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April 16, 2017

8:30 PM

Our fixation with only one possible solution limits and weakens us

Francisco Miraval

I recently read an article about un experiment repeated several times to prove that since our early childhood we become obsessed with only one solution for any given problem. As a consequence, we limit our ability to find new or alternative solutions, which becomes a real problem in a world where everything is constantly changing.

For the experiment, two groups of children were gathered, one group with children 5 and younger, and the other group with older children. Then, a piece of paper was put on a table and a fan was turned on. The children were asked to put something on top of the paper to keep the paper in place.

The researchers discovered that the children under 5 consistently used whatever they had a hand (books, toys, even their own shoes) to keep the paper in place. However, the older children consistently looked for a paperweight. If they couldn’t find one, they would say they couldn’t keep the paper in place.

The conclusion is clear: the more time we spent being “educated”, the fewer the chances we will be able to think or develop an alternative use for the objects around us. In other words, more education means less openness to other solutions, and, in fact, it means becoming obsessed with only one solution.

After reading the article, I remembered the time, several decades ago, when I took a Psychology of Creativity course. One day, the professor came and she asked the class only one questions: What can you use a brick for?

Initially, everybody provided obvious answers, but then new, creative answers were shared. And one of those answers was to use a brick as a paperweight. By the end of the class, a list of several dozen potential uses for bricks was compiled, with ideas unthought just a few minutes earlier.

Yet, unlike what preschoolers do and what creative experts teach, we are trapped inside a world were solutions are pre-assigned and no alternatives seem possible. For example, if at a given the school the academic achievement is low, the obvious solution is to spend more money at that school. And if next year the academic achievement is even lower, the solution is, of course, to spend even more money at that school.

In the same way and with the same limited thinking, other “solutions” are frequently mentioned: if you want to escape from poverty, you just need to find a job. And if you want to find a good job, you just need a college degree. I better don’t say anything about other “solutions” commonly offered to social problems and global conflicts.

Our obsession with only one solution closes our minds and keeps us inside the narcissistic solution that, if a problem is outside our “truth”, then there is no solution. But, when we open our minds, hearts, and will to hitherto unthought and unrecognized realities, that openness leads us to a better version of ourselves where we become the solution we were looking for.

 

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