Does The Key To Innovation Lie In Two Simple Words? What If?
Next time you hit a brick wall, try pretending it doesn't exist.
It might do wonders for your creativity & problem-solving skills
It's usual, albeit frustrating, to hit a wall when trying to execute an idea. There are intractable issues that appear to be beyond your control, fundamental problems that just can't be resolved - if they could, it wouldn't be a wall, would it?
But what if the wall didn't exist? What if these problems could be taken out of the equation? What then?
It sounds like a futile suggestion, but according to Duncan Wardle, the former head of creativity and innovation at Disney, this is exactly the kind of thinking we need to adopt.
The key to breakthrough ideas, he says, lies in asking ourselves a very basic - and no-holds barred - question: "What If?".
Wardle explains that the likes of Disneyland and Netflix both came about due to this kind of thinking and it requires looking at a set of problems and effectively acting like they no longer exist.
He calls it The What If Technique and it only requires three steps:
1. Forget Your Expertise
The What If Technique requires stepping out of your "usual river of thinking", says Wardle, noting that a key "creativity killer" is, in fact, expertise in any given subject.
Expertise can ironically be the very thing that prevents us from seeing the answer to the problem we are faced with, he says, as it boxes us in to the usual way of doing things (which is why outsiders often come up with the most creative solutions to problems).
So, in essence, leave what you think you know at the door.
2. "List The Rules Of Your Challenge"
In order to identify in detail what the wall looks like, you need to have a detailed understanding of it's "rules", he says.
These are effectively all the things inherent within this problem which stop you moving from A to B.
Identify as many as you can.
3. Act As If The Rules No Longer Apply
The last part is to look at all these restrictions and ask "What If" they didn't exist? What would the new terrain look like? What new problems would there be to solve? What could you do about them?
The trick is to allow yourself to explore options in this brand new territory, no matter how hare-brained they appear.
What does the world look like when you no longer need to operate by these rules? And what new rules do you encounter in this pretend one?
This was how Walt Disney went from initially trying to find a way to pump mist into cinemas to liven up Fantasia (which he couldn't do), says Wardle, to ultimately "solving" that problem by creating Disneyland.
Give it a try.
Your brain will get to work in this new imaginary setting in ways that might surprise you.