Geniuses are just ordinary people who stumble on a knack or way of thinking that enables them to think and learn more effectively and creatively than others.
When you closely examine how “geniuses” like Newton or Archimedes thought, they didn’t simply sit under trees or in baths until their enlightenment: they used some very powerful and practical tools to create order out of their thoughts and find answers to problems that few people ever thought to solve.
In this article, we explore some of the tools the great thinkers used. They are as applicable now as they were then. These techniques will help you to:
- Clear your head when faced with a challenging problem.
- Generate more than one workable solution to your problem.
- Think creatively.
- Think productively instead of re-productively.
- Give you clear methodology that will make solving problems straight forward and stress free.
First, here are some of the common factors of the world’s great thinkers:
- The idea generation was in pictures and images rather than words. Einstein and da Vinci drew diagrams instead of writing words and sentences.
- Their thinking was unrestrained nothing was consigned to the bin until it had been fully investigated.
- They treated thoughts as things.
- Ideas were explored using association.
- They looked at ideas from different perspectives.
- They were prolific and recorded everything.
- They fuelled their imaginations with knowledge.
- Their thinking was focused.
- They were passionate and determined about discovery.
- They made mistakes but instead of seeing them as failures, saw them instead as “ways of how not to do it”.
- They saw potential in everything.
- They saw mistakes and unexpected surprise results as valuable opportunities to learn from.
- They never gave up.
Consider this definition of "problem": a problem is an external event perceived as a mental, physical, emotional or intellectual threat to the individual/s concerned. Chances are, your problem only became “a problem” when you became personally involved causing your perception of an event to shift before that, it was just an event, when you perceived that you were potentially threatened by it, the event became a problem.
Everything (including problems) starts in your head. Using your imagination and thinking processes constructively while you solve problems gives your mind the “stuff” it needs to be productive (create new solutions) as distinct from re-productive (create more of the old which is what probably landed you with the problem in the first place).
One of the most reliable ways of solving a problem is the “systems” strategy.
This method does not allow you to add complications that do not exist and it ensures the facts are gathered without the hindrance of destructive emotion (the first indication that an event is turning into a problem).
Seeing the entire system (i.e. the problem and everything associated with it) enhances insight into a problem and allows you to deal with the real issue. Most often, when solutions don’t work it’s because they are the solution to a perceived problem, not the real one.
Genius is simply a way of thinking.
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2. Take Action
Applying System Thinking to finding the real problem
- Write down what you perceive the problem to be. (e.g., general performance is poor)
- Look at all the symptoms that lead you to that conclusion (e.g. late arrival, low motivation, agitated behaviour between colleagues, missing deadlines)
- Take each symptom and write down all the possible causes for each one (NOTE: be as unbiased as possible (e.g. possible causes for missing deadlines – working late hours, unclear job descriptions, unclear management decisions, unreasonable timescales, etc.)
- Take each of the possible causes and determine if they apply to the situation (e.g. Do people work late hours? Are timescales unreasonable? Is communication between staff and management clear?). Sometimes it is worth using some form of external mediation at this point to ensure an unbiased outcome.
- Once you have determined some definite causes, work on those solutions instead of the general issue of “poor performance”.
One of the reasons why this technique works is because instead of gathering your team and accusing them of poor performance, thus setting the scene for blame or denial, you are in fact asking questions that give people the opportunity to examine their performance without feeling threatened or singled out. By asking questions you might find that “poor performance” is caused by the fact that people feel obliged to work late each night and are exhausted. This problem is comparatively easy to solve because, unlike “general poor performance” it is clearly definable.
It’s important to carry out this exercise with all the people involved. It’s also important to make it a safe and open forum so that people feel free to contribute without thinking that one wrong answer with generate a P45.
One main difference between the way Einstein thought and the way most other people think is that his method was more disciplined. Take a moment to consider what you think about in a typical day. What are the chances of you generating your theory of relativity based on what presently occupies your mind? Give yourself a mark from 1 to 10 (1 being – no chance: 10 being – I would have but Einstein just happened to get there first!)
Using your imagination and thinking processes constructively while you solve problems gives your mind the “stuff” it needs to be productive (create new ideas) as distinct from re-productive (create more of the old).
Using Active Daydreaming.
Do this exercise with a colleague or use a tape recorder.
- First, write down in a single sentence the problem you are working on.
- Set a timer for as much time as you can afford
- Sit back, close your eyes, breathe deeply and relax.
- State your problem and desired outcome out loud, and then describe all the images and thoughts that come into your head. Just start to talk. It doesn’t matter what the images or thoughts are don’t disregard anything. It is important to speak out loud for two reasons, one, you wont miss anything, two, you are more likely to stay awake and focused!
- Carry on at least until the clock goes off or when you have come across an answer or idea that you sense might warrant further investigation.
- Take a short break then listen to the tape or study the notes your colleague made.
- Then, organise your thoughts.
- If you worked with a colleague swap over. Once you have both carried out the exercise, compare notes.
Have fun with your brain :-)