a new buzz word I know, but it’s true. Where all players in the collaboration game are genuinely empowering to think at the same time, great things happen.
Productive things. Progressive things. Different things. And we stop spending our problem solving time creating more problems.
There is no doubt about it. Thinking differently is a team sport.