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You know how certain innovative products make you slap your forehead and say, "Gee, why didn't I think of that?" We tend to be surprised by those products that are deceptively simple in using some aspect or component in the immediate vicinity of where the product is being used. We call this the Closed-World Principle. It states that when solving a problem or generating ideas, one should strive to use only those resources that exist in the product or system itself or in its immediate vicinity.
In other words, the closer your innovative solution is to the problem, the more creative it will be. Imagine you're driving your car far away from town, and you suddenly realize you have a flat tire. You start changing the tire, but there is a problem. The lug nuts are so rusted it can't remove them. You even try jumping on the tire wrench to loosen them but to no avail. Take a moment to think about this. What would you do? Do you see a solution? If you're like most people, your first reaction is to call for help using your cellphone, either a friend or a family member or roadside assistance.
You could also hitch a ride with a car passing by. These are viable solutions, and there is nothing wrong with them, but you have to agree they're not very creative. Let's move closer to the problem where a more creative solution might be hiding. What if we used elements within the car itself? You could use oil from the car's engine and try to lubricate the lug nuts to loosen them. You could take the tire wrench, put it on the lug nut, and then rock your car back and forth very gently to force the ground to turn the tire wrench.
These solutions are more creative than the ones we saw before. Now let's move very close, right inside the closed world of our tire changing problem. Let's consider all components in the immediate vicinity, right under our noses, so to speak. You have a spare tire, a jack, the handle that turns the jack, a wrench for removing a hub cap, and of course, the tire wrench. How could these components help? What about the spare tire? How could it be used? Of course, we've already tried the tire wrench.
I don't see much use for the handle and the other small wrench, but what about the jack? What is the jack designed to do? What if we took the jack and placed it under the tire wrench and then used the force of the jack to turn the tire wrench and loosen the lug nuts? The power applied by the jack is very strong. After all, it's designed to lift a car. Now that you see the solution, you think, "Gee, why didn't I think of that?" It looks so obvious in hindsight.
That's the quality of the closed world. That's what gives us that element of surprise when we generate solutions using this principle. The first two solutions, using a cellphone or hitching a ride, are far away from the tire changing problem, and they're not that creative. When we took one step closer by using elements in the car, such as the oil, we got closer in proximity, and we increased the creativeness of our solutions. But when we got right next to the problem, we were able to see the potential to use the jack to turn the wrench.
It's the most creative of all the other solutions. The closed world principle opens up a whole new world of possibilities. The next time you're in need of a creative solution, force yourself to see components right around you in a whole new light. And when you're looking at those components, don't be too quick to eliminate possible solutions. I hope you master the closed world principle. If you do, you won't be asking yourself, "Gee, why didn't I think of that?" That's because you will be the one creating breakthrough ideas.
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