- Get curious to alternative perspectives and viewpoints.
- Daydream without restrictions to break thought patterns.
- Think of alternative ways to do things should you need to be flexible.
People say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I prefer the expression "it takes more effort to teach an old dog new tricks." Any time you want to learn something new it takes your brain a great amount of energy to build new neural pathways. If you are trying to change something you've already learned, it takes extra effort to build pathways that override the previous ones.
There are many ways to help build new skills, particularly problem-solving skills; they start with getting curious, thinking big, and then trying new things.
It will be hard to learn anything unless you are genuinely interested in it. So find ways to get curious. You can align the new topic to something that already motivates you—this can be a passion, a value, an attribute you like about yourself, or a goal you have. For example, you may want to be that go-to expert or may want to develop deeper relationships with others. Choose whatever will keep you engaged in the learning and build upon that. From there, here are some tips on how to get curious:
- Block out time in your calendar to get curious, either in isolation or with others
- Ponder and expose yourself to how people from an opposing viewpoint see a topic
- Ask others their opinion or their input before making a choice
- Ask people to walk you through how they made previous decisions
- Reflect back on successes and failures: were there themes?
- Have coffee with colleagues once-removed to understand what they do and figure out how your roles may intertwine
- Find connections between others or the bigger picture. For example, how do the other department's objectives impact your day-to-day? How do your customers' actions impact your role?
- Read the news and determine how events/laws/policies impact you or your organization
To see if you are building on your knowledge from someone else's viewpoint, say summary statements of what you have heard and whether you have heard them correctly.
Once you have had time to get curious and gather information, it's time to dream big. What would you do with unlimited time, money, and resources? What would you do if there were no office politics or bureaucracy? "Blue sky" thinking can help you get outside existing processes and thought patterns to find new solutions. Some tips on how to build daydreaming into your routine are:
- Schedule time for daydreaming and block out distractions (either individually or as part of a team)
- Break the adrenaline rush of firefighting the small problems. The quick checklist items feel good in the moment but don't contribute to your sense of meaning or purpose in your work
- Think one step ahead, about how others may react to your moves
- Become a student of the competitor. Act as if you are an employee of the competitor and try to understand why they are choosing their strategy
- Consider how your daydreams could become reality. How much effort and resources are needed and compare it to the potential payoff
To check yourself on this is to see whether you are actually spending the time daydreaming. Whether it's weekly/monthly/quarterly, hold yourself accountable for achieving this goal.
Work outside your comfort zone
It's one thing to have a well-thought-out plan, but it's another to be able to flex that plan at a moment's notice. If you have done your due diligence in getting curious and daydreaming, you will know the pros/cons of contingency plans by understanding the drivers, the downstream implications, and who needs to be looped in. Here are some ideas and tips on how to try different solutions:
- Make "what if" plans for likely risks/bumps in the process
- Take on a task that is ambiguous or has a high likelihood of failing
- Do a feasibility study to determine potential risks/rewards of a new idea
- If and when resources are limited, look for alternatives (e.g., what tasks can be done with tightened budgets)
- Offer to do the budget or forecast
- Get out of perfectionist thinking and recognize when 80 percent is good enough
You will know your problem-solving skills are developing when you begin to get excited about change and ambiguity rather than anxious.
As learning and trying new things becomes more exciting and second nature, you will find that this energy transfers across your whole life. You are more likely to gain empathy for others, you can build resilience during stressful times, and you gain confidence and self-esteem to take on bigger challenges.