Developing your Mental Flexibility
Mental flexibility- the pliability of your mind- openness- the associations you can make where at first there seem to be none- a skill essential for innovation.
Most of us however are quite rigid in our thinking. We see a chair and we say it’s a chair and use it to sit on. Where’s the harm in that you might say? There is none. That’s how the brain works. It problem solves and takes that solution to the problem next time we come across it. It remembers, it learns, so that we don’t have to continually solve the problem of working out what a chair is every time we see it.
There is however a slight problem- because if we continue to bring previous solutions to problems we face- which are now coming to us in a different point in time- we never think up anything new. We come up with the ‘same old- same old’ as they say.
In some ways the brain functions, because of necessity and survival, in a very uncreative way. As a result we have to make an effort to develop that mental flexibility where we don’t just adopt the first solution that comes to us. We need to push ourselves to unlearn, to make new connections where there are apparently none.
Edward de Bono has developed a series of games based around the principle of word association- which helps us address this problem- you could think of it as a ‘brain work out’.
So it’s Friday lets play for a while.
Take a sheet of scrap paper and list the following 8 words in two columns: tortoise, TV, stone, toilet, tiger, lipstick, tent, chimney. Now see how many connections you can make between the left and right columns. Give yourself 2 minutes. Maybe do this with your colleague sitting next to you and make a bit of a competition out of it!
How did you find it- difficult? Just like physical exercise- it gets easier the more you do it.
In my workshops I use this exercise as a precursor to brainstorming, using a random word, to help generate new ideas.
Just to continue on the game playing theme you could also select a few random words and think up a board game or perhaps a new sport. Just think of all the crazy games you’d play on a school sports day- not the serious stuff you see at the Olympics. So here are your words for new sport: Shoe, Sauce, Ladder and Skeleton.
Give yourself 5 minutes for this one and you can recruit a friend to help as its lots more fun that way. (Might also be a good party game at Christmas!)
So how did you get on? I’d love to hear what you’ve come up with.