What’s Your Problem?

Lidor WyssockyBlog

Our mind loves well-defined things. It is drawn to patterns we already know and try to apply them to new situations. And it tries to do so also when facing a new problem.

Our mind tries to phrase problems in familiar terms but this limits our ability to solve them.Click To Tweet

When we face a new problem, our mind tries to phrase it in familiar terms. We subconsciously feel safer when the boundaries are clear, and the territory is familiar. But this natural tendency might be just the thing that limits our ability to solve the problem.

Boundaries are indeed essential to creative problem-solving. Creativity thrives when boundaries are clear. Assuming that everything is open is not realistic in most cases, and also not effective in terms of finding a creative solution. But this does not mean that the boundaries we set for the problem or the solution space by default are “the right ones.”

Imagine the following problem. You are in a shoe store, and you are instructed to build the highest tower you can build only from shoes. You have as many shoes as you want, but you are must not use anything but the shoes. Oh, and the tower should be placed in the middle of the store, so you cannot use any wall or furniture to support it.

Think about it for a couple of minutes. Take a few shoes and play with them. Take note of how you think about the problem.

The natural tendency of many of us given this problem might be to explore different ways to balance the shoes. As we were instructed not to use anything but the shoes, our mind is likely to assume we are not allowed to use anything to hold the shoes together. Using glue, rope, or any other external aid is not an option. But this very strict boundary (or constraint) is really created in our mind. Nothing prevents us from using the shoelaces which are part of the shoes as a long string that will hold the construction together. No one said we couldn’t use parts of the shoes and find new uses for them.

Re-interpreting the problem by explicitly breaking the default (and false) assumptions created in our mind, is the key to creative problem-solving in most cases. And it is far from being trivial because our mind just loves the old familiar patterns. After all, shoes are shoes and not something that can be disassembled to create a long rope that will help us solve the problem. We literally need to fight our false assumptions and convince our mind to see things differently. And this requires practice.

The real challenge is recognizing the real constraints and ignoring the false ones Click To Tweet

Any problem has a set of constraints. If there weren’t any constraints, we wouldn’t have called it a problem. The real challenge is recognizing the real constraints and ignoring the false ones – the constraints which we see by default although they do not really exist.

Rephrase the problem space until you really understand the constraints and limitationsClick To Tweet

Next time when you are facing a problem, spend some time to challenge your assumptions consciously. Rephrase the problem space until you really understand the constraints and limitations, and not just assume you understand them. Be curious and don’t stop questioning, well just about anything.