Lateral thinking problems are evil

One bane of working in the field of creativity is the curse of certain ‘lateral thinking’ problems like the nine dots you have to join up without your pen leaving the paper or the paragraph were you have to count the occurrence of the letter ‘f’. Very few people manage to solve these problems and they seem to serve only as examples to prove how stupid we all are, especially as once the obvious answers are pointed out, we’re kicking ourselves that we couldn’t think ‘out of the box’ enough to spot it.

Although interesting and sometimes fun to do, these exercises have little connection with enhancing your creativity. Try this one that circulated on the internet recently:

“I am only sending this to my smart friends. Can you figure out what these words have in common – Banana, Dresser, Grammar, Potato, Revive, Uneven, Assess. You will kick yourself when you discover the answer. Go back, look at them again and think hard.”

The tedious answer is that in all of the words listed if you take the first letter, place it at the end of the word and then spell the word backwards it will be the same word. Did you get it? Probably not. These tests in no way reflect your intelligence or your creativity. There is no evidence to suggest that becoming good at them in any way increases your creative output. In fact, highly creative individuals, those who actually do produce great creative works or ideas, are no better than average on these tests. Being good at these problems means that you will now be better at that particular problem (obviously as you now know the answer). These ‘problems’ are worthless and the reason is that they aren’t about anything. They have little or no meaning. If you failed on the word test above you were probably looking for meaning in the connection of the words. You were actually being creative but unfortunately the solution required you to ignore meaning and look at the features of the letters.

It was a trick, like so many of these so called tests, designed to catch you out. A cheap trick to place the perputrator on higher intellectual ground than his audience. This sort of thing is an anathema to me. It goes against everything I talk about which is that everyone can be more creative. The main thing stopping us is confidence in our abilities which smug little problems only eat away at.

So pay no attention to these parlour games and continue to work on developing your true creativity that will enrich your life and work.

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