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Fertilize Your Combinatorial Creativity by Connecting with Diverse Individuals

If successful scientists “have often been people with wide interests,” as Cambridge University professor William Ian Beardmore Beveridge concluded in The Art of Scientific Investigation, then you, too, might make more breakthroughs by seeking more varied people and experiences.

Innovation most often happens when you adapt an idea from one domain into a new one, and that’s most likely to happen when you engage with people from different professions, backgrounds, industries, ages and so on.

MariaAs Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova suggests, we need combinatorial creativity to have more experiences so we can connect the dots, cross-pollinate. Like LEGO building blocks, “The more of these building blocks we have, and the more diverse their shapes and colors, the more interesting our castles (innovations) will become.”

Tips: As Steal Like An Artist author Austin Kleon advocates, remix your art with others. Here are some concrete ways:stealown

  • Always carry a notebook (or smart device on which you can type or record, whichever works best for you everywhere).
  • Dip into other worlds and disciplines by attending a lecture or club meeting or reading publications from worlds quite different from your profession, industry or main interests.
  • Create an online filing system in which to put your notes and review it weekly to
  • See what fresh ideas are sparked by seeing the notes you recently took.
  • Notice the direction(s) in which you are pulling yourself by seeing which folders you use most frequently.
  • Consider revising the filing categories in keeping with the connections you are now making between them.

Hint: Bonus benefits beyond becoming more creative and having greater adventures around people unlike you: You improve your memory and motivation for learning more, according to UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience researcher Emrah Düzel.

“Be curious. Read widely. Try new things. What people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity.” ~Aaron Swartz

Seek Out Those Who Don’t Behave Right – Like You

Beginning with our first success in childhood, we become attached to what we believe are our strengths in temperament and talent, which enabled us to win. Why not? They seemed to be what makes us popular. We also are drawn to people who seem to act right – like us. We instinctively project onto them other traits we admire, even when they do not have them. In so doing, we narrow our view on what’s the right way to do things, missing many opportunities and friendships.

nakedownAre You Neurotic, Open, Extroverted or Agreeable?

Apparently NSA knows. An MIT Media Lab team, led by Patrick Tucker, author of The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?, found that your metadata – including the way you use your phone, how you make calls, to whom, for how long and so on – can show your personality. To discover and cultivate individuals who are different from you, begin by discovering which of the personality types in the widely used Five-Factor Model of Personality bests describe you:

  • Neurotic: A higher than normal tendency to experience unpleasant emotions
  • Open: Broadly curious and creative
  • Extroverted: Looks toward others for stimulation
  • Agreeable: Warm, compassionate and cooperative
  • Conscientious: Self-disciplined, organized and eager for success

Make Our Differences Work For Us, Not Against Us

As an introverted journalist, I often acted outgoing when interviewing, yet went out of my way to forge a friendship with the chief financial officers in the media outlets that employed me because they acted more introverted. Even so, our multiple differences proved mutually beneficial. Usually CFOs are more linear, measuring success by numbers-based metrics, while my success depended on intuiting what people really meant, what they might be hiding and what to ask whom to get the best and most balanced story, written in ways that even those who were not familiar with the situation could understand and want to read.

Once our CFO and I could find a way to talk so we could understand and trust each other, we found multiple ways we could be mutually supportive. My CFO helped me know what to ask and how to understand reports I received, both when trying to understand a massive anti-trust case and when investigating a complex embezzlement. I helped the CFO set the context for presenting to our company board the need for financial changes in how the company operated. Inevitably, that mutual support fostered learning, a strong friendship and a capacity to be more patient in helping each other.

Why Introverts Can Be Productive Leaders of Proactive Extrovertsquiet

“Introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions,” wrote Susan Cain, author of Quiet. Introversion is not being shy, reflecting a fear of social judgment, but rather a desire for more time alone, “low-key environments, and fewer yet close friends than extroverts prefer.”

Yet, wrote Steve Nguyen, “introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes than extroverts do, because when they are managing proactive employees, they’re much more likely to let those employees run with their ideas, whereas an extrovert can, quite unwittingly, get so excited that they’re putting their own stamp on things, and other people’s ideas might not as easily then bubble up to the surface,”

moving-from-me-to-we-logo-full-1Fast and Slow Thinkers Bring Different Smarts to The Tasks

Whether you are more extroverted or more introverted, you can accomplish more when you collaborate, cross-consult or otherwise connect with those of different temperaments and talents. Another kind of difference is what Daniel Kahneman dubbed fast and slow thinkers. We all do some of both, causing different problems and opportunities in how we make choices, and we can all practice being better at both. Other differences in behavioral styles are described later in the book. Whatever the difference, purposely plan ways people with different temperaments and talents can be heard, appreciated, use their best temperament and talents – and thrive with you.

For example, extroverted and/or fast thinkers tend to bubble up with ideas in meetings, while slow and/or introverted individuals often like time to ponder ideas and write their contributions between meetings.

Pessimistic individuals are more likely to see weaknesses in an idea and be more realistic about constraints in budget or time, while optimistic people are inclined to seem disruptive, suggest big innovations, and get others excited about their ideas. Working together they may often bug each other, yet if they can employ wry or self-deprecating humor about the friction they feel, they can accomplish greater things together than they can on their own.

learnednEvery upside often has a downside, however. When something goes wrong for pessimistic people, they are more likely to think it is personal (happened, most of all, to me), pervasive (everything in my life feels wrong) and permanent (it will always be bad). So found Learned Optimism author Marty Seligman, who offers practical insights on how to become more realistically optimistic.MM

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