To be better at creative problem solving, imagine an unnamed person facing the situation rather than you!
Some time ago, I came across an interesting piece of research carried out by Polman and Emich that demonstrates people are better at creative problem solving when asked to solve other people’s problems rather than being asked to come up with solutions for their own.
In one of four studies, people were asked to imagine a prisoner locked away in a high tower. All he has available to help him escape is a rope that is only half as long as the drop from the tower’s window.
Even so, he still manages to escape from the tower by dividing the rope in half and tying it back together.
How is this possible, I hear you ask?
It’s so much easier to suggest solutions when you don’t know too much about the problem.Malcolm Forbes
Participants in this study were given two different versions of this puzzle. Half of them were given this version, while the other half were told to imagine it was they who were imprisoned in the tower.
Both groups then had to explain how the escape was made.
What happened was really interesting.
In the group that was told it was a nameless prisoner who was stuck in the tower, 66% of people got the answer right.
However, when told to imagine they were stuck in the tower themselves, only 48% of participants got the right solution!
The reason this happens can be explained by how the mind represents problems such as this.
When we think about someone else in the high tower, our minds tend to think more abstractly. In this abstract mode, creative leaps become easier to make as we aren’t confined by our own reality.
Call to Action
Try it out next time you need a creative problem-solving technique
Don’t seek to solve it as ‘you’. Instead, ask how some nameless character would solve it and notice the new possibilities that emerge.
Oh, and do you want to know the answer?
Leave a comment below with your own thoughts or drop me a line for the answer!