Who Would You Choose?

driving in the rain

It is a dark and stormy night (don’t all great stories begin this way?). And you are driving down the road in your brand new two-seater sports car, when you pass by a bus stop and see three people waiting in the pouring rain:

  1. An old lady who looks quite ill.
  2. A dear friend who once saved your life.
  3. The most perfect partner of your dreams.

You, of course, pull over to pick up one of these people. But knowing that only one more passenger can fit in your car, whom would you choose?

Most people would choose the old lady whose needs seem to be most urgent, though there can be arguments made for rescuing the friend who rendered aid to you at your time of need or for pursing your true love.

However, a truly creative thinker might come up with an entirely different solution: Give the keys to the friend who can take the old woman to the hospital while you wait for the bus in the rain with the person of your dreams.

No this is not a treatment for Hollywood’s next rom-com, it is a logic problem that illustrates a form of thinking called lateral thinking.  Lateral thinking is an indirect and creative approach to problem solving that uses reasoning that is not immediately obvious (why do you have to be the driver?). It tosses aside “this or that” thinking in favor of “this and that.”

And it’s a form of thinking that if applied to our own lives and personal relationships can be a real game changer.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak on the topic of decision making to my peers at USA Gymnastics National Congress. The crux of my talk was that by shifting or expanding our focus on what could be instead of staying narrowed in on what is when we make decisions, we look at challenges from a completely different angle. “Yes” or “no” are no longer the only choices because lateral thinking generates its own choices that go beyond a black and white system.

For instance, suppose you are a gym club owner who struggles with losing kids to soccer each and every fall. Now this is not a big surprise that this this happens. In addition to its growing popularity, in soccer kids get a uniform and get to play the game immediately. Not so in gymnastics where earning a place on the team can take years and very few kids actually ever reach that level of skill. So, you lament that soccer exists and sadly go on with your day in your gym with its dwindling enrollment. After all, there isn’t anything you can do.

Or is there?

Of course there is! You use some lateral thinking and brainstorm some solutions. You could create a recreational team where kids get a uniform day one and get to “compete” from the start like they do in soccer. You could start your own pre-school soccer program using your floor space and indoor equipment. Or you could team up with the local soccer program to offer a sports conditioning program for the soccer athletes during season that rolls over into gymnastics classes post-season. Heck, you could do all three!

Another example: You and your partner cannot agree on how to use the family vacation time. One of you wants to go a visit family, the other wants to have a couples’ only retreat. You are at impasse. Or are you? Could you divide the vacation days and use half for a family visit and half for the two of you? Or could you take the entire vacation at the family’s place of residence, leaving the kids there for a few days in the middle so the two of you can enjoy alone time (and free babysitting) returning to end the vacation as a family?

Don’t immediately accept the frame in which the picture of the problem is presented to you. Toss it aside so you can widen the scope of the opportunity at hand. Aim for a win-win solution by getting creative and finding ways that might work for everyone.

Sure, some of the “solutions” will be impossible, impractical or even illegal—those will need to be thrown out!

However, you might just find that you can save the friend who saved you, the sick old woman and find the love of your life…even if you have to wait with that person in the rain.