Learning to think differently
As a marketer, I am always on the lookout for people who think and act differently. A part of my gestalt, my personality, I associate with people who think differently. Sometimes, that means being the contrarian or the devil’s advocate in a conversation. At other times, it just means looking at issues using different filters. Of course, thinking differently only happens in spurts and in certain arenas. There is plenty of good sense in thinking normally too. However, for the breakthrough ideas, putting on the rose-tinted glasses — or a re-wired thinking cap — is invaluable.
How does one actually come to think differently?
I cannot declare whether one is born to think differently or whether such a disposition is acquired at a given moment or simply over time. Using Apple products alone certainly won’t cut it, although I truly believe it has helped me as I have had to relearn lots of new functionalities (having crossed over from the PC world). However, that is only a recent transition for me. My journey into the world of thinking differently began more precisely when I was at University. And there were exactly three elemental building blocks which helped craft my propensity to think differently — each stemming from one central thought: Discover what you do not know. Being aware of what you don’t know is already a challenge because, you might say, how do I know what I don’t know if I don’t know it exists?
The three areas I became attached to studying were:
1. Women’s Studies.
In minoring in Women’s Studies at Yale University, little did I know I would end up working in a cosmetics company, serving primarily female customers. I fell into the subject of Women’s Studies via literary criticism; but I kept on taking more classes in a more or less direct pursuit to understand better the other 50% of the population. And no, it was not a pick-up ploy–not exactly the right environment in any event. More importantly, by studying Women’s Studies, I became aware of the study of all minorities — and how minorities are frequently obliged to think and act differently to succeed. Via Women’s Studies, I was opened to a whole new world of literature and literary criticism, fascinating insights into the differences between the sexes, the politics of touch (Nancy Henley’s landmark essay) as well as the interplay of females and males in groups (at all ages). I also embraced Jungian philosophy and my anima. I did not know how much, at the time, this minor would take on major importance in my career.
As a rule, we tend to study all things conscious. Whether it’s history, literature or sciences (each basically through the eyes of men), the focus of our daily lives is what we know and do during our waking day. Thus, when I came across the study of sleep as a subject at university, I was enchanted: an opportunity to learn about the other 1/3 of our day. Certainly, there can be interest in understanding one’s own dreams — though, typically not given much credit in academic circles (nor for university degrees). But the subject of sleep is much more profound, including sleep disorders, sleep patterns… There are plenty of important questions that should concern everyone. For example, how much sleep do we REALLY need? Why do we sleep? On this question, scientists are still arguing (as regards adults). The science of sleep and the work of FSRs (famous sleep researchers) such as the giant apple seed and jazz man, William (“Bill”) C. Dement, is a completely undervalued field. I tip my hat to Professor Mark Rosekind for enlightening me on this fascinating part of our existence. I highly recommend any students out there to seek it out; you can start with Dement’s “The Promise of Sleep.” In the meantime, I can also recommend reading one of my favourite books “L’Art du Temps” or, in English, The Art of Time (by Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber) which provides a shortcut view to how I manage my sleep and my philosophy with regard to time management more broadly speaking.
I am not left-handed and left-handedness is not exactly a “subject” in the same sense as Sleep or Women’s Studies. Left-handers are not unique — concerning apparently about 7-10% of the population (but they certainly get my attention on the tennis court). Neither is being left-handed a sign of a genius, although there are some wonderful examples, including Albert Einstein, Michelangelo (retrained right), Isaac Newton (the original Apple man), Charlie Chaplin, Benjamin Franklin, Bobby Fischer, John McEnroe to name a few. And, it’s worth noting that Apple chose a whole raft of southpaws — including Pablo Picasso, Jim Henson, Bob Dylan, Jerry Seinfeld and Einstein — for their Think Different campaign. Interestingly, we have been fielding more frequently left-handed presidents in the US since Gerald Ford: four of the last six! In the history of the USA, there have been a total of seven lefties in the White House (6 coming in the last century) out of a total of 43 (i.e. 16%). At this time, it should be noted that that both John McCain and Barack Obama are left-handed (read here about Washington Post’s “Left-Handed Conspiracy“). There is a good body of research done on left-handers, indicating that lefties have a propensity to be more into visual arts. Also, according to this 2005 ABC report, there is the suggestion that being left-handed can entail some health hazards, too. (See also “Brains that work a little bit differently” by Bragdon and Gamon). But, what has always attracted my attention is that left-handers need to operate in a right-handed world. When I imagined my wife before even meeting her, I always thought that she would be left-handed. It turns out that she is absolutely right-handed, but created two sterling left-handed children.
So, what does this mean… at least, in the business world?
For one, I believe that having been attuned to these different topics throughout my adult life is part of how I have cultivated what is described as a “Whole New Mind” (in the book by Dan Pink and highly recommended reading), essentially a balanced right/left brain. In turn, this has been useful in coming up with new ideas and strategies. And finally, most importantly, it has led me to be more mindful of diversity. Whether international, unorthodox or just different, having opposing or alternative thinking people in your team is healthy and enriching. It also requires differing management styles to make the most of their talent. What are other areas of study that can procure “think different” mentalities? I’d love to hear your stories.
Others blogging on “think different”:
Mahmudahsan – with some English proverbs
Mackinnon on Think Differently – although this looks sadly like a dead blog.