Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Chainsaw the Giraffe

Everyone has heard the phrase "think outside the box" when it comes to creative problem solving. It's become so overplayed that it really holds no meaning anymore, at least to me.

Yesterday I was ecstatic to be introduced to another phrase related to creative problem solving:

Chainsaw the giraffe

Knowing this exists may be one of the greatest things that has happened to me this month. And now you know about it too.

Here's the back-story on it.

There were a series of studies that were done with some students to assess their problem solving abilities. The students were in two groups: those classified as gifted students and those classified as remedial students. There was not a group of 'average' students in these studies.

The study presented each group with a problem to solve, and then analyzed their methods and results. The theory the study was seeking to confirm was that gifted students were no more capable of solving problems than remedial students. Moreover, the man in charge of the study assumed that gifted students were LESS capable at solving abstract problems than their remedial counterparts. He believed that gifted students were classified because they were better at being students (studying, memorizing, researching, regurgitating facts & information) and not actually any better at problem solving, analyzing and thinking.

The groups were given the following problem: I want you to weigh a giraffe. The stipulation was that the students did not have access to a really big scale to do it with. Go.

Well the gifted students freaked out.

They wanted to look up the average weight of giraffes, consult encyclopedias on different methods of weight and measurement, and basically did not come up with a conclusive way to do this by the end of the session.

As for the remedial students? When the problem was assigned, one of them immediately spoke up saying "Easy, just take a chainsaw to it and then weigh all the parts and add them up."


Chainsaw the giraffe.

I think this is genius. And it has so many implications and conclusions you can draw about what the phrase actually "means" in relation to problem solving. It could mean:

  • You need to break a problem down into manageable parts
  • You need to think about a problem unconventionally to solve it
  • You need to consider doing something others would perceive to be "questionable" to solve the problem
  • You need to abandon the preconceived ideas of acceptable and non-acceptable solutions to be able to find the best one
  • You need a chainsaw ;)

So what do you think?



Guaranteed way to offend sensitive animal lovers?

I hope you'll find ways to use this phrase when you have to solve a problem. If nothing else, please replace "think outside the box" with it and watch the eyes light up when you explain what you mean to someone. Ha ha!