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3 Ways Transformative Thinking Demands Collaboration

Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - 11:30
Transformative Thinking for Collaboration

In The Elegant Solution, award-winning author Matthew E. May offers a mantra for transformative thinkers:

What appears to be the problem, isn’t.
What appears to be the solution, isn’t.
What appears to be impossible, isn’t.

This counsel is an example of “inversion,” a technique that May recommends for defeating “fixation” – one of the seven “fatal flaws of thinking” targeted in his latest best-seller, Winning the Brain Game. (We featured the book in our post “7 Books to Hone Transformative Leadership Skills.”)

Fixation, as explained by May in Brain Game, happens because our brains are masters of pattern recognition. So, when confronted with a new mental test, our minds first default to old ways of thinking. Inversion, as the name implies, is a deliberate intellectual effort to turn analysis upside down.

But methods like inversion can be difficult to execute alone. Rewiring your thought processes is an easier task with some help from outside your own head. In fact, May, a consultant who calls himself an “innovation strategist,” has a made a career of helping people “think different.”

Earlier this year, we embraced a similar mission when we established transformative thinking as one of the story arcs of this blog. As regular readers know, we believe “digital transformation” – defined by the MITSloan Management Review as the “use of technology to radically improve performance or reach of the enterprise” – requires transformative conversations.

Here are three ways collaborating with colleagues, customers and partners can enhance transformative thinking:

1. Diversifying Perspective

Transforming business processes or practices of any kind requires multiple points of view. In our own business, we understand that implementing a unified communications platform across an enterprise of any shape or size requires discussions with users in all departments and different functional areas of the organization. Not only must our team of experts participate in these conversations, but each relevant partner must contribute, too. Could we design and install a system without all these interactions? Yes. But would the solution be the best fit for the customer’s specific needs? Doubtful.

2. Deepening Context

In the internet age, most of us in business carry mobile devices that not only enable us to work remotely, but connect us to an exhaustive trove of background information regarding virtually any and every topic imaginable. But reading, in the grand scheme of human history, is a relatively recent method for conducting research. Storytelling, by word and by gesture, is the oldest form of intelligence gathering. As told by a person with firsthand experience, anecdotes provide rich context written materials, visual depictions and statistical models can support – but cannot match.

3. Illuminating Options

In a recent post, we quoted leadership consultant Scott Mabry, who had this advice for meeting organizers:

“Don’t settle for affirmation when what you really need is engagement.”

In other words, the goal of meeting should be more than eliciting a chorus of nods; it should be to inspire thinking. Whether meeting in person, by phone and/or online, leaders and participants should ask a lot more questions according to Mabry. For our part in the post, we tapped several more business gurus for specific ways to pose thought-provoking queries. Why? Because questioning sparks creativity, and new ideas fuel transformations, digital or otherwise.

In the preface to Brain Game, May calls his book a “short and user-friendly distillation of everything” he learned during three decades of “facilitating and coaching individuals and teams as they pursue their most important challenges.” We intend to approach our next several posts in the same spirit.

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