The Pattern Trap

The straight line is the world’s simplest pattern. It connects any two points: A to B, start to finish, end to end. When faced with a question, our minds scan existing patterns and match the correct answer. Five plus five equals what? The straight line answer is ten.

But, ten is not the only answer. Five plus five can also equal three plus seven. Or two plus eight. Or twelve minus two. Or twenty divided by two. The simplest answer, the first we discover, becomes an anchor for all subsequent ideas. The gravity of that logic limits our thinking.

A line between two points has a gravitational pull that constricts creativity. Once point B is identified, the direction of our creativity is generally limited to variations on that point. The gravity of the line does not permit additional answers to stray far from its end.

Lateral thinking describes a method to divert us away from an A to B pattern. It forces our thinking to violate logic. It tricks our minds into seeing wildly diverse alternatives. We may still solve the problem with a straight line, or a series of discontinuous straight lines. The alternatives stretch to new points radically askew from the direction of the first pattern.
The result is often unthinkable by standard methods. This kind of thinking is the root of Blue Ocean Strategies. It represents what Dan Pink described in “A Whole New Mind,” as the future of opportunity for working people. Analytical thinking patterns based in logic and reason describe jobs easily outsourced or relegated to software. Creative thinking – generating alternative solutions, or questioning point A before seeking the next point – these are where new opportunities are discovered. Forget “outside the box” thinking. Question how “the box” became the benchmark in the first place.

If innovation is so valuable to an organization’s ability to succeed, why aren’t creative thinking skills actively taught? Analytical skills, critical thinking, logic, reason are all strongly represented. I’m not suggesting these should be abandoned. They serve a valuable function. But, alone, these are self defeating. They do not produce innovative points of view. They do not give wrong answers active consideration – answers which could be the springboard for an inconceivably right answer to blossom.

Our minds are extremely efficient at locating point B. We should be equally proficient at challenging point A and connecting to points X, Y, Z or points by any other name. It’s far easier to temper an insane, impossible idea than it is to find distinction through incremental variations of existing ideas.