Girls Who Code broke our preconceptions that girls can't code; Julia Child broke our preconceptions about French food as being a specialty only the French can master; i-Phone broke our preconceptions about what a phone is or can do.
Breakthrough companies, services, ideas are built on broken preconceptions.
To have a preconception in the literal sense means that you have an opinion before you learn or experience something; in design, it is an opinion you have before you create something.
To come up with a new way of doing anything you need to break your preconceptions, letting go of your belief that there is a right or wrong way of doing something.
This can often feel counter intuitive or uncomfortable, so here are some soft tools to help you get through it.
1. Learn your history
Did you know lawns were conceived in middle ages by French and English aristocracy as a symbol of wealth and power? I didn't, until I started reading Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari's great new book. Reading it, I would think differently before I choose lawn for my yard.
In other words, know your history before you go with conventional wisdom or the obvious answer.
"This is the best reason to learn history: not in order to predict the future, but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies." Yuval Noah Harari
Break your topic into its parts to see what it is made up of. Once you break something apart, you won't be able to put it back together quite the way it was before. I often use the example of Todd McLellan's work about objects he takes apart to help visualize deconstruction.
When you deconstruct you break up all the presumed links between parts. This frees you up to change things around, to add some new parts, delete others and connect the dots in new ways.
3. Practice Wrong Thinking
Come up with the worst possible ideas to break out of your box of traditional ideas. In fact, I wrote about this design tool for Inc., Your Worst Idea Might Be Your Best Idea.
One of my favorite example of wrong thinking is Blackle, the black Google homepage that has saved 6 million watt hours to date by challenging our assumption of the white Google homepage.
4. Ask a Child
Children are honest and without preconceptions. So next time you want to think without preconceptions, ask a kid. They will tell you exactly what they think, without filter and preconception.
"Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing." Thomas Henry Huxley
In the US we use cutlery. In Senegal people eat with their hands. In Japan, with chopsticks.
Traveling and even working in different cultures is one of the key traits of successful leaders who think differently. According to Roger Martin, author of Opposable Minds (one of my favorite leadership books), this is because it teaches us to have faith in multiplicity of answers, even when they seem to be in conflict.
Travel to other countries to understand that people do same things in different ways.
6. Nurture a healthy dose of discontent
I worshipped the iPhone in 2007. But in 2017, I am ready to redesign it. Don Norman, the father of User Experience Design, is of the same mind and wrote about How Apple Is Giving Design A Bad Name.
If you love something, that is a hard preconception to break. A healthy dose of dislike or dissatisfaction is necessary to allow you to develop a new point of view and see problems to solve for.
7. Read the new research
Money doesn't make people happy; judges are more lenient after lunch; sleeping on something is a good idea. Who knew!
There is so much interesting, counter-intuitive information coming out of cognitive psychology and neuroscience. Read them to break the old preconceptions. Here are 2 favorites: The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt and Thinking, Fast and Slow, the New York Times bestseller, by Daniel Kahneman.
With all of these tools you can break your preconceptions and uncover new, often surprising ideas. And no hammer will be needed!
What are your tools or tricks of the trade for breaking our preconceptions to think differently? Please share them with me. I would love to hear from you.
Design the life and work you love!