The art of innovation in the workplace

Gaia Grant
Andrew Grant

By and

written on October 9, 2017

How taking an artist’s perspective can change your approach to innovation.

Artists have the uncanny ability to see things in different dimensions, which has been found to generate more original ideas. Chinese artists, namely Shitao, were known to depict subjects from many angles at the same time, a technique which became known as “shifting perspectives”. This method allowed the artist to zoom out to give the viewer a broad aerial overview before zooming back in to highlight the finest details.

The art of seeing different perspectives is a technique that can dramatically improve the ways we innovate in the workplace today.

Preparing for the creative challenge

Creative geniuses have been found to be “multi-perceptive”; the ability to see several different perspectives at once. Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity synthesised different perspectives, and Leonardo da Vinci believed that no one was truly knowledgeable unless they were able to hold at least three different perspectives.

Ken Wilber, a prolific writer on transpersonal psychology, has exemplified this integration of different perspectives in his life’s work. “Any single perspective is likely to be partial, limited, perhaps even distorted, and only by taking multiple perspectives and multiple contexts can the knowledge quest be fully advanced,” says Wilber. He used the term “aperspectival”, meaning that no one perspective has priority or superiority.

Shifting perspectives

Innovation starts with creativity, and creativity is activated by broad exposure to different experiences and ideas. Being able to see from multiple perspectives helps to trigger empathy, which has been found to be essential for identifying the end user’s needs and ensuring innovations best meet these needs.

Yet what happens when we are unable to see more than one perspective at a time? How does that impact our ability to think creatively?

Most Artists and non-artists view the world differently. When groups of both are filmed viewing a series of pictures to see what their eyes focus on, artists have been found to scan the whole picture, including the “empty” spaces. Non-artists, on the other hand, typically focus on objects and people.

This study and others that have been done in the area indicate artists are able to break down what they see into the abstract elements, while non-artists tend to see what they expect as complete, archetypal images. Visualising all the elements of a situation from an artist’s “multi-perceptual” perspective is therefore critical for being able to find unique solutions.

Composing the complete picture

Here’s how it’s possible to utilise the artist’s “aperspectival” approach for more human-centric innovation:

  • Identify different perspectives. When facing a challenge, list all the different stakeholders and either interview them to find out their perspectives, or at least try to identify how they might think or feel through developing diverse personas to consider.
  • Map the different perspectives. An empathy map can also help to identify the thoughts, feelings, behaviours and perceptions of different stakeholders, and determine how they can best be understood and valued.
  • Zoom in and out. Practice looking at the big picture from multiple perspectives first, then zoom in on specific details to identify potential solutions, before zooming back out to check the impact of possible solutions in context.

It can be surprising to discover the creative solutions that can emerge when you break away from habitual ways of seeing things!

This article is an adapted excerpt from Gaia and Andrew Grant’s book “The Innovation Race: How to change a culture to change the game”.  

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