Look at this blackboard. What do you see? Can you see the chalk dot? It’s not that difficult, is it? In fact, it’s blindingly obvious.
Congratulations. Your sight is great.
Do you also see the cigar butt? What about the squashed bug? Can you see the star? The pebble? The top of a telephone pole? The owl’s eye?
No? Hmm, they’re all there. How come you can’t see them? Five-year-olds can see them. They can see about fifty things on this blackboard that you can’t.
Why? It’s not your eyesight. It’s your imagination.
The story of the chalk dot is from A Whack On The Side Of The Head by Roger von Oech, one of the founders of business creativity.
When shown a chalk dot in an English class, his high school classmates could only see the obvious – a chalk dot. But when kindergarten students were shown the same dot, their fertile brains imagined that the dot was dozens of different things.
The kindergarten kids wondered what it could be. The high school students knew what it was.
As educator Neil Postman writes, ”Children enter school as question marks and come out as periods”.
So, what happened to us?
Basically, school taught us to look for the single right answer – the one the teacher expected. Get it right, pass. Get it wrong, fail. The higher our standard of education, the more we have to lose by not giving the anticipated answer.
At work, 94% of us say we are under greater pressure than ever to solve problems. To solve more problems faster, we’ve become expert at identifying the right answer.
We’ve become problem/solution thinkers, not problem/solutions thinkers. We don’t look for the second right answer.
Harvard Business School discovered that this focus on problem solving meant that graduates were great problem solvers. But not good opportunity creators.
Problems are solved by those who see the chalk dot. Opportunities are created by those who can see the star.