6 Ways to Be Original without Trying Too Hard

By Martin Cohen

The new world requires new, critical thinking — right? Whatever you’re doing — studying, running a business, managing a project — can be tough, and even more so when you have to be effective, innovative, mindful, and so on. But that’s old thinking. Here are a few pointers to get you started with thinking more critically.

Use the reptile mind

When dealing with any issue, always have three strategies. This sounds like extra work, but then getting new ideas is worth a few extra minutes. So actually write each strategy down. The amazing thing is that the human mind rebels at being asked to come up with three answers, so by the end of the process the logical centres of the brain have switched off and the much more powerful reptile mind takes over. This part has no respect for conventions and is instead driven solely by primitive impulses and desires. It’s smart.

Delegate

Of course, once you know that’s the plan, the trick won’t work. So instead of you writing out three solutions, make other people do it, and then you take credit for spotting the great ideas.

Think in circles

At school, and even later at college, you are encouraged, indeed forced, to think in straight lines. To start at the beginning, work your way through the middle, and then stop at the end. But in life, things are more complicated than that. Nature is all about cycles — and circles. Processes should be designed to repeat and to continue — not to charge along a track and then come to an abrupt stop.

Embrace uncertainty

Problems, at first sight, are a form of chaos. You think that they need to be analysed and ‘broken down’. But how do you get from chaos to order? Is it a kind of magic? Well, yes and no. The key thing is to relax. It really does help to go off to the pub, or for a walk in the park. So stir up all the issues, embrace complexities — and then make time and space for the dust to settle.

Hone your design skills

Design skills? Does that sound odd? But these skills are not about making things out of wood or fabric in the workshop, but rather, draw on ideas and experience from social science, business, and computer studies. The philosophy of design is actually very old, and predates engineering. One key characteristic is that it puts the human factor at the heart of solutions; another is that when you have a strategy, you prototype it — and you value feedback.

Just ask ‘why?’

As a general rule, asking why leads to ever more general, abstract replies. These statements are often more meaningful if not as directly applicable, as the first answers. If you’re talking about gardening or landscaping to someone, don’t ask ‘When is the best time of year to plant trees’, but rather ‘Tell me about your successes and failures in planting trees’. The first question will get a pretty short answer (‘In the autumn’), whereas the second may produce unexpected extra information.