Human history is littered with excellent examples of The Strategy of Rethinking.


Because the Strategy of Rethinking has much to do with the process of invention and people have been inventing stuff since the dawn of time. The twist though, is that things are sometimes invented but the problem they could transform hasn’t yet been identified. It’s as if you spend time coming up with a brilliant idea, but there’s no place to go with it. Here are a few examples:

The power of drifting possibility

Sometimes it takes years before an invention gets put to use. An excellent example of this was the work of 3M researcher Spencer Silver. In the late 1960’s, Silver was trying to find an extra-strength glue. Unfortunately, the exact opposite happened. Silver accidentally discovered an ‘extra-weak’ glue. At first glance you’d think Silver’s work was a failure. The funny thing was that the ‘extra-weak’ glue had some extraordinary qualities, but nobody had figured out a way to channel them. Silver had a possibility without a problem, a.k.a. – a drifting possibility.

Five years later Silver’s co-worker, Arthur Fry, made an accidental discovery. Fry sang in a church choir and struggled to find a way to keep his bookmark from falling out of his songbook. And then he remembered Silver’s ‘extra-weak’ glue and a brilliant idea was born: Post-its. He wouldn’t need bookmarks anymore. The Post-its would be perfect for his songbook. The invention became known as one of the most important inventions in the office supply industry and Silver and Fry received 3M’s most prestigious award.

The joys of Silly Putty – The Wonder Toy of the Twentieth Century

During the 1960’s, Silly Putty was an extremely popular toy. As you may remember, Silly Putty was a soft clay-like material that was packaged in a plastic egg. People did all kinds of funny things with Silly-Putty: throwing it at a window, bouncing it, or copying cartoons out of a newspaper. Interestingly, Silly-Putty had been discovered twenty years earlier, in the 1940’s by James Wright, a researcher at General Electric. Wright had originally been looking for a synthetic rubber that could be used in the war. He threw a bunch of materials together and came up with what would eventually become Silly Putty. General Electric saw no practical use for the material and it would be many years before Wright thought it could make a nice toy for children. Just before Easter 1950, Silly Putty was first sold in stores. The toy became so popular that the crew of Apollo 8 was rumored to have brought Silly Putty to the moon in order to hold tools in place. When Wright died in 1976 his personal fortune was estimated at 140 million dollars.

Rethinking by fast-forwarding

An interesting variation on this strategy is that it doesn’t always have to be used to ‘look back’. It can also be used to look forward into the future. One of the wonderful things about being human is that we can picture what life will look like many years from now and then count back to the present moment. As a result, we can connect our future selves to the present. This method often works very well in conversations with other people. An example: a student got into an argument with his principle at school. The principle felt that the student owed him an apology. The student disagreed and refused to apologize. Gridlock! The student’s mentor was asked to help. After joining the conversation, the mentor asked the student a simple question, “where do you see yourself in two years?” The student answered, “I’ll be in college.” The mentor then followed up by asking, “when you’re in college, two years from now, do you think you’ll have the same kinds of problems with the Dean?” The student began to laugh. “No way,” he answered. “When I’m in college, I’ll know how to handle these problems.” The mentor then asked, “well, what kind of tips would your college self give your present self in order to fix this conflict we’re having?” The student then patiently listed all the solutions the principle had just suggested, and how he would put them into practice. The mentor’s one simple question led to the resolution of the conflict.

Already there

You may now be thinking, “but I’m never gonna invent something like Post-its or Silly Putty”. That may be true, but this strategy can still be very useful in your life. It can still help you to see that the solution you are looking for may have been right in front of your nose the whole time. Or as the expression goes:

If you stop searching, you may find that you are already there.

This piece is a summary of the strategy of rethinking.
If you want to learn more about this strategy and how to really use it, book a workshop, show, or 1-day training session.