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Where the Ideas Are

It’s the age-old question: how do businesses, individuals, and causes find new ways to solve new or lingering problems? Where do the best ideas emerge from? If things have been done a certain way for as long as can be remembered, how does one think about a problem/opportunity differently?

I discovered some insight into how I would answer this a couple of weeks ago, pretty much by accident.

Long story short, I was out for a run. Running is something I’ve done consistently since I was in grammar school. I had my routes around Boston, Carlisle, and Concord where I grew up, and free flowing pensiveness was the norm. Then I moved to DC. And joined a running group. And started making friends. My free flowing conscious turned into chatty targeted questions and any real pensiveness went out the window.

I’ve been doing the running group thing for three solid years. Running solo turned into a true rareity.

Here is how my discovery went down.

A few weeks ago, I went out for a run (solo). I moved to a new neighborhood and had consulted enough Google maps to get a general sense of where homebase was, and what routes were runnable. I wrote down a few directions on a piece of paper, just in case, and went on my merry way.

About 25% of the way through my run, I started to notice something that I hadn’t experienced in a while, making it more apparent. As I focused on a steady stream of cars, glanced at the grass, turned a corner and darted around a couple pushing a baby in a stroller, I started answering questions to current problems and coming up with new ideas. Luckily, I ran by a condo complex with a mailbox full of marketing materials. I looked inside and saw a pen. I jotted down some of my ideas.

Energized by the experience, the next day I set out for the treadmill. I brought a pen and paper. I picked a pace and started thinking.

After about 12 minutes of looking at the wall right in front of me, I realized my experience was not the same. The running was good, but my idea flow was not. At that point I decided pensiveness was to be preserved for the outside.

And so I introduce my accidental discovery of where the ideas are.

I had forgotten about this account until recently when I stumbled upon a new book by Jerry de Jaager and Jim Ericson called See New Now. Similar to how storytelling can help leaders lead, this book presents 24 examples of how to see the world through different lenses. It takes inspiration from observing caterpillars and from this taking hints on how “understanding the true experience of transformation is vital for succeeding at deep change.” It looks at the great high-wire artist Karl Wallenda and considers how he “fell to his death because he wouldn’t let go of his balance pole” and what companies and individuals can learn from this (“sometimes needing to let go of their most cherished practices and beliefs”).

When I consider my running discovery, it is clear to me why when outside, the ideas flowed, and when stuck inside looking at the clock ticking on the wall in front of me – I came up short. When outside, my thoughts were juxtaposed next to grass, traffic, stop signs; and when inside, slim to nothing.

I highly recommend this read. When considering your most complex problems or when seeking to come up with a way to try something new – look to the world around you for inspiration. But don’t just look in the obvious places and don’t believe just because something has been done a certain way for a long time that it is the best way of doing it. We have many years of history that can aid us in sorting out problems and sometimes the answers can be found in the most random, and basic places.

Of course this book doesn’t come with curiosity included. That part is up to you.

“To do things differently, we must learn to see things differently. Seeing differently means learning to question the conceptual lenses through which we view and frame the world, our businesses, our core competencies, our competitive advantage, and our business models. It means finding new eyeglasses that will enable us to see strategies and structures taking shape, even if we feel we are on the edge of chaos…” John Seely Brown

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Lauren – you’re such a gifted writer. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I was just telling someone today that my best ideas emerge on my runs or in the car when I turn off the radio. I think you articulate the key: to get away, alone where the questions and troubles that have been percolating in the subconscious suddenly spill out in surprising ways. In today’s bustle, we need to actively create the space for these important moments.

Thanks again for your reflection.