Exhibit B: The marvel of simplicity known as the wire coat hanger, generally attributed to Albert J. Parkhouse in 1903.
Seeing these two icons together oftentimes helps my workshop participants understand why Australians affectionately call the Harbour Bridge the ‘Coathanger.’ This nickname is also a perfect example of a metaphor, one of the most important elements of creative thinking.
As the urban myth goes, Parkhouse worked in a lamp shade factory in Michigan, USA. He came to work late one morning and found there were no more pegs by the door to hang his overcoat. He allegedly picked up a piece of stray wire and bent it into a shape to resemble the human shoulders. (Another metaphor!) The curl on the top was a graceful and practical finish. We might argue the historical accuracy of the details, but neither of us can deny that it’s actually rather beautiful, isn’t it?
Bradfield – also one of the primary architects of the City of Sydney – was obsessed with finding a way to cross Port Jackson, the formal name of Sydney Harbour. Not only did Bradfield design a practical solution to enable people to cross the Harbour, it’s also a perfect complement to its breathtaking setting.
So, which is more creative?
There isn’t a right answer because it’s a trick question. Choosing one good idea over the other is impossible – and more so – unnecessary because the inventors created the ‘ideas’ for entirely different reasons. This question demonstrates one of the first principles about creative problem solving. People create ideas because:
- They have a problem to solve or overcome, or
- They want or need something
More often than not, these two reasons are different sides of the same coin. In other words, it’s a combination of both solving a problem and fulfilling a need.
“Necessary is the mother of invention,” says it perfectly.
How do you define creative problem solving?