"Eureka!" ArchimedesThought experiments can trigger breakthrough ideas.
This post is part of a series of thought experiments for innovation in business. Previously, we dove deeper into the Model of Excellence and Time Machine methods.
If you haven't read the introduction 6 Thought Experiments to Inspire Innovation, you'll want to digest that first to set the stage.
Here, we consider a method of using the mind's abstract visual thinking abilities to stimulate innovation with The Abstract Sculpture thought experiment.
“Abstraction forces you to reach the highest level of the basics.” – Alan Soffer
"I am searching for abstract ways of expressing reality, abstract forms that will enlighten my own mystery." – Eric Cantona
Before you start, set clear intent. A key to success with this (or any) thought experiment is creating the state of having achieved what you want in advance. What would you accomplish if anything was possible and you could not fail?
Seeing and hearing this achieved as if you are there, how do you feel different? How does this feeling move?
What is the difference between how you feel with the status quo and the feelings of this success through the right innovations actualized? Note this difference.
Set aside some time when you can give this all your attention. Cut your smartphone off and let that act be an anchor for letting concerns slip away ... a good regular practice to have regardless.
--------------------On to the Abstract Sculpture Thought Experiment.
Think of the times when you were in a relaxed, dreamlike state.
How were things different in those times? How did things look different?
How was your internal dialogue different?
What feelings did you notice that let you know you were relaxing and letting your imagination wander?
How was your breathing changed?
To go deeper, you can cycle through the senses like this a few times. What you saw, heard, felt ...
Now, if you could see your current level of achievement in that area of business as an abstract sculpture, what would it look like? What colors, forms, shadows, and lighting would best evoke the feeling of it? Let enough time pass for this representation to fully form.
You can consciously sculpt it, just let shapes emerge, or both.
Look at it from different perspectives. Step back and see it from a distance. Imagine walking around it, looking at it from different angles. How would it look from above? Below? What details would you notice if you zoomed in close to it?
As this congeals in your mind's eye, imagine how the sculpture would look different if, instead, it represented the higher level of achievement, joy, focus, or whatever you would sense with the accomplishment you want. Again, keep it abstract so that it evokes the feeling without being a clear representation. Spend some time contemplating this changed art piece. Again, you can zoom in close, then zoom out to see it from a distance as well as see it from various angles.
Ideally, spend at least 15 minutes contemplating the abstract sculpture in both original and evolved forms.
When you are ready, just come back and reorient yourself to your normal day-to-day concerns, maybe with a look at your calendar or planner.
“Abstraction generally involves implication, suggestion, and mystery, rather than obvious description.” – Robert Genn
The thought experiment is like bait on a fishing line in murky, unfamiliar waters teeming with life.
You can't see what's down there but you will discover it when you reel it in. As the chief of innovation, you don't know what dinner will be but it will be good.
How would things be different with enhanced mental agility from regular thought experiments?