You have a problem. I’m not being judgmental, just making an observation. You have a problem. (You: “Wow—it’s like you totally get me!”) Yeah, spooky, isn’t it? But how did I know you have a problem? Because you’re human, and all humans have problems. Bill Gates has problems (for example, he’s never really found a haircut that works). So right now you may be thinking, “All right, so we all have problems. What I really want to know is how do I solve my problems?” (You: “Oh my God, it’s like you’re inside my head!”) Calm down, Sparky. Well, one of the reasons problems can be hard to solve is because we generally only look at them one way—ours. But what if we could trick our brains into looking at problems from many different ways? What kind of innovative solutions could we come up with then? Well, there is a way to do that, and it comes down to asking yourself one question:
“How would x solve this problem?”
(You: “I don’t get it. What’s x? I wasn’t told there’d be algebra problems in this post.”) Yes, it’s true that x is a variable, like in algebra, but think of it more like a brain game. So what is x? Anything you want it to be—and the more outlandish, the better! For example, try some of these for x:
- a dog
- your mom
- the smartest person in the world
- a space alien
- the Beatles (oh c’mon…you knew I had to get them in somehow, didn’t you?)
- an Amishman
Go ahead. Plug them into the question, and then apply the question to a current problem you’re working on. If you really do this, I think you’ll find that three things happen:
- The problem becomes more manageable, because you’ve taken yourself out of the equation. Ever notice how it always seems easier to solve other people’s problems than your own? Well, what you’ve just tricked your brain into doing is thinking of this as another person’s (or dog’s, or space alien’s) problem. It’s no longer “My Big Problem”—it’s just an interesting brain exercise.
- You’ll come up with solutions that you never would have thought of otherwise. Sure, many of them will be impossible, unfeasible, or just plain stupid. That’s okay. In fact, that’s great! Because among the stupid ones you’ll probably find a few that will make you think, “Hmmm…now there’s an interesting angle. I wonder if that might work. Maybe if I tweak it a little….” When it comes to innovative ideas, quality is a function of quantity.
- You’ll actually start to have fun with your problem! The more outlandish your choices for x, the more outlandish your solutions are likely to be. And when they get outlandish, they get funny. And when you can laugh at your problem—even if it’s just because of a little brain trick—you put yourself in a better space for solving it. Which brings us to a bonus fourth benefit:
- You just might solve the problem.
Now you might be thinking, “This whole thing sounds kind of stupid.” (You: “Stop it! Stop it!”) Fair enough. But indulge me and try it, just once. Try it by yourself, try it with your team. Try it while listening to a Beatles album. (Okay, that one was a bit of a stretch.) And on the off chance you’re Bill Gates, try it the next time you go to the barber.