I get so many books in the mail to review, and the way I evaluate which ones are worth my time is to first read the jacket flap. So I’m not even going to pretend that I have read Tipping Sacred Cows, by Jake Breeden, but I’m going to tell you that it has an amazing jacket flap.
He lists sacred cows in corporate life that we should reconsider:
Balance: Disguising indecision as a bland compromise that attempts to achieve many things but ends up accomplishing nothing
Collaboration: Creating a culture of learned helplessness with little individual empowerment and accountability
Excellence: Spending too much energy producing perfect work instead of developing the quick-and-dirty solution needed now
Fairness: Keeping score and evening the score to make sure no one gets more than their “fair share”
Passion: Racing down a path seeking success only to find burn-out and misbehavior instead
The reason I love this list is because so much of being creative at work is looking for things that are opposite or things that clash. Breeden picks a list of workplace words that we think are intrinsically positive, and he shows us how they’re jargon. The act of looking at things in their opposite light is the best skill to have if you want to be a creative problem-solver.
When I told this to Melissa, she said, “You need to link to Leonardo da Vinci writing backwards.” So here it is. But that’s not that practical for you. So I’m going to tell you four ways I’ve taught myself to think counter-intuitively.
1. Act like you have Aspergers.
Okay, I know it’s a cheat, because people with Asperger’s don’t understand social conventions, but still, the number-one thing to do if you want to be a creative problem-solver is to not let yourself be constrained by social conventions.
The point of social conventions is to get everybody to act in predictable ways. What this means is that people with Asperger’s Syndrome are usually offensive, because they are unpredictable, but they see things in new ways. Try it.
Non-scientific evidence that Aspergers leads to creative problem-solving is that Silicon Valley is a magnet for people with Asperger’s. But also, I was talking to an editor at the New York Times, and he said, “You know how people say that the Jews rule the world? It’s not true. People with Asperger’s rule the world.” (I might argue that it’s a fine line, as I have a hunch based on no documentation that Aspergers is an affliction the Jews have selected for. Think about Shtetl life: whoever memorizes the most Torah gets the best wife.)
2. Practice asking why.
The problem with asking why is that you often get answers that are really inconvenient. For example, why do we give boys a circumcision? I spent nine months arguing this with my ex-husband before my first son was born.
The benefit to asking why over and over again is that eventually you come up with innovative solutions. At the beginning of my adventures in homeschooling, everything seemed terrible. I was scared to put my kids in school, I was scared to teach my kids curriculum, I was scared not to teach my kids curriculum. The trick is to hold two competing things in your head: what you wish to be true, and what looks like the actual truth. The benefit of asking why and sticking with it is that you’ll come to a new and innovative solution to make things clear in your head.
3. Try things you don’t like.
William Falk, the editor of The Week always has a mini-essay on page five. He’s become one of my favorite writers. Last week, he wrote about the research explaining why older people don’t try new things as much as younger people do. It made me realize that the last few big changes I made in my routine came from trying something that was originally repugnant to me.
For example, I was giving a speech at the Natural Foods Expo and this guy came up to me afterward. He said he loved my blog and he brought a sample of his product for me to have. Foosh. That’s the name of the product.
I said, “Oh, I’ll check out your booth on the floor.” And he said, “I don’t have a booth, because this isn’t really a natural product, it’s got other stuff in it.” I was totally grossed out, but I said thank you, and put it in my bag, because that’s what you do to show good social skills.
Two months later, when I was cleaning out that same bag, I found the sample again. I was hungry, and tired, and I thought, why not? So I tried one. They’re caffeine supplements. They’re caffeine pills, but they have other stuff in them (I’m scared to look). I’ve gotten addicted to them, I’ve ordered Foosh boxes from Amazon like I’m Costco, stocking up.
And it made me think, why do people drink coffee? It’s got a lot of calories (because I don’t drink it black) and it just makes me want sugar, and the sugar makes me want more sugar, and if I have a sugary mint instead, it makes everything after it taste yucky. So it’s much better to have caffeine in a mint than coffee with sugar. Also, the last time I complained about having to put sugar in my coffee, someone told me to buy Illy coffee. It has really snappy packaging, but it’s not as good as Illy coffee with sugar.
4. Pretend you have unlimited money.
My favorite way to solve a problem is to ask myself, What would Victoria do? There is no way Victoria Beckham puts up with the level of problems I do. If Victoria needs a stamp, she doesn’t think twice, she hands the letter to someone else. I tell myself that for every problem I have.
So, I’m in the car sixteen hours a week, and I start thinking, What would Victoria do?
First, I tried doing coaching calls during my car ride. But I kept losing my concentration and missing my exits. I couldn’t program the GPS, so I bought two iPhones—one for talking to me about directions and the other iPhone for coaching. But I got frustrated only people in Australia want to talk that late at night.
Then, I tried listening to books on tape. But I’m a really fast reader and it just frustrated me how slow it was. Then I tried hiring a driver, but the social demands of being with a driver for sixteen hours a week were too much. Then, I decided to dictate blog posts to Melissa. And look, that’s how I did this one.