Want better answers? Improve your problem-solving skills

It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.
Abraham Harold Maslow
1908 – 1970

From time to time, everyone has problems. No matter how successful you think someone is, they still encounter setbacks. Most people take a somewhat limited approach to solving problems, and consequently, they don’t always get the best results.

I’d like to share a better approach with you. But to drive the lesson home, I want you to try a quick experiment. I want you to stop reading for thirty seconds, get a pen and a piece of paper, and draw a picture of a coffee cup. You can make your drawing as plain or as elaborate as you like. So take a few moments and do this exercise. You’ll be surprised at how much more vivid the lesson will be if you take a few seconds and play along.

At this point, I hope you’ve drawn a picture of a coffee cup. Naturally, I can’t see what you drew. But I can make a prediction about your drawing that will be almost 100% accurate.

Since you now know I’m going to make a prediction about what you drew, I’ll give you one more chance to draw a picture of a coffee cup.

So. Here’s what I know about your drawing. Some of the cups are fancy and some are plain. Some have big handles; others have small handles. But nearly 100% are a side view. When asked to do this exercise, people almost always draw a side view of a cup.

You might be asking what else you could have drawn. Well, you could have drawn a top view. If you’ve ever used a coffee cup, you’ve certainly viewed it from the top.

I read about this experiment in Shawn Achor’s book Before Happiness. The point of the exercise is that we tend to get fixated on a single view of a problem. When we limit ourselves to one view, we also limit the possible solutions.

If you want to get better at solving problems, the first thing you should do is learn to view a situation from multiple angles. All of us can get fairly rigid in the way we look at situations, so you may need to get someone else to brainstorm with you in order to discover different ways to approach the issue. But the more often you look at things in a new light, the better you’ll become at finding new and different solutions — and the more successful you’ll be.

We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.
Albert Einstein
1879 – 1955

Copyright © 2019 John Chancellor


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