Another Good Problem Solving Technique
Apply Existing Solutions in New Ways
This is another easy-to-use and systematic
problem solving technique. It is explained in this excerpt from
my ebook Problem Solving Power.
This technique is more for generating new ideas rather
than solving specific problems. It can be used in almost any
area of life.
I just saw a new local business advertised on TV, a company
that uses a dog to find mold in your house. Dogs can be trained
to sniff out almost anything. It reminded me of the news story
a year ago, about a dog that could detect if you had cancer.
My first thought was, "I wonder what else they could
be used to find?" This is a super technique for generating
new ideas. Just find new applications for existing ideas and
By the way, one idea that came to mind was to use dogs to
find other pets. They find humans so well, so why not a service
to find lost pets? One sniff of the cats favorite rug, and the
dog is on the trail.
New Application Ideas
This is another technique, which like concept-combination,
can be used in all areas to create an endless supply of new ideas.
Start with the essence of the idea, and look for new applications.
Then look at any other factors that could be applied in new ways.
For example, let's start with the pneumatic tubes that deliver
your money and papers at bank drive-throughs. The essence is
a cartridge that delivers things through a tube using air pressure.
Could the same thing work for human transport? Ride "the
tube" to the next city? Maybe as an amusement park ride?
Another aspect of the tubes is that they allow several customers
to be waited on at once. Fast food needs that at the drive through.
The tubes themselves would spill drinks, but the idea of multiple
lines can be used. Several drive-through windows, radiating out
like spokes, at different angles, would allow three different
lines of cars.
In demonstrating all of these techniques, it is easy to get
stuck on the invention and business applications. These are just
the easiest areas to come up with new ideas in. That doesn't
mean they don't work well in other areas though.
I saw a story about socially withdrawn preschool children.
Psychologist Robert O'Connor made a short video with 11 scenes.
Each showed a solitary child watching other children participate
in an activity. In each, the child joined the group, and everyone
When he showed the film to severely withdrawn children at
various preschools, the children immediately began to be sociable
with the other children. Their new behavior persisted weeks later,
though they saw the film just once. Withdrawn children who didn't
see the film were as withdrawn as ever.
Amazing research. You can probably imagine applications for
these "coaching films." I'm imagining films in which
criminals turn their lives around, to be shown in prisons. If
young athletes were shown films in which it was normal to run
four-minute miles, would their times would improve? I wonder.
Here is some practice for you, if you want to get in the habit
of using this technique.
- Think of two new uses for magnets.
- You pedal a bicycle to make it go. Think of three new
uses for pedal-power.
- If you are familiar with Darwin's theory of natural selection,
find a new application for the concept, but outside of biology.
- We exercise our bodies, and we exercise our brains. What
else can you apply the concept of exercise to?
Hopefully you're seeing how easy it can be to come up with
new ideas. In the next chapter I'll show you a very systematic
method to solve specific problems and come up with creative new
ideas, using a modifying word list.