Have you ever been in a wood that just looked like a random assortment of trees and then when you take a few steps to the side you see that all the trees are laid out in neat rows?
Sometimes we are standing in the wrong place to see an obvious answer. We have to deliberately take a different point of view and come at the problem from a new direction before we have a chance of creating a radical solution.
Albert Szent-Gyorgy, who discovered Vitamin C, put it this way, ‘Genius is seeing what everyone else sees and thinking what no-one else has thought.’ If you can survey a situation from a different viewpoint then you have a good chance of gaining a new insight.
How can we force ourselves to take a different view of a situation? Instead of looking at the scene from your view, try looking at it from the perspective of a customer, a product, a supplier, a child, an alien, a lunatic, a comedian, a dictator, an anarchist, an architect, Salvador Dali, Leonardo da Vinci and so on.
Lindsay Owen-Jones is the Englishman who, as CEO, brought a new perspective to the French group L’Oreal and has achieved remarkable growth. He was recently asked whether he feared new competition in cosmetics from Unilever and Procter and Gamble. He explained that L’Oreal has a different point of view from fast-moving consumer goods companies, ‘Competition in our business is not about price wars and money-off coupons. The consumer is guided by product performance. Is it pleasurable, seductive, imaginative and beautiful? Is this what I want at this moment in time?’
The great guru of lateral thinking is Edward de Bono. He describes how he consulted with Ford Motor Corporation about how they could compete more effectively in Europe. De Bono’s idea was very innovative. Ford approached the problem of competing from the point of view of a car manufacturer and asked the question, ‘How can we make our cars more attractive to consumers?’ De Bono approached the problem from another direction and asked the question, ‘How can we make the whole driving experience better for Ford customers?’ His advice was that Ford should buy up car parks in all the major city centers and make them available for Ford cars only. His remarkable idea was too radical for Ford who saw themselves as an automobile manufacturer with no interest in the car parks business.
The great innovators did not take the traditional view and develop existing ideas. They took an entirely different view and transformed society. Picasso took a different view of painting, Einstein imagined a new approach to physics, Darwin conceived a different view of creation. Each of them looked at the world in a new way. In similar fashion Jeff Bezos took a different view of book retailing with Amazon.com, Stelios took a new perspective on flying with Easyjet, Swatch transformed our view of watches and IKEA changed the way we buy furniture. If we can come at problems from entirely new directions then we have unlimited possibilities for innovation.
Paul is a professional keynote conference speaker and expert facilitator on innovation and lateral thinking. He helps companies improve idea generation and creative leadership. His workshops transform innovation leadership skills and generate great ideas for business issues. His recent clients include Airbus, Microsoft, Unilever, Nike, Novartis and Swarovski. He has published 30 books on lateral thinking puzzles, innovation, leadership and problem solving (with over 2 million copies sold). He also acts as link presenter at conferences and facilitator at high level meetings such as a corporate advisory board. He has acted as host or MC at Awards Dinners. Previously, he was CEO of Monactive, VP International of MathSoft and UK MD of Ashton-Tate. He recently launched a series of podcast interviews entitled Insights from Successful People.