November 26

Innovation for the New Year with Peripheral Thinking


Innovation for the New Year with Peripheral Thinking

By Deborah Johnson

November 26, 2022

creativity, dyslexia, innovation, neurodiversity, Paul Daniels, peripheral thinking, podcast, soft skills, solutions, Stephen Spielberg, Temple Grandin, Walt Disney

You may wonder as I did, “What is peripheral thinking?” Paul Daniels has trademarked a system for peripheral thinking™ so I felt it was a good idea to hear directly from him. A standard definition of peripheral thinking is to not think too hard to come up with solutions and ideas. Instead, try to incorporate solutions from different perspectives drawn from past and present experiences. Paul used the word neurodiversity, which was coined in the late 1900’s by Judy Singer, a sociologist who has autism to expand on this theory.

The term neurodiversity refers to the concept that certain developmental disorders are normal variations in the brain. But those so-called disorders also have certain strengths that are advantageous. Paul comes from five generations of artists, poets and musicians. He was the first to go the corporate route but is still what I would call a renaissance man with wide interests and expertise in diverse areas. He is also dyslexic, for which he was diagnosed at the age of 40.

Stupid, dumb, lazy, undisciplined, a daydreamer were all names he was called growing up. It was only after his daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia that the light went on for him. He saw the world in the same way as she did. Now, he has learned to use his ability to see the world differently in expanding his innovative thinking and he trains others to do the same. We will talk here about how peripheral thinking helps in finding alternatives, creative problem solving, and taking action.

Women at Halftime by Deborah Johnson Writing a Book and BookBaby with Tony van Veen 11-1-22
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Finding Alternatives

Group think is dangerous because it tells you there’s one direction in which to go, which is doing what the everyone else is doing. An alternate, different perspective can make a huge difference in how you see the world and will greatly affect the end product. Many innovators with dyslexia, struggling to make connections with reading and speaking, have experienced huge success. Innovators like Walt Disney created an empire worth over a billion dollars focused first on animation, but not without personal struggles and bankruptcy.

Stephen Spielberg, the innovator worth over three billion dollars as one of the wealthiest filmmakers in the world, used his peripheral thinking to create such hits as E.T, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park and many others. He sees the world through a different lens and creates it on film for us to enjoy. But he has had to trust his own abilities.

Creating a work using film creating aliens and dinosaurs is different than creating a scenario in our everyday lives. But the principle of finding alternatives that challenge your personal conventions can prove to be successful in getting you unstuck. Dr. Temple Grandin, renowned animal behaviorist and autism activist, didn’t talk until she was three and a half years old. Considered weird and bullied, she broke through the labels to design a way to restrain animals, reducing injuries during vaccinations and even meat packing plants. Her mind’s eye took a different course, creating a unique diagram that resulted in her being named as one of the top ten college professors in the country.

Creative Problem Solving

According to the PMI Future Jobs Report, the skills that matter most in today’s job market are soft skills including creative problem solving. Soft skills are not skills you necessarily learn in a course, but they are non-technical and describe how you work with others. Understanding the value of your soft skills and trusting them is a risk worth taking in pursuing current work.

Fear is based on what is unknown. We can all create scenarios of doom and gloom for a world that has lost its way in many areas. But it doesn’t take much to reach out and touch one person at a time. Paul brought up the example of a guy named Mike who works at Home Depot. Every time Paul goes to the home improvement store and sees Mike in the hardware aisle, Mike remembers his name. He also remembers what Paul bought the last time he was in the store.

In a world where we can hardly remember our own phone numbers, this story of a person with exemplary people skills stands out. My dry-cleaning lady knows my name and my husband’s name every time I walk in, and I’m not there often. How does she do that?  We need to learn from these people. We are so distracted with our own earbuds, listening to the latest podcast or music channel that we don’t often observe the world around us.

Courses of Action

This message is all about learning from areas outside our normal area of thinking, or in the periphery. By observing people, traveling, reading or taking courses, you are expanding your thinking. If you decide to take a course, whether online or in a classroom, it doesn’t need to be in your main area of focus. But the material will serve as inspiration to learn or experience a principle from another area of focus: a peripheral area. What can you learn from that area? For many of us, the last time we took courses outside our area of focus was for general education college courses.

You can also learn from people outside your area of work. When genuinely interested in others, you ask questions and listen. The answers to those questions can inspire ideas and solutions. Ask yourself, “How can I apply this?” I guarantee people who feel listened to will share! I encourage you to go one step further and write your thoughts down that are interesting to you. You never know when you can use them.

Observing, analyzing, finding the alternative element, then applying those elements it is the secret to innovation. But it takes being engaged by listening, affirming people or exploring areas and ideas outside your expertise. We’ve all been given a personal toolbox and a variety of resources to make the impossible possible with a brain that can store trillions of bytes of information, according to a Stanford Study. Developing curiosity and awareness may stretch the limits of what you feel you can do, like memorizing an atonal piece from Russian composer Alexander Tcherepnin. But if and when do, you have stretched your abilities to do something even more difficult. Tcherepnin is a composer I never thought I’d appreciate as his music is so dissonant, but the process of memorizing one of his compositions taught me how to memorize with patterns.

What Can You Learn?

What can you learn from a baker, a computer coder or a woman in assisted living? Start asking questions and explore opportunities. Experiences that will enrich your life may be right across the street. Don’t miss them!

Why Write a Book-Deborah Johnson


Paul Daniels is a keynote speaker, board advisor, best-selling author and founder of Peripheral Thinkers™, a think-tank where leaders learn, share and apply lessons to overcome obstacles and thrive in any environment.

Observing, analyzing, finding the alternative element, then applying those elements it is the secret to innovation.

deborah johnson

Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author

If you are interested in growing and learning, check out our online courses here: Online Learning

1,119 words

Deborah Johnson

About the author

DEBORAH JOHNSON, M.A., creator of Hero Mountain® and former president of Los Angeles National Speakers Association, is an international award-winning music artist, author, speaker and National Media Commentator. She also hosts the popular podcast "Women at Halftime." Deborah provides tools to create your ideal lifestyle and work at mid-career or during the halftime of life, getting unstuck. You can live your second half fulfilled, focused and free! Up for multiple GRAMMY Awards and spending over 20 years in the entertainment industry, she's an expert on how to constantly reinvent yourself in a gig-economy. She is also the recipient of the Women's Economic Forum Exceptional Women of Excellence Award. Deborah is the author of multiple books, over twenty albums and musicals and speaks and performs in both live and virtual events.

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