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A Boy Named Sue

Think Wrong Shel Silverstein

This post is courtesy of Solve Next collaborator Adam Butler. Shel Silverstein was definitely a natural wrong thinker. He was never one to play things politically correct. Hell, he wrote the Johnny Cash hit "A Boy Named Sue".

If you grew up in the 70s, you likely grew up with his poems. They are infused with an utter lack of appreciation for the status quo and plenty of sardonic truth about human nature—a timeless combo. I read them to my sons now.

We all laugh a lot at the absurdity of his situations and his spunky images. But sometimes my mind drifts, and I end up chasing the depth of Shel's words. And just when I arrive at the understanding my boys yell "Read another one!"

This poem by Shel is for you.


Goodness, innovation, and creativity always lie off the beaten path, so start there. Anything can be—if you are willing to Be Bold.

Thinking Wrong begins where the sidewalk ends.



Work can be like putting on pants

Let Go and Think Wrong

When was the last time you thought about how to put on your pants?

Chances are, it wasn’t recently. Once you got through the comedic phase of childhood where you ate facefuls of carpet while learning the one-foot-per-pant-leg rule, you probably stopped having to think about the challenges of clothing yourself. Your grown-up brain takes care of it for you, using hardened synaptic pathways developed over a lifetime of Levi-wearing to guide your legs gracefully into your garments.

Like most adults, I have dressed myself without a thought for the last 38 years or so. And then, 2 weeks ago I underwent a major surgery. Turns out my procedure has resulted in more than a pile of insurance paperwork—it’s also caused serious upheaval for my synaptic pants pathways.

Thinking about how to put on pants is now something I spend an inordinate amount of time doing. Which leg goes on first is a vital question (answer: the bad one). Putting on underwear and trousers at the same time halves the overall effort—and elasticated waistbands, though not suave, are a must. Finding a material that slides on easily helps too. In fact, I’ve been discovering a need to reroute my synaptic responses to many basic tasks that I previously took for granted. Stairs look like honey badger infested mountains, high shelves may as well be the moon, and sitting on the floor is Hades’ underworld. But the challenges aren’t daunting–instead, they excite me.

Facing my physical limitation has brought forth a wellspring of ingenious ideas. My former solutions are painful or physically impossible, and so my dormant ingenuity reignites—the ability to invent and create is there, allowing me to jump the ingenuity gap to reach the new practical solutions I need to overcome daily challenges using what I have. The thought of re-coding my brain to be able to do something today that I couldn’t do yesterday gives me a reason to get up in the morning, not a reason to stay in bed. What’s more, the humble challenge of how to put on pants is no different from the sort of problem-solving we sometimes need in the office.

Work can be like putting on pants—you just don’t think about it anymore, and your brain takes care of it for you leaving no need (or room) to rethink. But sometimes that humdrum needs to be broken. You may be under-serving customers, falling behind competing challengers, or you may face obvious inefficiency, economic difficulties, low staff morale, or even personally find yourself in a rut. But short of getting fired or reassigned, there’s often no work equivalent of having your pelvis sliced in three to kickstart a new ingenious solution.

That’s what the Blitz Cycle is for. The six Think Wrong Practices enable you to fire up the same parts of the brain that respond when your body needs you to find a new way to get dressed. Think Wrong Blitzes helps you break the cycle of precedent to start a new cycle of learning and positive change—all without breaking any bones.  Once you start creating ingenious solutions, you won’t want to stop; it will become the reason to go to work—and isn’t that how it should always have been?


The Toxic MBA

Think wrong about toxic MBAs

The problem-solving orthodoxies they teach you in business school kill ingenuity. Greg Galle explains why at TEDxGrandRapids.

When Less is a Whole Lot More

Think Wrong and say less

This post is courtesy of Solve Next collaborator Mike Burn.

Being unnecessarily long is plain disrespectful. 

A marketing document I recently had to rewrite ignited this fire. Bad writing wasn't the obstacle to it being read; everything was grammatically correct, the words carefully chosen, and the arguments well-constructed. But the overall effect was actually mind-numbing. The whole thing was just far too long.  The writer's point would never have been understood—because it would never be reached.

A couple of days of editing later, it became apparent that cutting hundreds of words takes significantly longer than writing them. Which brought to mind the genius of Dr. Seuss:

“It has often been said there’s so much to be read, you never can cram all those words in your head.

So the writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads.

That's why my belief is the briefer the brief is, the greater the sigh of the reader's relief is.

And that's why your books have such power and strength. You publish with shorth! (Shorth is better than length.)”

At Solve Next, we call this parakeet storytelling. The idea is to avoid getting bogged down in narrative and words, and instead to capture the pithy tidbits that matter, using sounds, video, or sentences a parakeet could handle (140 characters, in social media world).

So please, keep to the core, make it compact—don't wallow in words, clean up your act. After all, someone might have to read it.

Enough said.

"Alexandrine Parakeet (Psittacula eupatria) - Edward Youde Aviary, Hong Kong Park" © 2013 CC BY-NC-SA Neerav Bhatt

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I Have a Green Watch


This post is courtesy of Solve Next co-founder, Mike Burn 

Why fit in when you were born to stand out?―Dr. Seuss

“Your glasses are too funky, your shirts are too loud and your watch is too green. If you want to succeed here you should try ‘mirroring’ the executives, you’ll be a VP in a year."

This sage, enlightening, and simultaneously horrific statement was given to me once as well-meaning career advice. My advisor even got more specific, suggesting I go to Brooks Brothers and spend $300 at the sale rack. The most tragic aspect of this advice? It was absolutely spot on.

Obviously I didn’t go off and do it; it sounded more like part of a sick and twisted sociological experiment than career advice.

But what is so threatening about a green watch?

I am genuinely amazed by the number of people who comment on my watch—it’s started many a conversation. The comments fall into three categories:

• observational - “You have a green watch.” • contemptuous - “You have a green watch?” • aspirational - “You can have a green watch!”

I’m not raising the stereotyping associated with this watchism to a level of hateful prejudice here—but it does seem to be an effective technique for identifying close mindedness. Stereotyping and closed mindedness being symptoms of groupthink, and its associated desire for conformity. The next stage of this cycle is self-censorship, with the peer pressure asserted against deviant watch-wearing behavior bringing about the switch to a more consensus-driven timepiece. A tried-and-true, gold, with a brown leather strap edition perhaps?

Once the pattern of morality, peer pressure and group belief in what is right and appropriate is in place, the status quo and uniformity get continually reinforced. The guards are in place to prevent both outside and internal dissent.

The drift towards homogeneity starts. The watch, the blue shirt, the pleated khakis and the shiny slip-on shoes with brass ended tassels, then the Brooks Brothers sales rack, and the mirroring, and the promotion, the title, the success. And once you’ve made it, don’t rock the boat, don’t speak out, don’t stand up, just go along to get along, we all agree, we’re all on the same page, we know how to do this, everything is just fine as it is—and don’t let the crazy dude with the green watch in.

Of course, this is not just about watches—this is about ideas and thinking wrong. And incidentally...the green watch at the top of this post belongs to another Solve Next collaborator, Marty Butler. Coincidence?

Solve Next is on the lookout for places where green watches are challenging the status quo. Green watch = thinking wrong. Check it out here.

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