“Now, what about problem solving” said one of our graduates?“How do I do that well?”
“We cannot think what we cannot think; so what we cannot think we cannot say either. (5.61)” “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Ludwig Wittgenstein
Problem Solving: What is it worth to solve a problem that has vexed you or your company for years? Anything? Yes! Anything. Learning to think laterally will make you a great problem solver. The reason is that the solution usually lies “outside of the box”. To get outside the box you need to be able think outside the box. The easiest way to think outside the box is to do Lateral Chunking.
Remember that the person with the greatest flexibility of thinking will usually be in charge of the thoughts and ideas of the system, or of the group.Let’s look at a few examples:
My favorite Lateral Chunk Problem Solving example is the elevator. Say you are coaching a business that is in an old building with an old slow elevator. The owner gets a lot of complaints about people waiting for the elevator, and waiting, and waiting. It’s not an option to put in a new, faster elevator – not enough money. So what do you recommend? We’ll get back to this in a moment, but firstâ€¦
Most people when they are faced with a dichotomous choice (a choice where there are 2 possibilities separated by an “or”) will freeze or slow way down as they make the decision. “Should I do this or that?” Dichotomous choices are the basis of “Double Binds” and in sales they may show up as, “would you like it in green or red,” “would you like it delivered on Tuesday or Wednesday?” In sales, this is called an Alternative Choice Question” in coaching and therapy it is called a “Double Bind”.
Now, whether this is something that is done by a sales person or a therapist, and whether it is good or bad for us, it does limit out choice to “eitherâ€¦or” and it cuts out other choices and possibilities that could be explored. Think about it for a moment, and while you are thinking, “would you like a medium or a large Coke with those fries?” Well maybe I don’t want either. Maybe I want a small. Maybe I don’t want Coke, but because of the construction of the phrase I choose one side and I say, “a medium Coke.”
Now that is a simple example. Here is a more complicated one. By the way, I am using the following example because it has no political energy on it. I don’t care about the topic I am about to discuss except to look at what both sides do to our thinking.
UFO or Weather Balloon? (from http://www.roswellfiles.com/story.htm)
“On July 8th, 1947, the Roswell newspaper printed a story that the Roswell AAF had released the news of the “capture of a flying saucer”. This story was quickly put on the news-wires, and soon newspapers across the country were all running stories about the Captured Saucer.
Whether or not you believe in UFO’s, you cannot argue that the arrival of UFO’s in 1947 had no effect. What really happened is that the people in the United States were slammed to either side of a 2 pole dichotomy, and set the two parts of the debate. Was it an alien UFO or weather balloon? With these 2 poles we became incapable of looking at what other possibilities there were, because it was an alien UFO or weather balloon.
Now, how do you get out of the dichotomy? Lateral chunking! Without lateral chunking, you can get stuck in a dichotomy. With lateral chunking you can see solutions that others can’t see.
The process of chunking laterally is facilitated by asking yourself some easy-to-remember questions. The questions for chunking laterally are (and here you must use both)
- “What is this an Example of?” and
- “What are other Examples of this?”
Now an example:
From our last article:
To learn to chunk up to see the interrelated parts forming a whole, ask yourself the question, “What is this an example of?” in our diagram we see that Cars are an example of Transportation. Transportation is more abstract than Cars.
To learn to chunk down to get greater details, ask yourself the question, “What are examples of this?” in our diagram we see that we could choose “BMW” or “Wheels”. Each is more specific than Cars.
Now How to Do Lateral Chunking:
To chunk laterally first ask yourself, “What is this an Example of?” Let’s see Cars, an example of Transportation. Then ask yourself, “What are other examples of this?” so, let’s see other examples of transportation – busses, boats, planes, trains. These are of the same level of abstraction as Cars, but a different logical type.
Simple and if you practice it, result producing. It will change your thinking.
“We cannot think what we cannot think; so what we cannot think we cannot say either.” If your thinking is not controlled by anything outside you, you are free to think. Hmmm. What do you think about that?