September 7, 2018
People such as artists and innovators have always used “elastic thinking” in the creative process. Now, in an environment that’s always changing, we all must use this type of thinking to be creative and to prosper in our professional and personal lives, says Leonard Mlodinow, an author and theoretical physicist, in an AMA Edgewise podcast.
“More and more today, because our surroundings and our circumstances are constantly changing, we have to use elastic thinking in our…everyday personal life, our everyday work life. It’s not just something by which you create Frankenstein or special relativity or a Picasso. It’s now something that we have to all use just to thrive,” said Mlodinow, whose latest book is Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Time of Change (Pantheon, 2018).
In his podcast interview, Mlodinow explained that the spectrum of human thought includes:
Logical analytical thinking. Here, you start with a certain premise or set of assumptions and use the rules of reasoning to answer a question or address a problem. This type of thinking works well when you have a fixed paradigm and need to solve any problems that arise within it, Mlodinow said.
Elastic thinking. With elastic thinking, by contrast, you make up the framework from which you will examine a problem. “Elastic thinking isn’t about following rules. It’s about making up the rules,” he said. Some of the dimensions of elastic thinking are your exploratory capabilities or tendencies and how new or original your ideas are.
We need to understand the framework for our thinking, Mlodinow added, because this framework can help you think but also can constrain your thinking. “It pushes you to think in a certain direction,” he said. Companies must continually question their framework because if they do not, competitors will.
Mlodinow believes that culture, which reflects the mindset of people, has a great influence on elastic thinking. In regimented societies that value authority and adherence to rules, people in general will be less adept at elastic thinking and there will tend to be less creative ideas.
If a work environment makes people afraid to fail or to be wrong, it will be a barrier to creativity. As Mlodinow noted, good ideas often “bubble up from the bottom” rather than coming from the top down.
“Create an atmosphere where your employees are encouraged to question, to argue, to think, to come up with new ideas, and where you and the higher-up people don’t just give that process lip service, but really take them seriously, do experiments, not be afraid to fail,” he said.
Listen to the podcast with Leonard Mlodinow.
For podcasts on a variety of topics, visit the AMA Edgewise library.