WRITTEN BY: Marty Strong
“When your mind is full of assumptions, conclusions, and beliefs, it has no penetration, it just repeats past impressions.” – Sadhguru
In the late 1980s, the catchall label assigned to describe elite units across all the military services was changed from Unconventional Warfare to Special Operations. The newly formed US Special Operations Command took a step further, creating five separate and unique special operations performance areas. At the time it seemed logical, but after years of experience in institutional design and human performance, I realize this organizational effort was a mistake. It was a corporate move, a move to become more efficient, to establish tighter control; and while well-intentioned, it was probably a miscalculation.
Being unconventional was a mindset, not a mission category. It was the core operating system that made these famous elite units effective, agile, and feared. It was this mindset that set us apart. We were different, but in a good way, a Jedi knight sort of way. We were tasked with doing weird things; out-of-the-box things; the things conventional units, and more to the point, conventional thinking, couldn’t solve. Being organized is critical to the health and welfare of any organization, but understanding the role divergent thinking, creativity, and freedom of design play in an organization’s success is also essential. It’s time for us to focus on the application of thinking and acting differently, applying this bright refreshing methodology to win, whatever winning means for you or your organization. Read on to discover just how easy it is to be creative, to be innovative, to make a difference, to change the world!
It is my opinion that institutions of all types have done us a disservice by conditioning us to think and act the same. Not for nefarious reasons, just because it’s easier to make us all dance to the same intellectual tune—less discord, less confusion. So, we grow up and grow old, accepting things the way they are, based predominantly on the past. This is why change is so hard for most of us. Change feels like rebellion. I believe in physical barriers and controls, through lawful means, for the purpose of public health, safety, and restraining crime. In fact, I feel most rules, regulations, and compliance are well intended. However, I strongly feel our history of continuous external conditioning—teaching and cajoling us how to think, what to think—is the reason we all struggle to use our minds the way they are designed to be used. It is a reason we shy away from change and see alteration as a threat.
Learning to strip away this conditioning, to become honest and open-minded, is a positive behavior that will set you on a journey of creativity and innovative discovery. I’ve studied the topic and discovered evidence that illustrates how conditioning inhibits our true understanding and imagination, and what can happen if we learn to embrace the wonder and inspiring power of the human mind. It is a difficult trek but something within our power to pursue. We can transition from mere understanding what we are up against to grasping how we can leverage inspiration and imagination in life and in our work to move mountains. The world is an incredibly diverse and fantastic place; however, we spend most of our lives ignorant of much of its potential due to distance, boundaries, personal resources, and, yes, conditioning in the form of culture, traditions, and a fear of what is different. It’s time to embrace different, to feel different, to be different.
One way to jumpstart this evolutionary process is to learn how to think differently. It goes without saying that accepting the behavioral conditioning premise is the first step. Once that critical step has been taken, you must decide to think in a new way. That path begins with intellectual humility. This is the hardest of all the steps in this process because it is all about stepping away from your past. That includes all the past you’ve been taught in school and in business or professional institutions. By stripping all the past assumptions from your mind, you lay the groundwork for clarity and wisdom. By shredding your ego, you open the door to collaboration and communication. By forgetting your failures, you establish emotional maturity.
Intellectual humility is hard because it feels so strange. We’ve been taught to establish credibility by building and projecting our social rank. Rank based on who your parents were, what school you attended, the size of your house, the car you drive, and so on. We’ve been conditioned to rely on these aspects of our lives until it defines the way we see the world. The opposite is true if your life is not so illustrious. Many people wake up every day believing the world is set against them, based only on their past experience. This mental image depresses initiative and prevents risk taking, hallmarks of creative and innovative thought. Be humble and watch the magic begin!
The second step on the way to enlightenment is intellectual curiosity. You are already primed for this phase of your evolution because your mind is clear and unencumbered. To be curious, truly curious, requires honesty. You must become comfortable seeking insights from anywhere and everywhere. You must practice horizontal situation awareness. Study the outer edges of your information flow as measured by time and then swing around three hundred and sixty degrees to absorb the flow of data and gain fresh knowledge of your world. It’s important to seek those outside your inner circle of family, friends, and advisors. Look to industries other than your own to see how they solve challenges and execute with excellence. Read, watch, and learn from asymmetrical sources. Create a new habit of discarding the tried and true, the formulaic responses, and breath in the new insights fully and deeply.
At this point you are humble and well-informed. By proceeding in the manner I’ve recommended, you will naturally engage and converse with others in your world. You will expand your network of contacts, sources, and mentors. You will easily collaborate and experiment with ideas, challenging them with contrary theories. Your communications style will change. Now you want to ask questions instead of providing answers. You enjoy not knowing and are mature enough to know that’s okay. You find your new behavior is attracting others to you, people also searching for meaning and awareness. People who now list you as a resource and friend. Intellectual curiosity cannot be attained without intellectual humility, but there’s one more step to go.
We have finally arrived at our destination. The sum of the first two parts is this superpower. Intellectual creativity is the ability to apply all available information and knowledge in a unique way to develop exciting inventive or innovative outcomes. This is the phase when risk taking is the key to breakthrough success. Experimentation that challenges the status quo and reveals both old weaknesses and new strengths. Creativity that burns hot, forging solutions to old problems or designing the way to a new beginning. This is heady stuff. Wild brainstorming sessions, little to no judgement of other’s ideas, and trust in the creative process, however chaotic it seems. To positively alter the world, you must think and behave differently until the process of creativity becomes a warm and comfortable habit.
To think and be different is a choice. It is an exercise of free will and it requires courage and perseverance. Coloring outside the lines, thinking outside of the box, these are but popular expressions of the same dynamic. To purposefully drag oneself out of the quicksand of mediocrity and compliant obedience and into the bright new world of exploration requires a different point of view. This is not a special ability. We are all capable of thinking this way. Our brains are hardwired for exploration, risk taking and learning. It’s also hard wired for adaptability and evolution based on new insights. We can all become different – we just need to take the first step.
Today, organizations such as BEST Robotics, Inc, and BEST MindLab, LLC, are documenting the positive aspects of intellectual disruption and spreading the positive aspects of open mindedness when it comes to solving challenges. They’ve discovered that creativity and innovative thinking can be found not only in children and young adults, but also in older people, professionals dedicated to a new revolution in insightful design and thought. Many of these leading minds are being showcased on the Business Class News (BCN) series, Masters of Disruption. These unique individuals live and operate in a world of continuous experimentation and solution design, creating the future, today. Mastering disruption is a way to address change by happily facing the natural need to change. It’s about not being a victim of change, but instead, converting fear into a fanatic willingness to evolve.
Marty Strong is a CEO, motivational speaker, and on the board of BEST Robotics, inc. He is also the author of three insightful business books, Be Nimble: How the Creative Navy SEAL Mindset Wins on the Battlefield and in Business, Be Visionary: Strategic Leadership in the Age of Optimization, and the soon to be released, Be Different: How Navy SEALs and Entrepreneurs Bend, Break, or Ignore the Rules to Get Results!