If you are anything like me, you hate disruption. As parents, we rely on routine and structure to keep our families as smoothly functioning as possible. Disruption to routines, whether planned or unplanned, creates stress, headaches, and pain. It is, therefore, counter-intuitive that any parent would seek out disruption. It just doesn’t make any sense. After all, why go borrowing trouble?
Our inclination, however, to avoid disruption can rob us of opportunities to spark creativity and approach problems in a slightly different way. Sometimes, having things happen differently than we intended opens our eyes to a new realm of possibilities that we were blinded to previously.
Writer and economist Tim Harford shared two interesting stories about the impact of disruption in a recent episode of the Ted Radio Hour. The first involves the origin of what is one of the most legendary jazz albums ever recorded. It all starts when jazz pianist Kieth Jarrett discovers that the piano he was to play at the Cologne Opera House was a complete disaster – think stuck keys and worn out hammers and felt. Jarrett’s instinct is to cancel the performance. Somehow, Jarrett is persuaded to go on with the scheduled concert with the awful piano. What follows is Jarrett leaning into the performance and played the piano, based upon what it could do and not what it couldn’t. The recording had started as a cautionary tale to other concern promoters of what not to do to a world-class performer. Instead, it ended as the best selling jazz album of all time.
Now, none of us are jazz virtuosos, so Harford provided a more realistic example of the power of disruption. Several years ago, there was a partial shutdown of the London Underground during a strike for two days. During that time, everyone who worked in London had to figure out alternative plans to get to work. Now ordinarily, this wouldn’t be interesting at all. But Harford shares that some economists reviewed data related to commuting strategies and found something interesting. A significant minority of those traveling to London never changed their commuting strategy back to its pre-strike routine. The disruption had introduced them to a new, better way and they stuck with it.
Disruption has the power to trigger creativity and allow us to look at our problems in a different way. Rather than feeling the stress of the disruption, we need to lean into it like Jarrett and the London Underground riders to see where it will take us. Observe the impact and see if it leads to innovation.
Now, I’m not endorsing constantly looking for ways to disrupt our lives. We need our routine to support us and help minimize our stress. And our kids need routines to help them understand expectations and learn appropriate behaviors. Of course, we can certainly take advantage of disruptions when then naturally occur, but sometimes, you run into a wicked problem and you need something to help imagine the problem a bit differently.
This is where you want to trigger disruption. There are lots of ways to do this.
Musician Brian Eno used something called oblique strategies – random prompts given to bandmates when they were stuck. There are more prompts here.
Change Your Point of View
You can try to solve the problem as if you were a different person (e.g. how would a pirate or an astronaut solve this problem). You might even think about the problem as if you were your child. It might be a bit silly, but it pushes you out of your sense of comfort.
Think about generating only ideas that will be complete disasters. Once you have enough of them, ask yourself what you could do to make these ideas work better? This strategy removes some of the fear of criticism that we have and bad ideas are often easier to generate than good ones.
Often we get caught up in the barriers that a problem has. For example, we need to get our nine-year-old to a birthday party, but we don’t have enough cars. What would happen if we had enough cars? How might that make it easier for her to get to the party?
Sometimes we get so focused on solving a problem that we can no longer see the forest from the trees. Put the problem down and do something else. Let your mind wander and see where it takes you.
These may not always help solve a parenting dilemma, but they start to push you out of neutral.
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