Many times when we are stuck trying to solve a problem or produce a product, we need to take on a fresh viewpoint. That’s what it means to “think outside the box.” This is as important for solving tricky math problems as it is for resolving thorny social problems with grace and creativity. This is not always easy. We get stuck in our own opinions—and even prejudices. If we think there is only one right answer—or only one way to reach the right answer—we may miss the mark. Try these:
- Multipy 299 x 3 in your head. Many of us will try to imagine what we learned in school: 3 x 9 is 27, put down the 7, carry the two…etc. This will get us there if we have enough visual imagination, but a shorter route might be: Round 299 to 300, multiply by 3 and subtract 3. Rounding and estimating can be invaluable in mathematics, but too often, we just learn rules and applications by rout instead of imagining new ways to solve problems.
- Think of a specific person who makes you mad. Imagine your usual reaction. Then, try to put your self in their place—take on their viewpoint instead of your own. Then, imagine a more productive way to react. Many social problems can be solved more easily when we practice empathy—changing viewpoints.
How do we begin to teach our children to try new viewpoints?
When I was attending “Ideas in Motion,” as a child, the teacher, Miss Wagner, would poise questions I still remember to help us find a new viewpoint. We did what were called “studies” of many different concrete and abstract ideas and she would get us to take on new literal and imagined viewpoints. For example, if we were studying the forest, she would ask us, “How do you imagine this world looks to an ant?” I had never considered that viewpoint and was intrigued! Then she would ask, “How do you think that world looks to a high-flying bird?” Again, I was taken aback. I had never thought of that either!
Project Wild has interesting activities that ask students to imagine different viewpoints toward nature. For example, a wetland will look very different to someone who hopes to make a fortune drying up a swamp and selling the real estate; a migratory bird who needs a place to rest, feed, and have babies; a hunter; and an ecologist who is trying to keep local water pure and uncontaminated.
A game we would play sometimes was called the “Prejudice Game.” Students would break into two groups. Each group would be given the same information about an (imaginary) individual. Group A had to come up with reasons for liking that individual no matter what. Group B had to come up with reasons for disliking that individual no matter what. For example, this imaginary teenager has 100 Facebook friends, makes “B’s” and “C’s” at school, likes video games, works at a local burger place, is sometimes late to class and has no pets. A variation is not played in teams. Everyone is given information, such as that provided, and writes a profile of the person. Then additional information is given about the same person: Example: “She’s a girl,” or “He is an immigrant,” or “He is the oldest of 8 kids and his family is on welfare” or “He just turned 20.” The students are then asked to revise what they wrote.
These kinds of questions and games help us investigate our own points of view and joggle us to consider new ones.
Next time you find yourself getting frustrated or outraged, take a breath, and then take a new viewpoint.