You Can Never Have Too Many Answers

How do you keep a fish from smelling?

1) Cook it as soon as you catch it.

2) Freeze it.

3) Wrap it in paper.

4) Keep a cat around.

5) Burn incense.

6) Leave it in water.

7) Cut its nose off.

Which idea works for you? The first idea will work just fine, but which idea really catches your imagination? Which one shows imagination?

Th above question and answer comes from the classic text on creativity “A Kick in the Seat of the Pants” by Roger von Oech. It illustrates a common problem we all experience in our creative endeavors, our tendency to stop generating ideas once we find “the” answer or “the” idea that will work. This is a carry over from our traditional education which taught us that there is only one “right” answer to a problem. As we can see from the short illustration above, there can be many answers to a problem, some as good as another and some which approach the problem from a different perspective.

One key to generating good ideas is to generate many ideas from which to choose. David Williamson is a poet, artist and speaker who facilitates creativity workshops for education and industry all over the US. One of David’s workshop exercises involves coming up with at least 25 answers to any one question. What we find is that there are about 7 to 10 easy answers to any question. The next 15 answers will most likely be nonsensical or irrelavant, but one of them may be an elegant breakthrough which solves your problem from a totally different perspective.

Next time you have a problem to solve, try stating the problem in the form of an question and then come up with 25 different answers to that question. You may be surprised at what you find in those answers.

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