Think differently

What do I mean by "thinking differently"? This phrase, coined by Steve Jobs, is getting a lot of attention these days. The iPhone and iPad are testimonials to Jobs' belief that he could create something ...

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How to develop creative solutions to solving problems

by Dorothy Garlough, RDH

My mouth and head are at opposite ends. I run for miles yet never leave my bed. What am I?

What on earth? This doesn't make sense. Enigmas such as this challenge our brains. When we try to unravel the answer, we try to logically analyze it, but of course there isn't any rhyme or reason to it. Actually there is; we simply need to "think differently."

What do I mean by "thinking differently"? This phrase, coined by Steve Jobs, is getting a lot of attention these days. The iPhone and iPad are testimonials to Jobs' belief that he could create something that the world didn't know it was missing. But do any of us mere mortals have a chance at novel designs, thinking outside the box, or coming up with new ideas and solutions to old problems?

Today's world demands that we learn to think differently. Eighty percent of business leaders see innovation as a necessity for the rapidly changing global economy. Educators are revising methods for teaching. They recognize that the traditional model focuses on left-brain training, which means being precise and finding one correct answer. Little time is given to more spatial, synthesizing, right-brain training. Experts understand that left-brain teaching methods not only disengage our children, but also do not equip them for today, where innovation is no longer optional; it is essential. In addition to teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, teachers today are promoting the need for right-brain function by teaching creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. Nowadays, we need to find multiple right answers, look at the whole picture, and challenge what has always been. We need to "think differently."

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Innovation is defined as an idea, product, or process that adds value. The corporate world often propagates innovation by challenging the status quo and questioning what always has been. Dentistry could benefit from revisiting processes that no longer deliver a collaborative way of thinking. One way of challenging the status quo is to look at the "languaging" phenomena in dentistry, i.e., telling dental personnel what to tell patients. Researchers are finding that, just like with students, the model of being spoken to vs. being engaged in the learning process is a formula for failure. The languaging model is difficult to learn because the team doesn't own it. They have not had input or charged up their creative minds to speak to their unique and personal needs within the practice. There is no collaboration, no open communication, no brainstorming, and no buying in. The results are often disappointing and expensive, with ongoing training required for memorizing rote wording.

Problem solving is often not addressed in an engaging way. If ongoing challenges are not addressed in a creative way, it wears on the entire team, diminishing not only the efficiency and effectiveness of the office, but also morale. Picture an office with ongoing strife between staff. Although subgrouping is common in offices, this creates division between the "in" group and the "out" group. Often the result is conflict, discomfort, increased absenteeism, or rapid turnover of staff. This is costly to the dental practice financially as well as in efficiency, loyalty, and quality. We all know the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing and expecting different results. Innovative processes are required to orchestrate change.

We need creative and divergent thinking to address ongoing problems. When we focus on the challenge with such a mindset, we ask, "How can I think about this in a different way? Do I need to approach this from another perspective? What else is going on here? What am I missing?"

In starting the creative thinking process, be sure to envision what's needed to reach a solution, and be aware that assumptions are being put aside. When you're certain that you're open to new solutions, look at the possibilities to the problem to develop four skills:

  1. Fluency -- A rapid, productive generation of multiple possible solutions. Yet, you need to employ a filter and evaluating mechanism to ensure that you're utilizing the art and science of true possibilities.
  2. Elaboration -- Thinking things through, looking at all of the details of the problem. Employ open-mindedness to explore beyond the obvious. Question the status quo and explore other alternatives, even those different and uncomfortable.
  3. Flexibility -- Remaining open to entertain multiple approaches simultaneously. Look at possibilities as modular vs. linear design by seeing the whole picture.
  4. Originality -- Not being afraid to try something different; something no one else has thought of.

The innovation module of divergent thinking looks at many possibilities of resolving issues and new approaches, which allows you to achieve a spontaneous, random, unorganized (not disorganized), free-flowing manner of thinking. It helps you loosen control of the left hemisphere of the brain, permitting new ideas and solutions. Creativity changes your perspective; it opens communication and allows you to use the dual process theory.

According to the dual process theory, there are two systems used to solve problems. The first involves logical and analytical thought processes based on reason, while the second involves intuitive and automatic processes based on experience. Research has demonstrated that insight probably involves both processes; however, the second process is more influential.The right-brain function allows you to tap into different parts of the brain, which sparks the "eureka" moment – that moment of insight that not only brings a solution to the problem, but feels good. As humans, good feels right.

Creative play expands imagination and, ironically, improves memory. When you practice word games, puzzles, visual exercises, or learn a new skill, you naturally improve. When you exercise your right-functioning brain, you begin to think outside the box, and the answer to the opening riddle becomes clear.

At opposite ends are my mouth and head. I run for miles yet never leave my bed. What am I?

A river, of course.

Now, doesn't that make sense?! RDH


Creating habits that enhance balanced thinking has a positive outcome. We need to develop new best practices of creative play. Learning to think differently is fun, and developing the habits listed here are helpful for dental personnel.

  • Keeping a journal -- Spend a few minutes at the end of each day to highlight the events, cases, and challenges of the day.
  • Brainstorming -- Exercise divergent thinking at staff meetings and in dealing with patients who are noncompliant.
  • Mind mapping -- Has been shown to help with associations. Learn to use skills in mind mapping when you want to discover new avenues.
  • Free writing -- Write whatever comes to mind.

DOROTHY GARLOUGH, RDH, MPA, is no stranger to "different thinking." She is a creative consultant who has been both a business owner of a successful photography business and a clinical dental hygienist. She understands the need for innovation and creative thinking vs. reproductive thinking in the workplace. Dorothy drives this message through her business, Innovation Advancement (www.innovationadvancement.com) Today, she leads teams towards engagement in both dental offices and business, helping empower people to unleash their potential and achieve success!

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