“Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Conditions surrounding a problem are an essential part of the problem. These conditions include key parameters, roles, and attitudes. Changing them alters your perception of problems and solutions, and may help you to break your rules. Spain was the pre- eminent naval power of the sixteenth century. Her numerous fleets of large ships made her unbeatable. But conditions were changing. Small, fast sailing designs and longer-range cannons were making the Spanish fleet obsolete. A few English captains realized this. By thinking with these new parameters in mind, they tipped the scales of naval power in England’s favor, and it remained that way for three centuries.
Problems have parameters—the facts behind key assumptions. We like to think of parameters as constants, but they often change dra- matically. When they change, the set of possible solutions changes with them. Heavier-than-air flight may have been impossible in 1803. But by 1903, parameters had changed. Lightweight engines of sufficient power were available. Fuel efficiency had increased. There were better materials and better tools. Flight was a viable solution. Now parameters are changing faster than ever before.
Imagine how it would change your problem if one of the key parameters changed dramatically. Select a parameter of your prob- lem and randomly change it in one of the ways listed in Figure 11.7. Use the direction of your commute or a roll of the dice to select your change. If you roll a one or commute north, double the price of a key parameter of your problem.
Visualize your problem in a world where the parameters had changed. Would there still be a problem? Would you still try to find a solution? How would your approach to a solution change? What new solutions would be available to you? Use this changed reality to explore new ideas that have seemed impractical in the past.
Double the Price
Prices are an important part of most problems. Imagine that a key price for your problem was doubled. It happens quite often. Double your taxes, double your income, double labor costs. Then try to think of a novel solution that fits the new conditions. For exam- ple, every time petroleum prices have gone up, new oil fields have become viable. Arctic oil and deep-sea drilling are profitable solu- tions because the prices went up.
Make It Free
Instead of doubling the price, make your parameter free. Free is a useful approximation of an insignificant cost. A surprising number of costs have become insignificant. Computer costs and telecommunications charges have fallen to levels that would have been considered almost free twenty years ago. What would happen if your parameter became practically free? How could you make that happen?
Ten Times the Reward
Rewards are important conditions in any situation. As part of your problem definition, you specified carrots that you can expect for solving the problem. Imagine that your reward has been increased tenfold. If you needed to increase sales in your region by 25 per- cent, could you succeed if your reward was to retire in luxury at the end of the year? Options that you once dismissed suddenly become possible. So increase the reward for your solution, and see what solutions it creates.
Imagine that everything about your current situation is the same, only now you are on the other side. You have your competi- tor’s strengths and weaknesses. You are working to beat yourself. Consider your situation in these new circumstances. What would you do?
If your problem was to prevent a rival telephone company from entering your market, imagine how you would break into your company’s turf. Which strategy would you adopt? What first steps would you take? Then go and counter those strategies.
Penalties and the fear of failure are key conditions in any situation.
They preclude a number of actions, and often rightly so. However, these punishments should not be obstacles to your thinking. So imagine that there are no penalties. Anything goes. How would you solve your problem?
If your problem was to develop a new artistic style, imagine that there would be no criticism of your experimental attempts. Your friends wouldn’t laugh. Your galleries wouldn’t have second thoughts about you. There are no repercussions. How would this change what you were willing to try?
Remove a Hassle
Often something that is only peripheral to a problem, like onerous paperwork or getting consensus, is enough to tip the balance against a solution. But if that hassle were eliminated, how would you create a solution?
If you were looking for a cure for cancer, imagine there were no regulatory or financial restraints. You could pursue any course you believed was best. What would you do? Why is that different from what you are doing? How could you pursue this strategy with the existing constraints?
Instead of changing the basic details of the problem you are trying to solve, change the rest of the world. Imagine solving your problem in a totally different environment. Move your problem to another century, and you have a whole new challenge to stimulate your creativity. Or map the entire situation surrounding your problem statement into a movie plot or comic book. The circumstances and options will change dramatically, but the core issues remain the same. It may be easier to see a solution in this altered reality.
To alter the reality of your problem, choose a situation. You can select one from the list in Figure 10.7 with a roll of the dice or using the time you woke up last Saturday. For example, if you rolled a six or arose at 7:30 a.m., transfer your problem to Cleopatra’s Egypt. You are Cleopatra. If your problem was arranging the time and the money for a European vacation, then the vacation could be undisputed mastery of the eastern Mediterranean. Your boss could play the part of Caesar, and your spouse could be Mark Anthony. How would Cleopatra solve this problem? What can you apply from her solution?
If you didn’t go to sleep last Friday night because you were preparing for a hearing on a contested zoning change or rolled a two, imagine that you and your opponents are going to have a food fight instead. How will you win? Should you escalate or hang back? Will it be cream pies or dinner rolls? What can you learn from your food-fight strategy to prepare for the hearing?
Select a scenario and see if an alternate reality helps solve your problem.
MAKE IT FUN
Everyone hates to do something, and those tasks are unlikely to get done. Perhaps some attitudes need to change to make a solution to your problem possible. Fun things happen. Here are some ways to make a solution more fun.
Purchase something that you’ve always wanted, gift wrap it, and have a friend hold it for you until you finish the task. If your prob- lem is trying to find a compelling rationale for a grant proposal and you are also a tennis fanatic, buy your dream racket for yourself. Give it to a friend, preferably another tennis player. As an added incentive, tell her that she can keep the gift if you don’t finish your proposal by the deadline. Then find that compelling rationale and get your racket.
Competition makes everything more interesting. People do crazy things when they compete. They spend months in pain, risk their lives, and spend huge sums of money to win. So harness that com- petitive drive. Challenge a friend to a contest involving your prob- lem. See who can finish faster, better, or with more style.
If your problem is to launch a new product, find a friend who also has a product to launch. Wager that your product will ship earlier relative to its target launch date than your friend’s product will ship relative to its launch date. You can even bring colleagues and family into the rivalry. Call your friend regularly to check on his progress and inspire yourself to try harder. Motivation is key to creative solutions. Give yourself lots of motivation.
Or, compete against yourself by inventing a game. Award your- self points for progress. For example, you could get points for each blank you fill in on your tax form. Create the potential for failure by taking away points for mistakes. Then play to win!
Record the Triumph
Use a camera or video camera to record your triumph. Since you are recording your struggle for posterity, put on a good show. If your target problem is to get a child to complete his homework, take his picture holding each completed assignment like a trophy fish. Post the pictures. Send them to grandparents. Recording a triumph makes it sweeter and lengthens your child’s memory of success.
Buy the Trophy
Buy yourself a big trophy or plaque to memorialize your triumph. For example, if you are trying to win a coveted job, have a trophy made memorializing your advancement. Get the trophy first, before you get the job. This gives you a powerful incentive. You will look very foolish if you don’t succeed. You will do almost anything for the trophy and the job.
Find an Audience
Find an audience that will cheer you on to victory. Give yourself the home team advantage. If you are trying to finish your taxes, recruit family or friends for moral support. Have them check on your progress every hour. When you make headway, you deserve their accolades. When you finish, do a victory lap around the house. You will find it impossible to procrastinate in front of your fans. Besides, they may even help.
Location, Location, Location
Pick a good location for solving your problem. The organizers of dull conventions understand this motivation well. That’s why there are so many meetings in Hawaii. You (and your helpers) will get excited about a job if you can go somewhere fun to do it. If your problem is pulling together a critical brief with several colleagues, check in to a downtown hotel. Hammer out the brief with the promise of a night on the town as soon as it is done. For a bigger problem, try a sabbatical week at a resort. Make your location part of your motivation.
Make the Job Desirable
Tom Sawyer got his friends to paint the fence—and pay for the privilege—by making it desirable. How can you make your prob- lem interesting enough that someone would want to help you with the solution? One of the best ways to accomplish this is to give your problem solver free rein to create a solution. If your problem is to find an exciting new packaging concept, offer the job to a class of design students without restrictions. Encourage them to break the rules. The freedom to create is a powerful motivation. Use it to get the help you need.
“One tries to make plans fit the circumstances.”
Some strategies are so tightly entwined with a problem that they seem impossible to separate. The strategy may be the problem. Consider a very new strategy selected at random. See if it will work for your problem. Here are a number of different exercises for changing strategies.
Good poker strategies have application beyond card games. Draw a card from a handy deck, or just visualize one. After you have a card, select a new strategy based on the card’s suit—hearts, spades, diamonds, or clubs.
It is time for you to bluff. Determine what would be required for you to be in a position of strength. Make a list. Then act as though you have everything on the list. Deal with others from your position of strength.
If your problem is getting your kids to eat a healthier diet, determine what would give you a position of unassailable strength. Perhaps if the house were devoid of junk food and your children were broke, they would have to eat healthy food. Discuss the prob- lem with your children, employing the option. While you are bluff- ing, be sure to work on realizing the items on your list. Get rid of the junk food because you can’t bluff forever.
You need to raise the ante to find a solution. Increase your own commitment to success. If you have only a small stake in the out- come, you won’t try hard enough. Create some new incentives that make a solution even more vital. Boasts or wagers can be powerful personal motivators. If your problem is to seamlessly link two offices electronically, publicize your completion date. Bet your boss that you will finish on time. Even better, increase the incentives for everyone you are working with. Arrange for a team bonus if you hit the target date. Make winning essential to you and your team.
You should fold. Admit to yourself that while you probably could win if you threw enough energy and wealth at the problem, the victory would not be worth the cost. Remember that you will get most of your satisfaction out of a small percentage of your activities. Fold the losers and put your time and energy into winning hands.
If your problem is to increase sales of a line of frozen dinners by 50 percent so that the line would break even, folding could be the right solution. End the product line, and put your energy and money somewhere else. There are many problems that aren’t worth solving. See if yours is one of them.
It is time to draw some new cards for your hand. Decide which of the skills, strategies, or plans that you are holding should be dis- carded, and replace them. If your situation is bad, get rid of at least half. It will not be easy to lay aside the familiar for the unknown or unproven, but the odds favor a change. Go for it.
If you are trying to increase the reimbursement levels your dental practice receives from the health plans you are affiliated with, con- sider drawing some new cards. Cancel with the health plans that pay too little. You will not turn them into a winning hand. Focus your energies on rebuilding your client base from plans with reasonable compensation for services.
Insects have many unique perspectives on solving problems. Not only are many of their strategies different from human strategies, but there are dramatic differences between species. Borrow one. Imitate the strategy of the last insect you saw.
Do you remember the last fly you watched? It buzzed about in wild, random patterns. It got around, moving fast and covering lots of territory until it found something interesting. Then it swooped again and again. If you shooed it away, it just made a big circle and came back.
Think and act like a fly. Try to randomize your search for new opportunities to exploit. Give the broader world a buzz. Move quickly, investigating anything that might be interesting. Get around obstacles by trying many angles of attack. Don’t give up too easily. Take your investigation far outside your usual turf. The worst thing that can happen is that you will gain a greater appreciation of where you are now.
If the last insect you saw was a fly and your problem is closing a difficult acquisition arrangement, what fly-like strategies could you adopt? Perhaps you could rapidly appraise a number of alter- nate deals. Determine what you would do if the current deal fell through. And even if you came back to the original candidate, your explorations will have yielded valuable ideas about the acquisition’s value and strategy.
Most spiders are very different from flies. They construct webs to ensnare the next meal that blunders by. The webs are carefully placed, carefully constructed. Then, with their preparations com- plete, spiders wait.
Try thinking like a spider. Anticipate the opportunities that will come to you. Carefully prepare yourself so that when the great chance swoops by, you can latch on, secure it, and profit from it. Think where you should be. Set your net. Tell the right people about your interests. Have friends watch for your opportunity. Be ready to move decisively. Preparation creates opportunity. A current résumé, a ready source of funding, or the right equipment could prevent your opportunity from getting away.
If your problem is still a difficult acquisition, but the last insect you saw was a spider, then consider how you could be better pre- pared to execute an acquisition next time around. Improve your financial resources. Assign key players to a readiness team. Reach consensus within your organization on candidates and strategies. Now that you are better prepared, you just have to wait for your opportunity. You may even find that this time around you will snare your original target.
By itself, the ant is not a formidable creature. But ants don’t hang around by themselves. They live in large and powerful groups. Ants make their presence felt through sheer numbers, even clear-cutting plots of rain forest.
Think like an ant. You aren’t going to do it all by yourself. You need an army of helpers striving toward your goal. Consider how achieving your goals will benefit others. People in your organiza- tion, profession, neighborhood, or family want many of the same things that you do. You should be working together.
Make a list of the people or groups that would profit from you reaching your objectives. Determine how you will motivate them to help.
Imagine you still need to complete that difficult acquisition, but the last insect you saw was an ant. Thinking like an ant, you would get outside help with the acquisition. Who would want the parts of the target company that you don’t need? Who inside the target company could be on your side? Line up others that could benefit from the deal to help make it happen.
The seven dwarfs, the little guys that ran around with Snow White, each had their own personal strategy for life. Here are seven problem-solving strategies, one for each dwarf. Use the strategy corresponding to your favorite dwarf or the dwarf most like your boss. Decide upon a dwarf before you read the strategies, or you will select a dwarf who doesn’t break your rules.
To illustrate how each dwarf could provide a successful strate- gy, imagine that you have a horrible, nerve-racking commute. It is sapping your most productive time and draining away your energy. Your top priority is fixing this commute.
It is hard to solve a problem if you keep everything inside. Vent your frustrations. Get it out of your system and onto the table. Begin with a tape recorder or a sympathetic listener, or both. Talk the problem through. Getting emotional or passionate can’t hurt. In fact, you must be passionate if you are really going to bring every- thing out. Afterward, you may want to take notes of what you said. Group the facts, your predictions, and your emotions on another sheet of paper. Construct a course of action that fits your list.
If you were using a Sneezy strategy to solve your commute problem, you would start by venting your frustrations to some of the key people involved, such as your boss and your spouse. They might not have understood the extent of the problem. But more importantly, as you verbalize your issues, it will become apparent what bothers you most about your commute and what a potential solution needs to include. Whether it is working different hours to avoid rush-hour traffic, moving, finding a new job, or working from home, there is a solution that meets your needs. After the problem is clear, you can make the solution happen.
Few people accomplish things they really didn’t believe they could do. But almost anyone can achieve what he believes will be done. Be optimistic. Focus on convincing yourself that you can do it, and you will.
One Happy strategy for the commute problem is to make your time in the car or on the train as enjoyable as possible. Use the time to listen to your favorite books or learn a foreign language. Prepare for each trip. You might enjoy the trip more if you took a few extra minutes and drove calmly and sedately, or if you aggressively worked at shortening your time. Pursue the strategy that makes you the happiest.
Your intractable problem will seem much more manageable after some rest and relaxation. Sleep on the problem. Have some fun. Give your unconscious mind some time to work things out. Restore your personal energy. Just because you are relaxing doesn’t mean your mind isn’t still hard at work.
A Sleepy strategy for working through the commute problem would be to take a few days off and avoid your commute altogether. Show yourself exactly what you are missing by enduring that mis- erable commute every day. When you are thoroughly rested and relaxed, ask yourself if that commute is worth it. If it isn’t, change it. If it is, make the best of the situation you have chosen.
Ignorance isn’t always such a bad thing. If you don’t know some- thing is impossible, you may succeed in doing it. Dopey would have tried the hardest to do the impossible. Pretend that the impos- sible is achievable. Work on your problem as though the major obstacles don’t exist.
Using a Dopey strategy on the commute problem, you could be blissfully ignorant of the hours you are required to keep. Simply come and go to work when traffic is light. Reduce your hours to compensate for your drive. Don’t protest that this isn’t allowed. You don’t know any better.
No one knows everything. Get some learned advice. Ask an expert. Articulating your situation to someone else will help you to better understand your problem. It is not necessary that they understand your particular problem, only that they know a thing or two.
An expert who could give appropriate advice for the commute problem may be someone who has rearranged her life to eliminate her commute. Find out how she did it and if it was worth it.
Pessimistic solutions are very robust. Pessimists think about every- thing that could go wrong. Glib assurances are not enough for them. Think like Grumpy. Consider what else could go wrong in your current scenario. How would you deal with the added difficulties? How can you minimize the chance of disaster?
A Grumpy problem solver with a bad commute would humph that he was certain to be laid off anyway, so he might as well quit now and find a job closer to home. Or he would despair of finding a career closer to home and move near work. Either way, he reduces the pain of those inevitable breakdowns and traffic jams.
You need a shy solution that requires only you. Don’t wait for others to make a decision or take action. Your solution may never even be one of their priorities. Determine how you can solve the problem on your own authority and with your own initiative.
A shy solution to your commute problem would be to strike out on your own working from home. Your family need not move. No one can complain about your hours. You simply do it and end your commuting misery.
Monday’s child is fair of face.
Tuesday’s child is full of grace.
Wednesday’s child is full of woe.
Thursday’s child has far to go.
Friday’s child is loving and giving.
Saturday’s child works hard for a living.
But the child that’s born on the Sabbath day is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.
Since everyone was born on one of seven days of the week, the day of your birth is a good random-solution strategy. Use the day of your birthday this year if you don’t know, just search for “day of the week” and your birthday.
Pay more attention to playing your part. Does your language and tone of voice fit with your role? Are you dressing the part? How do you act? Dress, talk, and act like the person who will solve the problem.
Look for a more graceful, subtle solution. Consider ways to get the same effect with less effort. Think about simple, comprehensive remedies.
Turn your full attention and energy on the problem that has caused you so much grief. You have suffered enough woe. Put other proj- ects on hold until you have found a solution.
Focus on a long-term solution to your problem. Don’t be led from your path by short-term fixes. Concentrate your time and talents on long-term success.
Show more affection for those you love and appreciation for those that help you. If you love someone, tell him today and tomorrow too. If you should be grateful to someone, thank her. Make it clear why you are grateful. This may not solve your problems, but they will seem much smaller.
Solve your problem with a liberal measure of hard work. Roll up your sleeves and persevere until you succeed.
You need to accentuate the positive in your life. Focus on how to best enjoy your present circumstances. You will find a solution to your problem in the near future, but think about how to “smell the roses” today.