The Non-Obvious Creative Process
That Can Help You Predict the Future
Posted January 13, 2020
Rohit Bhargava fascinated me when I first heard him speak about non-obvious trends on Pivot Podcast several years ago. The process he uses each year to determine the latest business trends has the rigor of true creative processes, like design thinking and creative problem-solving.
Rohit’s process is called the Haystack Method and it includes five steps.
The Haystack Method
- Gathering – Save interesting ideas.
- Aggregating – Curate information clusters.
- Elevating – Identify broader themes.
- Naming – Create elegant descriptions.
- Proving – Validate without bias.
Many people believe that creativity is willy-nilly and chaotic. It’s not, or, at least, it shouldn’t be. Done right, creativity is an in-depth process that uses a full spectrum of thinking skills to arrive at unique, elegant, and useful solutions. I wrote about how the Haystack Method aligns with the universal creative process here.
Today, Rohit is launching Non-Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future. In this final edition of his yearly non-obvious trends book, Rohit has arrived at some fascinating trends, or “curated observations of the accelerating present.” The 13 trends of 2020 include the cleverly-named Protective Tech, Flux Commerce, and Purposeful Profit. Rohit illustrates each trend with unique stories and charts to show how they evolved from other trends he has predicted over the years. He also provides a scorecard for all of the trend predictions he’s made since the beginning, with letter grade ratings to indicate how they’ve held up over time.
Rohit begins the book by laying out the most comprehensive manual yet on how to use the Haystack Method. As do all effective creative processes, Rohit’s begins with mindset. Five mindsets, to be exact. To get started thinking non-obviously, try out these mindsets and grab your copy of the book to take it to the next level.
5 Non-Obvious Mindsets
Non-Obvious Mindset #1: Be Observant
Observation is the basis of creativity, and it’s no different for non-obvious thinking. Rohit suggests “training yourself to notice the details that others miss.”
Try one of Rohit’s three favorite exercises to help you to become more observant:
Explain the world to children.
One of the best ways to hone your observation skills is to explain the world around you to children. For example, when one of my kids asked me recently why construction vehicles and traffic signs are yellow, but most cars aren’t, it forced me to think about something I might never have considered.
The answer? Yellow is more visible from a distance, and in American culture, it is recognized as a color associated with messages of “caution” or “alert.” (Non-Obvious Megatrends, p.17)
Non-Obvious Mindset #2: Be Curious
Curiosity opens the door to creative, non-obvious thinking. Rohit advises that you “ask questions, invest in learning, and approach unfamiliar situations with a sense of wonder.”
Try this exercise from the book to help you hone your curiosity:
Ask questions constantly.
A few years ago, I was invited to deliver a talk at an event for the paint industry. I arrived early, wandered around the exhibit hall and asked many questions. In 30 minutes, I learned how paint is mixed, why there is an industry debate about the virtues of all-plastic cans versus steel ones, and what impact computerized color-matching systems had on sales. I have had similar experiences and conversations with thousands of professionals across dozens of industries. The result is that I know a little bit about so many different groups that I’m confident I can make any talk relevant for any audience. My curiosity has prepared me to succeed in working in any industry. (Non-Obvious Megatrends, p.19)
Non-Obvious Mindset #3: Be Fickle
This is a harder one to explain without Rohit’s engaging stories, but essentially it means that you should be open to changing your mind and reserving judgment on the meaning or direction that ideas might take. It relates to restraining yourself from overanalyzing and potentially rejecting an idea at first blush. Let ideas and thoughts marinate over time and see how they then change form with new context.
This analog approach that Rohit suggests in the book will help you embrace a new way to consider ideas without analysis paralysis:
Save ideas offline.
Digital note-taking tools can be great at saving information, but most tend to prioritize recently added content and bury the rest. While I do use note-taking apps on my phone, I tear stories out of magazines and put them all in an ideas folder that sits on my desk. Saving ideas offline enables me to give each one equal weight, no matter when I saved it. Having them in physical form also enables me to spread them out later—a key element of the Haystack Method that you’ll learn in Chapter 3. (Non-Obvious Megatrends, p. 21)
Non-Obvious Mindset #4: Be Thoughtful
Being thoughtful relates again to the self-discipline required to reserve early judgment, another key to creative thinking. When you rush straight from an idea to a solution, your final product will be missing the refinement that emerges in the development process. There is great wisdom in this mindset.
Rohit’s suggestion may seem like a simple technique to improve your thoughtfulness, but clearly not enough people are aware of it:
Wait a moment.
Whether you are interacting online or in person, taking the time to think about what you want to say always pays off. Not only will you say what you really mean, but you’ll avoid making a gaffe because you haven’t considered how others might misinterpret your thoughts. (Non-Obvious Megatrends, p. 23)
Non-Obvious Mindset #5: Be Elegant
Elegance is a criteria point in research-backed models for evaluating creative products. To get into this mindset, Rohit suggests that we “describe ideas or insights in more beautiful, deliberate, simple, and understandable ways.”
Take Rohit’s advice to heart in the next email that you compose:
Keep it short.
Simplicity goes hand in hand with elegance. When it comes to expressing your ideas, this usually means using as few words as possible. It is also a well-known marker of expertise that when you truly understand something, you can explain it to a layperson without dumbing it down. (Non-Obvious Megatrends, p. 25)
Non-Obvious Megatrends not only delivers this year’s business trends, but also provides a how-to guide to a new type of creative process. To start thinking non-obviously, begin by practicing these five different mindsets that will help you think differently from the crowd.