One of the major roadblocks to creative thinking is assuming that there’s only one right answer to any problem or opportunity that you’re having, and we all know that there’s probably hundreds, or even thousands, of ideas or solutions that would be better than the first one that you come up with.
But, one of the major problems most people have is, when they’re looking for a creative solution, they stop when they get the first idea that has any merit at all. A better idea is to come up with a lot of ideas first, even hundreds of ideas, before you actually pick one, because the best way to get a great idea is to get a lot of ideas to choose from.
I had this guy, a student in my class once, ask, “Now, why would I waste my time coming up with a whole bunch of answers if I’ve already got a solution that will work?”
I explained it to him this way; I said, “If you were looking for a date, would you rather have three girls to pick from or three hundred?”
Then the light bulb went off in his head. Well, girls, if you don’t like that example, switch it with guys, and if you don’t like that example, switch to your preference.
Or just think about buying a house or a car. What if you were in a new neighborhood looking for a home and there was only one house to choose from? Do you really think you’re going to get the best solution for your needs?
So the best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of ideas first.
This reminds me of a story in grade school—we had to build these homemade manometers in our garages. And what a manometer is it’s something that measures pressure. And this simple design, it’s just plastic tubing with some colored water in it. And, if you remember, the higher you go in altitude the less pressure you have, so you can use this manometer to measure altitude.
Well, as part of the class, we had to do these stand up presentations to discuss this thing we’d just built and answer questions from the teacher. Now, the teacher asked this one student, “How would you use your manometer to measure the height of the building across the street?”
Of course, the answer the teacher was looking for is, for the student to go measure the pressure, the atmospheric pressure at the bottom of the building, then measure at the top of the building, and use the pressure differential to calculate the height of the building.
The student said, “OK, I know how I can measure it. I’m gonna just go to the stairwell of the building and take my manometer with me, and because I know it’s twenty inches tall, I can just go and mark off twenty inch sections and count them all the way up to the top of the building.”
The teacher said, “No, that’s not really the answer I was looking for—how else can you use your manometer to measure the height of the building?”
“Well, I guess I could tie a string to my manometer and go to the top of the building and just lower the manometer all the way to the ground until it touches then pull the string back up and see how long it is.”`
“OK, why don’t you try again?”
“I remember from my physics class the equation for a falling object is … let’s see … one-half times gravity times time squared, so I guess I can just throw the manometer off the roof and time how long it takes to smash on the ground and then solve the equation for the height of the building.”
“Alright, how about if I take it and stand it vertically next to the building, and I know it’s twenty inches tall—I can measure the length of its shadow and then measure the length of the building’s shadow, and ratio the two. That way I can find out how tall the building is.”
The teacher said, “You’re driving me crazy.”
At this point, the teacher’s steaming. “Knock it off! You know exactly what a manometer’s supposed to be used for. What’s the simplest and easiest way to use that manometer to measure the height of the building?”
OK, the simplest and easiest way to use this manometer to figure out how tall this building is would be just to walk into the superintendent’s office and say, “Hey, I built this really cool manometer—I’ll give it to you if you tell me how tall the building is.”
So just remember, one big roadblock to creative thinking is assuming that there’s only one right answer. The best way to get a great idea is to get a lot of ideas first.