Because our perceptual positions determine how we view things, it’s important to learn how to shift our perspective to look at our subject in different ways. One way to shift perception is to try and look at the subject from someone else’s perspective. Soren Kierkegaard, the nineteenth century Danish philosopher, called this kind of thinking the “rotation” method .” He was thinking of crops while simultaneously thinking about perspective. You can’t grow corn indefinitely on the same field; at some point, to refresh the soil, you have to plant hay. Similarly, to grow a different perspective, it’s helpful to adopt a different role to expand your creative consciousness toward your problem.
All of us with a little thought can come up with easy ways to change our perspectives by adopting a different role. Peggy Dupra a middle school principal had a problem with her female pupils who were experimenting with lipstick. The girls were kissing the mirrors in the bathroom leaving their lip prints on bathroom mirrors. The maintenance department constantly asked her to have the pupils stop this practice. Peggy lectured, pleaded and threatened the girls with detention, but nothing seemed to help.
Peggy invited me to discuss the problem with her teachers. I talked about perception and how we see no more than what we expect to see. My message was that if you change the way you look at the problem, the nature of the problem will change. I dimmed the lights and asked them to do a little exercise. The exercise I had them perform was to think back in time to when they were the same age as their students.
They thought of their life experiences, pictured their parents, friends and relatives as they looked then. They began remembering all sorts of past friends, and, importantly, how they really felt at the time about the world. The more they remembered the more they felt like young school girls. After a few minutes, they became aware of random thoughts and images from years ago.
They had a ball remembering those days. One teacher laughed when she thought of her best friend Ellen of years ago and how they always tried to gross each other out in a game they called “Yechhhh!” She remembered one time when they spread the rumor that the cafeteria was using sewage water from a ditch to make pizzas to save water. Once the students heard the rumor, they refused to eat the pizza.
Suddenly Peggy got an insight from the teacher’s story. She said “That’s it!” What rumor can we start that will stop the girls from kissing the mirrors? They came up with several and eventually agreed upon one. After conspiring with the janitor, Peggy invited a group of girls into the bathroom saying she wanted them to witness the extra work they made for the janitor cleaning their lip prints.
The janitor came in and stepped into an open toilet stall. He dipped his squeegee into a toilet, shook off the excess toilet water then used the squeegee to clean the mirrors. The students were appalled. They immediately told all their friends that the janitor was using toilet water to clean the mirrors. Changing the teacher’s perspective of the problem from an adult to a young girl introduced a clever solution to the problem that they probably could not have discovered using their usual way of thinking.
(Michael Michalko is the highly-acclaimed author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses; Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. http://www.creativethinking.net)