By Lt Gen S.S. Apte
Did you know that dealing creatively with problems could be your way to developing intuition, healing relationships, empowering your organization, evolving the brain to a new level and personal transformation?
Problems, according to conventional ways of thinking, are obstacles to a goal. We learn to live with the unsolved ones which grow into the crises which dominate our lives. Creative thinking reverses this order and alters our perception of a difficult situation. A problem becomes a challenge and then, an opportunity. Consider this; one company in the USA had spent millions of dollars to develop a multipurpose adhesive which turned out to be a failure, as it would peel off. They turned this failure into an opportunity in the post-it pads. These yellow little squares of paper can be stuck and peeled off for reuse. Creative thinking alone sees such opportunities.
When I first developed and applied the Creative Problem Solving (CPS) process in 1984, as a UN (ILO) productivity expert in Nigeria, it was mainly for the industry, distribution system, plantations and government. After returning to India three years later, I refined it further during my consultancy work with diverse organizations and, lately, some army units. Though originally intended only for solving problems, over the years I discovered its tremendous power to transform individuals and organizations.
A QUESTION OF CREATIVITY
Creativity is our inborn ability to change perceptions and to see any situation differently. No open-ended problem can be solved without some change in our perception. To illustrate, the new head of a public sector unit in Bihar in eastern India found that the corners on the newly painted walls of the corporate office were being splattered red with chewed betel nut. Since disciplinary action against offenders did not help, he tried creative thinking. He asked himself. ‘What will make me not even want to spit?’ Solution came instantly—place pictures of venerated deities at the corners. This solution was effective and enduring. Not only were the employees pleased with the prominence given to the deities, they also feared the consequences of spitting on them.
In another case, at NASA, the tip of the streamlined ceramic heat-shield of the space module was burning out due to the frictional heat generated when it returned to earth at supersonic speed. The shield could not be made any thicker. Like a needle held in a flame, the tip accumulated heat which it could not carry away due to its small cross-section. Someone then offered a `ridiculous’ solution—reverse the direction of entry of the module so that the broad side faced earth. Since this ignored the principle of streamlining which reduces resistance to motion, the engineers hadn’t considered it. Now, they remembered that streamlining was effective below the speed of sound, and that at supersonic speeds, shape did not matter. Traditional thinking of streamlining for high speed projectiles had blocked a creative approach. This mental block was blasted by the technique of enforced `reverse thinking’ and a critical problem was solved in seconds.
Our eyes can see and identify objects of a given size only up to a limited distance. Telescopes extend our limited vision. Similarly, mental blocks prevent us from seeing solutions. CPS extends our mental vision by blasting through blocks. We can then see and explore farther into the limitless solution space. Besides, while solving one problem, some new and deeper problems surface. Hidden problems cause endless harm, like cancer. On seeing and solving these, we usually get that totally satisfying `aha!’ Experience. Many solutions are then available to us.
WATCHING THE BRAIN WORK
The left and right hemispheres of the human brain function differently. During waking hours the left brain (LB) is dominant. LB is the stable, conservative anchor to our thinking, and ensures predictable or patterned behavior so essential for living in society. It is the fighter, and the argumentative brain. It creates tension to give us the needed fighting spirit but it gobbles up energy. It helps us survive day-to-day conflicts but when overused by constant arguments in long meetings and corporate or family battles, it depletes our energy and exhausts us. It is also our logical, disciplined but unbending, rigid brain which creates our mental blocks.
The right brain (RB) is dominant when we are relaxed, drowsy or sleeping. It creates physical and mental relaxation, stimulates energy centers in the brain, giving us limitless energy. All creative thinking including humor is enjoyable and relaxing. RB makes new connections with existing ideas and creates numerous new ideas and concepts, not limited by logic, fear, past experience, practicability, etc. It creates new logic such as Boolean algebra with symbolic logic for computer circuitry.
LB works for our survival, by preventing us from behaving in a socially or professionally unacceptable way, by giving warnings of our limitations (through fear), by enforcing current logic for existence, such as rules, regulations, traditions and other paradigms; but it prevents us from venturing out and growing. Resistance to change comes from LB. Its dominance is due to generations of fighting and evolving a rigid survival code for behavior and even thinking, thereby dousing our inborn creativity. During sleep or when relaxed, RB is dominant. Imaginative faculties, which venture into new territories and create both risk and growth, are now operative. RB responds in pictures and symbols in our dreams, and even in waking hours as intuition.
The creativity of a child flows freely till school-going age, then he learns the hard, logical and `rational’ ways of survival in a hostile world, and inculcates the unchangeable rules and protocol. His rebellion is against this interference with his creative growth instincts. Forcing him to live a socially acceptable life all the time even when sleeping closes down his creative power, so that when adult, he needs artificial methods of creative stimulation, as the modern man needs artificial exercises such as yoga postures, aerobics, and massage (to maintain blood circulation and to get rid of toxins) Which the primitive man never needed. Hence, for survival in these changing times, creativity training is a must, as it speeds up our thought-circulation and throws out the toxins of outdated assumptions such as: ‘women do not deserve freedom’.
ON DEVELOPING CREATIVITY
In 1978, as honorary advisor to BHEL, the several lectures I gave on the subject to most of their senior managers over a period of three years, were well received, but no one actually applied creativity. Later, I realized that any new learning died down quickly unless there was immediate application and a pressure to use it. In my UN assignment, I had also discovered that no problem could be solved without some change of perception, which meant creative thinking. Then. The link between creative thinking and its immediate application in problem solving became obvious. The CPS Process was born—at the stage, primarily for solving current or potential problems.
Everyone is creative, but many of us are blocked from using our creativity. Through its block-busting techniques, such as reversal, analogy, forced relationship, turning around assumptions, and free association of ideas, CPS challenges and forces the problem solver to think creatively. Managers, executives and also workers should learn appropriate CPS techniques and be made to apply these immediately to their problems. Resistant thinking will disappear quickly. Unlike other management training, this one gives results even before the training is over, as the experience of quick success creates all round motivation to continue.
ZOOMING-IN ON CPS
You can shoot the enemy whom you can see and who is with in the range of your weapon, which can fire in a straight line, like a rifle. If there is a hill between you and him, your solution has to be different. For instance, you can use an indirect fir weapon firing over the hill (a mortar or gun), you can have an observer to guide your fire on top of the hill, you can move to the top and use direct fire when you can see him, or you can even attract the enemy to the top so he becomes visible: you can use a longer range weapon, or go closer to the enemy. All these are different creative solutions for when you get stuck or if conditions change. However, the final solution which you choose must be logical, practical, within your resources of time, space, men and materials, etc. It must also harmonies with human attitudes if some persons are involved in implementing it. The RB creates many alternatives: the LB chooses.
Thus CPS consists of two distinct stages: the creative phase of developing many alternatives without restrictions of any kind, and the rational, logical or decision-making phase. The broad series of steps are: define problem, develop many new definitions of the same problem, that is, look at it from different viewpoints, (for instance: How to kill rats? How to prevent entry of rats in the house? How to trap rats? Or even, how to prevent rats from breeding?) Select one of these new definitions according to its possibility of giving more challenge to your creativity; using various creativity techniques, develop many, many alternative solution—ideas regardless of their practicability; apply or analyze advantages and disadvantages of each along with your criteria for choosing and finally, select one solution for implementation. The selected solution, which may not be a perfect one, may need further solution-finding to any negative elements resulting from the chosen solution and the same process is now repeated to this narrower problem. Usually, completely new problems become visible now and may be similarly handled. When you are not able to see a solution to a problem or want to improve on the existing solution, and cannot find the answer, follow CPS. On repeatedly changing perceptions or rather, allowing the possibility of different perceptions, the mind becomes mobile and solutions appear very fast. The behavioral changes are a byproduct.
WINNING WITH CPS
While the problem solver opens up and solves his part of the problem, others motivated by fear, suspicion or cutthroat competition, often resist creative changes as it does not fit into their survival paradigms. In every complex mechanism, organism or organization, any problem (such as wear, malfunction, delay, misfits or poor relationship) anywhere, causes wear or degradation everywhere. Everyone in the organization must, therefore, have the CPS inputs. CPS is introduced in a structured way in which higher level managers select problems for lower level problem solvers who are exposed to CPS. As they solve these problems, some problems beyond their authority are exposed. Those are handled at the next level and so on. This makes everyone take responsibility for his actions. All the degenerative processes (including company politics) are now reversed and the organization constantly renews itself.
The results are exciting even in the initial stages of CPS. Participants first change individually and then team spirit and mutual tolerance develop. Typically, the use of CPS brings the following benefits to individuals and organizations.
The LB gobbles energy. Notice how much energy we use up in asserting our beliefs to others. We shout, quarrel, get angry, resentful, and even break off relationships—that most valuable characteristic of an evolving race. A RB actually triggers our dormant energy centers. When in a positive, expectant (not anxious) mood, during sleep, dreaming, in deep relaxation (meditation), during period of religious ecstasy, listening to music (not exciting jazz or rock music), a source of unlimited energy from the RB becomes accessible to us. This, too, happens during the intensely creative, often humorous, phase of CPS.
This energy heals our tissues and gives immunity from physical illnesses. Healing of hearts: The behavioral benefit of healed and improved relationships which follows the use of the CPS Process was neither intended nor expected. The bonus is much greater than mere solutions. People get transformed at apace which their individual mental state can stand, and organizations transform in ways their local culture can withstand. I had seen in the hundreds of persons who practiced CPS that this energy healed their relationship with self and with others, leading to improved self self-concept, team work and cooperation, and an urge to offer unsolicited help.
This is the greatest benefit from the CPS Process. CPS is not passive; it takes on challenges. It is always related to your day-to-day problems of living with the job, with the self and with people at home or at work. It becomes a way of life. How does this happen? I suspect that when the `survival’ blocks are removed we lose the subtle, ingrained suspicion or fear of other humans, and develop confidence in our own capability, introspect and reverse or modify our attitudes, and feel closer to other human beings. We begin to sense and even internalize the ultimate unity of life preached by all religions—and in our own way get `streamlined’ into the fundamental process of evolution.
No wonder many scientists believe that RB holds our evolutionary power. Improved intuition: RB has no sense of time, which is a concept our LB created for convenience. RB treats everything as `here and now’. All that has happened, is yet to happen or is happening is all now. Under RB stimulation, we get a gut feeling of events yet to happen, as if we are able to pluck out of the ‘here and now’ of RB’s infinite collection of events. This is intuition. I suspect that the ancient wisdom of the sages was this intuition (for events), and inspiration (for concepts). Einstein had no proof of his theory of relativity—it was inspiration.
MOBILE MIND AND MUSCLES
Mobility is a principle of war. Insufficiency of resources has been more than neutralized by mobility of the force. Creativity is mobility of the mind, necessary for vanquishing any enemy (problem). This freedom of the mind is reduced by age as we collect more and more negative experiences, become more and more cautious (logic of survival) and tend to prepare for any eventuality. As this method worked so far, our belief is first confirmed. Conditions change but the mind does not accept any but the earlier solution. The belief now becomes a block and mental rigidity, which then is reflected in our body as stiffened muscle groups and joints. Constant use of creativity such as by CPS reverses this and we become bodily young. While calisthenics and yogasanas adopt the physical route for a flexible body, it becomes just a byproduct of using the mental route of CPS.
HUMOR THROUGH A CRISIS
All our thoughts and actions are the result of our natural, or even forced, perceptions. You cannot feel depressed if you simply force yourself to walk tall. When you hear a joke or a humorous tale, your body laughs and both mind and body relax. At this moment the RB is stimulated. In due course, by constant RB stimulation aids survival during crisis. At this time the LB, not finding any past precedent to a new situation in its programs, gets confused and irritable. It then makes mistakes and never understands why things don’t work.
The primary role of an army units is to attack or be ready to attack. Defense is only temporary posture the army takes (build up or make up losses of weapons, men and ammunition, train for special situations). The term Defense forces is only a political skullduggery to avoid blunt references in diplomatic or political discussions. A defensive attitude is demoralizing to troops. Similarly, I believe that the human race has survived and evolved only through battling with predators and, on a larger scale, the natural environment which includes diseases. The human brain has also evolved to create survival instincts (LB programs from past experiences causing protective, predictable behavior), and a deep urge for growth in the RB, the part of the brain where creativity resides.
While the LB can only deal with an unchanging and static situation, the RB deals with only changes. As these are continuous and endless, we can say the RB is responsible for our evolution, as individuals in the present lifetime and as a race in the present era. Is not problem solving, or its more general form, challenge-taking, the aim of life? Where do we get all the help in solving problems creatively? Which direction are we following instinctively? The answer to these questions comes if we realize that no problem can be solved without change of our perception. Permitting ourselves to do this frequently gives us new values. My own intuitive belief is that the ultimate value which is drawing us all to make this change is spirituality, that is being one with our spirit, and the only one that exists in this universe.
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