The Impossible Question: Is there a "right" answer for a creative challenge?
Someone once said that for every problem there is a solution that is simple, attractive ... and wrong." -Arthur C. Clarke
Puzzles, riddles, mindbenders. Usually, no matter how tricky, involve linear thinking and one single correct solution. However, in the advertising and design world a solution to client’s problem may be considered "right" if it works, but rarely takes the form of only one solution.
Here’s where the impossible question comes into play. There is no specific right answer, but there is definitely bad, good and great answers. And every client knows it when he sees it. These “logic puzzles” test such things as “bandwidth, inventiveness, creative problem solving ability, outside the box thinking”
Such things that are used in coming up with creative campaign or creative impactfull images. Answering these questions means encountering and surmounting obstacles.
Here’s an example:
If you could remove any of the fifty U.S. states, which would it be?
Popular answers: Alaska, Hawaii, North Dakota.
Bad answer: Washington.
Worse answer: I'd remove all of them.
This is Microsoft's most notorious (job interview) example of an ill structured problem. It is not like asking for your favorite color. They want you to reframe the question so that it has a right answer, you can determine by logic.
You don't have to name the state up front. You can walk through your reasoning and decide the state at the end of it. Here is a composite and elaboration of approaches that have met with approval:
The central issue is, what happens to the people in the removed" state? Are we nuking the state? Let case (a) be that when you "remove" a state, you are killing all the people in it. Then there is a moral obligation to minimize casualties.
Case (b) is that the state's people just disappear. They're not actually killed; they're just gone. Maybe it's like going back in time and stepping on a butterfly ... then returning to the present to find that the state and its people don’t exist and never did. All the flags have forty-nine stars, and there is no mention of the removed state in any encyclopedia.
Case (c) is that only the real estate vanishes. The people are left behind - as homeless refugees sitting next to a gaping hole in the ground and wondering where they're going to sleep tonight. The people will be relocated at a staggering cost (to Microsoft?, to the federal government?).
Case (d) is that the people are "magically" relocated, at no emotional or financial cost to anyone. Push the button, and the ex-state's ex-residents all have homes and jobs (assuming they had them before) somewhere in the remaining forty-nine states, without displacing anyone in those forty nine states.
Case (e) is that no one, and no real estate, vanishes. The "removal" is purely political. The removed state becomes part of Canada or Mexico. Or it becomes an independent nation.
The choice in case (a) is clear enough. People are being killed, so you have to pick the state with the smallest population. In the 2000 census, that was Wyoming.
Case (b) is a tough call. People just vanishing is an entirely hypothetical situation without any moral precedents. Still, the people are living, breathing souls until you hit the history-eraser button. That seems tantamount to killing them. Again, the choice should probably be Wyoming.
The dilemma in case (c) is whether to consider removing a more populous state than Wyoming, in view of Wyoming's natural attributes. Wyoming is a big state with beautiful scenery and Yellowstone National Park. To save all that, you might be willing to pay for the higher relocation costs involved in removing a more populous (but smaller and/or less scenic) state. By the 2000 census, the five least populous states are Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Vermont and Alaska also have spectacular scenery, and Alaska is huge. South Dakota has Mount Rushmore. North Dakota - well, North Dakota doesn't have Mount Rushmore. It stands out as the only state where it's hard to imagine anyone from another state intentionally taking a vacation there. (The joke is that the state tree of North Dakota is the telephone pole.) While other plains states are flat and treeless, North Dakota has the harshest winter climate - harsher than the main population centers of Alaska.
Now in case (c), no one's killed but we have to pay for relocating the people from the removed state. Surely it's worth springing for somewhat higher relocation costs in order to save Yellowstone or the Vermont ski resorts, or all of Alaska, or Mount Rushmore. North Dakota is dispensable.
In case (d) the relocation is magical and free. That's all the more reason to remove North Dakota.
Finally, in case (e), neither people nor real estate is lost. We just redraw the political map. There is something to be said for removing Alaska or Hawaii. Each is outside the contiguous United States. Some would say that having them as states smacks of colonialism. If you are concerned mainly about the way countries look on the map, it's probably a toss up between Alaska and Hawaii.
Face it: Were Congress to debate which state to remove, maps would be the least of it. Alaska has oil and minerals. Hawaii is a place mainlanders like to vacation. Both states have strategic importance. That would nix any talk of ceding them.
The debate would focus, as in (c) and (d), on the states with the smallest population and least natural resources. That would again lead to North Dakota, which is helpfully on the Canadian border. Offer it to Canada. If they don't want it, set it up as a country.
How Would You Move Mount Fuji?
The Six Hats Method of Creative Thinking (part 1 of 5)
"Movement expressed through a sweeping blur of energies, by freezing action in a crisp relief, or through geometry of composition, all conspire to move the eye into the picture, to feel around and exit with a sense of participation." -Jeff Berner, in The Photographic Experience
Thinking is the ultimate human resource. The main difficulty of thinking is confusion. We try to do too much at once. Emotions, information, logic, hope and creativity all crowd in on us. It is like juggling with too many balls.
The six thinking hats method allow us to conduct our thinking as a conductor might lead an orchestra. Putting on any one of these hats defines a certain type of thinking. Green thinking hat is concerned with new ideas and new ways of looking at things. Green hat thinking is concerned with escaping from the old ideas in order to find better ones.
Creativity involves provocation, exploration and risk taking. Creativity involves "thought experiments." You cannot tell in advance how the experiment is going to turn out. But you want to be able to carry out the experiment.
Movement is an active idiom. We use an idea for its movement value. There are a number of deliberate ways of getting movement from an idea, including extracting the principle and focusing on the difference.
With movement we use an idea for its forward effect. We use an idea to see where it will get us. We use an idea to see what it will lead to. In effect we use an idea to move forward. Just as we use a stepping-stone to move across a river from one bank to the other, so we use a provocation as a stepping-stone to move across from one pattern to another.
Sometimes we take an idea and use it as a stepping-stone and end up with an idea that is quite different. We merely extract some principle from the stepping-stone and then apply that principle. At other times we stay with a “seedling” idea and nurture it until it grows into a stout plant. It may also be a matter of taking a vague idea and then shaping it into something concrete and practical. All these are aspects of movement. The key thing to remember is that we move forward with an idea or from an idea.
Movement should go far beyond the positive assessment of an idea. Movement is a dynamic process not a judgment process. What is interesting in this idea? What is different in this idea? What does this idea suggest? What does this idea lead to? Such questions are all part of the movement idiom. The key point to remember is that in green hat thinking the movement idiom completely replaces the judgment idiom.
Six Thinking Hats
-Edward De Bono