Monday, April 18, 2005

Learning from Bad Examples

In James Adams' book Conceptual Blockbusting, he tells of an engineer whose style of solving difficult design problems was to first create a terrible awkward design. He'd bring it around to everyone he knew then listen patiently as his colleagues unloaded on him criticisms they had with his model. He then pooled all these fresh ideas, so that when the deadline came, he had a great finished product.

This is a clever way to get others to solve ones' problems, but the paper below also suggests that it be a strategic approach to get more R hemispheric contributions to problem solving.

The left prefrontal cortex is often associated with what most people think of as conscious logical reasoning or problem solving. The right prefrontal cortex is a bit different. It gets activated most by a "bad example".

In the figure below, the right prefrontal cortex was more juiced by poor analogies than good ones. Negative selection, some might say.



The Bad Example should not be forgotten as a possible 'trick' to use when stumped for ideas or drawing a blank for writing. The answers are not always found in thinking harder, but rather going away from the problem or adopting a bad example.

If we are trying to help students who are paralyzed by an empty page or blinking cursor, maybe we shouldn't spoonfeed them with possibilities (why don't you choose one?), but rather give them ideas they won't want - and then see what they come up with themselves. Maybe this jazzes up their amygdalas (disgust?) so that strong words and ideas flow out.

Recently our son really experienced this phenomena when he 'hit a wall' in his RPG Creator class. He needed to be frustrated by the lack of flexibility in the program and crudeness of game play to organize his ideas about what he wanted to make in a game he could design himself.

Analogies and Semantic Associations

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