Think about a time when you’ve been in the midst of an important challenge, working on a major project or slogging through solving a pervasive problem. Then you hit a wall. Your burst of energy and creativity has dissipated. Your initial accelerated progress has slowed to a snail’s pace. You and your team are stuck and find it difficult to break through to the next level of innovation and advancement. How do you move forward? You need a new perspective. You need to look at the challenge from a different angle, using a different lens, with a fresh set of eyes.
Unfortunately, too often we waste time pressing forward working on a solution just to show activity, while in reality we’re making minimal headway. A more effective use of our time is to proactively take specific steps to gain a different perspective. When we anticipate the diminishing return on our effort, we can pause and make a shift in our approach to ensure maximum productivity.
What Do You Do Next?
- Take a break. Stop what you’re doing. Put it down. Walk away for an hour, a day or a week. At some point, you’ve become so immersed in your project that your initial burst of inspiration has faded. You need to give your mind a break. Focus on other things. Gain inspiration from some seemingly unrelated activities and topics. Don’t underestimate the value of a vacation, staycation, doing something fun or just utilizing the opposite side of your brain. And make sure you’re getting enough sleep. A study of 27 CEO’s daily schedules by Harvard Business School professors Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria revealed that on average, in a 24-hour period they spent 7 hours sleeping and 10 hours working.1 Another Harvard Business Review study has shown that the more senior executives are, the more sleep they get.2 So don’t think that your ability to work nonstop for extended hours is a positive trait.
- Invite input from others. While you always want the smartest minds working on a project, those same smart minds can also be a hindrance when they approach problem solving in a consistent way every time. Instead, think of the people who are stakeholders for the solution then determine how to involve them. Some companies send researchers into the homes and environments of consumers to observe how they interact with their product. I’m thinking of the laundry soap container that now sits tipped on its side in my cabinet over the washing machine. I just push the button to dispense soap into the cup, instead of having to lift the entire jug and tip it over. Even better, invite someone who has no understanding of your product or service and let them interact with it or ask questions about it. They will challenge your assumptions. Toy makers do this by giving kids prototypes to play with to see how they interact with them. Maybe you think that this is fine for someone else’s project but yours is so special, technical or complex that it won’t work. Really?
- Sit in a different chair. Literally do this. How many times do you go to the same meeting in the same room and sit in the same spot? We’re creatures of habit because it minimizes the number of added decisions we have to make. Instead, try sitting on the opposite side of the room, or rearranging the chairs and tables. Maybe even go to a different location, or find a different angle to physically view the situation. To spur creativity, I try to hold meetings in rooms with a broad visual outside view. It supports thinking expansively and imaginatively. Professors Porter and Nohria’s CEOs report spending almost half of their working time outside the office.1 They sit in different locations.
- Assume a different point of view. You know the personas and points of view of individuals in your organization. What if you purposely take on one different from your own, or your team specifically swaps personas with one another. Force yourself to think from someone else’s perspective and take a position that you don’t normally take. Push yourself to understand the challenge differently. This means you’ll have to initially get beyond all your automatic excuses as to why it doesn’t work. But you’ll position your thought process to be open to new possibilities.
- Reflect. Professors Porter and Nohria also emphasize the importance of CEOs spending time alone, thinking and being reflective about the issues they face. Stepping away from the midst of crises and everyday issues to think strategically about how to move forward can provide a fresh start with ideas on new approaches. As I write this, I’m on a plane beginning a vacation and excited about the opportunity to take a pause from my normal routine to re-think and reconsider new approaches to my work.
I practice these strategies regularly when writing and working on projects with my clients. I’ve learned to always allow time to take a break in the middle of an assignment and come back to it 24-72 hours later when I’ll have new ideas and can better critique my past work. Sometimes I find a new location to work from that gives me inspiration. This always results in a higher quality outcome.
Too much of the same perspective will ultimately impede growth. Effective leaders understand the value of gaining a 360 view on business challenges to ensure the best results. They’re not afraid to be uncomfortable, to change their approach, and to solicit participation from non-traditional sources to ensure they’re driving the right solutions for the business.
Where do you need to gain a new perspective?