Wax and String

Wax and String

Thorin Klosowski at Lifehacker describes the “Generic Parts Technique,” based on research in Scientific American. It’s a bodacious way to jump-start creative/critical thinking. The idea is that sometimes humans see objects too much “as a whole.” We look at things, ingredients, and resources in a situation, and make assumptions about what they are. This effect is called “functional fixedness” and it limits our persective on what we have at hand and how we could use it. Generic Parts Technique helps answer the problem by seeing objects at their most elementary level. Here’s how:

First, break down the items at hand into their basic parts, then name each part in a way that does not imply meaning. Using this technique, a candle becomes wax and string. Seeing the wick as a string is key: calling it a “wick” implies that its use is to be lit, but calling it a “string” opens up new possibilities.

Get it? A light bulb isn’t a light bulb — it’s a small orb of glass, with a thin tungsten wire inside, and some metal threading attached. Once we realize the nature of what’s at hand, then new solutions can show up for us. It’s about valuing the true depth of our resources. Awesome.

But I daresay this whole idea pre-dates any recent research. There was a man in my childhood who had already mastered this technique, which is why I think it should be called the MacGyver Method. If you were born after 1987, MacGyver is the guy that MacGruber is based on. If you don’t know who MacGruber is either, then I don’t know what to say. Just watch this:

Mac knew how to maximize his surroundings, and see with special eyes. And Klosowski implies that we can all imitate this sort of technique, in any discipline or workplace, to do better thinking and problem-solving. Try it. And I want to apply it to mine.

MacGyver Church
In the context of Christian discipleship, Generic Parts Technique might inform the way we live together. Think about the superficial assumptions we allow to become deeply embedded in how we think about other people or ourselves. When we’re trying to address a need/mission/ministry, and trying to identify others suited for the task, sometimes we might overlook someone (or ourselves) because all we see is “John, that guy who’s always quiet around me” or “Beth, the overbearing mother of two” or “Sam, the night custodian.” Maybe we’ve convinced ourselves that our own shallow idea of someone is all that there is to the person. But there are parts and pieces to others that are undiscovered, even to themselves. There is some basic, God-breathed substance and gifting in there. And it’ll fit some situation’s need perfectly. If we can let go a little bit, and be open to what God sees, and cooperate with the “Macgyvering” that God has in mind.

There’s more we can do with this technique of thinking, too, in terms of the Church overall, I think. In terms of how we see other resources, and how they might be used. We’ll have more on this later. But in the meantime, see how it works in your field, in your problem-solving, and share it with others. Who knows what that wax and string can do?


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