engineer stood quietly for a moment, looked at the diagram, looked back at the class and then shouted, “We have been working on this problem for almost two years and no one ever suggested that! Do you know what this means? This could solve our problem!” It was truly a Eureka moment and one that the engineer subsequently called a “watershed” event for the project.
The next day I spoke to the man who had suggested revers- ing the flow of the pipe and I asked him how he had come up with such a brilliant idea. He answered, “I don’t know.” Well that wasn’t too helpful because it’s my job to under- stand how breakthrough thinking works and then to teach other people how to do it. So I persisted, “Something must have sparked you. Can you remember what it was?”After considering it for a few more moments he said, “Well in China, where I grew up, our government had a similar problem, but in that case it had to do with the two great rivers in China: theYellow River and the Yangzi River. This looked like the same problem, so I just suggested that he solve it the same way we solved it in China, by diverting the flow of one river into the other.”