Where Science Meets Muse

New Solutions Require New Viewpoints

Posted by Plish on March 3, 2009


“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

When confronted with problems the first reaction is just that:


When we react we fall back quickly into the mode of  trying to use that which worked successfully before.  Not that reactions can’t be creative and innovative- the mind is an amazing thing.

However, new, innovative, creative solutions are usually the result of deliberate alternative thought processes – using different thought processes to get different solutions.

The folks over at Lifehack share some examples of how alternative thinking techniques resulted in novel solutions.  My favorite example from the article is:

The spectators at the Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1968 were amazed to see a young athlete perform a high jump with his back to the bar. Until then, every high jumper ‘rolled’ over the bar with his or her face down. Dick Fosbury, an American, introduced an entirely new approach, the ‘flop’, leaping over with his back close to the bar and his face up. Fosbury was ranked 48th in the world in 1967; yet in 1968 he caused a sensation when he won the Olympic Gold Medal with his unprecedented technique and a leap of 2.24metres. What he introduced was literally a leap of the imagination – and it revolutionized high jumping. Nowadays all the top jumpers use his method. He thought what no-one else thought and conceived a new method.

 The paragraph ends on an interesting concept: Universal Use.

A technique is so successful everyone uses it.  But, if everyone uses it, an edge to succeed has to come from somewhere else – in this case, perfecting the technique, diet, workout regime, etc.   Creative thinking has ground to a halt from a brilliant success! 

Lesson:  Radical Success breeds “fine-tuning” as opposed to more radical thinking.

So what can we do to keep thinking radically?

My favorite technique is to flip the approach over like the high jumper who went stomach first who asked , “What would happen if I went over backwards?”

Other equally good approaches would be:  What would happen feet first?  What would happen if we flapped our arms? What if we tumbled?

Another fantastic technique (but one that is often frowned upon in Corporate America) is to rephrase the problem in a way that no one else does.

For example, hospitals could ask:

“How do we improve the experience of the patient?”


“How do we control costs of care?”

What are your favorite techniques for approaching problems in different ways?


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