You've been there before. So have I. You spent a whole day, morning to night, trying to solve a technical or business problem, to no avail. It's hard to go to sleep. Your head is spinning. You are still trying to find the solution even when you are in bed. Sounds familiar?

And then, the next morning, you wake up, and you have the solution. Just like that. Well, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes your head is still locked at the same perspective you used last night, and if it didn't work then, why would it work now?

However, the morning offers a fresh perspective on problem solving, as long as you take advantage of your ability to change your perspective, so make the most out of it! As soon as you wake up in the morning, and before you continue to analyze and try to solve the same problem using the same mindset you had yesterday (which, obviously, didn't help you solve it), ask yourself any one of these five questions. No single one is the "be all end all" question, but each one of those would give you a different perspective on the problem, helping you creatively solve it.

1. What would make things worse?

Your obsession with making things better sometimes causes you to lose sight of the real root cause of the problem. Instead of asking yourself how to solve a problem, ask yourself what would make it worse. As a result, you may stumble across the real problem, and therefore--the solution to it. 

2. What is the one thing that if I did, my boss would explode?

You often make assumptions on what's allowed and what's not. You assume restrictions that don't exist, and the thing you fear the most is that your boss would explode and fire you. In some cases--you may be right, but in others--you are completely wrong. Because you assumed your boss would explode if you did something--you avoided it. You don't even suggest it. So ask yourself what would make your boss explode over your solution. Why would he/she explode? Could it be a good solution after all and your boss might like it?

3. What is the opposite to what I was trying to do?

Sometimes, your brain locks in only one possible direction of a solution to a problem. Ask yourself--what if I did the opposite? What would that do? While typically the opposite would not solve a problem you were trying to solve originally (or, will it?), it will at least open your mind to the plethora of other approaches to solving it between what you were trying yesterday, and the complete opposite.

4. How would Sheldon solve this?

OK, so I use Sheldon (from The Big Bang Theory) often for that. He appears to be the odd-ball in that show. Put yourself in his shoes. What would his approach be to solving the problem? What crazy thing would he say? Through imitating someone else's thought processes, you may stumble upon a creative solution to your problem. If you don't like Sheldon, or don't watch The Big Bang Theory, choose any other character that is somewhat unusual in how they think. Try to think like them.

5. What's option 3?

In one of my board roles, I was once presented with two options as possible solutions to a problem the organization had. I was asked to choose between them. Frankly, I wasn't crazy about either one, so I asked "what's option 3?" I faced a blank stare: "there is no third option!" I insisted. The next answer started with "well, we could also..." So, if last night you reached two possible alternatives, and you are not crazy about either one, ask yourself--what's option 3?

Any one of those five question (or others, if you can think of them) would help change your mindset to one that can help you solve problems you couldn't solve before. What will start your day in the most creative way is asking the right question. The morning presents you with the best opportunity to think creatively. Seize it!

Published on: Mar 30, 2017
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