Saturday, May 5, 2012

Eames, Perspective, and Problem Solving

I just finished Tina Seelig's new book, "InGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity". It's a terrific introduction to both the practical and theoretical aspects of innovative thinking. One of the techniques Seelig touches upon as a means of boosting idea generation is the concept of reframing.

Normally, and not surprisingly, we see the world through a single frame of reference; our own. We apply our knowledge, experience, expectations and attitudes to the questions and situations that arise each day. This isn't an altogether bad thing. Many of our daily choices don't require a particularly high-level of creativity. Still, this reliance on one viewpoint can be an impediment when it comes to creative problem solving. As Seelig points out, our frame of reference serves to both inform and limit the way we think.

The technique of reframing reminds us that there are multiple perspectives to a to every question. Reframing can involve simply asking what the situation would look like from another individual's perspective. How would a child respond to this situation? What would it look like from a visitor's perspective? From a customer's? By assuming a different perspective we open ourselves up to interpretations and ideas that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Asking questions that start with "what" and "why" is another great way to reframe situations. These questions help us to challenge our preconceived notions and look at potential alternatives. "What is the ultimate problem we're trying to solve?" "Why have we done it this way?" "What do we hope to accomplish?". These questions are open-ended. They don't presume an answer.

To illustrate the idea of reframing, Seelig cites a short film made by The Office of Charles and Ray Eames for IBM. The film, called Powers of Ten, opens with a lake shore picnic in Chicago. The camera pulls back (by factors of ten) to demonstrate the power of shifting perspectives. Once it reaches well beyond our galaxy, the camera zooms back to earth, moving inward and examining the sub-atomic world.

It's an interesting period piece, and also a great illustration of how reframing can change the way we look at our world.