The Secret of Original Thinking

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.Albert Von Szent-Gyorgyi Nagyrapolt

This is a profound statement with profound implications. Seeing what everybody else has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought! Think of the impact you could have in the world if you were to able to see the same problems that confront all of us but you were able to think about them differently and propose unique and innovative solutions.

Does this seem too far fetched for you….too much of a stretch? I don’t think so! I think each of us has an opportunity to think creatively and uniquely about problems we face each day.

We all approach life’s challenges based on our unique perception of the world. To think creatively, just step away from the status quo, leverage your unique perspective and start asking questions about the challenges at hand. Follow these steps and see where it leads you:

Are You Guilty of a Semmelweis Reflex?

Ignaz Semmelweis was a physician in Hungary in the late 1840s who worked in the maternity ward of a hospital. The mortality rate for women giving birth in his hospital at that time varied from 5% to 30% depending on the ward they were in. He was bothered by this high mortality rate and also by the significant difference in mortality rates between wards. He decided to do some research to uncover the underlying issue and, to make a long story short, he discovered that it was primarily due to the lack of physician hygiene.

Essentially, when midwives were delivering the babies in a ward, the mortality rate of the mothers was low because the midwives were relatively clean. When doctors were delivering the babies in a ward, the mortality rates of the mothers was high because the doctors did not disinfect their hands between deliveries and quite often came straight from the dissecting room where they had been practicing on corpses.

Semmelweis determined the deaths could be reduced significantly just by having the doctors, interns and midwives disinfect their hands before beginning each procedure.

What is a 12 Month Rolling Trend?

In my blog post How Do You Measure Success, I wrote about the need to pick key business indicators that show important elements of the state of your organization. Once these key indicators are selected, the next question that needs to be answered is; “How will we report and view this key indicator?” A really good answer to this question is a Rolling 12 Month Trend report.

A Rolling 12 Month Trend report does not sound too exciting but it is a valuable tool for any organization to use to track its progress and to show trends. Essentially, it is a report that uses the running total of the values of last 12 months of an indicator. Each month, the indicator that is 13 months old is dropped from the total and the new month’s indicator value is added.

Why use this trend report rather than looking at the actual values? Well, the actual values are important for many reasons but they do not show any trends that can point to growth, flattening or decline.

Take the following chart for an example. This chart shows actual monthly indicator values over the last 8 years (the example shows revenue but it could be for any data type). Although you can see the data is choppy, it is hard to pick out any trends in where the data is going.

Are You a Beginner or an Expert?

Are you a beginner or an expert? Before you answer this, consider this statement from Shunryu Suzuki: “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities and in the expert’s mind there are few.” Why is this? Why are the experts so narrow minded and what opportunities might they be missing because of this?

Think back to when you were just a child and see if you can remember all the questions that you asked. Kids can drive adults crazy sometimes because of their continuous stream of questions! Kids do this to gain knowledge and to fully understand situations or concepts. They are beginners in everything.

As they grow older and gain knowledge, the number of questions they ask drop because they take their knowledge and apply it to identical and even to new situations. They find out that they can understand the new situations by extrapolating their existing knowledge into the new areas. They become self proclaimed experts and they slowly stop asking questions.

What Kinds of Questions is Your Organization Asking?

Organizations gravitate toward the questions they ask” (David Cooperrider)

Cooperrider is basically saying that your organization takes on the culture of the questions being asked by the leaders.

In his book “A More Beautiful Question“, Warren Berger explained it this way: if your leaders ask questions like; “why are we falling behind our competitors and who is to blame?”, then the business will end up with a culture of turf guarding and finger pointing. However, if the questions are more expansive and optimistic then this will be reflected in the company culture. Berger goes on to say that “we all live in the world our questions create.”