Creative Problem Solving With Inflection

Would you like to have more creative problem solving ability? How would you like to be the one who always has a creative solution? There are dozens of techniques that can help, starting with this simple one based on word inflection. It will work in all areas, from business to science to everyday life, and starts with a simple description of the problem to be solved.

I’ll use an example to explain. You are stressed out and decide that you need a vacation, but can’t afford one. Write down a description of the problem: “I need a vacation but can’t afford one.” Now write out the same sentence several more times, emphasizing a new word or set of words each time. When spoken in this way, we call it “inflection.” In writing, it is typical to italicize the words, or you can capitalize them, as in the following example.

1. “I” need a vacation but can’t afford one.

2. I NEED a vacation but can’t afford one.

3. I need a VACATION but can’t afford one.

4. I need a vacation but CAN”T AFFORD one.

Now you look at each sentence, and apply the following “rules” to the word or phrase that is emphasized: 1. Challenge all implicit assumptions; 2. Consider other words and what they would suggest; 3. Ponder the word(s) in general, looking for any ideas; 4. Ask “why?” and look for alternatives.

Okay, now to analyze the “problem-statement” or description, using these rules. The inflection in the first sentence assumes that YOU need a vacation. Challenging this, you might realize that if everyone else in the house took a vacation, you would love the time alone. Asking “why?” could lead you to realize that you are not just temporarily tired of your job, but you need a new job rather than a vacation.

In the second sentence, NEED could definitely be replaced with DESIRE. What does that suggest? Well, “needs” are fairly limiting when it comes to looking for solutions, but “desires” can be replaced with all sorts of better options. Maybe you could have a shorter schedule at work, or just an extra day off now and then, or a better working environment that doesn’t stress you out as much. The question “why” suggests the deeper need to be happy with your situation, which again opens up many possible solutions other than a vacation.

Pondering VACATION, it occurs to you that some daily time alone is like a mini-vacation. That might help reduce your need for an expensive traditional one. What about the concept of a vacation at work? There could be a way to do something different and more relaxing at your place of employment for a couple weeks.

CAN’T AFFORD is an assumption that always needs to be challenged. If it is important, you might find a way to afford it. Giving up cable television for a year might pay for a small vacation. Another hidden assumption here might be that only expensive vacations will work for you. Challenging this could lead you to consider your friends in nice places who you can stay with for a while. Even challenging the idea that a cruise has to be expensive might yield something. Did you know that many cruise lines will give you a free cruise if you sign up enough of your friends?

This is a simple example of this problem solving technique. To make it even more effective, write the problem out several times in new ways, and then do the word inflection part on each one. This gives you new ways to look for solutions.

Longer descriptions are usually better too. For example, if the description becomes “I need a vacation but I can’t afford one because I have to pay for this house,” this reveals the previously hidden assumption that you have to pay for the house. Maybe you would be happier with a smaller home and more vacations. Writing out more and longer “problem statements” allows for more hidden assumptions to emerge, and it is challenging these that leads to more creative problem solving.