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Anti-Conventional Thinking

May 22, 2012

Want to try some unusually effective approaches to creative thinking?

Jeffrey Baumgartner studied the way “artists, writers, scientists and other creative geniuses” worked and noticed that they rarely followed the rules for brainstorming or creative problem solving (CPS).  Instead, they used intentionally unconventional approaches.

Nelson_Mandela-_2000_-2-They succeeded by using a provocative set of practices he calls “Anti-Conventional Thinking” (ACT). ACT encourages you to recognize conventional perspectives and then do something purposefully different.

You can dip your toe in the ACT waters with some of the following practices.

When framing an issue:

If you’re stuck on a stubborn challenge, ask, “What’s a more extreme way to describe our goal?”

So instead of asking, “How might we improve the customer experience with our services?” ask, “What would make our services as addictive as meth?” or “How could we make our customers so happy they cry?”

Safer, more conventional ideas simply won’t work with these extreme statements, so you’re compelled to come up with more creative ones. It’s OK if the provocative statement seems excessive, or if the ideas it prompts seems implausible. It’s easier to tame down an outrageous but interesting idea than it is to juice up a bland one.

When generating ideas:

Only make note of unconventional ideas. Don’t write down anything you’ve heard before. You’ll get fewer ideas – but they’ll be more creative.

Encourage respectful criticism of conventional or flawed ideas. Criticism should be focused only on the idea. The person giving the idea, and anyone else who’s moved to do so, is encouraged to defend and improve it. Again, you’ll get fewer ideas – but they’ll be better developed.

While brainstorming and CPS focus on generating long lists of raw ideas, anticipating that there will be a few gems in the midst, ACT aims to produce a few unconventional ideas that could have a brilliant impact.

When evaluating ideas:

Highlight the most unconventional ones and make them even better. Consider potential weaknesses and how they could be addressed. Find ways to make the ideas even more unconventional, and then identify how to make them work.

In other words, to get something different do something very different.

4 Responses

  1. Hi Tracy,

    I’ve just come across your summary of anticonventional thinking (ACT). It’s nicely done!


    Jeffrey Baumgartner

  2. Thanks Jeffrey – for your note and the great technique. Using extreme statements as a starting point has been especially effective. – Tracy

  3. Anonymous

    Thanks for the summary. I looked at Jeffrey’s videos on youtube and think your post helps a lot. So, thanks. 🙂

  4. You’re welcome – best of luck exercising ACT!

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