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How to Develop Out of the Box Thinking

I heard about a good example of creative thought. A college class was given a simple problem solving exercise. They were asked to brainstorm ways to use a barometer to determine the height of a tall building. This was a chnce for some out-of-the-box thinking.

The more scientific minds came up with solutions like using the change in the barometer readings from the ground to the top of the building to determine the height. There would be less pressure up higher, after all, and if the barometer was sensitive enough, this information could be used to get within a few feet of the true height.

Another student suggested dropping the barometer from the roof. By timing how long it took to fall, the distance of the fall - and therefore the height of the building - could be determined using the usual formula for acceleration. Slightly more out of the box in his thinking, one student suggested trading the barometer for a sextant. Then he could measure his distance from the building on the ground, take a sighting of the top of the building, and use the angle measured to calculate the height.

That started everyone thinking more creatively. Soon there were ideas like selling the barometer and using the money to buy string, which would be hung from the top to the bottom, and then measured. Perhaps the simplest idea, was to go ask for the owner and tell him "I'll give you this nice barometer if you tell me how high your building is."

Out of the Box Exercise

These kind of exercises are great for general exercise of your brain. But they are especially good for stimulating creativity and practicing your problem solving skills. You can do this alone, but it is probably more fun and productive with the ideas of several people bouncing off each other and generating new and more creative solutions.

The following are some suggestions to get you started. You can use this exercise just as an entertaining brain exercise, or as a warm up before an important brainstorming session.

- How many ways can you use a pen to make money?

- Four of you are lost in the woods and need to cross a large river. The river is slow, but deep and wide - and none of you swim. All you have is the natural materials around you and a 3-meter by 3-meter heavy plastic tarp. How many ways can you come up with to safely cross the river?

- You are trapped in a large plywood box, nailed tightly together from the outside. You have the clothes you're wearing, plus whatever is in you pockets. You also have a ski pole, a piece of paper and a pencil. How many ways can you think of to get out of the box?

Note: I occasionally introduce new creative thinking techniques in The Mind Power Report. If you haven't already subscribed, you can do so on the side panel to the left.

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