IDEO's Tom and Dave Kelley wrote a wonderful book together a few years ago titled, "Creative Confidence." In the book, they offer tons of ideas on how to spark creativity in your organization, based mostly on their work developing design thinking as a process and set of tools for creating breakthrough innovations. One of my favorite passages has to do with encouraging people to "think like a traveler." Here is an excerpt:
Ever travel to a foreign city? We've all heard that, "Travel broadens the mind." But beneath this cliche lies a deep truth. Things stand out becuase they're different, so we notice every detail, from street signs to mailboxes to how you pay at a restaurant. We learn a lot when we travel not becuase we are any smarter on the road, but because we pay such close attention. On a trip, we become our own version of Sherlock Holmes, intensely observing the environment around us. We are continuously trying to figure out a world that is foreign and new. Too often, we go through day-to-day life on cruise control, oblivious to huge swaths of our surroundings. To notice friction points - and therefore opportunities to do things better - it helps to see the world with fresh eyes.
Psychologists distinguish between two ways of perceiving the world around us and processing information - top down vs. bottom up processing. In top down processing, we draw on our past experiences and "fill in the blanks" when we encounter a particular place or situation. We don't have to notice every detail, because a few signs prove sufficient to let us know what we are seeing. We walk into a library, and we know quickly based on a few visual cues that we are in a library. We don't need to attend to all the details. In bottom up processing, we start by perceiving all the little details, and we put the pieces of the puzzle together gradually. In day-to-day life, as the Kelleys explain, we are on cruise control, using top down processing to capture the essence of a situation quickly and fill in the blanks to paint the picture in our mind. When we travel, we engage in bottom up processing, because we can't rely on past experience to help us. As such, we notice lots of little things. Noticing the little opportunities for improvement and innovation can be crucial in the creative process. Thus, thinking like a traveler is essential to creativity.