Thinking in the 21st Century
Thinking cannot be separated from who we are. In the 21st century, the age of intellectual property, the way we think is crucial to having a place in society. What we think and how well we express those thoughts will determine where we fit and how well we live. Thoughts, ideas, processes, intangibles–all have value in a world of constant change where knowledge is an adjective, a noun, and an asset–in the form of intellectual property–on balance sheets.
In the largest sense, American society is breaking into two classes:
The first class are people who know how to think. These people realize that most problems are open to examination and creative solution. If a problem appears in the lives of these people, their intellectual training will quickly lead them to a solution or an alternative statement of the problem. These people are the source of the most important product in today’s economy Ã¢â¬â ideas.
The second class, the vast majority of Americans, are people who cannot think for themselves. I call these people “idea consumers” — metaphorically speaking, they wander around in a gigantic open-air mall of facts and ideas. The content of their experience is provided by television, the Internet and other shallow data pools. These people believe collecting images and facts makes them educated and competent, and all their experiences reinforce this belief. The central, organizing principle of this class is that ideas come from somewhere else, from magical persons, geniuses, “them.”
. . . My purpose in this article is to undermine that belief.–Paul Lutus, Creative Problem Solving
Most Schools Are Inside the Box
When I was in school, it was weird and unpopular to think outside of the box. But there I was. It’s not something I learned to do. It’s how I came into the world. Much like a left-handed kid learns to use right-handed scissors, I learned to figure out how everyone thinks. I learned to observe so that I could understand them. Knowing how other people think was a survival skill for me. For them, learning how I think was a gesture of friendship.
That was then.
In school it’s weird not to think like everyone else.
In society, outside-of-the-box thinking is a prized commodity. Innovative thinking is essential to any change-based leadership brand.–ME “Liz” Strauss
My experience of school, both as a student and sadly as a teacher was not, in the most primary sense, geared toward developing new ideas. It was centered around teaching and learning what had already been done, without taking that next step to challenge the past with how it might have been done differently or better.
Thinking Outside of the Box Is Critical
The world economy has changed to one of service and ideas. Conversation is digital and content is king. The ability to work with ideas has become crucial to having a place in society. Thinking outside of the box is no longer a weird personality trait, but something to be admired and valued. It’s a key trait necessary to modern-day strategic planning and process modeling.
Intellectual property–content–is an asset that not only gets produced, but reproduced, reconfigured, and re-purposed for variety of media. Those who produce intellectual property are builders of wealth. An original idea that solves a problem or presents an opportunity is worth more now than it ever has been. Those who develop and mold original ideas are the new “killer app.”
10 Skills Critical to Your Future
These are ten skills critical to your repertoire. They have indelible impact as part of a resume, a personal brand, and as a skill set. They compound in value each minute in the marketplace. Though it can be done, these 10 skills are difficult to cultivate inside the proverbial box. Yet they are critical to your future, if you want to be an idea creator and not an idea consumer. These are
The 10 Most Critical Skills for the 21st Century
- Deep independent thinking and problem-solving — The ability to understand a problem or opportunity from the inside out, vertically, laterally, at the detail level, and the aerial view.
- Mental flexibility — The ability to tinker with ideas and viewpoints to stretch them, bend them, reconstruct them into solutions that fit and work perfectly in specific situations.
- Fluency with ideas — The ability to describe many versions of one answer and many solutions to one problem set and to explain the impact or outcome of each both orally and in writing in ways that others can understand.
- Proficiency with processes and process models — The ability to discuss a problem in obsessive detail and to define a process, linear or nonlinear, that will solve the problem effectively within a given group culture.
- Originality of contributions — The ability to offer a value-added difference that would not be there were another person in the same role.
- A habit of finding hidden assumptions and niches — The ability to see the parts of what is being considered, including the stated and unstated needs, desires, and wishes of all parties involved.
- A bias toward opportunity and action — The ability to estimate and verbalize the loss to be taken by standing still and missed opportunities that occur by choosing one avenue over another.
- Uses all available tools, including the five senses and intuitive perceptions, in data collection — The ability to weigh and value empirical data, sensory data, and one’s own and others’ perceptions appropriately.
- Energy, enthusiasm, and positivity about decision making — The ability to bring the appropriate mindset to the decision-making process in order to lead oneself or a team to a positive decision-making experience.
- Self-sustaining productivity — The ability to use the confidence gained from the first 9 skills to establish relationships with people at all levels–from the warehouse to the boardroom–knowing that ideas are not the pride and privy of only a gifted few.
Innovative, imaginative, inventive, mind-expanding, playful-wondering, what-if, how-come, dramatic-difference, find-the-wow, visionary, killer-app, I-want-one, no-more-stupid-stuff, nothing-in-moderation, bet-the-farm, incredibly-sexy, please-please-can-I, that’s-so-cool, couldn’t-knock-it-off-if-they-tried-to, able-to-see-better-than-the-best, no-more-move-here-today-move-it-back-tomorrow, stupid kind of thinking happens outside of the box.
The skills that you develop from outside of the box thinking stay with you for a lifetime and are transferable from one job to another. You don’t need them to write every shopping list, but they are there whenever there is a problem to solve or an opportunity to take advantage of.
It doesn’t take a genius to become a fluent, flexible, original, and creative source of ideas. It takes a person who can develop habits of thinking in new ways. What actually happens is that you find out how you really think, rather than how you were taught to.
You become uniquely you–BRAND YOU–the only one–priceless.
Who wouldn’t want to work with a person like that?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
PS We’re going to go down the list of all 10 in the Finding Ideas Outside of the Box series. Let me know if there’s one you’d like to do first.
Problems and Opportunities
Starve the problems. Feed the opportunities.—Peter F. Drucker, regarded as the founding father of the study of management
Problems and opportunities are two sides of the same coin.
Your brand is the solution to the problem of how the world sees you and your business.
Alligators and Anarchists
Problems and opportunities can make anyone feel surrounded by alligators and anarchists. Too many obstacles isn’t that different from too many positive choices–both have to be tamed and sorted and decided upon based on their value and viability.
Problems and opportunities are places where the beginning is not the most prudent place to start if you want to make a difference and a decision happen quickly.
Start in the Middle
One way to make problems and opportunities more manageable is to divide and conquer–by starting in the middle. Whether it’s the deal of a lifetime you’re deciding on or you’re trying to unravel a poorly handled relationship, find a way to place the situation in front of you and take a long look at it.
- Look for the core of the matter. Often there is one idea, event, or assumption upon which all parts hinge. If you can identify that, you know what you’re working with. In a problem solving situation, that’s what you want to fix. For a brand or an opportunity, the core idea is the goal you’re seeking. If you find you’re not seeing it, try tearing away everything you feel is unimportant or unnecessary.
- If you can’t find the core, find a hot spot–a compelling detail, an assumption, or an idea to focus on. Make that your focus. Obsess on it. Describe that hot spot in painful detail–especially its impact on the problem, brand, or opportunity. How does changing that hot spot affect the possible outcomes? Repeat the process several times to get a feeling for your problem, your brand, or your opportunity from the inside out.
- Then do the opposite–put the problem, your brand, or the opportunity in the middle and look at it from several viewpoints. Imagine you are a musician, a mathematician, a construction worker, a writer, an architect, a dancer, a psychiatrist, your customers, your parents, and your kids. How would each role see the matter differently? How does each new view that change the options of where you might take the possible outcomes?
At this point, STOP.
Give your mind time to rest. Any brain would need a chance to take in and sort all of the information you have just gathered. While it’s doing that, do something totally unrelated.
If you’re worried that you need to keep fixing the problem. molding your brand, or moving on the opportunity, take heart that you’re not losing time. You’re actually stopping yourself from wasting it. To ease that feeling, make an appointment with yourself to come back to the discussion–at least two hours later. Your brain will show up prepared for the meeting, You’ll get more done after this break. I promise.
When your thoughts have gelled, use the Content Development Tool to organize your ideas and the support for each one in a fashion that you can look at and share with confidence. Now all that is left to do is decide which option is the best for you–or to repeat the process if you want to take the idea a level deeper
Divide and conquer from the middle. That’s the reason my older brother–the middle child–always saw so many options and won so many arguments. Hmmm. Maybe he’s the one who taught me this problem-solving skill.
Please don’t tell him. He takes credit for more than half of what I am already.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Some word associations to jog new ideas . . .
Try connecting one of these terms to something it wouldn’t usually be connected with.
Phrases that Use the Word Middle
Middle Man . . . Middle Atlantic . . . Magic Middle . . . Middle Ground . . . Middle School . . . Middle English . . . Malcolm in the Middle . . . Middle-Earth . . . Middle East . . . Middle Pillar . . . Middle Temple . . . Middle West . . . The Mighty Middle . . . In the Middle . . . Stuck in the Middle . . . Middle of Nowhere . . . Middle of the Road . . . Middle Years . . . The Middle Passage . . . The Middle Colonies . . . Middle Start . . . Middle Appalachians . . . Middle Age . . . Voices from the Middle . . . Middle America . . . Middle-age Spread . . . Middle Rhine Valley . . . Middle Class . . . Middle Manager . . . Middle Name . . . The Middle Ear . . . Middle C . . . Middle Jurassic
Synonyms for Middle
average . . . central . . . center . . . centre . . . equidistant . . . eye . . . halfway . . . heart . . . hub . . . in-between . . . inner . . . intermediate . . . intervening . . . junior high . . . mediate . . . medium . . . mid . . . midriff . . . midsection . . . midstream . . . midway . . . on the fence . . . uncertain
If you think of more, please add them in the comments . . .
Ideas and enthusiasm are contagious!
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Because thinking outside of the box is unstructured, it can can lead to “swiss-cheese solutions”–answers that have holes in them–things that we just didn’t think of in our unstructured thinking. So I find that using structured tools relieves the stress of checking to make certain that all bases have been covered.
Content Development Tool
Ironically using boxes makes it easier to think outside the box. I use this content development tool to make sure that I have considered a topic from every direction before I start getting it ready for any audience. This tool works equally as well for planning an interview, a brand, an article, a small meeting, or a major presentation.
Purpose/Getting Attention: What does my audience want to know?
- What are my main points and ideas?
- What facts and details support them?
Presentation/Keeping Interest: How is it that I will show and tell them?
- How will it look?
- How will I say it with simple elegance?
Brand YOU/Reader Satisfaction: Why will they be glad they listened?
- Analysis, predictions, interpretations
- What value-added will leave my audience feeling satisfied?
Whether you’re inside or outside of the box, you need to know the what, how, and why of the information you’re offering any audience about any topic. That’s why I’m sharing this tool before we begin talking about getting ideas and solving problems.
I use it all of the time. It’s here now, if you need it.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Got the Idea. Now What Do I Do with It?
Editing for Quality and a Content EditorÃ¢â¬â¢s Checklist
Introducing Power Writing for Everyone
Why Dave Barry and Liz DonÃ¢â¬â¢t Get WriterÃ¢â¬â¢s Block