How to change your perspective – part two

In my previous post, I described how a different perspective can lead to very different views and wildly different ideas. But how do you become better at changing your perspective?

Some are naturally good at changing the way they look at a situation. Others have gotten better at it by immersing themselves in another culture while living abroad. But what if you have difficulty changing your perspective and are not seeing yourself living abroad anytime soon?

Not to worry. There are several tricks you can use to force yourself to look at a problem from a different angle.

In the article ‘How to develop a creative mindset’ I explained that creative and becoming even more creative is linked to certain habits. One of the main ones, besides looking past the first good idea and seeing problems as opportunities, is being able to see alternatives. Once you’ve gotten that skill down, you will be able to change your perspective much more easily.

Train your brain

The habit of automatically thinking about alternative options will make you more creative and a much better problem-solver. This habit is also something you can train.

The brain is like a muscle and exercising it can make it stronger and more agile. Regularly doing a simple thought experiment is enough to become better at generating alternative ideas. When you regularly force yourself to think about alternative possibilities, it will become second nature to look beyond the obvious.

The exercise you need for this is simple: start with a ridiculous situation, for instance ‘a man buries a gold brick in his garden every morning’, and come up with as many explanations as possible for this insane situation. Perhaps the man is a bank robber who is carefully and inconspicuously hiding the gold bricks he stole. Perhaps he is a scientist who is establishing how wet soil effects pure gold over time. Perhaps he foolishly believes he can grow gold-trees. Maybe he is one of the organisers of a tv game show in which the participants have to search for a gold treasure. Maybe the man is pranking unsuspecting bystanders. Perhaps the man is a body-snatching alien who presumes gold is garbage. Etcetera.

digging for creativity

You can practise looking for alternatives – Flickr Creative Commons Image via Funky Tee 

The goal of this exercise is to train yourself to come up with as many alternatives as possible. It is a way to stretch the creative muscle. If you repeat this exercise regularly, generating alternative ideas and looking at things differently will become second nature.

You can, of course, do this exercise alone, but it’s much more fun to do it with friends or colleagues. The simple exercise won’t take more than a few minutes and can be a hilarious start of a weekly meeting or dinner night. Simply make a list of odd one-sentence scenarios and you’ll be set for months. To get you started, I included a list of wacky mysteries at the end of this article.

Fun and useful as this silly exercise may be, it will take a bit of time before you’ll reap the full benefits. Forming a new habit does not happen overnight. Luckily there are more instant tricks to force yourself to change your perspective and to quickly get a more original view on things.

Thinking techniques

Even without any ‘training’, you can force yourself to change your perspective. Thinking techniques help you to find more original ideas, by forcing you to look in different directions. Here are some of my favourites:

Think like a celebrity
One way to look at your challenge differently is by imagining how someone else might try to solve your problem. For maximum effect, pick someone (in)famous. What would Richard Branson do in your situation? What about Oprah Winfrey, John Lennon or Donald Trump? Your famous associate doesn’t even have to be real. Imagining how James Bond, Harry Potter or Mr Bean might attempt to solve your problem can be just as insightful.

The Time Traveller
Imagine for a moment that time travel will be invented at some point in the future. Hold that thought. Now imagine meeting your ninety-year-old self, who travelled back in time. What would this wise oldie from the future advise you?

Imagining how your experienced 90-year-old future self gives you advice, will help you to create so-called psychological distance. The silly exercise allows you to shift your perspective and to see approaches you would otherwise overlook.

Make it worse
Another great way to change your view on a problem is by fantasising about ways to worsen the situation. This might seem ridiculous, but if there’s anything reading this article might have taught you, it is that there can be a lot of value in ridiculousness. Thinking about ways to make your situation even more horrible than it already is often leads to surprising insights. Often, your imaginary doomsday scenario will have a silver lining. As Dutch football legend Johan Cruijff famously proclaimed “Every drawback has its benefit.”

The ‘Make it worse’ technique consists of three very simple steps:
Step 1. How could you make your situation even worse?
Step 2. What could be possible benefits of this aggravation?
Step 3. Use new insights to generate as many ideas as possible for tackling the initial problem.

The Reversal
To change your perspective, it sometimes is enough to just need to change your question. After all, the way you describe your problem determines in what direction you will look for solutions. Actively change your problem statement and you’ll force yourself to generate more original solutions. One way of doing this is changing the order of the key words in your problem statement. For instance, don’t ask ‘How do we make sure that fewer people take the car to their work?’, but ‘How do we make sure that fewer cars take people to their work?’ While such a ‘reversed’ challenge sometimes sounds odd and illogical, it often sparks much more creative solutions. In this case, it might lead you from pondering about different means of transportation (like trains or bikes) to considering ways to get people to carpool (fewer cars for the same number of people).

Is how you look at your challenge the only way to see the situation? Or is there another way to look at it?



Bonus: some odd scenarios

As promised above, here are a few short mysteries to get you started with your alternative-seeking exercise:

  • A man enters a bar, orders a beer, throws it against the wall and leaves.
  • A young boy buys 60 boxes of cookies at the gas station every day
  • A woman visits the same bus stop every week, only to pour a glass of milk on the floor and leave.
  • Every day James comes back from work, he is wearing different shoes than when he left.
  • A man enters the police station, runs three laps around a trashcan and walks out again.
  • Every Thursday at 8 am, a group of small children wearing yellow T-shirts stands silently in front of a house for exactly 10 minutes.
  • Two clowns and a zebra are standing on the deck of a sinking ship. They are laughing hysterically.
  • A farmer exchanges 300 sheep for one black rabbit.
  • A man brings a different child to school every day.
  • A small boy enters a bank with a parrot on his shoulder. 5 minutes later he leaves the bank with 1 million dollars in cash.
  • 6 men are standing next to each other, waiting for a red traffic light. A beautiful woman drives past in a red sports car and all the men drop down dead.

Remember: there is no right or wrong answer. Just have fun with it!




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Why changing your perspective makes you more creative - verander je perspectief