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“Think Wrong” methodology

Captured by Misha Bykov, edited by Evgenii Fedotov

It was our pleasure to greet wonderful Valerie Rivera, Stanford MBA and CEO/Founder at Take Back Work when she agreed to visit Silicon Valley Design Thinking Club and try to disturb our everyday life. “Think Wrong” methodology is a radical problem-solving system focused on your imagination, creativity, and embracing changes. One of main points there is how thinking differently helps you to cope with changing current status quo: transitioning from what is often viewed as the norm to new state that previously seemed to be totally wrong yet finally becomes your new operating environment. Valerie’s experience confirms that people who are willing to think wrong often create the community of catalysts whose ideas and ways to solve problems are different but positive. Unusual approaches make revolution possible instead of letting evolution take its steady slow course. While evolution may bring changes to the status quo, it is revolution that can guarantee the desired outcome.

The main point of the event was to make first steps toward building a community of driving force, freely discussing any ideas regardless of position in company’s hierarchy. According to Valerie’s main strategy, everyone within an organization has the potential to bring a kind of change they desire. One of her guiding principles is determining the viability of change as ikigai, a Japanese concept representing the intersections between what one loves, what they are good at, what the world needs, and what one can be paid for. If people are at ikigai, the world could be a better place, and people could be happier.

At the event, Valerie was keen on ensuring active participation of all the club members in somewhat unusual activities. She got the audience to be more comfortable with each other’s presence by familiarizing through an interactive process of naming the kind of tool the person thinks he is, followed by reasoning for that choice. The exercise also allowed to determine individual strengths and talents, that are most suitable in the learning process.

An important aspect of getting to think different was to understand why people perform tasks in a given way, and whether alternative approaches could be used. The major reason why people tend to think straightforward was the fear of judgment by the society, the workplace, and the community of people that they daily interact with. Organizations, for instance, tend to have a set of desirable behaviour models (defined by internal culture and policies) applicable to all employees, therefore discouraging deviations on workplace. People may stop thinking differently, bonded by fear of potential undesirable consequences or inappropriate criticism. Environment or culture that people belongs to, as well as neuro-pathways in the brain, formed under pressure of cultural environment, make it extremely difficult to think wrong.

The creators of methodology were interested in getting people to imagine scenarios where the conventional wisdom do not lead to desired outcomes. While not all unconventional approaches work, there should be always at least one alternative that proves itself viable. As such, an unsuccessful attempt on different path should not discourage new attempts. And Silicon Valley, with its rich history of trying, falling, recovering and inventing previously unimaginable things out of dreams and totally “wrong”, unreasonable and impossible approaches is the best place to unfold your inner “crazy” thinker.

To introduce her main points and possible positive effect, Valerie offered an example of an individual who decided to leave predictable path in favor of a twisted one. She presented a video of eating competition TV show in Japan, involving a lady and a gentleman. Both have a cotton candy of same size, but to the surprise of audience, the lady won the competition in a record three seconds. She quickly squeezed her cotton candy before eating, therefore simplifying the task to one bite when the gentleman was still trying hard to bite fluffy candy as fast as he can. Suddenly realizing that lady already completed her task while he wasn’t even on a halfway through, he was too surprised to continue. Young lady used her knowledge of cotton candy to shift her strategy from relying on speed (usual path) to simplify the task first by reducing volume (unusual shortcut) and eat it in record time. She ripped it off its stick, rolled it into a ball, and shoved the whole ball into her mouth before chewing gently. Her ingenuity got her off the predictable path to the bold one, and got her an achievement that no one would have thought possible.

Although cotton candy is a sweet topic, we decided to try harder things and concentrate on possible innovations for housing in the Bay Area. The choice was very relevant to the club audience. Valerie carried out an activity that she referred to as the deflection point. She requested the audience to join her near the whiteboard with their sticky notes. She asked audience to use the status quo in the Bay Area as point of reference and think about where current situation could lead in the next 2-5 years if everythings goes as is. Notes with plans and predictions were then placed below a line on the board. As people shared their thoughts, they helped to generate even more ideas for others. The speaker pointed out that benefit of using an approach of getting all possible points of view is that a wide range of ideas are visible and considered. Everyone has the possibility to express his opinion in the decision-making process. Once people in the audience were done with their thoughts on the first scenario, the speaker has drawn a different line and asked the audience to present more stickers with their thoughts on what they believe will be the outlook in a case of a rapid changes.

Valerie argued that there was a huge gap between the status quo and how things could have been if people can think differently more often. According to her, change is difficult, and as a result, many people prefer to stick with the current situation instead of trying new approaches. One way to get people to want to think differently was to create a sense of urgency. The audience presented their thoughts on some of the things that they believe hold people back from implementing changes, serving as anchors according to speaker’s terminology. She also requested the audience to talk about rockets (the things that propel people upwards). The audience then got an opportunity to vote on suggestions they believed should have the greatest impact in propelling them upwards, as well as those that they believe can be the greatest impediments for quick and disturbing progressive breakthroughs.

An analysis of the voting pattern helped us to come up with a list of shared beliefs regarding the factors, responsible for change as well as factors that stops them, hereby resulting in a shared vision for the group. Valerie noted that, when people within an organization or community have an opportunity to participate in actual implementation of ideas, they are more likely to play an active role in the achievement of planned goals. People are more committed when they understand and agree with what is in it for them personally, while pursuing common objectives. Having one’s innovative idea count in the discussion about the future is a small but important win for the individual and is bound to a bigger contribution to the common purpose of organization.

After completing her presentation on the think wrong methodology, Valerie got a very positive feedback as everyone had a great experience in general and had something they can refer as really insightful idea they got from this meeting. While many of us praised her for the great suggestions, her response was that they were actually the ones who made it a success through their active contribution. Willingness to share thoughts on the subject was main driving force for Valerie in going forward with lecture. In her lecture, Valerie reiterated the critical need for everyone’s active involvement in line with the core idea of the think wrong methodology. Without everyone on board, progress could be considerably slower. In organizations, where each individual point of view matters, it is vital that everyone becomes a part of the change to make it a success.

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