The Artful Skill of Novelty for Change
When it comes to businesses staying at the forefront of a competitive market, foresight is the secret ingredient to all success, as without foresight we cannot prepare for the future.
As important as it is, foresight has become increasingly harder to have as the modern world is changing faster than ever before. Our technologies, jobs, institutions, even some of our treasured values and ways of thinking are all shifting radically, making it very difficult to plan ahead and prepare for future challenges and opportunities.
In an age of hyper change, it is those individuals who are prepared to take the biggest risks, solve the biggest problems, close the biggest gaps and identify the newest opportunities that ultimately sets them apart from the rest.
One of the keys to a successful business is having the ability to come up with new and inspiring solutions by systematically thinking about the future in the way that true futurists do.
There is a common misconception that futurists are nothing more than trend spotters and analytical thinkers, but thinking like a futurist is a kind of chasm of the mind. In this age of technological advancements disrupted with Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Social Media — variables that play a role in influencing foreseeable future have multiplied exponentially making any framework obsolete in no time.
As someone who steers policy decision making and investigates the future using data-driven models, my observation over the years is that leadership teams tend to get caught up in a cycle of addressing long term risks with rigid, short-term solutions when trying to solve a problem, and in the process invite entropy. Too many businesses are trying to develop new solutions in ways that simply aren’t productive and in the end, these cycles only produce predictable ideas, no matter how hard they try. In fact, the harder they try, the stronger the same patterns emerge, without them even realising.
You see, when faced with a problem, the human mind tends to follow certain thinking patterns. These patterns are chosen based on the experience and previous knowledge of the problem. The common patterns limit the human brain to reach creative solutions or ideas. Therefore, one should think in different patterns to solve the problem.
Thinking about a problem is usually aligned with a number of assumptions, these assumptions usually limit the ability to find creative solutions. Thinking beyond these assumptions can contribute to finding other perspectives that can help in solving the problem.
So how does one solve problems like a futurist?
Considered one of the greatest futurists of all time, Leonardo Da Vinci was not only a master of art and science, but was also known as one of the greatest independent thinkers of all time. His capacity to imagine the world anew inspired human kind for generations and has continued to do so. The creator of the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, also foresaw many of the technologies used in the modern world today.
His creative thinking enabled him to achieve innovation in different fields including art, architecture, music, mathematics, and engineering. This brought to life visionary instruments such as the revolving bridge, flying machines (helicopter and parachute), driving equipment (such as armoured vehicles) and weapons of war (the machine gun), which were dreamed up long before they were actually developed.
To be able to develop such innovations, Da Vinci studied everything he could find and observe, drawing inspiration from the natural world around him: the flow of water, the way smoke rises through the air, how a woodpecker uses its tongue, all in an attempt to solve the problems he saw.
Da Vinci was curious about everything and being curious just for curiosity’s sake was the defining trait of Da Vinci. Da Vinci’s observation and theory was that everything connects and he was far more interested in the process of exploration than in the completed work or final results.
Making connection between seemingly unimportant things is perhaps one of the most crucial creative thinking skills you can ever master and Da Vinci understood this. When he was thinking of a new transportation method, he threw a paint filled sponge against the wall and tried to imagine.
When it comes to solving problems and drawing better conclusions within an existing framework, it requires a blend of both analytical and elastic thinking. The trick is to take a step back and use intuition in order to solve complicated problems.
To change patterns of thought, connecting concepts with no obvious association is a valuable trait. One of the methods to find solutions and creative ideas is to look at your existing ideas in connection with other incidents or elements that do not have direct linkage with the main problem. For example, Newton was able to develop a concept - the law of gravity, by seeing an apple falling from a tree. So the idea is that when you change your focus and think about something that is not related, newer patterns of thinking will be activated, leading to the discovery of an original idea or thought. This is what some people mistakenly call divine inspiration or “out of the blue” thinking.
In a nutshell, the more you are open to different ideas, the more you are likely to follow your curiosities, and the more you will be able to connect new information and discoveries with what you already know.
Because the future doesn’t just happen to us. We have agency in imagining and creating the kind of future we want to live in, and we can take actions to get us there. But if you always think the way you’ve always thought, you’ll always get the same outcome.
Da Vinci’s futurist streak brought him to some innovations at the time conceived, but more so into real creations many years later, deserving him the definition of visionary. So our innovations should then look like a path of breadcrumbs guiding us towards the delineated tomorrow outlined in our futurist vision.
If you want to think and create innovations like a futurist, you need to embrace curiosity, train your mind to question everything, experiment boldly, always question the obvious and actively place yourself in situations that allow you to dig deeper to understand new concepts, principles and ideas.
Don’t cramp your imagination to fit your expectations. Be open to learning new approaches to creatively and innovatively solving problems.