My truly worthy ideas usually come to me as a very clear concise image in the predawn moments between when I awake and before my eyes open.  They flood into my consciousness from their nightly hovering in the same way, a moment later, my eyes open and my vigilant puppy, Buck, pounces to ravenously lick my face.   Great ideas!  Where do they come from?  How do you know they are great? Or that they will even work?   A successful manager must be able to create ideas.  Ideas which move his team forward and establish higher levels of performance and competitiveness.  He must develop thoughts that can be believed in by others and successfully executed.

All managers depend on their experiences and what they have been taught to make decisions and deal with difficulties.   As trusted as this concrete footing may be, it limits the possibilities of breakthrough concepts which can markedly create advancing change initiatives.  Situations become trapped by repeating the same solutions to the same problems.  We have all been dared to “think outside the box” as if this is a reflexive response.  If divergent spontaneity was indeed simple, abundant development would emerge continuously.  Good ideas require work.  Even “Eureka” moments of brilliance are the result of thoughtful substructure.

A Street Smart Leader continually sharpens his skills of Abstract Thinking.  Abstract Thinking involves thinking about situations that are removed from the facts of the “here and now”.  Abstract thinkers are able to reflect on events and ideas, and on attributes and relationships separate from the objects that have those attributes or share those relationships.  Strong Leaders move beyond concrete thinking based on only seeing the facts and instead focus on ideas under the surface and their multiple meanings.

The study of abstract thinking is a vast subject which I will leave to the expertise of others.  But there are some very straight-forward pragmatic concepts that you can employ to strengthen and shine your ideas.

You need to begin to think of your problem solving methodology as a creative process.  And unless you are just a naturally gifted creative person, you will need to stretch and exercise your brain to be more creative.  I am amazed at the amount of time people will dedicate to mindless pursuits such as watching television, reading gossip magazines, or sports activities.  How much time are you spending training your mind?  Gain an understanding of the basic propensities of your mind.  Are you an intuitive or a structured person?  Do you prefer direct or indirect action?  There are many profiling tools to help you gain insights to your natural strengths.

If you are going to stretch your thoughts, you must train your brain to be more versatile.   Embark on specific exercises and courses of study which will expand your mental capability.  Learn to play an instrument or a foreign language.  Do crossword puzzles or learn a new artistic skill.  Find ways to look at the same situations differently.   For example, one of my predispositions is towards “directness”.  I am inclined to approach problems head on and compete with a “take no prisoners” mindset.  Although I can win many encounters with these natural tactics, there are time when these strengths work against me; especially if I am crusading from an inferior position.  So for several years I have been endeavoring to master the game of GO.  It is a 4000 year old ancient Chinese board game centered on indirect battle strategy.  It focuses on acquiring territory in addition to capturing opponents.  It is the anti-Chess game and forces a different train of thought for me.  It takes me out of my comfort zone.  If you want to create, you must dedicate yourself to discovering a way to exercise, strengthen and tune-up your brain every day.

With your brain sharpened you are ready to create great ideas to solve problems and take advantage of opportunities.  But it is important to begin by asking the Right Questions.  Many failures are the orphans of misplaced efforts.  Dig into your situation deeply and understand what problem or need you are attempting to solve.  Do you have a productivity problem or a morale problem?  They could both show the same symptoms.  Do you need more customers or better customers to improve profitability?  Different strategies would relate.  Verse yourself in the methods of “root cause” analysis; the tactics of drilling down on a situation until you understand what are the real drivers behind the complications.  There are many six sigma courses and tools to assist you in sharpening this skill.  But if you don’t have the time for them, just let a four year old train you by asking you questions.  They will keep asking, “Why?” until they get to the root cause.  Why did we give up this vital inborn instinctive programming to the impatience of others?  Crystallize what you want to do.  Start with the Right Question!

You’re still not prepared for creative ideas yet.  Next you need to craft a vivid Vision of your successful outcome.  Your Vision is more than setting a new goal.  You must be able to visualize what the outcome will look like, how it will feel, what will be different.  Your mind must be crystal-clear as to the Vision it wants to achieve for it to become a reality. Those of you who are Stephen Covey fans will recognize this philosophy as his habit of, “Begin with the end in mind”.  Too many meetings are adjourned with managers rushing off to solve a problem they do not unequivocally understand without a thought to what the “winning” outcome would really look like.  The concept of “something is better than nothing” is erroneous.  False-starts and band aid fiascos only ruin your reputation and shut down your future creativity.  Construct your vision of success before you begin thinking of ideas to get there.

Along with your Creative Thinking, you should possess a strong groundwork of Critical Thinking.  Critical Thinking involves logical thinking and reasoning.  As ideas surface, you will need to critically scrutinize them for soundness.  Understanding principles of inductive and deductive reasoning as well as logically fallacies are valuable tools with which to build your thoughts.  If you begin with an invalid premise you will find yourself pursuing a lost cause.  The application of critical thinking to your creative process will result in reality based attainable solutions that work. Find additional checks and balances to your thought process.  If you are a natural critical thinker, find an intuitive person and ask them how they “feel” about your idea.  And if you are intuitive by nature, find a logical person and ask them what they “think” about your idea.  Your idea will be tested – either before implementation or after.  You choose.

Are you ready to begin your Creative Thinking?  You should make time each week in a place where you can concentrate on thinking.  Great thoughts do not come in between the hurry of hectic activities.  When is the last time you took an hour and just went off by yourself to think?  Sometimes when I am doing this, someone will walk up on me and hesitate wondering if they should interrupt.  They always have a surprised look on their face when I look up from my concentration and say, “I was just thinking.”  Isn’t it peculiar how little quality time we make for one of the most important activities we have as Leaders?

Now get away and think.  Remain focused on the “right question” and keep your Vision in the forefront.  Challenge the existing prevailing thoughts.  Imagine possibilities.  Develop every option and re-think your preconceptions.  Trust your feelings as you look down every path.  Look for relationships with seemingly unconnected resources.  Open up your mind and let everything on the topic pour out.  Do not settle for a quick fix.  You are looking for a breakthrough.

The preeminent tool I use to get the abstract juices flowing is a personal brainstorming session known as Mind Mapping.  Mind Mapping provides a flexible, fluent, image based methodology to elaborate on associative and metaphorical thinking.   Mind Maps start with a central topic and then branch out into possibilities.  They allow the freedom to start new and divergent ideas anywhere in the thought process and provide a visual format to link and weave commonalities.  Mind Mapping technique is easy to learn but takes practice to master.  Create Mind Maps for everything.  Flush out all of your thoughts, experience, lessons, advice and intuitions.   Remember you have a vision, a destiny, to fulfill with a new and original thought.

MIND MAP EXAMPLES

To become a prominent Street Smart Leader you must, Learn – Think – Lead.  Learning to Think is a part of your craft.  Become dedicated to the ideology of expanding your mind and thinking great thoughts.  Not every idea seeking venture will end with a brilliant result.  Often you will leave your creative sessions with only an exasperated and scribbled Mind Map.  But if you commit yourself to critical and creative thinking, someday, just before you feel that lick on your face, there it will be, Eureka, a Great Idea!  And guess what?  If you only have five or six Great Ideas in a year you will run far ahead of your competition and you will be a Superstar.

For Mind Mapping software go to mindjet.com or thinkbuzan.com

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