Tools for Elastic Thinkers
- Capacity to let go of comfortable ideas
- Become accustomed to ambiguity and contradiction
- Rise above conventional mind-sets
- Reframe questions we ask
- Abandon ingrained assumptions
- Rely on imagination as much as logic
- Willing to experiment
- Be tolerant of failure
- Generate and integrate a variety of ideas
Unlike analytical thinkers who are driven by logic and sequence, flexible thinkers thrive in situations which involve breaking boundaries and trying new things. The idea of flexible thinking has, of course, been around for aeons but for author, physicist and screenwriter Leonard Mlodinow, it’s now prime time for people to harness the power of ‘elastic thinking’ to navigate an unstable world.
Stretch your mind
Elastic thinking is about stretching your mind and using ‘bottom up’ processing in the brain rather than the top down executive functions that drive analytical thinking. It encompasses a range of processes including, but not confined to, neophilia (an enthusiasm for novelty), imagination, idea generation and divergent thinking.
Elastic thinking is an asset that can be finely honed
It is also an asset that can be finely honed. “We all have to be trouble-shooters if we want to survive or thrive in today’s changing world,” he says. “Fortunately it’s a skill that’s built into the human brain.”
He says human thinking can be set out on a spectrum. “Logical analytical thinking is really good when you are trying to solve a problem you’ve seen before. You can use known methods and techniques to approach whatever issue you are dealing with. Elastic thinking is what you need when the circumstances change and you are dealing with something new. It’s not about following rules.”
New companies have couches for people to lay around and stare up at the ceiling – the incubation time is very useful for coming up with and processing ideas
Uber and Google are strong examples where elastic thinking underpins their creation and adaptability. And what do Leonardo da Vinci and the inventors of Pokemon Go have in common? They are also credited as elastic thinkers. It’s all about connecting the unconnected, trying new things and not being afraid of failure.
“You’ll see the new companies – often tech start-ups – that have couches for people to lay around and stare up at the ceiling,”
“The workers don’t have managers who are going to come and berate them for that as they know that incubation time is very useful for coming up with and processing ideas.”
For those wishing to tap into elastic thinking, I suggest carving out time for daydreaming, talking to strangers who are not in your usual social circles, absorbing art out of your comfort zone, and listening to ideas or concepts that you actively disagree with before considering the arguments of the supporters of those ideas and what motivated them.