“Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world.” ALBERT EINSTEIN
Everyone has very different views of reality. Each viewpoint high- lights or obscures a different set of ideas. Changing your perspective can make solutions pop out from obscurity. All you have to do is change your point of view.
Ask the Other Brain
Could the answers you’ve been seeking be on the other side of your head? Your brain is really two brains. You use one of them more, but the other brain is just as clever in a different way. It also has been diligently gathering information on your problem and may have a solution for you.
However, because of your dominant brain, the other brain has had trouble making its opinions known. Give your other brain an avenue to expresses its ideas.
To divine a solution from your other brain, switch hands and techniques. If you are right-handed, use your left hand. If you are left-handed, use your right. If you use words to examine problems, switch to pictures. Use words if you think visually. For variety, you may also use different drawing or writing instruments such as cray- ons or paintbrushes instead of a pen.
With your other hand and the new medium, describe your prob- lem. Include important details, peripheral facts, or even random nonsense. As you describe the problem, possible solutions will start popping out. Capture them in the style you are using to describe your problem. Be careful not to revert to your usual style, whether it is words or pictures. Your dominant brain will probably get excited over a new idea and want to take over. Don’t let it! It will get its chance later. When you decide you are done, you will have a unique description of your problem and some good solutions from a knowledgeable insider.
Switching to the left or right brain isn’t your only option for changing your mind’s perspective. Some portions of your brain are more emotional while others are more objective.
If you have been trying to solve your problem objectively, you might have a completely different perspective if you become emo- tional about it instead. Get angry or excited. Use the emotional centers of your brain.
If thinking about your problem makes you highly emotional, calm down. Consider solutions from a detached viewpoint. Imagine that it is someone else’s problem, that you will not be affected by the outcome and are only giving dispassionate advice. Let the more rational portions of your brain work on the challenge.
Limitations can force you to be more creative about solutions. Imagine that you have been hospitalized. Your condition is seri- ous and your activity is sharply limited. You are only allowed one visitor and two phone calls before you will be sedated until tomorrow, when you will be allowed another visitor and two brief telephone calls.
Imagine that your problem is managing offices in Tokyo, London, and New York. It is diverting all of your energy from other responsibilities. If you were stuck in a hospital bed, your strategy for solving the problem would have to change. How would you succeed? Perhaps you would delegate key responsibilities to staff members in each office and set up mandatory conference calls to coordinate their activities. Or you may restructure operations so that each office works autonomously and coordination is minimal. Either way, you could run things from a hospital room or find the time for your other responsibilities.
Different generations have very different ways of viewing things. The thought process of a twelve-year-old differs from that of the ninety-two-year-old. If you got up on the left side of the bed this morning, try to find a solution as though you were twelve years old. Twelve-year-olds have answers to almost every problem, except perhaps how to keep a room clean. Twelve-year-olds are masters of ad hoc, thrown-together solutions. They can fix anything, given enough tape and string. They can do anything. They have bound- less energy too. Create a twelve-year-old solution.
If your problem is staffing a growing business in a tight labor market, you could decide to make your office the most fun place to work in the city. Have video games and toys, pizza parties, and ski trips. It would be such a great place to work that you would be swamped with energetic applicants.
If you got up on the right side of the bed, then imagine finding your solution as a ninety-two-year-old. You keenly understand the value of both the present and your own legacy. You have a clear idea of just how important your solution will be fifty years from now. Create a ninety-two-year-old solution.
A ninety-two-year-old solution to the staffing problem may be to provide workers with security and respect. You would give your employees responsibility and authority for their work, and the secu- rity of knowing you would stand by them even when they made mistakes. Employees would stay with you and bring in their friends for the stable, satisfying environment.
Familiar environments reinforce familiar thoughts. If you stay around the same people and the same places, you are likely to think the same thoughts. But when you change environments, it becomes easier to imagine new concepts. Isaac Newton had some of his greatest insights after the plague forced him to flee Cambridge for his home in Lincolnshire. The change of place was liberating.
There are many ways to get away. Leaving town is one. You could also work on your problem in a café, library, or park. Or, you and a friend could cruise a freeway or a back road while you talk through ideas. Each environment will stimulate slightly dif- ferent ideas.
You can change your environment by hanging around with a different crowd. Investment bankers and performance artists or school teachers and accountants can give each other valuable new perspectives.
If your problem was enforcing a curfew with a rebellious teenager, then go to the park for the afternoon. Get away from the tension at home. Change your location, watch some children play, and see what ideas the change of scenery liberates.
The Opposite View
You can readily gain a new perspective by adopting the opposite view on issues relating to your problem. Recast the facts. Change your opinion. As you take the other side, note the change in your thinking. After you create an opposite solution, reverse it again. See what ideas it gives you for a real solution.
If your problem was finding a way to promote a brilliant junior member of the team without alienating capable veterans, take the opposite view. How would you promote a veteran and still keep the brilliant newcomer? Perhaps you would assign her to create a high-profile strategic plan or lead an upcoming negotiation. Now apply that solution to your capable veterans.