Posts Tagged problem-solving

3 Lessons on Innovation from The Martian

3 Lessons in Innovation from The Martian

Everyone is talking about the latest sci-fi thriller, The Martian, which stars Matt Damon (Interstellar, The Departed), is directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down) and is adapted from Andy Weir’s novel about Mark Watney, a marooned astronaut who uses all his wit and ingenuity to survive on the inhospitable Mars.

The sci-fi movie is being heralded for being more science than fiction, having consulted extensively with NASA and having featured scientifically accurate technology so real and feasible that movie-goers thought the movie was based on a true story.

I was blown away at how beautifully the movie was done and relieved that it lacked the cliche scenes typical in space blockbusters.  You won’t find the super smart astronaut doing ironically non-super smart astronaut things. You won’t find an astronaut glancing through his rocket ship window at the little blue dot called earth with somber commentary on human insignificance. And you won’t find any overly science-y jargoned explanation between scientists that only confuses the audience more.

What you will find is a pure survivalist tale that illustrates the power of human perseverance and collaboration to do brilliantly innovative things. And it will sure make you feel proud to be a human Earthling.

So here are 3 lessons on innovating for you Earthlings out there from The Martian. (Caution: Some spoiler alerts- so go watch the movie before you read this!)

To innovate, reframe and solve the right problems, one at a time

At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you and you’re going to say, this is it…Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work… You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.

This was probably one of the best quotes from The Martian. It leaves you feeling that nothing is really impossible or hopeless. Although faced with terrifying circumstances, aka being stranded hundreds of millions of miles away from any other living human, Watney reframed his situation and focused on solving the problems at hand, one by one. And by doing so, he kept his sanity and ultimately his life.

For Watney, the big question was “How do I survive on Mars?” – which sounds like a completely impossible scenario.  But Watney began breaking down the question into smaller, more solvable problems that he began to work out one after the other. “How do I grow enough food?” “How do I make water?” “How do I communicate with Earth?”

Of course our own big questions we ask about our own business and products may not be as life threatening (though we think it may be) – but they are often questions that feel too abstract or too complex to solve. By reframing your problem into tangible challenges – you can and will be able solve for the seemingly impossible.

To innovate, incorporate diverse perspectives and be open to collaboration

A beautiful moment in The Martian took place when the directors of CNSA (China National Space Administration) discussed whether to postpone their own mission by offering their Taeyang Shen space probe rocket to the US to help them retrieve Watney or to simply remain silent, free from repercussions since the rocket was classified information that no one knew about. Ultimately, in the name of science, they decided to reach out and help their fellow scientists.

How often do we look outside our own industry? (If you’re in financial services or healthcare, what can you learn from CPG or the tech sector?)
How often do we look outside at what other cultures are doing? (What can US companies learn from the success of Chinese products and companies?)

Often we can be narrow minded and blinded by our own expertise and knowledge in a field. However it’s diversity and collaboration that fuels innovation, which is one of the reasons why we take our insight and innovation clients on ‘safaris’ to gain inspiration from lateral industries and cultures, to open up their mind in a way that their office desk can not. It is through this exposure of diverse thoughts and perspectives that we can achieve great things.

To innovate, welcome humor

I admit it’s fatally dangerous, but I’d get to fly around like Iron Man.

This great line by Watney during one of the most suspenseful, and even ludicrous, scenes in the movie had me smiling from ear to ear, even though I was also clenching my fists in anxiety. The Martian is such an intense thriller, but it smartly keeps lighthearted with refreshing quips by Watney – which brings me to the power of humor.

Studies have shown that humor can help in ideation and creativity, allowing for more eureka! moments. Even brainstorming the ridiculously exaggerated of the imagination could help you to break out of your linear way of thinking by allowing the mind to associate new ideas/relationships more freely- and ultimately lead to more plausible solutions you wouldn’t have thought of before – and if you’re Watney- save your life.

The Martian was an uplifting story and a remarkable demonstration of human ingenuity, offering great lessons even to those who aren’t stranded in space. To all the innovators out there on Earth- take note.

Mart Watney Innovating GIF

Image Credit: IndieWire

The Paniq Room: Experimentation is the key out

PaniqRoom

Recently, my team found ourselves with only one hour to escape a psychotic serial killer’s apartment before he came home from the bar. Thankfully… it wasn’t real life. Some of us actually went on a team outing to Paniq Room – a live escape game where people are locked in a room to decipher hidden clues to “escape” before the time runs out.

It was an exciting and challenging game where we had to think fast without a lot of direction. None of us knew what to expect when we stepped into the dimly lit apartment with its eccentric paraphernalia and were given absolutely no additional guidance except to escape before the time runs out.

As the door was locked behind us, we realized we had to be scrappy and experimental because there wasn’t time to prepare the perfect strategy. This got me thinking about approaches to uncovering insights to solve tough problems.

I’ll admit I’m a bit of a perfectionist and often don’t share things until they’re past a certain point of being completed. But this experience quickly highlighted how traditional approaches and perfectionism can unnecessarily hinder progress.

In one instance during the lock-in, we uncovered a Sudoku-like puzzle that we had to solve in order to reveal a highlighted code to a locked box.  We had a few guesses to some of the numbers in the code, but I wanted to erase it and start over so it could be done the way I normally approach a Sudoku puzzle. While I was slowly reworking the puzzle, my colleague noticed the very little time we had left and started taking some of the guessed numbers and trying them out on the lock. I didn’t believe that it could work that way, solving Sudoku had to be done in a methodical way, the way I knew it to work. But, before I knew it, she had it unlocked, so we quickly abandoned the puzzle to move onto the contents of the unlocked box to escape the room.

So often in insight and innovation work, we can get hung up on pre-judging outcomes or ideas in closed conference rooms, letting our fear of failure keep us spinning ideas around in our heads and wasting time when sometimes we just simply need to put unfinished ideas out there with consumers to quickly test, adjust, and retest. The “test, pass, fail, and replace” model is no longer efficient.  Constant experimentation is truly key to get out of that trapped box of perfectionism.

To learn about antedote’s new platform, Idea Accelerator, that allows you to explore and iterate concepts with consumers globally and in real time, please click below:

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Bad mornings are good for insight

I’ve never been a morning person. If I know I have an early meeting to get to, I have to set more than one alarm (just in case), and if I have a really early flight to make, I just don’t bother going to bed. The snooze button is my best friend.

yawningYep – the morning is not for me. The rising sun greets me with a fat punch in the face followed by a swift backhander rather than the gentle kiss of opportunities that a new day will bless me with. I’ve always looked at those people who leap out of bed with a smile on their face and a bucket-load of energy with a level of jealousy (and let’s face it, a lot of irritation and annoyance).

So here is some good news for all those people like me.

Being a groggy mess in the mornings, and wallowing in bed between snooze-buttons, or standing zombie-like in the shower for minutes on end, is actually good for creative insight generation.

Insight-based problem solving needs a big fat, unfocused approach to thinking. Flashes of inspiration are much more likely to come when your conscious, rational, inhibitory cognitive processes are at their weakest and your thoughts are allowed to wander around unchecked.

The British psychological Society reports a study by Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks where students were given a mix of insight-based and analytical problems to solve. The students were much better at solving the insight-focused problems at their sub-optimal time of functioning (early morning for us night-owls). Time of day didn’t do anything to affect the analytic tasks.

There’s even more good news.

There’s a whole bunch of research on the effect of caffeine on the brain, and while there is some debate over the specifics, everyone pretty much agrees that small amounts of caffeine improve hedonic tone (generalized feelings of happiness and contentment) and reduce anxiety, Caffeine has also been shown to significantly increase problem solving, decision making, and concentration.

So there you have it: undeniable proof that a groggy early morning for insight followed by a swift boost of caffeine (in your beverage of choice) for focusing on the insight, and making decisions about where to take it, seems like a perfect recipe for success.

Now I need to find some research that supports the fact that weekend-long Netflix binges increase IQ.