How to Think Outside the Box: 5 Techniques for Creative Problem-SolvingFeb 19, 2023
How to Think Outside the Box: 5 Techniques for Creative Problem-Solving
Of the three kinds of strategies I listed for thinking-outside-the-box, the one most commonly known is to expand one’s thinking. People expect that by expanding their thinking, they’ll start thinking outside the box and that will lead to seeing a new solution. Here are 5 methods to use.
1. Blue sky thinking
In blue sky thinking, we give ourselves permission to be radically unreasonable in our thoughts. Imagine you had incredible technology, like time travel, or unlimited budget and access to futuristic computers or machines. This is usually done by a group perhaps in a meeting, or a series of meetings, or even over a multi-day retreat.
The goal is to come up with all sorts of crazy, outlandish ways of approaching or solving the problem. The process might rattle someone’s brain into coming up with a great idea. Or, people can work on the ideas later, to see if they can refine one into something workable, or just find a breakthrough for part of the problem.
2. Imagining you had a magic wand
This is very similar to blue-sky thinking, except with a different prompt. By magically being able to solve parts of your problem, you might see solutions that were otherwise hidden. For instance, let’s say we magically got rid of “the bad political party.” Thinking that through, I realize that the party that’s left would probably split into two, and we’d have the same mess, just about other issues.
Having said that, I now see that happens in real life. When one party wins in Congress, they tend to fight among themselves. The wall was a critical Trump issue. But once he was elected, he couldn’t get his own Republican party running Congress to grant him money for building the wall. Only after two years did Trump get some money once the Democrats were in charge. In this instance, the magical thinking led to new insights, but not a solution.
Brainstorming is similar to blue-sky thinking, and it’s also usually done by a group. This is best done quickly. People throw out ideas and others try to follow-up with their own thoughts as quickly as they can. When done by a single person, this is stream-of-consciousness thinking, but the person’s trying to bring as many different thoughts as possible. When done in a group, there’s often a dedicated note-taker or the session can be recorded and later transcribed.
4. Thinking in analogies and metaphors
A metaphor compares two things that are different, to allow us to map the feelings and thoughts about one to another. Think about how you know and like some politicians in your political party, but not others. Why is that? What if a political party is like your old high school class? Some of those people were very familiar, while others you barely knew. If political issues are like sports, you feel strongly about some, but ignore others.
An analogy is sort of a metaphor for a relationship or process. For instance, when I was thinking about money in politics, I thought about how we successfully passed campaign finance limit legislation in 1974, but it only worked a bit, or for a short time. I thought about people supplying money to campaigns. It occurred to me it was like supplying drugs to addicts. Campaign finance limits tried to limit the supply, like the War on Drugs tried to limit the supply of drugs. The Drug War has been a huge failure as well.
From my reading, I knew that one of the few countries that had made progress on lessening drug addiction was Portugal. They stopped their drug war and used that money to help addicts give up the need for drugs. They lessened their drug problem by 50%! By that analogy, I saw that it could be similar to politics. The key is to make political campaigns be more effective for much less cost, Just like many addicts no longer needed drugs, lessening politicians’ need for money could be much more effective than trying to limit the supply.
5. Exaggerated thinking
Forcing one’s thinking to extremes is just a way of stretching it. Say we want more people to vote. How about forcing everyone to vote? Or how about shutting society down for a day, except for voting. We could shut down all stores and restaurants and movies so there are fewer places to go and all those workers could vote. We could even shut down ATMs and gas stations. We could shut down all websites except for those dedicated to voter information, candidate information, and election results. All TV and radio stations and cable channels could be shut down as well. We could even keep society shut down until 90% of registered voters had voted!
Exaggerated thinking is strange, but it does push one’s thinking. I’ve never had those thoughts before I started writing this section.
While these methods are not that good at finding an outside-the-box solution, they can certainly create outside-the-box thinking.
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