Suppose you were a doctor and had a big problem on your hands:
“(You have) a patient who has a malignant tumor in his stomach. It’s impossible to operate on the patient, but unless the tumor is destroyed, the patient will die.
There is a kind of ray that can destroy the tumor. If the rays reach the tumor all at once at a sufficiently high intensity, the tumor will be destroyed. Unfortunately, at this intensity, the healthy tissue that the rays pass through on the way to the tumor will also be destroyed. At lower intensities, the rays are harmless to healthy tissue but will not affect the tumor either.
What type of procedure might be used to destroy the tumor with the rays, and at the same time avoid destroying the healthy tissue?”
Out of everyone psychologists Gick & Holyoak presented this question to, only 3% could come up with a viable solution.
Now imagine that, before encountering the problem above, you had read this:
“A fortress was located in the center of the country. Many roads radiated out from the fortress. A general wanted to capture the fortress with his army. But he also wanted to prevent mines on the roads from destroying his army and neighboring villages.
As a result, the entire army could not all go down one road to attack the fortress. However, the entire army was needed to capture the fortress; an attack by one small group could not succeed.
The general therefore divided his army into several small groups. He positioned the small groups at the heads of the different roads. The small groups simultaneously converged on the fortress. In this way, the army captured the fortress.”
If you had read the story of the general’s army before reading about the problem the doctor faced, you were 67% more likely to come up with a viable solution.
Adapted from Jonathon Youshaei’s Forbes column here.