Squaring the Circle


Posted on January 1, 1970 by Blake Leath

We have to do a lot of this these days, don't we?

Squaring of the circle...

In our personal budgets, we must find ways to make 1+1=3.  Or 5.  Or 7.

In our organizations, not only must we find ways to  s t r e t c h  limited financial resources, but also to periodically work with square pegs currently functioning (or failing to) in round holes.

Regardless the hurdle, an ability to think outside the proverbial box is paramount. 

Sometimes, when I'm working with a group that's struggling to think outside the box -- or simply...creatively -- I'll pass out six toothpicks to each person and make this request:  "Using these 6 unbroken toothpicks, create 4 equilateral (equal sided) triangles."

For several minutes, most participants struggle.  They create pentagrams (!) and beaver dams, but they rarely create four equilateral triangles without great effort, rule-breaking, or toothpick snapping.  And almost always, there are gaps/voids and overlapping toothpicks.

But then, with the briefest guidance and in one fell swoop, they solve the riddle. 

All I have to say is, "Think three dimensionally."

And blammo...they make a pyramid.  A 4-sided structure comprised solely of equilateral triangles.


The problem, of course, lies in our 'mental constructs.'  Too often, we think 1 or 2 dimensionally.  We look at problems myopically or traditionally or quickly...failing to turn them over in our minds like rocks in a dryer. 

Maybe you've heard the maxim, "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten."


It's worse than that.  This assumes a polyanna, static view of ecosystems and the world which, of course, is unrealistic.  The truth is much harsher: If you do what you've always done, you'll get run over by progress, eaten by competitors, or forgotten by history.

So, the next time you or your family or your organization face a seemingly intractable or 'unsolve-able' problem, think of the toothpicks.

If they (through the formation of Egypt's pyramid, one of humankind's most enduring structures) can remind us the value of creativity and innovation, then many of life's most daunting problems are half-solved.

After all, once the solving-scheme is organized, the rest is often a matter of time and sweat, not whether and if.

Solve on.