Creative problem solving: Which way does your banana bend?

As Enstein once commented "You cannot solve a problem from within the frame of reference in which it was created." We need to look at our problems in a different way.

I often ask this question (even in polite conversation) and receive a blank stare from the recipient. The inference is, of course, that bananas do not bend in any particular direction. They are neither left nor right handed, erect or droopy, they just bend.

Try grabbing a banana and placing it in front of you on table. Does it bend to the left or the right? Now turn it over, you should find that it now bends in the opposite direction. Alas, you do not have magic powers of banana bend reversal, but you have just demonstrated one of the most important characteristics of solving a problem. You sometimes need the ability to look at it from a new perspective or just turn it on its head!

I recently painted the outside walls of my house and was not looking forward to balancing precariously at the top of a ladder. It would have taken a long time to paint such a large area. But why not stay on the ground and take the paint roller up to the top of the walls? After a search in my local DIY store I found a suitable extending 5 meter pole and attachments that fitted to the top. I reckon that it took half the time it would have taken at the top of the ladder.

So next time you are faced with an issue, avoid rushing into the task (unless it really is that simple) and think about what you really want - in my case, putting paint (relatively neatly) onto the walls of my house. I could stand anywhere as long as I could control paint delivery. Turn the problem on its head or try looking at it from a different (or different person’s) point of view.

A new building in France has a steep sloping roof covered in grass. The problem? How on earth to cut it. You could imagine all sorts of elegant engineering or bioengineering solutions but the solution used was to use hover mowers suspended on ropes from above.

Then, of course, we also have that wonderful story of writing in space. The American solution? Develop a hugely expensive zero gravity pen. The Russian solution? Use a pencil!

So the next time you have a problem banana, try taking a look at it from all possible angles.

  • Max Madrasi

    That so called Russian solution of using pencil in space is just urban legend. Pencils with their graphite lead and wood shavings are too dangerous in a space capsule.