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Putting Problems In Perspective

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If you frequently type numbers into a computer, a 10-key is an essential productivity tool. But one hobbyist decided to build a less efficient system out of an old rotary telephone.

A video on the website Hackaday.com shows the contraption at work (video direct link):

Why are we showing off an old rotary telephone used for text entry? It’s not because this is a brilliant idea that you should try at your own office. Rather, the hack is a good example of lateral thinking. Instead of creating something to increase productivity, this little invention actually decreases productivity. Figuring out how to do the opposite of what you want sometimes helps to put the problem in clearer perspective.

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© Flickr user Victor1558

Perspective can be everything when it comes to problem solving. There’s an old story of three blind men who are asked to describe an elephant. One of them talks about the elephant being long and skinny like a snake. Another says that an elephant is solid and strong like a tree. The third gives a very different description of the creature, saying that an elephant is round and soft. It’s easy for us who have seen elephants to know that each man is talking about a different part of the same animal (trunk, leg, ear), but without the proper perspective, there’s no way to have that knowledge. The same thing can be true when it comes to solving your problems.

An article in Smashing Magazine breaks down the process of changing perspective to solve problems a bit better.

To answer the question of how a different perspective leads to a creative solution, we need to understand a little neuropsychology and what happens in the brain when you are solving a problem. According to Jonah Leherer in his book Imagine, the “A-ha” moment is essentially an abstract connection that the right brain makes between two disparate ideas. History has countless stories of people having amazingly innovative ideas from seemingly insignificant events. One of my favorites is the story of how Robert Sherman came up with the song “A Spoonful of Sugar” when his son came home from school one day after having his blood taken (they had given him a cube of sugar). Another story is Newton theorizing about gravity after an apple dropped on his head, or Archimedes and the bathtub, and on and on. Some event triggers an idea and the brain makes a connection to creatively solve the problem.

How does this process work? When you are faced with a puzzle, be it visual or functional, you solve it by first running through all of your usual solutions that are obvious — such as the e-commerce layout that you have used a million times, design patterns that you know, the button style that you love, the font that always works, etc. You first engage your left brain by recalling the obvious tried and true solutions. Sometimes these ideas work, sometimes they don’t. As soon as your left brain has exhausted all ideas that don’t work, you get frustrated and you hit the wall. The wall is the inability of your left brain to create new connections from your old ideas. You are unable to connect the old ideas with fresh ones, to find different solutions with the same methods. The only way to get unstuck is to try to see the problem in a new way.

At AccelaWork, we work to encourage clients to think in all directions. If you’re struggling to come up with ways to become more productive, try thinking of ways to become less productive. That change in perspective can make all the difference. Great business processes arise when we are open to every possibility. Contact our business consultants today to learn more!

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  • http:///www.fishhook.us Evan McBroom

    Little known trivia…when the touch tone phone was invented, Bell Laps inverted the dial pad to be “upside down” from the standard accountant’s 10 key. Their concern….people who were skilled at the 10 key would be able to input the numbers faster than the telephone systems behind the touch tone could deal with them.

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