"All over the world, people just like you believe there is a nobler, better way to work, live and bring novel and life-altering solutions, services, products, experiences, policies, processes, and businesses into the world, but they are continually derailed by the pervasive power of the status quo."
In Think Wrong: How to Conquer the Status Quo and Do Work That Matters, John Bielenberg, Mike Burn, and Greg Galle, designers and innovators, show us how to challenge the status quo and build a culture of problem solving for both small problems and big challenges alike. They believe the way we solve problems is broken. The methods and assumptions we use are outdated as we tend to return to familiar well-trodden paths.
The people we call pioneers and innovators are not necessarily geniuses, but they all have the capacity to “Think Wrong” and approach problems and challenges from a different perspective—think of Galileo asserting that the sun, and not the earth, was the center of the Universe; or the Wright Brothers, who were convinced a man could pilot a flying machine.
This book provides us with new tools to drive change and solve the most complex challenges we are now facing and create the best possible future.
Taking the Bold Path
"The Bold Path, is by definition, abnormal. All of us find ourselves on the predictable path of how things have been, how things are, and how they will be."
Physiology (our brain and the way it is wired) and our culture (our beliefs and worldviews) are both the culprits of this status quo. To keep from conforming to the norm (the predictable path), we will need to be able to deflect from the status quo and protect ourselves from the biological and cultural forces trying to pull us back in. We have to Think Wrong in order to follow the Bold Path.
Business schools and training programs perpetuate outmoded thinking through the language, frameworks, tools, and techniques they teach. They focus on best practices, optimization, ROI, and metrics. They become the standards by which we are expected to measure pretty much everything. When we know the problem and are certain of the solution, the Think Right Practices are incredibly valuable. When we don’t know how well we understand the problem and how certain we are about the solution, when we navigate in the uncertain and the unknown, the Think Wrong approach is the right practice to use.
The authors have identified important moments when the flame of possibility gets extinguished and have developed six Think Wrong Practices—Be Bold, Get Out, Let Go, Make Stuff, Bet Small, and Move Fast—that simultaneously advance compelling solutions while defending them from attacks by well-meaning Right Thinkers.
These practices can be used individually or in combination at critical moments in the discovery and development process. They will help us to stay on the Bold Path and keep from slipping back into the status quo. We dive into two of them below.
"There is rarely a ‘Dream’ moment in the world of right thinking. Thinking right about a challenge or an opportunity means doing what you are told, focusing on the bottom line at the expense of game-changing solutions, and going along to get along."
The practice of Be Bold supports the pivotal “Dream” moment. This is a crucial time, yet too often we brush right through it in our rush to finish. We’re trapped in top-down hierarchies and command-and-control cultures that tell us not to ask too many questions. The path to a genius solution starts with discovering our true challenge. Be Bold Drills get us questioning the way things are and prime us for how things could ideally be. Be Bold helps us frame the challenge or opportunity we want to address and define the difference we hope to make.
Bold ideas scare people. They can also feel like a distraction from getting things done and go against a culture in which questions are not valued. We worry that our vision won’t find support in our organization. Be Bold Drills (like “Challenge the Challenge,” for example) upset these dynamics by creating playful, respectful, and productive environments within which our teams can aspire to achieve more. Let’s have a look at the example below.
In 2000, entrepreneur David Bastone was shocked to learn that his favorite restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area had served as a hub for human trafficking. He then studied the forces behind trafficking for five years and wrote a book about it (Not for Sale). One of the areas he studied is the rainforest in the Peruvian Amazon, where both the people and the environment are exploited by human traffickers.
The bold question and challenge here was: “How might we use social enterprise to help disrupt the exploitation of villagers and their environment in this region of the Peruvian Amazon?” Traditional answers might include stricter governmental regulation, more think tanks on the subject or international conferences aimed at incremental changes over enforcement. They took a different approach. They gathered a group of diverse individuals—doctors, scientists, lawyers, agronomists, healthcare entrepreneurs—and encouraged them to think about it as an entrepreneurial opportunity rather than a trafficking problem.
One participant noted the health benefits of Cat’s Claw, which is prevalent in this area. Another thought about using this to make tea. They spent the next hours envisioning a beverage company and that idea ultimately became REBBL Tonic. People from seven villages in the Madre de Dios region now have greater economic security through contracts with fair trade and organic exporters to provide Cat’s Claw and other ingredients, and millions of consumers are able to participate in eradicating human trafficking by buying a drink. This bold idea never could have happened without first overcoming the reaction most people have about fighting human trafficking: It’s too big, too dark, too complex an issue. The only way Not For Sale arrived at this ingenious solution was by being bold enough to think wrong about how we might fight slavery in the modern age.
"Move Fast is all about becoming friends with the unknown in order to test a host of possibilities quickly and to expedite results that matter. It represents a bias to action over dissection of direction."
We can hear design students or engineers saying the their project’s goal is to raise awareness. We should not merely raise awareness but also make something that actually works and do it in the field. We should be challenged to go deeper into a problem, and the best way to do that is to make as many things as quickly as possible and see what happens.
Failure is part of the learning curve. It takes people time to get comfortable with that. Usually people don’t just want to get to the end; they want every step to be correct. But we have overcome this notion out and understand that the more steps we take, and the more mistakes we learn from, the more likely we are to achieve a successful end. Move Fast accelerates the learning process so we can push our difference-making solutions out into the world.
The founding members of the Think Wrong Club featured in this book have two things in common. First, they are deeply driven to make a difference. They cannot help but see things both as they are and as they should be. Second, they share a frustration with how difficult and slow it is to create the change they envision. Thinking right already has its language, tools, best practices, defenses and case studies. Wrong thinkers need their own language, frameworks, tools and techniques to counter the existing norms. The authors hope we will adopt the Think Wrong Practices to dream, seek, imagine, build, learn, and share in order to change not just how we work, but the way we live.