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Regard Problems from a New Angle

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science. - Albert Einstein.

Leonardo da Vinci had a way of looking and understanding problems, he called it: saper vedere (knowing how to see). Da vinci believed that problems should be restructured in different ways so that we can see it from different perspectives. One of the ways that our minds make things easier is by creating a first impression of a problem. This instant intuitive problem definition makes it really hard to get creative insights. Hence, we need to consciously look at problems from different angles, different perspectives. The first impressions we have are often based on our old knowledge, this knowledge in some way creates the experience and therefore we never look at anything from a different perspective, we constantly look at problems like we always have done.

The Da Vinci Code¨

Describing Problems with Different Questions:

What we need to do is shift from one perspective to another like da Vinci would've done. Shifting perspectives and shifting angles can be done in different ways depending on the context of the situation.

One simple way, is to ask different questions about the same problem, different questions can create different perceptions of the problem. We need to get several views and several angles of a problem. Writing the questions down and then trying to come up with new questions is key here. There's been psychological tests which prove that those people who write down their problems or verbalize them, have much bigger chance of actually getting more perceived solutions.

Once Einstein was asked what he would do if he was told that a huge comet would hit and totally destroy the earth in one hour. Einstein replied: I would spend 55 minutes thinking about formulating the problem and give five minutes trying to solve it.

Different Levels of Abstraction:

A great way of changing the perspective, looking at the problems from different angles, is to use different levels of abstraction. Focusing in and looking at problems in a big city would probably result in problem definitions as: poverty, stress or unemployment. Looking at the same city from a higher level of abstraction will probably result in a definition of, for example, ecological problems. How the problems get defined depends on what level of abstraction we choose to look at something. Just looking at problems from close focus and not thinking about the higher levels of abstraction can lead to more problems when you try to solve smaller problems. Like, for instance solving unemployment through increasing more industries but at the same time destroying our ecology. This way of solving problems often lead to more problems, the perceived solution is therefore not a solution because it's not thinking about the different levels of abstraction. Today sustainable architecture and sustainable design is approaching this way of thinking and we will hopefully get better in this field of development.


You can also ask who, what, when, where, why and how. Each question will help you get more specific in your problem definition and the more specific your get the easier it is to understand the problem and generate more ideas for its possible solution. Try to get as specific as possible, this way of framing your problem is going to help you realize what specific aspect is the essential and most important part of the problem. this would also shed a light to what boundaries you might have in the smaller details.

Your perception fixates on one specific thing at a time, knowing this we need to constantly move from one detail to another and go from one level of abstraction and to another, zooming in and focusing on specifics and then zooming out and trying to understand the context. These are the basics of shifting the perspective and trying to look at problems from a new angle, use them and after a while you also find your own way of seeing the counter-intuitive, You will see things that other people can't see.

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