Having a mindset for problem solving that encourages creativity and exploration of new ideas could take us on a journey of rather interesting possibilities - helping us to think more along the lines of “what if” rather than accepting the terms that something "simply wouldn’t work”... The development of square watermelons in Japan several years ago lends well to thinking beyond the proverbial box and challenges us all to look for the next creative opportunity in our problem solving endeavours!
In today's rapidly changing and competitively challenging world, the ability to problem solve issues effectively and efficiently calls us to have a mindset that encourages and welcomes new ideas and takes advantage of exploring innovative and creative opportunities at all times… even mistakes could send us on a journey of rather interesting possibilities helping us to think more along the lines of "what if" rather than simply accepting the terms that "it wouldn't work". There are a number of means in which we can dissect a problem, look for a root cause and begin corrective action - there are a plethora of tools available for us to utilize - Process Mapping, Cause and Effect, Six Sigma, FMEA, Six Hats, 5 Whys and 1 How, Kaizens, Turtle and Fishbone Diagrams just to name a few!
Without a doubt, the most important element of any problem solving initiative - or "creative opportunity" if you will - is involving our people in the process - having an open mind and accepting ideas and new thought - looking for solutions beyond the proverbial box. Those ideas and solutions may lead to some rather interesting ideas - ideas that could begin the foundation of something new and exciting!
Quite some time ago now, I received an email that I have often shared since during EMC Networking Events where our Members wished to share discussion and experiences on Problem Solving… I am not sure who authored the original story which complimented the focus of our discussions. It has been around for quite some time and you may have already read it or heard about it but it is one of those stories that I think rather timeless. It was a news item for both CNN and the BBC on June 15th, 2001 and Thom Patterson was credited for the submission to CNN. I do wish to express credit to the author whoever that may be and thank them for an interesting and inspiring message! The story which I am sharing below deals with Square Watermelons and the lessons are timeless when it comes to thinking from a positive perspective and focusing on the possibilities regardless of barriers!
Japanese grocery stores had a problem. They are much smaller than their North American counterparts and therefore don't have room to waste. Watermelons, big and round, wasted a lot of space. Most people would simply tell the grocery stores that watermelons grow round and there is nothing that can be done about it. But some Japanese farmers took a different approach. "If the supermarkets want a space efficient watermelon," they asked themselves, "How can we provide one?" It wasn't long before they invented the square watermelon.
The solution to the problem of round watermelons wasn't nearly as difficult to solve for those who didn't assume the problem was impossible to begin with and simply asked how it could be done. It turns out that all you need to do is place them into a square box when they are growing and the watermelon will take on the shape of the box. This made the grocery stores happy and had the added benefit that it was much easier and cost effective to ship the watermelons. Consumers also loved them because they took less space in their refrigerators which are much smaller than those in North America - which resulted in the growers being able to charge a premium price for them.
What does this have do with anything besides square watermelons? There are five lessons that you can take away from this story which will help you in all parts of your life. Here are a few of them:
1) Don't Assume:
The major problem was that most people had always seen round watermelons so they automatically assumed that square watermelons were impossible before even thinking about the question. Things that you have been doing a certain way your entire life have taken on the aura of the round watermelon and you likely don't even take the time to consider if there is another way to do it. Breaking yourself from assuming this way can greatly improve your overall life as you are constantly looking for new and better ways to do things.
2) Question Habits:
The best way to tackle these assumptions is to question your habits. If you can make an effort to question the way you do things on a consistent basis, you will find that you can continually improve the way that you live your life. Forming habits when they have been well thought out is usually a positive thing, but most of us have adopted our habits from various people and places without even thinking about them.
3) Be Creative:
When faced with a problem, be creative in looking for a solution. This often requires thinking outside the box. Most people who viewed this question likely thought they were being asked how they could genetically alter water melons to grow square which would be a much more difficult process to accomplish. By looking at the question from an alternative perspective, however, the solution was quite simple. Being creative and looking at things in different ways in all portions of your live will help you find solutions to many problems where others can't see them.
4) Look for a Better Way:
The square watermelon question was simply seeking a better and more convenient way to do something. The stores had flagged a problem they were having and asked if a solution was possible. It's impossible to find a better way if you are never asking the question in the first place. Always ask if there is a better way of doing the things that you do and constantly write down the things you wish you could do (but currently can't) since these are usually hints about steps you need to change. Get into the habit of asking yourself, "Is there a better way I could be doing this?" and you will find there often is.
5) Impossibilities Often Aren't:
If you begin with the notion that something is impossible, then it obviously will be for you. If, on the other hand, you decide to see if something is possible or not, you will find out through trial and error.
Finally just a note that interestingly enough, in December 2008, our family toured Disney's Agricultural Display and were whisked away by boat through various rural scenes in the Living With the Land Exhibit - eventually ending up in a greenhouse with - what else - pumpkins shaped like Mickey Mouse - amongst other vegetables… I am not quite sure how those would fit in my refrigerator, but I am sure that their production was not necessarily meant for the average consumer! But for the millions who visit Disneyworld every year, these amazing gardens yield their fruit and vegetables for use by the myriad of restaurants on site not to mention those of us who just visit and ponder how those particular vegetables ever came to be! For a quick peak at some of the great creative initiatives at Disney in this area: http://www.intercot.com/themeparks/epcot/futureworld/land/livingwith/default.asp
So keeping square watermelons or Mickey Mouse if you wish in mind, a final thought from Albert Einstein a true innovator and creator - "If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it."
Have a tremendously "creative" week!