Literally; try lateral!

21 Feb 2019

One of my favourite masters is Leonardo da Vinci. Not only for his unequivocal gift for drawing, painting and capturing perspective and emotion through light and the stroke of a brush; but also, for his approach to learning and cultivating his intelligence. This resonates with my own style of lateral thinking.

For me, lateral thinking is about changing patterns; escaping from old ideas (it’s easy to coast) and generating new ones! Consider these two basic processes:

Escape is about recognising what is currently happening with the wisdom and knowledge you have and then searching for alternative ways to look at or, do that thing.

Provocation? Well provocation is a deliciously impish word which stirs emotions and pushes your thinking to find those alternative ways!

Back to the Master; Leonardo da Vinci crystallised his thoughts in seven key principles:

1.   Curiosita – being constantly curious about life and open to new learning

2.   Dimostrazione – testing knowledge through experience, persistence and learning from mistakes

3.   Sensazione – continually refining the senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch) as a means of enhancing the experience of life

4.   Sfumato – in Italian it means “going up in smoke”. It refers to being able to be comfortable with paradox, uncertainty and ambiguity

5.   Arte/scienze – developing ‘whole brain’ thinking ie the balance between art and science, logic and the imagination

6.   Corporalita – it’s the ‘healthy body’ part of a ‘healthy mind in a healthy body’. It’s about cultivating grace, fitness, poise and ambidexterity

7.   Connessione – recognising that everything is connected to everything else. Da Vinci annotated this with his quote “The earth is moved from its position by the weight of a tiny bird resting upon it”

Reference: How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci – Michael J. Gelb

So how does this play out in the real world of today?

There’s a story which I heard; it’s about how the baggage claim area at Gatwick Airport went from the customer rating of zero to hero with a simple solution born out of lateral thinking.

Gatwick Airport had a problem. Whilst flights were on time, passenger experiences were good and the overall airport’s facilities were decent, the biggest area of concern was the baggage reclaim area. No matter where in the world the flight had come from, baggage was taking forever to hit the conveyor belts and be reunited with its owner. Very quickly, the complaints reached epidemic proportions with irate passengers getting the airlines involved too.

So, Gatwick Airport spoke to the baggage handling teams to see what could be done. More staff? More conveyor belts? More baggage carts? Of course, came the reply, but this will involve months of planning, extension, recruitment, reconstruction and would be even more disruptive to passengers and the workforce!

And then came the solution; a simple one. As soon as a plane landed, the baggage cart would be waiting, engine running; but, the vehicle would only be hooked up to one of the cages. As fast as an F1 pit-stop, this one cage would be filled with luggage and driven immediately to the reclaim area where these bags would be put onto the conveyor belt. The vehicle would then drive back and collect the remaining luggage cages.

Complaints faded away. Why? Those few bags on the conveyor belt provided the passengers with the perception that their luggage was on the way (and a few lucky ones got theirs immediately!) and they left them with the message; “Gatwick Airport delivers my luggage super quick”. Someone truly channeled their da Vinci in that brain storm!

Another tale which I can personally vouch for is the time that Little Chef was about to launch one of their bi-annual menu changes but this time, it included more healthier options, less salt, less sugar and more fresh products. But so- what? Where’s the headline in that? Enter the two basic lateral processes of escape and provocation. From this the idea of “Slim Chef” was born.

“Charlie” the Little Chef icon went on a diet. A few simple illustrations of the little guy morphing from his plump character to a slimmer version were sent to the press and boom! National outrage! 15,000 complaints (prior GDPR days so a fabulous way to grow the data base), over £500k media value and an international PR award.

This is a very personal story to me as I was Marketing Director at Little Chef at the time; the overarching strategy was about preparing the business for sale and I needed to ensure brand equity was in tack and demonstrate to potential buyers the emotional value of Little Chef to the British public thus adding to the monetary value of the brand. This is why I say grazie mille Leonardo!

The point of these stories? The challenges are literal, the thinking is lateral and the solution is simple.

Does your business have a sticking point that you just can’t seem to find a solution or remedy? Or are you missing that element of lateral thinking to help move your business forward? Do the stories resonate with you but you’re missing that someone to help you escape and provoke your thinking? I’d be over the moon to hear from you! /

Recommended reads:

·        How to think like Leonardo Da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb

·        Any book by Edward De Bono but I rather like his lateral thinking book and my favourite, 6 Thinking Hats

·        And just because I loved it, it made me laugh and it was a lovely escape “A Keeper” by Graham Norton

I will leave the final word to the master himself:

Thank you for reading.