In his classic work, A Whack on the Side of the Head, Roger Van Och advises that the key to creativity is to look at the same things differently. And when you do, great things happen. There multiple examples. The inventor of Velcro was inspired by examining how the burrs from plants stuck to his clothes. Looking at the plants through a microscope revealed that there were hooks on the end of the burrs that would attach to the looped fibers in clothing. The ah-ha moment was to create a hook and loop alternative to conventional zippers.
Looking at the same things differently is easier said than done because the human brain is not wired to look at common things differently. The brain defaults to the familiar. What one needs to do to avoid the familiar is to de-familiarize. That’s what a lot of artists, inventors and entrepreneurs do to spur creativity. Tolstoy described common objects from a distorted vantage point.
A technique for de-familiarization offered by New York University Professor Adam Brandenburger is to observe commonalities from a different perspective. “Not just in name what is around us but come up with new names. Not just consider the whole but break things up (or down) into pieces. These techniques can help us see our way to the new and revolutionary, whether in the arts or business.”
Another technique is to take a page from Sherlock Holmes who once famously told Watson that “you see, but you do not observe.” Holmes frequently would discuss what he saw with Watson to help make the nonobvious obvious. Do the same. Write down or discuss with others your observations. What are you not seeing that’s not obvious?