Multi-Dimensional Thinking – The Key to Dynamic Innovation

Are Innovators Better at Multi-dimensional Thinking? While I believe that innovation is a process that can and should be managed, I also believe that innovative people simply “are,” and that some people simply cannot (innovate), even if coached.

Of course the consulting world promotes the contention that organizations and people can be trained to be creative. However, if that was the case, we wouldn’t encounter people in our daily lives, in business and elsewhere, who clearly cannot comprehend the problem/solution equation. How can that be true?

To start with, many people have gone through school and maybe college without ever being challenged to deal with critical thinking. Of course, this is a controversial statement. An article in the March 10, 2011 edition of Wired Magazine The Importance of Logic and Critical Thinking bemoaned that lack of critical thinking in today’s society, especially among our younger generations.

“…My father (was) an engineer, and he taught me logic and reasoning by making me solve simple, then complex, problems on my own. Or at least giving me the opportunity to solve them on my own. This helped develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, something a lot of children lack these days…”

There’s nothing wrong with people who I label as “simple thinkers.” That is decidedly not a critical slap across their foreheads. It is just a simple reality that some people see the world simplistically and others, in more complex patterns. The following is from a presentation of mine and expresses what I believe are the fundamental bases of thinking, creativity and innovation.

On the most fundamental level, people think in one-dimension. They see what they see and make decisions in the absolute. This is illustrated here and it’s basically “what you see is what you get” (use the water hose to water the lawn). There is nothing wrong with this other than the perplexed look other people either send or receive when dealing with a one-dimensional thinker.

If you take the analogy one step further, you get a person who is capable
of understanding the connection of somewhat disconnected thoughts or things
in a slightly more complex way. That’s when you find a person’s “ah-ha!” moment coming and a light going on because he or she has understood the basic “if/then” equation.

You might take this as the basic application of a water hose to a paint can, painting a house and creating a spray painting assembly. At this point, we need to diverge from the hose and water/paint analogy and create a new approach. With three-dimensional thinking, the World is no longer flat.

As a spherical form, the entity is an organism, perhaps even one that morphs and reshapes over time, responding to the markets in which it competes and reacting to the uncontrollable “external factors” that drive managers and lab rats wild and crazy (respectively). A serious business challenge arises, and it’s time to break down the barriers between departments and maybe even business units. As I perceive it, 3-dimensional thinking occurs when you are able to lead a Transdisciplinary team of professionals drawing upon the expertise of folks from within your company with whom you may never even have spent time.

Transdisciplinarity is a concept that means that which is at once between the disciplines, across the different disciplines, and beyond each individual discipline. Among others who developed and practiced this were Jean Piaget, Basarab Nicolescu and George Kozmetsky.

My own first exposure to this thread of thinking came when I was invited to deliver a paper at the November 2009 conference of the Society for Design and Process Sciences, a Texas based 501(c)(3) in Birmingham Alabama. My paper titled, Technology Transfer: A Strategic and Social Imperative for the 21st Century bridged my technology transfer experience with my writing and analysis in the World after September 11th against – what I saw as the incessant drive to develop economies in Third World Countries atop –  fragile if not non-existent environmental stability. Of course, not surprisingly, I received “polite applause.”

Finally, we get to what I believe is the essence of multi-dimensional thinking; thinking in the 4th dimension, or truly thinking outside of the box. This is sometimes referred to as “reach across” technology. Simply, this is “borrowing” a technology or method from another unrelated field and applying it in an entirely new way.

Again, I can borrow from my own professional experience here. From the outset, we created a company intending to commercialize a chemical-based technology used by a National Laboratory for applications including leak detection and atmospheric dispersion. The natural state of this chemical is that it makes a transition from its liquid to gaseous phases almost instantaneously. The vapor then permeates a sealed or contained area seeking any minor crack or outlet to escape or travel great distances in the open air. These characteristics made the chemical ideal for detecting leaks in sealed containers and also for measuring air flow in buildings or atmospherically.

Contrarily, we set off to use the vapor transition characteristic and the ability to detect very minute amounts of the chemical to our advantage for “marking” of items, places and people of interest to the “appropriate parties.” Simply, by “borrowing” and modifying encapsulation techniques used on fields such as cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, we were able to fabricate encapsulated microcapsules of the chemical for use in private security missions and for demonstration under government funded programs. Of course, it wasn’t really “that” simple since one of the Nation’s brightest polymer chemists working at one of the National Labs was our lead scientist who solved the most challenging technical issues.

Here’s why I think innovators are better than most people:

“At times that I see dots that others do not see. Connecting them makes all the difference.”

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Jay Fraser has spent his career in strategy, marketing, product development and technology transfer. From management on Madison Avenue to technology transfer, and later as an entrepreneur in tech research related to security applications, he licensed technology from federal labs and leveraged the expertise of these institutions in federally funded R&D programs. He negotiated CRADAs and served as an R&D Program Manager for the Office of Naval Research. As a consultant, he is intrigued by managing the process of innovation from a practical, real world perspective.

Jay Fraser




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  1. Alok Asthana on March 12, 2014 at 8:16 am

    The multi-dimensionality aspect is well done.
    However, the contention that ‘some people simply cannot (innovate), even if coached’ must be contested.
    While it may come naturally to innovative people, multi-dimensionality can be facilitated for others through thinking tools. Several are available in different disciplines, that guide your thinking step-by-step towards more multi-dimensional thinking, even without you knowing it.

  2. Elaine Seiler on March 12, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    Jay, Thank you for this very interesting article on a multi-dimensional approach to problem solving. I love your approach. And, I agree as far as you go. I would like to stretch your perspective even a little further out of the box. Take a look at this website and have fun exploring the world of multi-dimensionality as I see it. ( all the best, Elaine

  3. kathy kelley on April 29, 2014 at 9:32 am

    Jay, you have written a very interesting article. While I agree with most of it, I don’t agree with the statement you made that you believe Innovator’s are better than most people. I think innovator’s are truly exceptional in that they have been given a very special gift that takes them beyond the norm. To imply that they are better than others is just not true. Those that are not in that category may have talents in other areas that an innovator wouldn’t be able to achieve and they should be recognized for the capabilites and knowledge they may hold. I recognize each person as an individual in their talents and I truly applaud those that have been given the ability to take it to an even greater level.

    • Jay Fraser on April 29, 2014 at 9:38 pm

      Kathy, the only place in the piece that I make a qualitative comparison – “innovators are better than most people” because, “At times that I see dots that others do not see. Connecting them makes all the difference.”

  4. Marshall Barnes on May 2, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    I feel so strongly against the premise behind this article, and its cleverly hidden but implied intent, that I will refrain from speaking further on it, in this forum, to preserve etiquette. However, I will address it strongly in the public theater of ideas, elsewhere. Count on it.

    In conclusion, I’ll just say to Jay, remember what your buddy said about you at the little Pervez address? This piece proves that, if not entirely true in that case, I can see how you certainly have that proclivity in you – to think you know a lot more than you do and to be elitist (yeah, I edited that last part because, on its face, his original wording is not implied in the article here and could be seen as inflammatory. You’re welcome).

    For those of you that may think I’m out of line here, get a clue – he’s talking about YOU in the article, not me. Think about that one, long and hard (of course he would think that it wouldn’t make any difference if you did). He and I are in similar peer groups. You then, would just be missing the dots that I see that he put out there that I intend to connect elsewhere, as I have already stated.

    I’ll let my comments stand as they are and will refrain from responding further to avoid heated discussion…

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