Square Peg, Round Hole


When we’re trying to solve a problem, too often we got to the same source for help. No wonder we get the same old kinds of solutions. Instead of putting the round peg in the round hole, remember how nature works—randomly and chaotically. At the chaotic center of our galaxy at this very minute, great masses of stars are forming, dying, and blowing debris far into space. It’s a mess. But it’s our home and we love it.

Why not put those wildly random forces behind the way you think? Try putting the square peg in the round hole. You did it when you were a kid. Unfortunately school taught you to settle for the obvious. So when faced with a problem, you probably looked for an organized problem-solving method. You may have used some and they worked, but in spite of themselves. They seem to work when the people who use them work their butts off, deadline looming, and bump into a solution out of sheer determination and perseverance.

The secret to cheating in idea generation is to color outside the lines.

We’ve all been hardwired to think that certain things belong together and other things don’t. (Ever play that game as a kid where you have to find the object in the picture that doesn’t belong?) And yet a quick review of creative breakthroughs shows that every one is a combination of at least two previously unrelated ideas.

Sometimes the breakthrough gets the name of the word combination as in “horseless carriage” for car or “thinking machine” for computer. Sometimes the combination is hidden in another language as in “democracy,” which means “government by the people,” literally “people power.” Or “karate,” meaning “empty hand.”

Imagine the reaction to some of these combinations. Karate. “Let me get this straight. You want to teach me how to fight without weapons?” Democracy. “What? Are you nuts? Put the people in charge of themselves!” Horseless carriage. “Where the heck do we hang the feedbag?”

image: © William Whitehurst/CORBIS


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