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February 21, 2018 Wednesday 04:16:55 PM IST
METHOD OF MULTIPLE REDEFINITIONS

In Indian logic there is a famous maxim called, Andhagaja Nyāya, the ‘maxim of the blind men and the elephant’. In an attempt to introduce this logic to the Western audience, the American poet, John Godfrey Saxe I (1816–1887), retells the parable behind this logic in his famous poem, “The Blind Men and the Elephant: A Hindoo Fable”, which

 

I wholly quote:

 

“It was six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

 

The First approached the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

“God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a wall!”

 

The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried: “Ho! What have we here?

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me ‘t is mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a spear!”

 

The Third approached the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a snake!”

 

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,

And felt about the knee.

“What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain,” quoth he;

“‘T is clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a tree!”

 

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: “E’en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a fan!”

 

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope,

Than, seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong.

 

THE MORAL:

So, oft in theologic wars

The disputants, I ween,

Rail on in utter ignorance

Of what each other mean,

And prate about an Elephant

Not one of them has seen!”

 

What John Godfrey speaks about sublime truths of theology is similarly valid for the mundane realities too. We are often blind to many aspects of the reality around us; our definitions about them are more often fuzzy, their boundaries being poorly defined. Therefore, we cannot claim to have exhausted the complete significance of them.

 

A single problem may be visualised from many different perspectives to help generate a thousand and one solutions for the same. However, it demands from you the openness and flexibility of a creative mind, which would define and redefine the problem in multiple ways till new solutions are churned out of it.

 

METHOD OF MULTIPLE REDEFINITIONS

 

Dr. Tudor Rickards (born 1941), Professor of Creativity and Organizational Change at Manchester Business School in the UK, has devised an effective method of defining problems seeking creative solutions, the ‘Method of Multiple Redefinitions’ (Rickards, T. Problem-solving Through Creative Analysis, Aldershot, Gower, 1974). This method especially applies to those open-ended problems, whose boundaries are fuzzy by definition. That could be a problem where different stakeholders may have different views to start with. Prof. Rickards recommends that such a problem be revisited and viewed based on a set of questions that  systematically redefines it from different mental modes of the seeker, thus unravelling multiple aspects of the problem at hand, leading to a creative solution to the problem.

 

The typical mental modes to be adopted by the creative mind are: emphatic, analytic, motivational, magical, metaphorical, and offbeat modes. Different perspectives towards the problem from these pre-defined mental modes are expected to elicit a holistic view of the problem, which naturally generates creative solutions.

 

“My adolescent child does not obey me!”

 

Let us describe the method of ‘Multiple Redefinitions’ based on a typical parenting problem any parent may face: “My adolescent child does not obey me”.

 

The first step of the method of multiple redefinitions is to define the problem in a more open-ended manner.

 

Let us try. Can it be defined in any manner as follows?

 

“My adolescent child and I find it difficult to communicate with each other.”

 

In the second step the same open ended question is defined based on specified mental modes:

 

1.      EMPHATIC MODE: The emphatic mode takes a cue from the following perspective: “There is usually more than one way of looking at problems. You could also define this one as...” In the given example, let us redefine the problem definition as: “My adolescent child is finding it difficult to communicate with me”. The onus of the problem is thus shifted from the adolescent child to oneself!

 

2.     ANALYTIC MODE: The analytic mode delves deep into the core of the problem. It tries to redefine the problem along the lines of ‘...but the main point of the problem is...’ The problem in the example could be accordingly rephrased as: “There is a deeper communication gap between myself and my adolescent child”.

 

3.     MOTIVATIONAL MODE: The motivational mode defines the problem in a positive manner so as to elicit the confidence of the seeker of solution. The line of thought could be: ‘What I would really like to do is...’. The current problematic could be redefined in line with this mode as: “What I would like to do is to repair the communication gap between my adolescent child and myself”.

 

4.     MAGICAL MODE: The magical mode requires of us to step  out of the box, transcending the laws and traditions set by nature or society. It takes a cue from the framework of thought as ‘If I could break all laws of reality (physical, social, etc.) I would try to solve it by...’. In our problem, let us redefine it accordingly as: “What if I could be my child’s pal, so that my adolescent child finds it easy to communicate with me”.

 

5.     METAPHORICALMODE: Here the metaphor corresponding to the problem is identified, so as to take the meaning to another level altogether. It follows the thought path as: ‘The problem put in another way could be likened to ...’. Let us accordingly redefine the current problem as: “Just like an elephant does not understand what an ant has to tell it, I may not have developed an ear to listen to my adolescent child”.

 

6.     OFF-BEAT MODE: Here one embraces a totally unorthodox approach to the problem. For example, the definition adopts an approach like: ‘Another, even stranger, way of looking at it might be ...’ Similarly, the problem at hand could be redefined as: “What if I consider my biological child as my own father, so as to understand his difficulty in communicating with myself, his father/mother”. Maybe entering the shoe of the adolescent child would give the parent pertinent insights as to what stands in the way of communication between him/ herself and their ward.

 

As a last step of the method, one shall compare the first definition of the problem and the current state of the same, and list the new approaches triggered by the ‘Multiple Redefinition Method’ to tackle the problem at hand.

 

The multifarious problems of life follow the Andhagaja Nyāya and therefore demand multiple redefinitions from us so as to facilitate creative solutions. Often, the multiple redefinitions by themselves may provide excellent clues to the problem, equating a suitable definition of the problem with its solution!


Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran


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