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Component Design Capacity: Are You Digging In The Right Place?

Imagine you are in a desert and you have the mission of finding water by digging a well. You have the appropriate tools, from a shovel to an industrial drill. Then you start digging and in the first 100 ft you don´t find water. You stop for a minute and think about what you have done or about what you could do. You have the tools, you have followed the right procedures, so what remains is to try harder and you go ahead and keep drilling for another 100, 200 or 300 feet. Perhaps you have considered the idea of starting over again in other place, but you have invested so much effort and time that you must be so close to something. Voila! 200 feet deeper you finally reach water.

Your methods are proven and all you know about the art of deep well drilling is exact. “Next time, I just need to try harder” you think to yourself. In your mind, you know you will do exactly the same thing. Your conviction is so solid that people will dig next to you to the other side of the world. Great, right? The other side of this story is maybe you could have found water within the first 100 feet simply by just digging in another location near the one you selected (believe me I come from the water pumping business and this happen more often than you think).

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Are we there yet?

This is an interesting image of what is happening inside our mind when we are “digging” in a problematic situation. We rely in our knowledge and look deep into it until we find the solution. We may even adjust our problem to our previous set of knowledge, our perception of something that happened in the past. This is a logical way to go, right?. This is how we have been educated: You don´t find the solution? Just need to go deeper. Edward De Bono has called this way of reasoning “vertical thinking.” This is based in the traditional logic, and it´s constructed with one block upon another like building. This way of thinking is useful if we´re trying to get deep into solid and proven ideas. In other words, it´s a method to drill bigger and better holes. However if we selected the wrong location to begin with, nothing will change until we get to the right one.

As truss designer you can get stuck in “holes” fulfilling architectural designs and builder requirements. You can go crazy when you have 10, 20 or 30 minutes just cutting the planes of a roof that was envisioned, but simply is not possible as drawn on the blueprints. Finally, you reach a solution, but when you see the result you say: “That´s it? I was drowning in a glass of water!” Then you will move on to next project with the attained knowledge. At the end of the day, you have found a working resolution and next time you´ll implement it faster.

Something you can try once you have solved a problematic issue is to look at your solution and go back your steps to identify where you were “digging.” The idea that kept you “stuck” was probably the common way you have found or were shown to approach the problem. De Bono called this the “dominant concept.” Once you are in the top of the mountain is easier to look back and point out the best route to the destination. Only then you can discover a most simple, efficient solution. Hindsight is 20/20 sound familiar? The dominant concept you´re using to work based on past experience can allow you to discover more creative and better ways to dig into problems.

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You´re on the top, There is any different path?

This process is known as ”lateral thinking” and that´s the nursery where creative ideas are spawned. The “lateral” approach begins when you hear that little voice telling you: “Why we don´t dig in another place?” Of course, once you have invested so much time and effort in a project with a deadline maybe changing the whole approach or sitting back to think is not the wisest decision. Yet you have to know when you´ve been absorbed by a dominant concept which could be the best tool in some cases but not the panacea for every project.

A dominant concept has told us that creativity is a random process and you never know when an idea is going to hit you. The lateral thinking is a conscious process to stimulate creativity and generate new ideas. According to De Bono, the first step is to have this in mind: “You can´t see new horizons if you´re looking in the same direction.” The United States of America would eventually have been discovered sailing to the east, but it could have taken a couple of hundred more years. Fortunately, Christopher Columbus thought: “What if sailing to the west I find a shorter way to the east?” He had the courage to try a new direction and insight, discovering new land and making him a household name

This is the key question to start a process for new ideas: What if…? What if I try to resume my career as truss designer after being laid off from the downturn? What if I could do it remotely? What if we try (as a truss manufacturer) to outsource the designing service so I can concentrate on sales and production?

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From the accepted order to the creative way.

The lateral thinking helps you to find new paths; the vertical thinking is the tool to test those new ideas. Would you have ever learned to ride a bike without giving it a try first?

De Bono gathers the principles of lateral thinking in four blocks:

  1. Identify the dominant or polarizing concepts.
  2. Search new ways to focus problems.
  3. Relax the rigid control of vertical thinking.
  4. Use of chance luck or opportunities.

We´ll develop those ideas in the posts to come, so stay tuned and as an exercise you can ask yourself: Have you find water already? Are you digging in the right place? What is the dominant concept holding you back?

Don’t let past knowledge spoil future potential. Your customers deserve better.

Source = Edward De Bono’s book: New Think. The use of lateral thinking in the Generation of new ideas. 1967

Javier Dominguez – Design Professional

Gould Design, Inc.