By Julie Jouault, Senior Experience Designer at Wilson Fletcher
In a world where adaptability is critical, exposing yourself to different perspectives is not only essential to identifying risks and opportunities, it can also lead to better problem solving and breakthroughs in innovation.
Think of it as seeing a city from a plane: from up there you get a view of the entire city. You might see its surroundings and how it’s connected to the nearby towns. You might even be able to identify key landmarks and start noticing patterns in its layout. By changing your frame of reference, this new perspective challenges your established perception of the city.
The same is true of a company. So, how can you gain a fresh perspective when it comes to your organisation?
Here are a few of the principles and techniques we use in our work to help businesses think creatively.
Embrace diverse team opinions
As Matthew Syed puts it in Rebel Ideas,
‘If we are intent upon answering our most serious questions from climate change to poverty, and curing diseases to designing new products, we need to work with people who think differently, not just accurately.’
Right, now what does this mean in practice? And how can you ensure you’re putting the right things in place to achieve diversity of opinion within your team?
Step one: build more culturally diverse, broad-minded and multi-disciplinary teams. Diversity isn’t just about ethnicity, gender or social background: it’s also about skillset and how each individual approaches a problem.
When hiring, look for ‘non-traditional’ profiles, rather than someone who fits in a box. You’ll find these employees often approach problems in a unique way, sparking fresh thoughts in those around them.
Remove siloes and establish cross-department working groups. Take a sales agent, a financial director and a developer and set them a problem: you can be almost certain that they will all come up with a different answer. Combine those answers and you’re likely to get a unique answer to that problem. Get those people working together collaboratively and you’ll get something different again.
Step two: nurture a culture where the ideas can flow, where everyone on the team is actively encouraged to express themselves freely, without fear.
Psychological safety is essential to effective knowledge sharing. If people on your team don’t feel that their opinion is valued, or if they fear that their contributions may be negatively judged — or even that they might impact the future of their job — you aren’t going to get them to contribute to the problem in the first place. They may have fresh perspectives but they won’t share them.
Once your team is engaged, build a culture of positive reinforcement that promotes constructive critiques. Encourage the team to build on ideas, solve each other’s problems and move beyond the all too common ‘this can’t be done’ to generate solutions. Only then will you start getting to interesting ideas.
Understand your audience
To broaden your perspective further, invite inputs from a wider sample of people — ideally people who don’t know anything about your business or the service you’re offering.
Let’s take an example. Imagine that you have to design a service to improve how passengers get to an airport.
Instinctively, based on your own experiences, you might be tempted to jump into ideas along the lines of a journey itinerary, a cab service, or luggage pick-up and transfer… but this has already ignored a key question: who are the passengers?
How old are they? Do they have physical impairments that mean they can’t carry their own luggage? What’s their relationship with technology and how comfortable are they using it? Do they speak English? Do they want to use their own mode of transport? Do they prefer to get there as quickly as possible or are they happy to take a longer route if this means paying less?
This is only a fraction of the questions you may want to ask yourself to address this problem properly and, in most cases, they wouldn’t occur to you without talking to people for whom the service would be relevant.
User research is a powerful tool to generate insights and expand your own perspective. Talk to people who don’t look like you, think like you, experience the world in the same way as you do, and are likely to make judgements and decisions differently.
The more variety you get in your early ‘customer’ interviews, the better.
Bring in a fresh pair of eyes
If the first two points can help you set up the foundations for creative thinking, they often aren’t enough on their own to generate game-changing ideas.
You’ll be familiar with the concept of the echo chamber. It describes a situation where like-minded people in a closed environment develop similar perspectives that amplify themselves until it becomes hard to see them as anything but the truth.