Beyond the Obvious

A friend noticed the lamp in the guest bedroom was missing. She found it in her daughter’s room. The thing was, she already had a lamp. So why did she need another one?

Any guesses?

To read? Perhaps she was making shadow puppets? Some sort of light show?

All good, legitimate, even obvious answers. 

And all wrong. 

She was using it as a wig stand. 

Bet you didn’t see that one coming!

The ability to see beyond the obvious is a remarkable creative trait.

Before anything becomes popular or mainstream it starts off as an outrageous idea, dreamt up by someone who can see beyond the obvious to create something new or develop an innovative solution to a problem.

When Is a Lamp, Not a Lamp?

Here is an object. In this case, a lamp.

What is it? What does it do? What could it be? What could it be used for?

This is the basis for a very popular creative thinking exercise. One used to elicit ideas beyond the obvious. 

And that’s because, by and large, we struggle to see past the obvious, sensible applications for an object, item, or process. Because we’re so used to using them as they were intended. 

However, once we get past the intended use or application, that’s when we get to the good stuff. The real creative thinking. The best solutions to the most complex problems. 

Think Apollo 13.

How to Fit a Square Peg Into a Round Hole

After an explosion caused the oxygen tanks to rupture and start leaking air into space, the astronauts on board Apollo 13 were faced with a fight for survival. And it would take every ounce of ingenuity and creative thinking to get them safely back to Earth.

Their first step towards survival was to move into the landing module and use it as a sort of ‘space lifeboat’. But this brought its own problems. Namely, difficulties with removing carbon dioxide. 

In a cruel twist of fate, the square lithium hydroxide canisters were not compatible with the round openings in the landing module system. 

Effectively, they had to figure out how to make a square peg fit a round hole.

This scenario was way beyond the obvious possible scenarios that had been simulated and worked through during NASA training prior to the mission’s launch. Therefore, it needed a solution that itself was beyond the obvious.

Limited by the equipment they could find on board the landing module, mission control back on Earth and the crew of Apollo 13 out in space had to come up with a creative solution to a perilous problem. And there wasn’t much time to execute it successfully.

A Successful Failure 

Eventually, they managed to cobble together a device made from a bag, a hose from a spacesuit, and plenty of duct tape, to ensure they could breathe safely.

The result is perhaps the most famous example of creative problem-solving ever.

Certainly, the extraterrestrial location, the jeopardy, and the drama unfolding to a worldwide audience may have played a significant role in its acclaim. However, it’s the ability to think and see beyond the obvious that won the day.

Seeing more to everyday items than their usual or standard applications. Imagining what else they could become. How else they could be used. And to what effect. That is the definition of creative thinking.

So, next time you see a lamp, put a wig on it.

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