How to solve Modern Day Problems: A surprising lesson on creative thinking from a Russian Town.

by Apr 3, 2021Creativity, Strategy

We have all been in a situation where we were stuck and desperately wishing we had a solution to our predicament. Well, sometimes, this solution can come from a surprising place.

The story of the genius of Leningrad


In Russia, there was once a city named Leningrad, later renamed St. Petersburg. It was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great and built as Russia’s new capital.

Within its first 10 years, this city was built to rival any capital in Europe. It had elegant Baroque palaces lining up the crisscrossing waterways and earned the city the title: ‘Venice of the North’.

Earlier in the 18th century, the city’s master planners and architects had meticulously designed every street and highway into a comprehensive master plan. To accommodate the layout of the new city, numerous large rocks had to be removed. However, there was one particularly large boulder that lay smack in the middle of one of this sparkling new city’s major avenues.

As any good city government would do, the administration solicited bids and proposals for the removal of this massive boulder. Since the labour-saving modern equipment and explosives we have now didn’t yet exist, the bids came in much too high.

This created a crisis of sorts for the city planners with no foreseeable solution. The only question on their minds: How could they move this giant stone without paying a fortune?

As they wondered and pondered on what to do, one man, a mason by craft, presented himself and offered to remove the boulder for a much lower price than any of the other bids.

A furious debate then ensued. “How can this man succeed where so many giants of engineering have failed? Is giving him a shot even worth it?” The city planners rumbled amongst themselves.

Finally, seeing that they had little to nothing to lose by giving him the job, the city administration gave the go-ahead. “Let’s see what he can do,” they said, as they stood back with their smug grins.

The next day, the man showed up with a small army of other builders carrying shovels and mattocks. They set off to work immediately. Right next to the giant rock, they dug a hole deeper than the boulder’s height. When they were satisfied with its depth, they simply nudged the rock into the hole by prying it with long log poles. 

They had made the pit deep enough that it swallowed the rock entirely, leaving not an inch above the street level. To crown their simple but genius plan, they filled in the dirt around the edges and carted off the leftovers in wheelbarrows to a dump outside the city.

As you can see, their simple audacity has never been forgotten- although the names of St. Petersburg’s smarty-pants engineers definitely have been.


Lateral thinking: The key to unlocking creative potential


Edward de Bono, a Maltese physician, psychologist, inventor and author of the book ‘Six Thinking Hats’ originated the term lateral thinking. 

Lateral thinking is a way used to solve problems using a creative and indirect approach through reasoning that is not immediately obvious. It involves the application of ideas that may not be obtainable or considered by following the traditional step-by-step logic. 

De Bono, in his book ‘The Use of Lateral Thinking’, cites the Judgment of Solomon as an example of lateral thinking; where King Solomon resolves a dispute over the parentage of a child by calling for the child to be cut in half and making his judgment according to the reactions that this order receives.

Edward de Bono also links lateral thinking with humour, arguing it entails a switch-over from a familiar pattern to a new, unexpected one. It is this moment of surprise, generating laughter and new insight, which facilitates the ability to see a different thought pattern that initially was not obvious. 

There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.”__ Edward de Bono

This is exactly the type of philosophy that we should all embrace in our problem-solving pursuits.

Out of the box thinking

For one to think creatively, out of the box, as has often been proverbially put, the use of lateral thinking could really fast track the process.

Sometimes, however hard as we may try, the answers do not seem to pop up. This is where external help may be necessary. An outsider’s fresh eyes could provide a cheaper, simpler and less obvious solution that could end up saving you time, money and incessant headaches.

This is as much applicable in small businesses as well as large organizations led by boards and directors. The solutions to some of the most complex challenges could lie with the employees down the organization pyramid or a fresh outsider’s perspective. 

The challenge we might all face is in our ability to accept an alternative voice from an unexpected source. To combat this, ask yourself one simple question. “Is my pride and ego worth all the time, money and headache of an unresolved problem?”


Samuel Njoroge writes and speaks about Creativity, Strategy, Leadership and Productivity. 

Through his boutique firm, Azelea Coaching Advisory, he works directly with over 100 business leaders and entrepreneurs each year to help them design the necessary framework to achieve their biggest business targets. 

Invite SAMUEL to speak at your IN-PERSON OR VIRTUAL event.


Samuel's specialty is designing and breaking down complex projects to really simple steps. 


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