Creativity, Part 6 of 10: Challenging Assumptions

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A note from the author:

This is one of my favorite lessons.  It is a fun chapter, because we start to see how the prince applies what he has learned and starts to overcome the four challenges.  We also learn four ways to not make assumptions and keep our minds clear.  Personally, training myself not to make assumptions about a situation or peoples motivations etc. has been very freeing and has enabled me to keep calm and be productive in the most trying of circumstances.  Enjoy this installment of the story!

Challenging Assumptions

The Return of the prince for the first challenge

Flash forward six months, the prince has completed his time with the magicians, and is returning to face the challenges …

On a cold morning more than six months after the young prince had vanished, the church bells in the village began urgently peeling. The word spread through the town like wildfire. The Prince of Belle has returned!

News of his coming made it quickly to the castle. A trusted handmaiden gently awoke the princess and told her the joyous news. Hope renewed that things may yet turn out for the best, she dressed hastily in the pre-dawn darkness, and ran to the docks to meet the prince when he landed.

She peered into the mist, her eyes watering from not blinking, until finally, she saw the silhouette of his ship appear in the fog. She realized she had been holding her breath, and let it out slowly, watching the ship come ever nearer.

She thought she saw the prince on the deck, talking to someone, but he soon disappeared below.

As soon as the ship docked, she rushed forward to the gangplank, to be the first to greet him.

When they saw each other, their eyes met, and the princess looked carefully at him, then said “I see you have learned and changed since I last saw  you.”

“I have changed” the prince  said. “I have gone to a distant land, and I have learned many things that will help me win the challenges, and your hand.  Do you want to be there tomorrow when I overcome the challenges?”  With a smile, the princess said “Why not?”  The prince looked at her sharply, but with no other reply from the princess, he turned and faced the gathering crowd.

The Challenges Overcome

The people gathered around the young couple began urging the young prince to begin the challenges immediately. The young prince was not stirred by their chiding, but simply looked up at the sky for a moment and said, “In the morning, and not before.”

After waiting six months the crowd was in no mood to be put off, and especially after getting up before dawn this morning. They wanted the excitement and entertainment of the challenges. Displeased with the prince’s response, they began to hurl insults at him. Loud hissing, booing and catcalls rang out.

He walked through the booing crowd like a single candle parting the darkness. The prince was not bothered by this, He remembered Tony’s wisdom, and knew that sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing at all.

The prince spent the entire day back in his kingdom, paying homage to his family, and setting anything that had gone wrong, right again. He slept peacefully that night, carefully avoiding getting his mind tied up in “nots”, knowing worry was a waste of energy, and woke up before dawn, eager to begin the challenges.

The princess had slept not a wink during that long, cold night, but lay awake, thinking.  Just before daybreak the next morning, she went with her father and joined the growing crowd at the river. The prince was already at the river’s edge, awaiting the arrival of the princess. When he saw that she was near, he stepped up onto a rock by the water, and turned and addressed the impatient crowd.

“As you know, I have spent many months in a distant land. There I met some amazing magicians who taught me many lessons, which will enable me to overcome these seemingly impossible tasks and win my beloved’s hand in marriage.”

At this last remark, the poor-but-wise-man turned and gave a sharp glance to his lovely ward, but she did not seem to notice, so intent was she on the prince.

The First Challenge

“Now, to overcome the first challenge” cried the prince, thinking of all he had learned from Tony about taking action by brainstorming, Random Provocation and sometimes, just waiting.

With no hesitation, the prince walked gracefully across the now frozen surface of the river. 

The poor-but-wise-man was smiling broadly inside, but outside he simply said “There are still three challenges…Onward!”

Challenge Assumptions by Asking Clarifying Questions!

For the next few days, the prince continued to enjoy the hospitality of his hosts, and the exotic flavors, aromas, sights and experiences of this unusual land. He also took time to sit and think as Tony had put it and ruminated about what Tony and the others had taught him.

When the time arrived to continue his training and education, the first thing that grabbed his attention as he entered the clearing was an immense scroll, as large as a man, attached to a tree. At first, the prince thought it had been nailed there, but upon closer examination, he found that the tree was delicately holding the scroll up with several branches and wearing a very bored expression on her face. The prince could only assume that this scroll held the essence of the lesson for the evening. Written on the scroll in beautiful calligraphy were these words:

Our minds are the gardens where problems grow large

When everyone was gathered, Tony was the first to speak. “Prince, we  hope you have enjoyed your few days of reverie. I want to clarify one thing before we start this evening. I have been your primary teacher thus far, but only for the fact that I was chosen to meet you upon your arrival. We all use everything you have learned, and everything you will learn in the weeks to come. Each of us in turn has different strengths, but all of us use each other’s wisdom. Tonight, the beautiful E’mussa would like to tell the story of her name.”

E’mussa looked at Tony and blushed slightly. “Well, I should first tell you that E’mussa isn’t my real name, but when Tony and I met, and I discovered that his name spelled something backwards. I thought about my greatest powers, and my teacher suggested that I change my name to reflect the lesson I have to share. So, E’mussa is the backwards spelling of the word…Assume! . Our next counter spell is to never fail.  This seems to disagree with the first counter spell, until you understand that the only way to fail totally is if nothing was gained by the experience. If you can keep a cool head and learn from your mistakes, then by our definition, there really are never any failures — just lots of opportunities to learn!” 

Challenge Assumptions by not overcomplicating

E’Mussa continued her lesson by telling this story:

“There is an old story about a king who had three sons, and he could not decide which one to make king when he died. He gave them each a small amount of money and charged them to fill up his storehouse. The first one used his money to buy hay and succeeded in filling up about half of the storehouse. The second one invested his money in soil, but only managed to fill the storehouse up about one-third of the way. The last son bought a candle and filled the entire storehouse…with light.” 

“Solutions don’t have to be complicated; they just have to be the right answer to the right question.”

“I think I am beginning to understand” said the prince. “I have had many instances like this. Either I didn’t have the full grasp of the situation, so assumptions were made to fill in the gaps, or I misinterpreted the situation entirely.”

Challenge Assumptions by understanding that assumptions can be a lock, or a key

Now Ras spoke up. “E’mussa has hit upon one of the most important lessons to be learned. There is one word that can be either a lock, or a key: Assume.”

“Yes” said E’mussa. “Assumptions can be a lock, because if the problem appears to be difficult or impossible to solve, very often it is because of assumptions we have made.” 

“Assumptions can be a key, because once we are aware of them, we can more easily dispel them and think more openly about our challenges.”

“Now let us apply these in a practical fashion. You may note something interesting if you look back over your ideas for selling your surplus blanket supply. Did you notice that in most or all of the cases, the blanket was still a blanket? What I mean, Prince, is that in all of our new ideas, the function, shape and size did not change very much.”

“Now, by challenging certain assumptions about blankets, you can come up with even more ideas. For example, can a piece of material that happens to be the shape of a blanket be used for anything else besides a blanket? Absolutely! Perhaps as a sail for a boat, or use it to send a smoke signal, or maybe to carry stones…”

“Can the materials of a blanket be used to design something completely different? Without a doubt! The blanket could be unwoven and used to make rope, to plug a hole in a dam, to floss a horse’s teeth…”

“What ideas would present themselves if you investigated uses for the materials in the kitchen, or bedroom, or garden? The possibilities are endless.”

“So, when faced with a challenge, identifying the underlying assumptions in a problem, then challenging them can be a very fruitful creative technique.”

Challenge Assumptions by asking asking The Five Most Important Questions—Ever!

“Now, go back to your blanket, but this time, I would like you to use what I like to modestly call: 

“The  Five Most Important Questions…Ever!”

To his surprise and delight, the prince looked into the night sky where E’mussa had somehow summoned fireflies into an elaborate dance.  Their natural light sources moved from formation to formation, spelling out the following words: 

The Five Most Important Questions, Ever!

  1. What can’t be changed?
  2. Why can’t it be changed?
  3. Are you sure it can’t be changed?
  4. What can be changed?
            • Size?
            • Shape?
            • Material?
            • Timeline?
            • Direction (can you do it backwards?

5 What would happen if it could change?

The prince was astounded by the sight of the fireflies and by the unusual and creative directions these simple questions directed his thoughts. He realized that after just a few minutes, his stream of ideas would be virtually limitless. Challenging all the assumptions he had, he began to see that for the exercise, he was not the owner of thousands of surplus blankets. He was the owner of a vast resource of raw material that could be made into practically anything.

Exhilarated by the expansion of his thoughts, the prince asked “Have I learned enough yet to pull a ten-foot-long wooden pole out of that satchel?”

Pleased that he had not forgotten the exercise from the previous lesson, Tony spoke up. “Prince, you have definitely gained some important powers and have loosened up your mind. I believe that you have lived up to the first promise, because you have come up with more ideas than you ever thought possible. Now you need to believe that the impossible is possible. Do you think that you can apply the techniques we have taught you so far, and conceive of some solutions to this seemingly impossible task with the wooden pole?”

“Absolutely!” said the prince with an excited yell.

“Outstanding!” said Tony.

“So” said E’mussa, “Can you discover and challenge some of the assumptions you may have made in the ten-foot-long wooden pole exercise, and come up with some ways to make this seemingly impossible task possible?”

“Indubitably!” said the prince, with a new found burst of confidence. After a great deal of thinking, and a short break to gather materials, the prince called the magicians together to see what he had come up with. The merriment rose with each clever solution to the ten-foot -long wooden pole problem.  One solution the prince presented was a drawing of ten bird-feet he did on a piece of parchment.  “You never said they had to be human feet!” he said with a grin.  He also pulled a small leather bag out of his belt and dumped the contents on the ground.  Sawdust!  “Who said the tree had to be in solid form?” he questioned with a grin. This went on for quite a while.  

Before everyone retired for the evening, E’Mussa stepped forward a final time. “Prince, you have done well this evening… very well.  We all believe that if you keep tonight’s lesson in mind, it will help you generally in life, and specifically with one of your challenges still waiting for you at home. Remember:

Our minds are the gardens where problems grow large!

Before the prince would let the magicians retire for the evening he made them promise to continue his education as soon as possible. They reassured him that the very next evening, Ras would teach him his unique lesson.

From the author:

Knowing that “Our minds are the gardens where problems grow large” we certainly help the prince overcome the next challenge.  Remembering that will also help you as  you come across problems that seem insurmountable.  

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Copyright © 2020 Gerard A. Evanski. All rights reserved.  Reproduction and distribution without written permission of the author is strictly prohibited.

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