My first winter campout was filled with contrasting activities that saved my life. Pitching a canvas tent in three inches of snow seemed odd and the packing of snow around the base of the tent felt counterintuitive, yet it was a great insulator that kept me warm inside.
The freezing night air suggested I wear every piece of clothing that I brought to bed, but my scoutmaster recommended we sleep in our underwear. My sleeping bag did the trick in keeping me warm in my shorts, while my roommate hardly slept in his layers of clothing because he shook all night from his sweat trying to freeze.
The next night included a hazing ritual for those who braved the winter camping experience. One at a time, we were taken from seclusion to the bonfire area for the testing of our manhood (something that would not be allowed today). When it was my turn, I was told that if I screamed from the pain, I would fail the test.
I was taken to a fire pit that was two feet wide and six feet in length. I felt the heat rising from the bed of hot coals and was instructed to take off my boots and socks. After blindfolding me, I was turned around a few times and then instructed to walk across the hot coals to prove myself manly. Being a teen raised by a cop and a teacher, I figured the scouts couldn’t afford a lawsuit, so I decided that the spinning around was to disorient me. I assumed that I was no longer in front of the coals.
I willingly took a bold step forward and felt my feet on the hot searing coals. I was blocked by onlookers from turning back, so I moved quickly across the hot embers. Once my feet hit the ground, I turned back as I pulled off my blindfold and watched the guys cheering as they pointed down to the long pit of ice I had crossed.
My eyes, having seen the hot coals, coupled with my mind knowing what comes next, connected with the extreme temperature change felt by my feet moving from the ground to the ice. This caused my mind to interpret the contrasting temperature to be hot rather than cold. My senses had been fooled.
When our mind thinks it knows what comes next, we are naturally biased based on our previous experiences. This bias reduces our creative ability, surrendering our thoughts to the logical side of our brain. To increase our creativity, we must learn how to explore what does not come next.
School taught us that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When we engage our creativity, we find that this rule can kick in by immediately bringing to mind the opposite of our initial thoughts. If we think about things that make us feel hot, the contrasting items that make us cold subconsciously pop into our mind as well.
This natural phenomenon can help us ponder alternative solutions for a problem at work. By exploring the various contexts that arise, we are able to consider things that can expand our perspective. Contemplating things that are not directly connected to the obvious next steps, opens our mind to a new world of possibilities and solutions that would otherwise never be considered.
After the invention of the small 9” television screen that was mounted in the huge box to hold all of its tubes, who would have thought that we could carry a portable 9” television built into our flat tablets or phones?
Only by exploring the things that don’t come next can we find uncommon solutions that change the face of our market. To be a company that innovates, the workers must learn how to explore what doesn’t come next to spark new perspectives and ideas.
A simple exercise that you can do right now is called “What’s Not Next.”
Consider what you are doing right now. You probably know without much thought what you’ll be doing next (after reading this article). However, the exercise asks you to consider the opposite—what you will not do next. Explore the possibilities and consider any correlation to what you are currently doing.
Then ask yourself how what doesn’t come next impacts what does come next.
This exercise forces you to be open-minded and allows you to strengthen your creativity by changing your perspective. By picking arbitrary times throughout the week to explore this exercise, you will expand your ability to switch perspectives more rapidly and increase your ability to solve problems caused by a changing marketplace.