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Think Outside the Brain

We often hear the phrase “think outside the box”, but what if the “box” is actually our brain? Can you think outside your own brain?

Prototype building may give us a hint about how to think outside our brains. Prototype-building has proven effective in helping individuals and teams think in new and creative ways. Why is does this happen?

People intuitively understand the value of the fast feedback you get from building something tangible. But there’s more to it than that. The magic of prototyping is that you are taking your mind out of the equation and allowing your ideas to come from your hands and your heart.

The Marshmallow Challenge is a great example of how our brains get in the way of good ideas. In this exercise, people are given some simple supplies, including tape and spaghetti, and asked to build the tallest tower they can, with a marshmallow on top, in a short amount of time. What they find is that thinking and planning don’t prepare them for the realities of the building materials. Interestingly, kindergarteners fare much better than MBAs in this exercise, mostly because kids start building right away.

“When people use their brains all we get are plans.” When you “put your heads together” in a meeting and map out a strategy and a plan, typically nothing creative or innovative comes out of it. The crux of the issue is that we’ve disconnected ourselves from the outcome and reduced our work into line items on a spreadsheet. Let’s take a look at how we can get reconnected with what our work really is.

How can you escape the brain box in meetings? The simple answer is to make something. What can you prototype? Can you make a journey map? Do something that involves people moving their bodies. Pull back from task listing and push into making something. It doesn’t have to be the product, it can be a tactile representation of the organization, the customer journey, or even the payment process! They key is to make it real. Get connected with what the work truly is.

Where can we start? Design Thinking offers a bunch of great tools to start with. I love the customer journey map. Get a big swath of butcher paper, tape it to your wall and draw up the customer journey, start to end. Try using Improv Personas, get into the role and act out the journey.

Where do you have opportunities to think outside your brain? Let us know!

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