In 1983, while pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Southern California, I got a creative nudge from the book A Whack on the Side of the Head – How You Can Be More Creative. The book’s author, Roger von Oech (who received his Ph.D. from Stanford in the history of ideas and creativity), offered keen insights which were foundational to professor Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset and professor Warner Burke’s research on learning agility.
Since customer experience elevation requires flexibility, creativity, and adaptivity, this series of posts will cover the work of Drs. von Oech, Dweck, and Burke and will start with three of von Oech’s ten mental locks, which he says are hazardous to creative thinking. I’ll also share some tips that Roger offers to address ways to improve the thought patterns he labels:
- The Right Answer
- That’s Not Logical
- Follow the Rules
By the time we graduate from high school, we have taken thousands of tests.
Academic testing reinforces the idea we should always look for “the right answer.” While there often are right answers to math problems, no single answer ensures you will resolve a customer problem. In A Whack on the Side of the Head, Roger suggests creative solutions require leaders to look for the second right answer and frame questions that cause teams, not to lock in on the first viable solution.
The “that’s not logical” mental lock is one where we immediately stop an idea based on its lack of feasibility – instead of entertaining the idea’s possibilities. The use of the phrase what if can encourage consideration of optimal experiences even if they aren’t completely feasible over the short term. For example, at Starbucks (a company with whom I’ve worked and written two books) the company’s former CEO, Howard Schultz, asked what if we could have customers pay with their mobile devices? At the time of the discussion, the idea wasn’t feasible. There were no standard technologies for mobile payments and customer behavior would have had to change dramatically for the mobile payment to become relevant. Through a series of small steps, Howard’s what if has long since become a reality.
With good reason, our parents, teachers, and other adults taught us to “follow the rules.” While that guidance fosters prosocial behavior, it has limiting impact when considering future possibilities. When it comes to ideating solutions, Roger suggests teams should take the role of “the revolutionary and challenge the rules – especially the ones you use to govern your day-to-day activities…Have rule-inspecting and rule-discarding sessions within your organization.”
From my perspective, innovative customer experience organizations create safe environments where team members challenge the status quo and ideate before they evaluate. In the next couple of posts, I will unpack the rest of Roger’s mental locks.
Here are three challenge questions to ponder this week:
- How often do you ask for more than one solution to meet a customer’s need? In other words, do you say things like, “Let’s look for three ways to address this customer pain point?”
- Where have you shut down an idea, or had an idea shut down before the idea’s potential was sufficiently explored?
- When was the last time you took on the role of the revolutionary to challenge outdated rules or processes that limit your customers’ experience?