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July 01, 2016 Friday 07:15:20 PM IST

Burn your dark matter to trigger creativity

Creative Living

Which is easier for you: to create a problem or to solve it? Normally, it is easy to create it rather than solve it. So work human nature. There seems to be a principle engrained into human DNA to this effect. Some call it “Original Sin”, the inherent tendency of the spirit to go astray, a kind of “Karma”; others call it “Entropy”, the inherent tendency of matter to enhance in disorder. Being both matter and spirit, humans are doubly prone to err! We may ascribe it to the “dark matter within us”, which drives us into pessimism. Wikipedia describes “dark matter” as: “a hypothetical kind of matter that cannot be seen …but accounts for most of the matter in the universe.” The presence of dark matter is evidenced by the influence it exerts on the visible matter. However, it by itself is invisible. Similarly acts the dark matter in human psyche. Its presence can be predicted by the undesirable effects it produces, like that predicted by the famous Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Further, “if anything just cannot go wrong, it will anyway.” We also observe: “Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse;” Or, “friends come and go, but enemies accumulate;” or, “Anything good in life is either illegal, immoral or fattening.” They are but different funny formulations of the same law by Edward Aloysius Murphy, Jr. (January 11, 1918 – July 17, 1990), who was an American aerospace engineer who worked on safety-critical systems. Being driven by invisible dark matter, it is easy for humans to find fault with everything around, than finding good in them. By our very nature, most of us are pessimists; training is necessary to render us realists or optimists! The question is: Can we optimally utilize the inherent pessimism to derive creative ideas? Can we burn the inherent dark matter to generate creative options? Yes, is the answer! The creativity technique that cashes in on such inherent human predicament is called: “Problem Reversal Technique”.


Problem Reversal Technique


The core of the “Problem Reversal Technique” is simply to reverse the problem statement. Brainstorming is done only on the reversed problem. The reversal of the solutions to the “reversed problem” provides us with sumptuous creative options to resolve the problem at hand. Here the “reversed problem” is attuned to the human nature, which finds it easy to find faults. After optimally using the natural bend of mind to find fault, we are invited to negate them all over again. It follows principles of mathematics and natural sciences: a double negation results in the positive. We will be left with a host of creative options at the end! This method has its source in the book, “What a great idea!: the key steps creative people take”, authored by the creativity guru Chic (Charles C.) Thompson (HarperPerennial, 1992). For Chic Thomson, problem reversal enables a creative mind to capture different perspectives, which could be even diametrically opposite to each other. The opposites, however, need not necessarily be contradictory; they could also be complementary like the Yin-Yang. According to Chinese philosophy, Yin- Yang describes the complementarity, interconnectedness, and interdependence of the so called opposites in nature. They give rise to each other as they interrelate. Dualities like light and darkness, fire and water, and male and female are but manifestations of the primordial duality symbolized by Yin-Yang. Here the boundaries between the opposite melt away or are made insignificant. An idea is conceived to be incomplete without its opposite. For example, to describe the qualities of an ideal leader, Lao Tzu suggests: “in order to lead, the leader need to learn how to follow; to prosper, the leader needs to learn to live a simple life.” (Tao Te Ching). Apparent opposites are considered here as multitude of perspectives of the same reality, which together construct a holistic view of things. Just like the blind men encountering the reality of an elephant, in Indian Philosophy. Creative minds need to develop a 360º view of things, strictly avoiding segregation of the opposite perspectives. They need to learn to synergize the forward-backward, leftright, top-bottom perspectives into a total view. Problem reversal technique helps facilitate development of total perspectives, generating innumerable creative options, in a manner quite natural to human nature.


Pierce the eye of creativity wellspring


Problem reversal could actually provoke you to think in an unusual way, piercing the eyes of the creativity wellspring, allowing your creativity juice flowing. Let us consider a few examples of problem reversals. Let us first consider a typical teaching learning process, the heart of education, where “a teacher instructs students”. One could create a number of reversals to the above statement, each throwing light to different aspects of education, such as:


 Students instruct the teacher: Students come prepared to the class and teach. The teacher assumes the role of students, as done by famous Plato in his Dialogues, appreciating and at the same time challenging their views. In this way students learn things by way of teaching a teacher. They get mastery over the subject: an effective pedagogy!


 The teacher uninstructing students: The teacher does not instruct; rather just clears the accumulated misconceptions of students, who come prepared to the class. In his preparation, the teacher focuses on the possible misunderstandings of students over the subject and endeavors to clear them. The teacher remains a facilitator, a reference for students to clear their doubts and misconceptions preparing them to apply the knowledge acquired. A superior pedagogy!


 Students instruct each other: Peer teaching and peer-learning has its own value in education. In fact skills are better transferred through peer mentoring. We may think of academically well-off students assigned to teach a subject to the academically weaker ones. This would obviously improve the learning of both groups of students. As the academically well-off students consolidate their knowledge by teaching, the academically weak will benefit from such peer instruction. Further, life-skills will flow in both directions.


Students instruct themselves: In this method, students strive for mastery over the subject themselves. They are provided with the tools enabling them to instruct themselves. Students are equipped with the same tools teachers use as they surf the ocean of information, for example in the internet. This is a superior modern pedagogy.


 Teacher instructing himself: Here, teacher is not instructing students, rather he instructs himself. He becomes a role model for students, who instruct themselves. He makes use of already available tools of self instruction and even invents his own tools, to inspire students who prepare to instruct themselves. A still better method of instruction!


 Students un-instructing the teacher: In this pedagogical approach, students are asked to challenge the teacher and even to prove him wrong. Even though the ego of the teacher would be at stake, this paves the way for a truly interesting and efficient method of learning a subject. Students who could successfully challenge a teacher would be a master in the subject. The example suggests how to generate a large number of creative options, just by viewing it differently. By shifting the perspectives through different angles, powerful ideas about education could be generated. Let us now consider the creative possibilities generated by a 180º shift in the perspective, in a total reversal of the problem, through “a provocative rearrangement of information” (as de Bono describes it). For example, let us consider a problem often asked by parents of an adolescent child: “How can I improve my relationship with my adolescent child?” Let us first give a 180º reversal to the question. Let us rather ask: “How can I vitiate my relationship with my adolescent child?” Parents could easily identify large number of instances in which they were successful in vitiating their relation with their adolescent child out of their personal experiences, I presume.

Listing a few of them:


 Intrude into the privacy of the adolescent child and persistently ask questions such as, “Where were you the whole evening?” or “Who are your new friends?”


 Continuously ask the nagging questions like, “Did you do your homework?” “Do you listen to the lectures properly and clarify with them what you do not understand?”


 Regularly ask questions registering your mistrust in the ripeness of the child, the questions like: “Do you visit the class regularly?” “Do you waste your time on cinemas?”, etc.


 Belittle them in front of their teachers: Comments like, “I am fed up with his behavior. You alone could save my child.” “He is beyond redemption. I am ashamed him. He is such a naughty boy at home.” You may add thousand and one instances to this list. Now, the solution to the problem we were asking is already available to us. It is: “Just do the opposite!”


 Keep a respectful distance from your adolescent children, giving room for their privacy


 Ask questions that would promote their cheer


 Trust the ripeness of your child and promote it


Reassure their dignity and goodness every time, especially infront of their teachers. Correct them only in person.The “problem reversal technique” is,of course, an extremely powerful tool in the hands of deft minds to generate creative options in life. It allows you to burn the “dark matter” within you to trigger creativity!

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

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