Research shows that nearly all children are creative geniuses. In 1968, George Land and Beth Jarman tested 1600 5-year-olds for their ability to think creatively. The test explored the children’s ability to connect divergent concepts and the results showed that 98% of them scored in the top category. It appears that our brains are wired to be creative. At least for a while.

Unfortunately, divergent thinking diminishes over time. Life stresses results and conformity. Education and employment reward linear thinking and dismiss those who deviate from the norm. Over time, our creativity grows dormant but it can be reinvigorated.

The following puzzle is a common test for evaluating creative divergent thought. Navigating it will highlight the conventional processes participants unknowingly use to solve problems and the creative ones they avoid. Repeatedly attempting the same approach shows the problem-solving habits that become ingrained. The steps that are avoided represent the boundaries and mental blocks that exist. Make note of the steps you take to solve the puzzle below.  Connect the 9 dots in the image with no more than 4 straight lines.

Identify Your Assumptions And Discard Them

What did you try and what did you avoid?  People who struggle with the puzzle typically imagine a perimeter around the dots and only draw lines within it. Because of the image’s orientation, our eyes see vertical and horizontal lines that do not exist. List the steps you took and then evaluate the ones you did not. Both are equally important.

Unconventional solutions require participants to discard their conventional assumptions. If you believe a solution requires a specific tool, skill, or asset, ask why. Then seek solutions that exclude it. Imagine the tool or asset is broken and force yourself to attempt a new course of action. Creative thought begins by discarding established assumptions and, in this case, ignoring the perimeter that doesn’t exist. Those who solve this puzzle must think outside of the figurative and imagined box.

Change Your Orientation

How you see a problem affects how you solve it. Anyone who has been brave enough to enter into a political debate realizes that people with different backgrounds see the world differently. Two people who view the same event can retain vastly different recollections of it. This causes conflict in some areas, but diverse groups are great creative problem solvers because they attack issues from different perspectives. If your team members have similar backgrounds, educations, and experiences, each member may produce similar solutions. Leverage people with different views and incorporate their contributions into a collective solution. Creativity mandates entrepreneurs to see challenges from their customers’ perspectives, which may differ from their own. Ask yourself what would different – younger, older, female, male, rural, suburban, or urban – buyers want? Create a complete backstory and a set of needs for each. If none come to mind, then survey your existing customers. Don’t limit exploration to your market. Examine what succeeds and fails in other ones as well. Changing your perspective, or in this instance rotating the image, will show a different problem and hopefully a different solution.


Systematic exploration may produce a solution because creative answers do not always arise as epiphanies. All great products result from trial and error; some when they are first born and others as they are refined. Identify a starting point and exhaust all of its options. Move to the next point and repeat the process.

In this example, begin at one dot and draw lines in each direction until a remedy appears. Lines 1 through 3 connect all but two dots. Do you see it yet?


We are creatures of habit because habits save time and energy by overlooking extraneous and unlikely solutions. However, creative solutions are, by definition, unlikely ones. Identify your assumptions so you can construct a new approach. Reorient the problem with the voices of diverse colleagues, customers, and other markets. Systematically slog through each possible remedy until a final solution arises.

Children are untethered to convention and unconstrained by habit. They examine objects as they are and imagine every possibility. They explore new ideas with no assumptions, which makes them creative thinkers.  This skill isn’t lost in adulthood; it is merely made dormant, suppressed by convention and years of habitual thinking. The solution is to mimic what 5-year-olds do: to embrace a challenge with no assumptions, no habits, and no ties to convention.

“All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” – Pablo Picaso