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Here’s how one question can improve creativity and problem solving

Idea-1289879_1280If you only listen to one podcast this week make sure it’s the one embedded below. It’s one of the most inspiring and thought-provoking talks I’ve ever heard. The speaker is Bernard Roth and the talk is from a series of entrepreneurial podcasts offered by Stanford.

What makes this one so special? It might be exactly what you need to help solve a thorny problem or get you or your team thinking differently about creativity. It all has to do with reframing the situation by asking why it’s a problem to begin with.

For example, one of the attendees who runs a startup said she’s struggling with the fact that many of her customers don’t want to pay their bills. Roth asks a series of “why” questions to help her rethink the original problem and come up with a totally different solution.

He shares an analogy that probably sounds silly but I’ll bet you’ve done something similar. It starts with a drunk walking along the sidewalk. He walks right into a lamppost then steps back and does it again. After the third time he stops and says, “I give up…they’ve got me surrounded.” How many times have you tried to force one solution over and over without stopping to think of all the other ways to approach the situation?

I know this all sounds so obvious but I’m convinced that our existing habits are generally our biggest creativity obstacle. As the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Asking the “why” questions Roth suggests might be just what it takes to reframe that difficult problem you’ve been wrestling with.

I plan to keep this in mind as I work through all the challenges I’ll undoubtedly face in the coming months and I encourage you to do the same.


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