Although different cultural perspectives are often seen as fuel for disagreement and dissent, they can in fact provide the positive creative dynamic needed for innovation.
The Japanese have a couple of useful terms for two contrasting creative perspectives. Firstly, the word shukanteki, meaning “the host’s point of view”, refers to the concept of subjectivity, and why it’s important to embrace and empathise with all cultural perspectives.
The second word, kyakkanteki, takes another angle, referring to ‘the guest’s point of view’. It implies the ability to perceive oneself or a situation from the outside, as if from the perspective of a stranger looking in.
The Japanese believe that all phenomena can and should be seen from multiple points of view. While westerners place high value on detached, objective perspectives and an unemotional, scientific approach, the Japanese believe that each additional perspective contributes to creating a more comprehensive, connected and holistic picture.
This holistic approach can lead to much deeper insights for authentic human-centric innovation.
Learning to feel what others feel
Watching someone else in pain can give us some sense of going through the same experience ourselves. This isn’t just the imagination at work; it’s about triggering a deeper physiological connection through our innate ability to relate to what others go through.
Simply observing someone else receive a pinprick to their finger can elicit in us the same response in the same neuron. This is a survival mechanism: by learning from others through imitation, we can learn how best to survive.
But researchers believe it’s also a means of connecting us with others and helping us to relate to them through empathy. It helps us to access and understand the minds of others, which facilitates social behaviour.
People who are more empathetic have been found to be more purpose-driven and more successful, mostly because they have a greater understanding of the reasons why they do what they do.
They are able to embrace failure more readily, and they see setbacks as temporary obstacles and positive learning experiences rather than as indications of failure.
From introspection to outrospection
Philosopher Roman Krznaric proposes that outrospection can help develop curiosity and creative thinking and ultimately build better relationships and a better world.
By expanding your moral universe, and by understanding others’ world views and beliefs along with the experiences that shaped them, Krznaric suggests you can expand your thinking and open up possibilities for real transformative change.
We have argued that empathy is a foundation for creative thinking and the first essential step in the purpose-driven innovation process.
Sure, innovation may be triggered by a competition or hackathon, or it may arise from a casual observation or desire, but the purpose-driven innovation we are talking about here can only come from a connection with people’s deeper needs. It’s only through being able to see things from other angles that we can learn to get outside our own habitual ways of thinking and see things differently.
Travel far and wide before zooming in
Human-centric innovation ensures that whatever creative ideas are developed will actually connect with the end user by meeting a relevant deeper need or challenge. Yet we need to take the time to, at least metaphorically, “travel far and wide” in order to gain the broadest perspective possible before zooming in on a particular experience.
As ex-Stanford d.school associate Dave Thomsen says, “To stay innovative you need to stay inspired. Despite the plethora of information available behind the comfortable confines of your computer screen, you risk mental stagnation when you fall into predictable routines. Get out into the world and into the contexts that people are using your product – you’ll be surprised how quickly unexpected opportunities are revealed”.
Here’s a checklist of simple ways you can incorporate other perspectives during the innovation process:
Seek different viewpoints to your own
Ask diverse people how they see the challenge in order to ensure different perspectives have been considered.
Incorporate multiple points of view in the whole process
Include a range of people from different backgrounds in the problem-solving process to ensure different perspectives are considered throughout.
Consider diverse perspectives when ideating
Try the exercise “What would xxx say?” when brainstorming different ideas. For example, “What would Gandhi say?”, “What would an alien say?”, “What would a child say?”.
This process of seeking the broadest possible perspectives before zooming back in on specific connections and potential solutions can ensure a powerful human-centric approach to innovation.
Gaia and Andrew Grant are the authors of “The Innovation Race: How to change a culture to change the game”. This article is an adapted excerpt from the book.