From Tweak, to Twist, to Breakthrough Idea – The Little Creative Secret That Moves the World


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Synopsis

Rather than swing for the fences and the big idea, learn the
simple little habit that actually makes those ideas more
likely.

You might not believe it, but the best way to a big idea – an
idea that changes how we think, and one that stands a mightier
than normal chance of actually becoming real – comes from a
small tweak.

It’s true. And it’s really that simple. But examples make it
easier to see, so let’s consider a few.

At the end of each work day, a nightclub manager sees food
being tossed out by the ton, in his establishment and countless
others across town. On his way home from work each night, he
also sees dozens of homeless and undoubtedly underfed souls.
For a time, the parallel observations add up to little, until
one day he “tweaks” the two separate thoughts so that they
intersect one another: “What if all that wasted food could feed
those hungry souls?” he wonders. 20 years on, Robert Egger’s
simple mental tweak has spawned programs nationwide that
capture and repurpose food from restaurants, grocery stores,
farms, hotels, and school cafeterias. Today, dozens of programs
and organizations like DC Central Kitchen and LA Kitchen are
the backbone not just of successful initiatives to feed the
homeless, but of thriving catering businesses, senior citizen
nutrition programs, social justice education programs, and on
and on – all catalyzed by a minor mental tweak.

Now consider this example. An entrepreneur, small business
advisor, and journalist spends a decade helping countless
adults start and grow their own business. In the same
timeframe, she and her husband are raising three kids – curious
kids who wonder what exactly mom does. She knows she can’t just
offer them the description as she gives it to grownups. Their
eyes would glaze over and they’d never make the mistake of
asking such a question again. So she tweaks her grownup script
and tells her children a story. A children’s story. The
fictional kind they prefer, that just happens to be about kids
starting a business. The characters encounter the same
challenges any adult business would, but the tale is seen and
the challenges solved through a kid’s mind. The mom, host of
MSNBC’s Your Business JJ Ramberg, then turns the simple story
into a book for kids, and the lessons of business become so
simple a child can understand them. And curious children, far
beyond her three, become budding entrepreneurs.

For good measure, here’s one final example. A young post-doc in
psychology gets a plum job on a revolutionary new research
project. The goal is to figure out what really lies behind
human learning, thinking, and creativity. The dominant wisdom
points to intelligence as the source and the IQ test as the
best indicator. But the early research results tell Howard
Gardner that something’s not quite right. Reality just doesn’t
line up with the metric. “Maybe intelligence isn’t the key
indicator,” he first muses. But then he tweaks that thought:
“Maybe it’s because intelligence isn’t uniform. Maybe,” he
ponders, “just maybe there’s more than one form of
intelligence.” Five decades hence, no one has looked at
intelligence, or creativity, or learning, the same way, and we
continue to pursue the best ways in which to tap the range of
our multiple intelligences.

Redefining a societal challenge… Making adult lessons so
simple a child can understand them… Putting forth a new theory
of how we humans think and do – as different as they seem, all
of these examples share important commonalities. None of these
big ideas happened all at once. Less obvious, none of them
happened according to some prescient or pristine plan. Least
obvious of all, each began with the slightest of tweaks – a
blending of observations; a shift in language; a fine-tuning or
flipping around of a question – something that triggered a
change of view and with it, the possibilities.

To be sure, many things enhance creativity. Robert Egger knew a
lot about food, food handling and preparation, food
perishability and more long before he started DC Central
Kitchen. Similarly, JJ Ramberg had logged countless hours
advising business owners and running her own before she
simplified the lessons for her kids. And Howard Gardner had the
benefit of decades of research in psychology by others plus his
own many years in the field before he began to question sacred
thinking. But experience and all those other things that often
add to creativity aren’t its true catalyst.

Robert, JJ, Howard, and their stories stand out because they
didn’t let all their valuable experience, skills, or success
hold them back. It’s a counterintuitive but important
distinction. They didn’t passively conclude there was only one
way to do what they did, or assume only certain people or
resources could accomplish the feat. There was no feat in the
beginning – or plan, or preconceived notion of where it would
all lead. They just tweaked their thinking, their view, and the
borders of what they knew a little bit to see what might
happen.

And then they kept doing it. And a pattern formed. In fact, in
all likelihood that pattern was long in play for all of them –
tweaking here, wondering there, playing with an idea simply out
of curiosity, long before their big ideas began to surface. It
is a near certainty that many forays in this creative zone came
to nothing – both before and after the tweak they now identify
as revealing the paths they took. But that didn’t concern them.
Their actions had their own purpose: play and wonder. The
results were accidents – purposeful accidents.

Though the practice of tweaking one’s thinking can lead to game
changing ideas, it’s important to note that in forming this
creative habit the promise of revelation or success isn’t the
thing. The difference maker is the willingness to purposefully
explore. All successful innovators will tell you it’s true. A
simple pattern of creative tweaking is what leads to the
seemingly accidental (and innovative) results. One tweak,
begets other tweaks, which accumulate to a “twist” on an old
view, that in turn shapes a new way of thinking, being, and
progressing. It’s a secret of creativity that appears little
but has the power to move the world.

Tags: creative practice, creative thinking, creativity, innovation, larry robertson

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