Here is a creative consensus-building skill that can also serve you in making your own individual decisions. Sometimes we want to think creatively, out-of-the-box, but don’t know how to get started. In fact, telling yourself “Think out-of-the-box!” Can feel like pressure and actually stifle creativity.
Instead, ask yourself a fanciful question such as, “What would Spiderman do?” Of course, you do not have to use Spiderman’s name in this question. Many fictional and historical characters can work well—Emma Woodhouse, Queen Elizabeth I, Horatio Hornblower, Captain Kirk, Little Orphan Annie. Just pick someone very different from yourself, preferably someone with different skills or assets.
When you ask yourself a fanciful question, you come up with a fanciful, perhaps even silly, answer. The answer won’t work just as it is, which is precisely why that answer is your first steppingstone out of the box. If you only consider feasible possibilities, you tend to wind up with ordinary, in the box solutions.
Let’s say Chris and Pat are in charge of entertaining an overseas visitor on her first night in town. Chris thinks the visitor may be tired, jetlagged and possibly even feeling a little queasy after her long flight. So Chris favors taking her for an early dinner in a quiet restaurant located in a stately old house, then getting her back to her hotel by 9:00 PM.
Pat lets out a huge yawn. How boring! The visitor could go to a stodgy old restaurant in any town. Pat wants to show her something new, different, memorable. So, Pat favors driving her out to the county fair. They can ride the big Ferris wheel, see the livestock show, and sample foods like batter-fried Snickers bars.
Chris is horrified by this idea. The last thing he’d want after a long overseas flight would be to go on a long drive and seasickly rides, smell horses and cattle, and eat heavy foods.
Now suppose that Chris and Pat asked themselves, “What would Spiderman do?” They ask a silly question to generate some silly, and thus out-of-the-box, answers. They come up with:
- Change into his costume
- Fill up his web shooting gadgets
- Shoot a web up to the ceiling, swing himself up to the rafters, and look down at Chris and Pat arguing
- Have a good laugh at Chris and Pat
Chris and Pat certainly can’t really do any of these things, but they can modify some of them to make them feasible. The idea of Spiderman looking down at a scene inspires Chris to suggest that, instead of the restaurant in the stately old house, they might take their visitor to a restaurant on the top of a high rise building with a nice view of the harbor.
The idea of Spiderman laughing inspires Pat to suggest that, of two high-rise restaurants in town, they choose the one that features a standup comedian. They create a plan that will provide their visitor with a unique and memorable experience, without keeping her up too late or upsetting her stomach.
In my training courses, I refer to things like the images of Spiderman looking down at a scene and laughing at it as the “kernels of goodness” in otherwise unworkable ideas. We look for these kernels of goodness, then, seek ways to incorporate them into workable solutions. Can you see how the fanciful Spiderman question and silly answers led to an out-of-the-box solution?
You can also use this technique to make your own individual decisions. Perhaps you want to decide how to entertain a visitor on your own, or which car to buy, or what to do this weekend. Ask yourself what Buffy the Vampire Slayer would do, and see what happens.
You can read more about fanciful questions and other creativity boosters in Chapter 8 of Bridges to Consensus.