By Troy Headrick
I was lucky to have been reared by interesting and intelligent people who taught me much about life during my earliest years.
My maternal grandfather, a man I called “Pawpaw” when I was just a wee thing, was a rancher, and because I spent years living with my grandparents, I acquired much knowledge about the great outdoors, the nature of work, tending to animals and such.
Often, Pawpaw would take me out to the pasture where his cows, sheep, horses, and goats lived so we could check on his livestock. The landscape was rugged, and we usually traveled in his pickup. Because the terrain is so rough and the potential to damage vehicles is so great while traveling in such places, ranchers move through wild pastureland by creating trails which are demarcated by well-worn tire tracks. Thus, they enter pastures, move through them, and exit by following the same rutted paths each time.
Unfortunately, many people also live their thinking lives in this way. They have well-established conventional routes of thought which they are reluctant to deviate from. They think the same thoughts in the same way and at the same time because they have always thought the same thoughts in the same way at the same time. By doing so, they are really stuck in “thinking ruts,” for lack of a better term. I know this is true because I see it happening all around me. Plus, I’m guilty of doing this myself.
When I find myself practicing inside-the-box thinking, especially when trying to solve a problem, I like to play a little game I call “What If?” Like all games, this one has rules. Actually, it has only one rule: There are no rules.
The game works like this. I have a problem I’m trying to solve. Rather than reaching for a ready-made solution—perhaps the same solution I’ve always used when faced with such a difficulty; recall those well-worn tire ruts I talked about earlier—I say, “What if, instead of the old solution I’ve always used, I did X, Y, and Z instead?”
Because there are no rules to this game, any solution is worth considering; nothing is taken off the table prematurely. No solution is considered too unorthodox to be examined.
This game works especially well in the following situations: One is facing a familiar problem, but the old, time-honored solution now seems inadequate or now longer works, or one is facing a brand-new problem that is especially vexing, or one is feeling that old ways of thinking are generally unfulfilling and said thinker desires to radically reinvent the self.
“What If?” helps develop breadth and depth of thinking. As no solution is viewed as too outlandish to consider, one generates a whole bunch of possible approaches—one broadly looks at lots of possibilities. Plus, each possible path is then “gamed out.” For example, imagine that I’m playing “What If?” and I say, what if I quit my job, pulled up stakes, and moved to Timbuktu rather than living the way I am now? In the process of gaming out that possible action, I’d have to think about the ways I might make a living in Timbuktu, how much it costs to live there, what the place is like, and whether it even allows migrants in. Gaming all this out is going to help me develop a depth of knowledge about Timbuktu and what it’s going to take to pull all this off.
I’m in a period right now where I’m actively playing “What If?” There are lots of fun games that one might play. Few provide as much excitement as “What If?”
I look forward to reading your comments.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.