A Shift in Perspective Opens Possibilities
Einstein once said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.”
Often the greatest creativity occurs when we change our perspective. Einstein literally practiced what he preached. As he worked through a complicated mathematical problem, he took breaks to walk in nature or to play his violin. When he came back to his work, an idea or solution would suddenly emerge into his conscious mind.
We all have this capability.
When classical chamber musicians work through their interpretation of a piece of music, they use various techniques to force a shift in their frame of reference so they can evolve novel interpretations. One technique involves switching seats from the normal configuration. Usually the 1st and 2nd violinists of a string quartet sit side by side, and the violist sits opposite the 1st violinist. To mix things, up, the 2nd violinist can switch with the violist, or the violist can switch with the 1st violinist.
This shift changes the sound coming into the musicians’ ears.
The musicians expected a melody or harmony to come from one direction and now it comes from another. Their visual frame of reference also changes. As a result, they become aware of aspects of the composition that they never realized before.
Does your organization have a “seating hierarchy” at your regular meetings?
When I worked as an executive in a Fortune 100 company, we had an unspoken seating arrangement for every meeting. Depending on my level in the hierarchy, I sat in a particular location.
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that when I met with the management team of my division in our teleconference room, I sat in the center, flanked by my direct reports. The other managers sat toward the sides or in the back rows. When someone from the group presented, I moved to the side and they sat front and center.
When I attended meetings held by the CEO of my division, the CEO sat at the head of the boardroom table, flanked by the CFO and COO, then me (CIO), and the rest of the executives filled in the table. Business analysts and others sat on chairs around the sides of the room. The configuration never changed, even when others presented.
What do you think might have happened if we deliberately changed the seating arrangement when we encountered a thorny problem that needed a creative solution?
Shift the sound direction and visual impact of the meeting conversation!
Try to find a circular or oval table for your meeting. If that isn’t possible, this exercise will still work. The leader can fill the role of neutral facilitator or alternatively, you can have a professional facilitator lead this process:
Have everyone stand up and switch places at random to disrupt the hierarchy. Then, ask everyone to spend 3 minutes in silence writing down their ideas (this helps introverts gather their thoughts). Next, go around the table and ask each person to contribute 1 idea. Write these ideas on a flip chart, either as a list or a simple mind map. Continue to go around the table until all ideas are exhausted.
Other techniques to help your team shift perspective:
- Have everyone take a walk outside for 10 minutes in silence, then write down thoughts that came to them during their walk. Then use the idea contribution process described above.
- Have people pair into dyads, then ask each other two questions: “what’s the biggest fear you have about this issue?” and “what’s your greatest hope for the resolution of this issue?” Then have each dyad share with the whole group: what came up out of the conversation? Note the patterns and themes that emerge. Note the novel ideas and outliers, and explore them further.
Who says you can’t have fun while addressing challenges?
- Ask people to write their ideas on a piece of paper, fold it to make a paper airplane, and fly it to another person in the room. Ask the 2nd person to add to the idea on the paper and fly the airplane to another person. Do this for 4 rounds, then share what is written on each airplane.
- Discover fun ways to disrupt the energy, such as playing music and dancing to it for a few minutes, or doing Brain Gym exercises.
The ability to shift perspective is a key enabler of collective virtuosity in teams. In future posts, we will explore additional techniques that musicians can share with us to further develop this capability within our teams and organizations.