Why Businesses Need to Harness Freaky Thinking

Created: Monday, February 13, 2023, posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 10:00 am

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By Chris Thomason, Author of Freaky Thinking; Thinking That Delivers a Dazzling Difference

When a workplace challenge needs to be solved, the path most often trodden leads to people sitting in a room brainstorming. However, decades of research point to this being less effective than alternate thinking techniques.

Freaky Thinking
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Freaky Thinking turns thinking on its head. It’s a series of techniques integrated into an innovative process that stimulates thinking on important topics when an individual is in their own best thinking place, at their personal best time of day, and (most importantly) when they are alone.

Best thinking space

Ask yourself what you tend to be doing when you get your best ideas. This may be in the shower, while walking the dog, or exercising at the gym. But it’s unlikely that your best ideas come to you at work. While organizations may encourage employees to ‘bring their full selves’ to work, they may not be applying their minds as well as they could be.

The science

2012 research from the University of California, Santa Barbara involved participants being given two creative thinking tests with different actions to perform between the tests. The group that showed the greatest improvement (of over 40%) were participants given an ‘undemanding task’ to do. They fared much better than those who performed a demanding task or who were told to sit and relax during the short break between the tests.

We’re more effective thinkers while we’re performing an undemanding task, such as walking, driving, or exercising.

Questions are key

In order to come up with great solutions and ideas, you need to ask the right questions. A question, by definition, needs to be resolved by an answer. Questions and answers go together like left and right. And the ideas you come up with are actually the answers to questions – either to a question that you’ve posed for yourself or to a question that someone else has asked you.

We’d all like the ideas we come up with to be bold and powerful, such that they impress those around us. But if ideas are the answers to questions, then to get bold and powerful answers, we need to be posing bold and powerful questions that stimulate this type of answer. In Freaky Thinking, this type of question is called a Killer Question.

A Killer Question is one that, when answered well, will deliver significant value for you. It’s a question that you—or the organization—haven’t yet been able to answer satisfactorily, and it’s one you intuitively feel is possible to answer. It’s a question that has many potential answers and where you’ll have to choose the best one to execute. Just because you couldn’t answer a specific work question previously, doesn’t mean it’s impossible to answer. It just means that your thinking wasn’t imaginative enough to answer it then. But with a Freaky Thinking approach that positions it as a Killer Question, you can potentially answer it now.

A Killer Question ignites a fire, or a passion, for you personally. It’s when you recognize that if you are able to answer it well, there will be a significant benefit for your organization, your team, or yourself. Killer Questions spark genuine personal interest in finding great answers to them – and they ignite an individual’s curiosity.

Encourage curiosity

On 8th June 1991, Kathy Betts, a part-time clerical worker processing medical claims for the Massachusetts State Government made the front page of the New York Times newspaper. She’d posed—and answered—a Killer Question that had helped the state of Massachusetts re-classify certain types of claims such that they could claim additional funding from the Federal Government.

At the time, Kathy Betts was 38 years old and had been employed by the state government for 12 years. She’d recently reduced her hours to three days a week to spend more time with her two children. Because of what she knew about her work, Kathy Betts felt sure that there was some way the state could claim greater match-funding for the expenses it incurred when it refunded individual hospitals. She took home manuals and guidelines to study, searching for ways to answer her question, and over time her curiosity helped her to find the answer. Her idea enabled the state to receive additional funding over a six-year period which exceeded $1.4 billion (£2.4 billion converted to today’s money). She later stated that no one else knew the combination of things she did about her role, which helped her find new answers to her Killer Question.

But doesn’t this apply to every employee in every business?

Nobody else knows the same combination of things as anybody else, which offers anyone the opportunity to think like Kathy Betts. And to deliver equivalent levels of value for their employer?

So, what are you or members of your team curious about? What problems do you/they encounter regularly in your workplace? What problem do you keep coming back to with that intuitive sense that there must be a solution if you could just grasp it? Each team member probably has a different ‘curious problem’, so tap into their individual curiosity. This a great place to start.

Motivating great thinking

There are elements of our work that we must do to stay employed. These tasks are motivated externally by your need for a salary. Intrinsic motivation is different, it’s where you’re motivated by what makes you feel good, and what you enjoy doing (not what you must do). Deciding to learn a new skill (such as a language) only because you want to is intrinsic motivation. The litmus test may be whether you have been told to do something, or whether you’re self-starting a task because you want to do something.

In The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer, author Steven Kotler has combined neuroscience with decades of research to create a guide for extreme performance improvement. He writes that our big five intrinsic motivators are: curiosity, passion, purpose, autonomy, and mastery.

Killer Questions are an integration of an individual’s curiosity, passion, and purpose. Allowing them the freedom to do their thinking in their own best personal place and time is the autonomy. And the excitement of incremental improvements as they sense new solutions being identified is their sense of mastery.

So, follow your curiosity, and encourage your team to do the same. Make time to ‘pull on that thread’ without the stress of looming deadlines. Make space for people to follow what appeals to them and find solutions to the problems that interest them.


If practice really did make perfect, we should all be really good at thinking – we do it all the time, even when we’re dreaming. But our thinking isn’t always as efficient as it could be, especially on work-related issues. Freaky Thinking is an approach that will help solve workplace problems and create new ideas for growth and improvement. But to do it, we need to change our approach to ‘creative thinking’.

Chris Thomason
Chris Thomason is the founder of Ingenious Growth which helps organizations change their thinking to boost innovation, productivity, profits and most importantly, staff satisfaction. After buying a failing manufacturing company and turning it into one of the largest in its sector, Chris now teaches the innovative ways of thinking that lead to his business success. Chris is the author of eight business books including The Idea Generator, Freaky Thinking, and Excellence in Freaky Thinking. Chris’s clients include UPS, Canon, O2, Vodafone, Roche Pharmaceuticals, Touchnote, Lloyds Bank, Toyota, HSBC, Scottish Widows, South African Airways, American Express, and many more.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog post or content are those of the authors or the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company.

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