Ed Glassman
Ed Glassman

Ways To Shift Paradigms And Think Outside The Box At Work

To be truly creative, you have to think outside the box, even eliminate the box altogether, and shift paradigms. A paradigm is a belief structure within which you think and act. Existing paradigms can produce tunnel vision and affect your creative outcomes.

A paradigm shift changes your belief structure and your perspective so you see things differently and creatively. How can you shift a paradigm? By following some simple approaches.

ELIMINATE THE BOX: Don’t just think outside the box. Eliminate the box entirely, so your thinking flows easily all the time from the concrete to the absurd, from the ordinary to the bizarre, and back again. In this way you will capture ideas that range the entire spectrum, shifting paradigms as you go.

ACT NON-EVALUATIVELY: Think non-evaluatively, and list ideas and suggestions non-evaluatively, and listen non-evaluatively to others and yourself. New paradigms often seem farfetched and need special protection to survive.

Evaluation uses old information. When we evaluate, we immerse ourselves in old paradigms. To escape old ideas, stay non-evaluative and allow bizarre new paradigms and ideas to survive so they can trigger quality ideas. Adopt brainstorming rules.

THE PROBLEM’S ESSENCE: Knowing a problem in depth unfortunately means you have a myriad of thoughts and pictures in your mind that spoil new thinking. To avoid these old pictures, work on the problem indirectly. Start with the ‘essence’ of the problem, the action verb that captures the main activity.

For example: the essence (or action verb) of an auto jack encompasses lifting things; a wheelbarrow, transporting things; walking on water, floating things or freezing water; a bullet proof vest, impenetrability; reuse of cans and bottles, recycling things; improving the can opener, opening things.

So instead of starting with how to improve the can opener, a creativity team first discussed ways to open things using analogies and metaphors from industry, animals, plants, other cultures, etc. What happened? They discussed squeezing the base of a dog’s mouth so it will open; a clam relaxes a muscle so tension on the back hinge of the shell forces the clam open; as peas ripen, the tough green covering develops a weak seam and the pea pod opens.

The team forced combinations between the weak seam of the pea pod and opening cans. This did not lead to an improved can opener, as they originally intended, but it did lead to opening cans by pulling a weak seam, a common way to open most cans now, a fine example of a paradigm shift.

REVERSAL-DEREVERSAL: Turn your problem upside-down. When you get it right-side up again, you might face a new direction.

1.Reverse the key verb of the problem statement. For example: write spoil instead of stimulate; decrease instead of increase; fail instead of succeed; etc.

2.Non-evaluatively list solutions to the reversed problem statement.

3.Dereverse each reversal by writing “How-to” in front of each solution.

4.Smooth out the wording of the new problem statement until it makes sense.

5.Choose an appropriate new problem statement to use during idea generation.

Here’s an example of reversal-dereversal:

1.Reverse “How to stimulate creative thinking in meetings” into “How to spoil creative thinking in meetings.”

2.One way to spoil creative thinking is to have dominating people present in the meeting.

Dereverse this statement to: “How to stay creative with dominating people present” or “How to get rid of dominating people.” Pursue paradigm shifts as they occur.

GUIDED FRESH EYE: Think about your problem as someone or something else. For example:

a) Dolphin, bat, eagle, jellyfish, lion, pea pod, or oak seed (choose one)

b) Chemical engineer, mechanical engineer, Martian, or artist (choose one)

c) Biologist, chemist, secretary, banker, frog, or geneticist (choose one)

d) Architect, builder, carpenter, accountant, or shark (choose one)

e) Physicist, astronomer, musician, dancer, elephant, or farmer (choose one)

f) Hydraulic engineer, clothes designer, musician, or cougar (choose one)

Restate the problem.

VERB SUBSTITUTION: A systematic change of a word in a problem statement often transforms perspectives so paradigm shifts occur. For example, you can transform: “How to get rid of a dominating person”…into:

“How to work with a dominating person.”

” ” change a dominating person.”

” ” succeed with a dominating person.”

” ” enjoy a dominating person.”

” ” handle a dominating person.”

” ” avoid a dominating person.”

” ” succeed in spite of a dominating person.”

” ” get along with a dominating person.”

” ” retrain a dominating person.”

” ” negotiate with a dominating person,” etc.

Note the different paradigms that occur with each verb substitution, possibly providing new ways to approach your problem. Substitutions for the word ‘dominating‘ or ‘person’ in the problem statement may also provoke an insightful paradigm shift.

W-QUESTIONS: Asking questions that force you to look at a problem in a different way might lead to unexpected new paradigms. For example, please answer the following questions about the problem:

• Why?

• Who?

• What?

• Where?

• When?

• With whom?

• And again, why?

I discuss other methods to shift paradigms, especially the use of metaphors with some advanced creativity triggers, in my book: “Creativity Triggers For College Students.”

A TRUE STORY: After a creativity session during which we clarified problems innovatively, a vice president of a Fortune-500 company told me he astonished himself with the many new paradigms he discovered concerning a problem on which he had already worked for several years. He achieved useful paradigm shifts using these techniques.

Eliminate the box. Make action plans to shift paradigms periodically

And checkout my book:

 “CREATIVITY TRIGGERS ARE FOR EVERYONE: How To Use Your Inventiveness To Brighten Your Life.” 


©2017 by Ed Glassman


Edward Glassman, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Program For Team Excellence And Creativity at the university. He led scores of problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University, a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC, a Visiting Professor at the University Of California at Irvine, and a Visiting Scientist at SRI International in Palo Alto, California.

His book: “Team Creativity At Work I & II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best,” is available: CLICK here OR HERE.

Another book of his: “R&D CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION HANDBOOK: A Practical Guide To Improve Creative Thinking and Innovation Success At Work is also available.   CLICK here  OR HERE

About the Author
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus and former head of the "Program for Team Effectiveness and Creativity," in the medical school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.
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