Monday, February 15, 2016

Take a Vacation: the Investigative Tourist

Image from Pixabay under Creative Commons License.
Want to hone your innovative thinking skills?  Go on vacation.  

You can learn more by going out and experiencing new environments than you can from sitting in front of a computer all day.  Developing your innovative thinking skills is all about learning new Paradigms and Metaphors and gaining fresh perspectives on the world.   A great way to do this is to put yourself in a new place with different people where you can encounter unique situations.  But it’s not enough to just show up and take a bus tour.  You must become an investigative tourist.  Here’s how.

Talk to the locals.
A book won’t tell you how Marco, your taxi driver, spends his day.  You wouldn’t learn that he used to be a factory worker but now makes more as a driver.  You wouldn’t hear about his opinion on the upcoming elections or find out how he spends a whole day waiting in line to pay his cell phone bill.  But you can learn all of this in a few minutes for free.  So chat up the waiter, taxi driver, store keeper or random person sitting in the park.  You’ll be amazed at the amazing stories that unfold.  Take these stories and try to understand this country from the lives of its people.  What do they care about?  How do they live differently?  Do they think differently?  Why?  Bring these lessons back home as souvenirs.

Be a historian.
When you see something different (e.g. architecture, attitudes, street signs, etc.) ask why.  Learn about the history of the society and try to deduce what caused this place to evolve differently than  at home.  When you go to a history museum, don’t just look at it as a gallery of dates and facts.  Think about how the past has shaped the present.  It is an experiment in cause and effect, and you can apply those same lessons as you try to shape our future through innovation.  

Seek out problems.
The key to innovation is hardship.  If everything was perfect, then there would be no room for improvement.  Next time you’re on vacation and the traffic is non-sensical, the restaurant is inefficient, or the tour is unorganized, rejoice, for this is an opportunity for you to practice your problem solving skills.  Ask why this is a problem here, but not at home.  Then go through the thought exercise of fixing it.  This typically isn’t just a case of making it the same as the US or of “replacing idiots”.  Figure out why things are fundamentally different, and then think of some unique solutions.

Appreciate genius.
People everywhere find innovative solutions to their unique situations.  Look for inspiration in the innovations, big and small, that surround you.  How do people repurpose used items in new ways?  How do businesses operate without the same infrastructure that exists in the US?  Take note of ingenious hacks and carry those images with you when you return.

Do it now.  Plan a vacation to a place you’ve never been before and start your career as an investigative tourist.  Didn’t I say innovation was fun?