How to drive creativity and solve problems by looking into the shadows.

There is something great about teaching. The opportunity to engage someone else’s thoughts and understanding in a way that expands their view of the world. The funny thing about teaching is that it’s often limited to what you know. It’s very difficult to teach that which you do not know and therefore, how can anyone learn about things which have not been previously understood?

Peter Thiel evangelizes the idea of eliminating competition and going after monopolies by pursuing problems that aren’t currently being addressed.

So how do we identify problems that are not known, learn how to solve them without existing understanding, and deliver better value in everything we do?

The answer? Look into the shadows.

Most of us only see where the light hits. These are the areas of business and life that yell for our attention and keep us on the surface. Looking into the shadows means gaining a deeper understanding by studying the underlying processes and root causes. This is where creativity lives. Not in the known, but in the unknown or often ignored.

Most of us only see where the light hits. These are the areas of business and life that yell for our attention and keep us on the surface.

Here are some tips to help you think deeper, drive creativity, and solve problems by looking into the shadows:

1. Look for Failure – Failure is often thrown to the side and quickly disregarding. However, failure can be valuable by revealing not only what didn’t work, but also why it didn’t work. This could be processes, culture, people, technology, etc. An interesting note here is the same study should be applied to success as well. Use every opportunity to gain a deeper understanding.

2. Look at Culture – People are creatures of their environment. You can see this manifest itself in the form of habits and ultimately, in culture. What an organization values directs it’s people and vice versa. To drive creative thought and solve problems, study how and why the culture is the way it is. Look at operations, individual thought patterns, and biases.

3. Look for First Principles – In my previous post on Methods for Problem Solving I mentioned the idea of First Principles, the idea of deconstructing something down to it’s fundamental truths.

We limit ourselves to the surface by thinking analogously, that we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. Instead, we ought to drive towards the shadows by understanding the very elements of what we’re trying to solve.

When you look at history and what individuals have accomplished in business, social change, and even technology there is a consistent method of looking beyond what is traditionally visible and fundamentally changing the underlying mechanisms that lie in the shadows. This method drives creative thought to rethink what is and solve for a better tomorrow.