Fresh Ideas: Serendipity is at our door
September 26, 2012
Edward de Bono is a physician who invented the concept of “lateral thinking,” a purposeful method of stepping outside the ordinary, linear thought process (“vertical thinking”) to solve a problem or approach a challenge. Invention and innovation that might be overlooked by traditional thinking often result from using lateral thinking-finding other perspectives to examine a problem or setting out to see opportunity instead of roadblock. When we have a flash of insight, that’s lateral thinking. When a problem is solved creatively or an innovative idea is hatched, we marvel at the thinker’s brilliance, but when we look at the solution or the invention, we realize that it is completely logical — in fact, we wonder why we didn’t think of it ourselves. That’s how lateral thinking works. Dr. de Bono makes the argument, especially important in the 21st century, that creativity and innovation skills that can be taught and cultivated can drive success in the modern world. He warns that individuals or organizations depending mostly on traditional thinking will be left behind in our quickly changing economies. Lateral thinking offers a way of seeing things mindfully and differently to produce new ideas, products, and strategies. To understand the value of lateral thinking, look around at amazing new technologies and their applications, at non-traditional educational approaches and their successes, at previously unthinkable medical discoveries and their exponential benefits, at forward-looking strategies for revitalizing dying communities and economies. Consider the proposed City Center Project. If I use traditional thinking, I see one component, the Knowledge & Discovery Center, only as an old-fashioned book repository. If I use lateral thinking, I see a 21st century library as an anchor in a beautiful urban center, one that draws community members and tourists; as a center that encourages and supports creativity and innovation, prerequisites for the future; as a place that attracts business because it attracts people; and, because it attracts people to park their cars and linger, a benefit to the entire community. With traditional thinking, I might see this new hub of activity as a threat to existing business. But with lateral thinking, I see strip malls, the location of most of our businesses, as the problem — unattractive rows of store fronts and acres of asphalt that do not entice people to stop and stay awhile. And then I might see things differently: instead of rejecting the successful model of a vital urban center, I might think about how to use city center strategies to renovate strip malls. Thriving communities world-wide, including in the U.S., enjoy multiple small plazas that pull people to them and reward them with places to sit and talk, spend money, stay a night or two, and return often. (See William Whyte’s “City: Rediscovering the Center.”)A by-product of lateral thinking — deliberately thinking out of the box — is “serendipity.” According to M.E. Graebner, (McCombs School of Business, University of Texas), serendipity means “windfalls that were not anticipated by the buyer prior to the deal.” In other words, reframing a situation to transcend the limitations of traditional thinking often results in unexpected benefits. We have a head start in Nevada’s capital — a natural tourist draw — though we have traditionally not effectively taken advantage of this lucky fact, depending mostly on gaming. The City Center Project is a good beginning to augment the tourist market — and already, two serendipitous opportunities are presenting themselves. Gerald Bartholomew’s stunning donation of more than 1,100 Mark Twain-related books and other items to the Carson City Library couldn’t come at a better time. The collection needs a home and the library needs exhibition rooms. A brand new Twain collection is a natural tourist attraction; housed in a state-of-the art, architecturally significant 21st century library on an attractive plaza in a capital city, this collection will put visitors’ heads in beds as well as serve our students as they study one of America’s most enduring writers. Western Nevada College’s art/humanities exhibition, “Always Lost: A Meditation on War,” is entering the third year of a national tour with no end in sight. Among its provocative components are a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of Iraq War combat photographs (courtesy of the Dallas Morning News) and the Wall of the Dead: the faces and names of our U.S. military war dead in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, currently numbering more than 6,500 and growing. Everywhere the exhibition travels, two questions arise: Where is the permanent home of this war memorial? How can I see the exhibition so that I can pay respect to my son, my daughter, my combat buddy? Offers for providing a home for the exhibition have come in from all over the country. Why not house this war memorial — which has been called “a national treasure” and “the lasting memorial of the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts” — in the new city center of Nevada’s capital? We have everything — opportunity, location, timing, a trust fund dedicated to the good of our community, and two new tourist attractions that are timeless. Serendipity is knocking loudly-on our door. It only takes the effort of lateral thinking to open it.• Marilee Swirczek is professor emeritus, Western Nevada College, and lives in Carson City.