by Chris McNeil,
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. " Albert Einstein
Do you sometimes feel like you are pushing against a wall and would rather find the door?
Would you like a fresh perspective on a business situation?
Could you be surprised at new solutions that seem to come from nowhere?
Young Einstein was riding his bicycle in Munich when he saw shafts of sunlight and wondered what it would be like to ride on a light beam. That thought experiment helped develop special relativity.
But thought experiments can be used for breakthrough innovation in any area of life.
This post make a case for thought experiments to support business innovation and motivation and gives a short summary of six for that purpose. According to The Stanford Encyclopedia, "Thought experiments are devices of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things." It continues "The primary philosophical challenge of thought experiments is simple: How can we learn about reality ... just by thinking?"
These thought experiments access "hidden human reserves", untapped possibilities outside the boundaries of what we normally think we can do. They can break the chains of mental habits to unveil hidden resources and spur one to act and accomplish at higher levels.
"Change your thoughts and you change your world." Normal Vincent Peale
If you ask 5 people who left a room together to describe what they remember, you'd get 5 different - and all very partial - descriptions. Peale's quote acknowledges that we don't respond to the world, but to our mental models of the world.
Our perception of experience is incomplete.
The visible spectrum of colors that humans perceive is a narrow frequency band. Bees see ultraviolet shades imperceptible to humans to better find nectar. When my dog, Jefferson stops on a walk to sniff a tree, I remember that dogs have a sense of smell up to 100,000 times more sensitive than humans. People hear sound waves from 20 to 20,000 hertz yet dolphins and bats can hear up to 100,000 hertz. Instruments can measure frequencies further beyond our sensory perception and there are yet more frequencies outside their range.
Outside of our mental habits are solutions to challenges and ideas for breakthrough innovations. Thought experiments are ladders over the walls of mental ruts. They can help see beyond habitual boundaries, tell a different story, and get new feelings.
How would it make things different if you more regularly generated innovative ideas and new insights?
A couple of tips:
Following is a short description of 6 thought experiments. Subsequent posts on The Mental Game of Business will share more detailed step-by-step instructions for several of them.
1. The Model of Excellence
Who represents excellence in handling issues like you are dealing with? Is it a famous author, marketing consultant, or businessperson? Is it a historical genius like Tesla or Einstein? What would be different if this person took your place for a while in dealing with your business challenges?
2. The Time Machine
How would it change your perspective if you could time travel years into the past and surprise the younger you with the knowledge of later accomplishments or skills that would have seemed unimaginable then? What extra resource would you give your younger self to achieve more in the coming years? What might you similarly learn from your future self if you traveled 10 or 20 years into the future to find out what you learned or accomplished later?
3. The Olympic Athlete
How would things be different if you could borrow the focus, beliefs, and standards of an Olympic athlete in training and focus them on a goal you want to accomplish?
4. The Art Form
If you could see your business achievements as an abstract art sculpture, what would it look like? How would it look different if it represented a higher level of achievement instead? What new perspective or inner dialogue is there when you return to thinking about the issue? This process can also work with a piece of instrumental music or a gourmet meal.
5. The Systems View
Systems thinking uses visual models to help us see how interrelationships and the goal of a system drive performance in a way that transcends the individual parts. If you were to step out of your business challenge and see the dynamics of it instead as such a diagram, what would it look like? What ideas emerge for optimizing the situation when you look at it this way?
6. The Computer Simulation
Elon Musk said in an interview that we could be living in a computer simulation. What if we were living in a big video game and nothing you experience is "real" in the sense you thought it was? What would you change if you were the programmer of this virtual reality that you previously mistook as real life?
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In NLP, we call thought experiments like this "reframes". When you feel you are in a mental rut, such a reframe can brings fresh perspectives, a new, more invigorating soundtrack, or a pull into new directions previously unconsidered.
If at first these different ways of thinking don't come easy, consider it like a tentative, careful first exercise session that wakes up a previously sedentary body. Staying at it with frequency and focus can give regular progress in generated the innovative ideas that move your game forward.
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Reprinted with permission from the longer version at The Mental Game of Business.
Chris McNeil, a Systems Thinker and NLP Master Practitioner, has won multiple innovation awards for web applications, is the founder of Pensarc Marketing and the creator of the e-Merg program that combines digital marketing with customer touch point optimization and team alignment.