This past week, Nug, our clever little Bot who teaches Creativity online, presented a neat Creativity Technique – Reversing Assumptions. It’s a great tool to use when you get stuck trying to find a way around, over or through an obstacle.

Our brains are famous for cutting corners and taking shortcuts. Whether it’s for the sake of speed and efficiency or because some decisions just aren’t worth spending time on, or even that our brains just don’t have the resources or power to process all the information coming at it, we find ourselves unknowingly cutting corners all the time.

For example, when you sit on a chair for the first time, you might test it a little to make sure it’ll hold your weight? Next time you sit on that same chair (or even one similar to it) your brain only has to do a quick visual inspection and you sit without having to test it again. Or, if you suddenly feel intense heat near your body, you move away from it. This is possibly linked to that time you were told, “don’t touch that, it’s hot”. And you did.

And while it’s a great survival mechanism, it can get in the way when we’re stuck with a problem or obstacle. Those assumptions that we’ve constructed for the sake of speed, efficiency or power conservation, may be the very things getting in our way. Because we hold so tightly on to them, or believe so rigidly in them (because they’ve always worked for us), we struggle to see past them, where the solution we’re looking for is waiting to be found.

Reversing Assumptions Technique

Michael Michalko developed a process called the Reversing Assumptions Technique. Not only does it help us breakdown our assumptions, it can also help us think about things in ways we haven’t before. There are thee simple steps to Reversing Assumptions:

  1. List your assumptions about the subject you’re working on. Suppose you wanted to create a new way of educating children. One assumption might be… “all classrooms must have a teacher”.
  2. Reverse the assumption by writing down the opposite. In this case it would be ‘Classrooms don’t need Teachers!’
  3. Now you ask yourself how to accomplish that reversal? You should try and list as many useful options or viewpoints.

One idea might be to use older children to teach younger children in such a way that they would both learn from the experience. Of course there are many others. By challenging the assumption and generating contrary ideas and thoughts, you may stumble across something quite profound and useful.

As with most Creativity Techniques, it’s simple and extremely useful. We’ve done such a great job embedding ourselves in the world around us, and constructing truths about how it works, that we have to continually practice breaking ourselves into new ways of looking at the world.

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