How to Spark Lateral Thinking
I want to talk about how to actually spark lateral thinking in yourself or in your teammates. So, coming back to being a creative contributor, creative collaborator, how do we do this? You know, it's one thing to say, oh, be curious about things that don't seem like they're useful. That is important, but how do you think in ways that you wouldn't normally think, right? Lateral thinking is about thinking differently. But we think in certain ways. There's inherently a paradox there. There's a way to spark all of this kind of thing and get you to want to explore intellectual territory besides just exploring the story, being motivated by the story like I was with the Black Square like we talked about last class. And I like to do this by asking hacker questions. So, I'm gonna go through some of my favorites. If you are trying to be more creative, you're trying to explore this landscape, here's some questions that can help. First one, what's the list of assumptions inherent to this question?
So, whatever you're working on, list out the assumptions that need to be true for this to be possible. Whether it's your solution to a problem, whatever it is. So, if we're talking about the old lady in the car in the rain, listing out the assumptions. I assume that I have to stay in the driver's seat. I assume that the car still works. I assume that all of them want to be picked up. And you go down the list and go as far as places that are just so obvious that it would be silly if that assumption wasn't true. I assume that I'm still alive. I assume that I'm not a ghost. I assume that reality is real, right? And when you do this and you get really kind of deep into that, you'll realize that there are assumptions that we assume about things that actually don't have to be true. So, that's question number two. What if they weren't true? What if I am dead in this scenario? Then what would I do? It actually kinda changes how you might approach the problem. By asking that question, it sort of kicks you out of that car, metaphorically, and forces you to think of things that could be alternate solutions. So, this is the first kind of two-question wave that I like to think about, sparking lateral thinking. And asking the people you're working with, well, what if that assumption wasn't true? And often, people will say, well, but it is true. And you're gonna push 'em and say, well, what if it wasn't true? This is how you can explore intellectual territory together. If everyone says, well, Malevich is clearly nuts, and the Black Square is nothing, then no one will explore and find the territory in between. So, just saying, well, what if it is true? What if Suprematism is something we should consider? You find things along the way. Second lateral thinking hacker question. How have others in different fields approached something similar to this? Basically, put yourself in someone's shoes, but not someone that's similar to you. So, how would a ballet dancer approach this problem? How would a race car driver approach this challenge? How would a child think about this creative project? One of my favorite experiments is, I'm gonna get it kinda wrong, but basically, they took a bunch of business people, and they gave them toothpicks and marshmallows, and said make as tall of a tower as you can. And then, they got a bunch of kindergartners and gave them toothpicks and marshmallows and said make as tall of a tower as you can. Guess which group won? The kindergartners. The kindergartners won because they were less inhibited. The business people were like, well, how does architecture work, and they kind of had this sort of formal collaboration where kids were like, I'm gonna try this, and they just did it. And so, asking a kid, or asking how would a kid approach this. A kid who has no constraints who might be fine with eating half the marshmallow. How would they approach this problem? So, that's my next favorite hacker question. Next one is, if no one could get in trouble for anything you tried with this, what could you co? This is sort of a dangerous question, but it's one of my favorites. The writers of Freakonomics said that it can be useful in creative context, or ideation, to suspend your morality. It doesn't mean you need to go through with it, but going through the exercise of what if no one would get in trouble if we did anything often leads you to explore territory on the mountain range that there's something you actually could do that would not be immoral to do. So, what if no one would get in trouble? Next hacker question. If we had to use a different era of technology, what could we do here? I like this one a lot because once again, of MacGyver. MacGyver was really great at solving problems, using pieces of gum and paperclips and all these things that were not supposed to be used. My favorite tool for opening those awful blister pack headphone packages, you know what I'm talking about, like the plastic you can't rip open, and you use a knife, and you're gonna cut yourself. Scissors don't even work. Can opener. Best thing to open that with. You think that it's a miracle, you just can open it right up. So, using a different tool is a great way to do this sort of hacker thing, but that's what lateral thinking is about. Lots of examples of how just trying different types of technology can either work magically or unlock an idea that can work later. My favorite example of a different era of technology working is the original gossip writers. Like the very first gawker basically, in like the 1600s. They had this brand new printing press in renaissance Italy, and these writers started doing this thing where they'd gather up gossip, and then they'd print up these newsletters and hang them around town. And they were so excited about this technology, this printing press. What they found is that the gossip writers that won, basically this early proto newspapers, they're the ones that figured out that people would rather have the gossip fast than pretty. And so, they just figured out clever ways to do handwriting faster, to hook sticks together and hand write the same thing rather than load up a printing press. Or they would just get a bunch of people and hand write. And it turns out that that's what people wanted. And those became the sort of classic things that led to the history media, I guess. So, I love that story because we often underestimate how previous technology, how handwriting could actually maybe be a better solution to a problem than the new technology. So, even if you just ask yourself, what if we had to use something analog to solve this problem? It can often result in a better solution to your problem. How would you prevent you from succeeding if you were someone else? This is one of my favorites. How would you kill this project? How would you kill this company? How would you stop this from happening if you were a villain? This often helps show you holes in your process, but it can also show you things that you can do better, more creatively. What's the opposite of what an expert would recommend we do? This is often how we see innovation happen, right? One of favorite, again, stories from history is the guy, Dick Fosbury, who jumped over the high jump bar backwards, right? So, he was not the best at the high jump, but he won the gold medal. It used to be that you jumped over the high jump kind of like this. Like sort of a superman twist thing. He started doing it backwards, like running up and jumping this way. Turns out that you can do that better, but the doctors were like, no, you're gonna break your neck. His coach was like, don't do it. His mom was like, please. And he won the gold medal, and he sort of did the opposite of what people were telling him to do. But that changed the game. And now, everyone in the Olympics jumps over the high jump bar backwards. He didn't win the second Olympics 'cause everyone who was a better athlete then him caught on and did it. This is how we change things. So, just play with that question. What's the opposite of what an expert would recommend we do? What if we went through this scenario backwards? These next two are probably my favorites. What if we could do this 100 times cheaper? This is a really interesting question for sparking lateral thinking 'cause it forces you, whatever mountain range you're trying to climb, it forces you to do it differently. 'Cause you can make something twice as cheap. Probably by doing the same thing and just cutting costs, trying to design something a little cheaper. But if it has to be 100 times cheaper or a 100 times simpler, that really forces you to break things down into their key components and figure it out differently. Maybe you won't get to 100, but I think this is a super useful question. Then, how could we make this 10 times better? Sort of the inverse of that. Whatever you're working on, you know, if you can't just come in on Saturday and do more of the same thing. If you're forced by this really big challenge to rethink it, this is a way to unlock lateral thinking and say, well, maybe we do have to explore more of the mountain range because it's gotta be 10 times better. And this is just a variation of what we were talking about before, but how would a type of person from a different background or expertise look at this? So, these questions don't just serve to kind of help us to sort of generally expand our thinking patterns. Sometimes, the actually push us off the mountain peak that we're on. If we say it has to be 10 times better or has to be 100 times simpler, it's kind of like you can't use a solution, so now you have to look the whole thing differently. Finally, I want to get back to Drake. So, the thing about that song, "Nice for What" by Drake, it goes deeper than just putting together all these different references to these different lyrics and putting together the NOLA trigger beat with Lauryn Hill. Turns out that that Lauryn Hill song that he samples which I would attempt to sing it, but I'm just not going to. You can listen to it later. But she's like, "Cry for me, cry for me"... That song that's in the background, that's like really a great hook. Turns out that she, in that song, actually sampled a piece of a Wu-Tang Clan song. I lied, I am talking about Wu-Tang in this class, too, like my other class. She actually sampled a piece of a Wu-Tang Clan song. She built off of some work that they had done and incorporated that into that song which then got incorporated into the Drake song. Which I think is sort of the meta lesson of all of this which is that anything that we're working on, we think we're connecting dots. We're connecting dots of things that have had dots connected before. Everything we do is building off of this chain of lateral thinking, this chain of creative connections. And that's not all 'cause this Wu-Tang Clan song actually sampled a Diana Ross song from a decade or so before. And that Diana Ross song was actually a remake of a Barbra Streisand song. And so, the moral of the story, and of this class, is all roads lead to Barbra Streisand (class laughs), but nothing great was done alone, and we underestimate the influence that we can have as creative collaborators and just where our next great collaborator can come from. So, that's all I've got. Go forth and create together. Thank you very much.