A series of ten articles transferred from Dr. Huhn’s earlier blog posts

Some Fundamentals of the Creative Process and the Transfers into Real Life Innovations

Second article:

The creative process of finding second-order solutions

We had stressed the difference between changes within a system on the one hand and changes of the system itself on the other.

Paul Watzlawick had talked about first- and second-order changes /solutions and pointed out the dangers of always trying »more of the same« at the first order level.

When one realizes that first-order changes do not lead to a real solution, it is time for »throwing the ox«, the second-order solution.

The following pyramid can be helpful for a better understanding. It illustrates a hierarchy of different levels. 

Problems can arise at any of these levels. »Problem« is defined in a specific way: A »problem« is a gap between the current ACTUAL situation (with which one is not satisfied or which is even threatening) and the desired future TARGET situation. The ideas or means necessary to close that gap are lacking.

The approach of second-order solutions

In this figure, we combine Paul Watzlawick's reflections with the concept of Wolfgang Mewes, the author of the EKS (Engpass Konzentrierten Strategie =  bottleneck focused strategy ).

Each problem can be located on one or more of these levels. However, solutions can only be found from any level higher with regard to the underlying problem level. So you can replace the word »problems« with the word »level« in this figure as well as you can replace the word »level« with »solutions« as soon as you start from the solution approach. 

Levels of problems/solutions

It follows from this as a principle of thought and work:

If a problem cannot be solved within the level at which it has arisen, it makes sense to approach a solution from a higher level.

Pyramide - engl..jpg

 Watzlawick's example of the siege of Hochosterwitz Castle shows a problem on the lower level (1), a lack of food (= material problem).

First, the problem was approached with a first-order solution: The food rations per day and person were reduced.

But then the supplies were so heavily depleted that only the ox and two sacks of grain remained.

At that moment, the lord of the castle invented a second-order solution: He found a psychological solution from the 6th level. By throwing down the ox (and the sacks of grain sewn into his belly), he confused the psyche of the enemy soldiers. They began to doubt the leadership quality of their leader, and the countess herself lost hope of conquering the castle. She left with her army to turn to other conquests.

What reads very funny from today's point of view was a courageous act back then: Throwing away the last remaining food supply is quite a crazy, paradoxical and illogical measure. Within the first level: sparing use of existing material resources is unthinkable.

Another classic example: The decision of the OPEC states in autumn 1973 to curb oil production led to an immediate 70% increase in oil prices and then to a quadrupling in the following year (from then $3 to $12), until it finally doubled for some time. The consequences were recession, negative sentiment, unemployment, short-time work, insolvencies. As a consequence of the measures taken by the state to control the economy in the sense of Keynes and corresponding monetary policy measures, further severe crises with signs of stagflation occurred.

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Original problem level: »material problems« (crude oil shortage)

First-degree solution (= on the first level): New oil wells were drilled in the west, new oil fields sought. Energy-saving measures were initiated at all levels.

But soon: Second-order solutions: 2nd level »Technology«:

Development of new combustion engines with significantly lower consumption and new burners in heating systems, better heat insulation of houses, development of new energy sources (solar energy, heat pumps, etc.), etc.

Level 4 solutions »Finances«:

Prices of petrol and heating oil have been increased. Tax concessions for energy-saving measures have been introduced.

Level 5 »Information«: Broad consumer education on the importance of the finite nature of fossil energy sources.

Level 6: »Psyche« (like the ox example):

Strong psychological influence of the population through the Sunday driving ban in Germany and the introduction of a car-free day per week (also in Austria and Switzerland).

And for you very practical: If you don't know further on any level: then please don't try any longer there.  But allow your mind to fly to one or more of the other levels. The solutions always come from higher levels, not from those below the problem level. Keep that in mind!

However, the linguistic, sequentially working part of our brain is overwhelmed with such paradoxical and illogical leaps of thought. Therefore, next time we will deal with the question, how you can mobilize the imaginative, in pictures thinking, not logical, simultaneously working parts in your brain, so that you can produce also "ox-throwing ideas", thus solutions of second degree. It is neither necessary nor at all possible to make these leaps possible through goal-oriented thinking.

Therefore, improper use of creativity techniques would be counterproductive or even harmful. 

In the course of the entire creative process, it is essential to take this intermediate step, to trust calmly in finding solutions in the depth of one's own brain and not to want to intervene in an accelerating way. 

Our brain is quite capable of making the leaps upwards and finding the right level by itself. Insofar an insight into the inner processes is so helpful: We can better muster the necessary patience with ourselves (and hopefully also with others).

A short overview how the understanding of the creative process has developed over time in history.

How do such leaps, original ideas, ideas, creative solutions come about?

For centuries, in our culture, first in ancient Greece, the muses, then in Christianity, God was held responsible for the creative. Only towards the end of the 19th century did the emergence of ideas themselves become the subject of scientific considerations.

In 1926, after initial approaches by Helmholtz and Poincaré, Graham Wallas published his fundamental book on creative thought: »The Art of Thought.« In this book, Wallas described the process of brainstorming and developed his idea of four phases that proceed one after the other, albeit in very different time scales.

John W. Haefele's work »Creativity and Innovation« developed an efficient implementation of these findings for everyday work.

In 1976 Silvano Arieti's »Creativity - the Magic Synthesis« was published. It is the last work on this topic solely based on literary studies and empirical observations with only a very short, first hint to new findings by brain researchers.

Almost at the same time, the first publications appeared, which opened a whole new chapter in the examination of this vast topic. Brain researchers such as Roger Sperry, Michael S. Gazzaniga, Joseph E., and Glenda M. Bogen, Klaus Hoppe, and many others introduced the asymmetries of both cerebral hemispheres into the discussion of creativity.

After these preparations, in the next article, we can reward your endurance by revealing how the brain can be »helped on the go«. This sounds paradoxical again now. But being able to get involved with paradoxes is one of the most critical prerequisites for mobilizing personal creativity.

Read more 

Part 3 of the series of articles on creativity: 

How does the brain create »ox throws« and how can you support your brain?

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