A Tap on the Glass - 80 - Thinking Outside the Box (No Pun Intended)

Yes, those really are square watermelons.

A friend sent this picture to me and I ended up printing it as a reminder to get creative when a tough problem emerges at work.

The  story is that these watermelons were created in 2001 to satisfy several problems the Japanese were having. Round watermelons are tough to store, package, and ship. In Japan, where store space is limited, something had to be done.  So, a bunch of people got together and began growing watermelons in square boxes. The result was, yes, square watermelons which are easily stacked, packaged, and shipped. Brilliant! 

Ok so why is this inspiring to me? Simple. The more creative you are, the more you will solve. In my opinion, the majority of us would have laughed if someone asked us to solve this problem. Watermelons are round...period. Fortunately, the world was proven wrong simply because a few people chose to get creative and didn't give up.

So next time you are faced with a dilemma at work that seems impossible to complete. Take a glance at these goofy watermelons and remember to think differently. If that doesn't do it, here are a handful of other things you can try.

  • Think Laterally: I am not sure where I first learned this term, however,  a guy named Edward De Bono came up with it in the mid 60's. The easiest way to explain this one is to share a quote :

This means that trying harder in the same direction may not be as useful as changing direction. Effort in the same direction (approach) will not necessarily succeed.

When a problem arises, don't assume that you had the right process to begin with. So instead of fixing something that may have been corrupt, start over - at least in your thought process. What was the original goal and was my initial solution still the best approach?

  • Stop the all-night brainstorming: Think of the worst thunderstorm you've ever witnessed. How long did it last, a  few hours, right?. Well that is about your brain's limit on brainstorming as well. If you have a tough problem, feel free to sit alone or with others and hash out some ideas. However, take regular breaks that are long enough to give your brain some repair time. Go for a jog, meditate , play a video game, or something that will take your mind completely off the task.
  • Been there, done that: Believe it or not, your problem has most likely been encountered by others. This could be other companies, other departments within your company, even the guy sitting next you right now. Seek out those that have had similar issues and study their response. You shouldn't necessarily mimic what others have done, but clearly there is something to be said for taking an idea and customizing it so that it solves your problem.

    Although this point may be obvious, it's part of a larger theory on problem solving named TRIZ  (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving). 
  • Define it. Thoroughly: When something goes wrong, the tendency is to fix it as quickly as possible. That's fine as long as you are not jumping in blind. Look at the problem and understand exactly where the breakdown is. When I say exactly, I mean it - there can be no doubt or else your solution is better called a band-aid. Hit the problem at its core by studying all of the variables surrounding it to pinpoint the exact weakness.

There are several other things that you can do to solve problems. Frankly, your approach has a lot to do with how you think and analyze data. If any of you have a top secret approach to creative problem solving, let us all know!

Thanks for reading.