Imaginative And Intuitive Responses
Gordon Wainwright is an independent management training consultant. He has written several books on management communication skills, including 'Read Faster, Recall More' (also published by How To Books) and runs courses for a wide range of organisations, including multinationals and government departments.
Hard work is no substitute for talent. If you can find a way of doing something well and quickly without effort, you should take it.
If, however, you find you cannot develop such responses, even after working through this chapter, don’t worry about it. As we said at the beginning of the book, not every technique described here will work for everyone. You should concentrate on developing those which work for you and ignore those that don’t.
Serendipity is defined as ‘the faculty of making happy chance finds’. It comes from a former name for Sri Lanka which was Serendip. In 1754, Horace Walpole coined the word from the title of a fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip, whose heroes ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of (Chambers’ Etymological Dictionary). In this context, it means being able to spot ways of doing things which add flair, style, charisma and star quality to your performance. In any activity, the truly skilled operators are not only quick and effective but also do things with that little extra flash of genius that singles them out as truly remarkable performers. This chapter, then, is for those who wish to be ‘star’ time creators, but it will hopefully also be of use to those who are simply concerned to improve in any way they can.
Some of what will be said here may appear to contradict advice already given. It is not meant to. But it is important to remember that differing circumstances may require differing responses. For instance, earlier the virtues of looking ahead and of planning were extolled, yet plans can have their limitations. The world record-breaking British runner, Steve Ovett, in reply to a television interviewer’s question about how he planned a race, once said that he didn’t. ‘Once you have a plan you are vulnerable,’ he said. ‘You are open to attack by a competitor because you lose the flexibility to be able to respond to events.’ Plans can lead to blinkered thinking. They can limit your expectations both of yourself and of others. They can restrict your ability to respond to chance events and to unexpected opportunities. They can lead to situations in which you slavishly and blindly follow your plan simply because you have one. For all these reasons and more it is important that your approach to a task should make allowance for imaginative and intuitive responses.
Such responses rely more on emotional and ‘felt’ reactions than on cold logical analysis. They are essentially responses which do not fit the rules or follow conventions. They can take the form of sudden insights (which often occur after an adequate incubation period has been allowed). These insights frequently produce superior solutions to problems, more appropriate responses and simple but elegant answers. They can provoke a reaction in which you say to yourself, ‘Why didn’t I think of that before?’
They may take the form of truly novel and creative approaches. Brainstorming, freewheeling and other divergent thinking techniques, all of which we shall encounter in due course, enable you to avoid the obvious, though there is some need for caution if using them on a problem where convergent thinking approaches are more appropriate (these are usually used when a problem is of a type likely to have a single correct answer, as with a technical or practical problem).
Instinctive reactions often produce imaginative responses. A ‘gut’ feeling or a sixth sense can enable you to do things without thinking. Good anticipation and being able to ‘read’ a situation will help, as will a sensitivity to nonverbal factors, especially in dealing with problems involving other people.
Hunches or inspired guesses can often produce reliable responses, especially in unknown situations or in mould-breaking tasks where an activity is to be performed in an entirely novel way. They can often be inevitable if you find you have a lack of relevant experience to draw upon or have to act on the spur of the moment because the situation is one that will not admit delay.
Examples of the kinds of imaginative and intuitive responses which can be generated by the above approaches are not difficult to identify. If you have ever found, or seen someone else find, a solution to a problem which is so simple you wonder why no one thought of it before, you have almost certainly witnessed an imaginative or intuitive response. Other examples include love at first sight, reactions that ‘it was the right thing to do at the time’ and first impressions of people. Clearly in these situations, imaginative and intuitive responses can be wrong, as can logical responses, but they are more often than not right and can be spectacularly so. For instance, a good deal of evidence now exists which shows that our first impressions of others are rarely wrong. Indeed, so infrequently are we wrong that we tend to remember vividly the occasions on which we are, thus misleading ourselves into thinking we are wrong more often.
We need these responses so that we can break free from previous habits which limit the effectiveness of our actions and so that we can make the best possible use of the resources available to us. As in the case of time creation techniques discussed in previous chapters, the benefits are many and varied, the principal one being the time that is saved when imaginative and intuitive responses are used.
These responses are most appropriate:
- when orthodox approaches have failed
- when the problem is one which demands a divergent solution,
- when they just are felt to be right
- when a situation is totally new.
In the main, in such circumstances the responses seem to happen of their own accord but you can encourage their use. You can encourage them simply by being ready to make an imaginative or intuitive response, or by being willing to accept the risks involved (because you know the prize may be a much better solution) or by actively looking for novelty in your responses and by resolutely refusing to get into a rut or a set pattern of action.
You can go further than this, however, and use the following exercises to stimulate your readiness and ability in making imaginative and intuitive responses:
- 1.Systematically break the rules of an everyday activity. For example, try acting like a stranger or a guest would act in you own home. Try smiling in a friendly – but not too friendly or leering – manner at everyone you meet. Dress differently, say, by not wearing a suit if you normally do or wearing colourful clothes if you normally wear subdued colours. You will have to be careful because other people may become hostile if you deviate too far from convention. You may, though, just find a startlingly new and refreshing way of doing something that you have previously taken for granted could not be changed.
- 2.Find as many uses as possible in ten minutes for a one-metre length of electrical wiring, a roll of wallpaper, a button or a ballpoint pen cap. Don’t suppress ridiculous ideas and don’t try to evaluate the quality or usefulness of your ideas until at least 24 hours later. You may come up with a brilliant invention.
- 3.Spend some of your leisure time painting or drawing, playing or listening to several different kinds of music, reading literature, making pottery or engaging in any other creative art or craft. They will all encourage the development of the ability to make imaginative and intuitive responses.
- 4.Spend some time daydreaming or trying not to think of anything at all. Then tackle a problem. Does this help you to come up with a different and better approach?
- 5.Set out in the car with no clear destination in mind. Let yourself go where impulse takes you. Afterwards ask yourself: Wasn’t that more enjoyable than a planned trip?
- 6.Telephone someone you have not spoken to for some time. Do it now, on impulse. Afterwards ask yourself why you chose who you did. Any regrets? You might just have revived a friendship that distance should not have been allowed to destroy. And discovered that imaginative and intuitive responses can be fun.
Headless chickens will never find the time to try things like this. They are too busy dashing around achieving nothing. It is the laidback bears who reap the rewards of the more open and creative opportunities that imaginative and intuitive responses have to offer.