We all get stuck. We can be whizzing along, without a worry in the world, not a cloud in the sky, and then suddenly, for no real reason, everything grinds to a halt.
The good news is that there is a simple 3-step strategy that allows us to re-frame and revise almost any situation and get un-stuck. Here are the three steps:
• What are all the basic elements that go to make up the situation? Look at each element.
• What can we do with those different elements?
• Is there anything we need to add or subtract to any element?
A good example of how this strategy worked out in a real situation is with the play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” by Tom Stoppard. This was not a “life problem” situation. Stoppard wanted to re-imagine the play “Hamlet,” but he used the 3-step strategy above to do so. Here’s what he did:
In the case of “Hamlet,” all the characters in the play are elements. In addition, the castle and the ghost of Hamlet’s father are also elements. So, these are the different elements of the play that Stoppard looked at.
Next, he looked at what he could do with those different elements. The big thing he could do was to change the relative importance of the different characters in the story of the play. He elevated the roles of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who were virtual nonentities in the original play, and vastly reduced the importance of Hamlet, who had previously been the star.
And of course, changing the importance of the roles in step two also affected step three, because it changed the number of spoken lines for all the different characters.
What Stoppard did in re-framing and revising “Hamlet” created a completely new play, “Rosenstern and Guildenlstern are Dead.” It’s one of the most brilliant examples of creativity I know of. The 3-step strategy works.
But although the 3-step strategy produces wonderful results in the rarefied world of Shakespeare, how well does it work in the real world with the gritty problems of everyday people? To find out, let’s look at the actual problem of a real-life person named Paul Magadan.
Magadan runs a Chevron gas station in the city of West Covina, California. His profit margin is very narrow and he would like to increase his business and revenue. But how?
The problem is, a gas station is a static, “mature” business; it isn’t entrepreneurial; there aren’t a lot of new things you can do. You can’t really charge more for your gas, because there are three other gas stations right down the street.
In Magadan’s gas station expenses are high, the profit margins are low, he is restricted in the changes he can make, and he’s limited in what he can sell. There’s a little store in his station, but he’s hemmed in by what he can offer. It’s a classic dilemma.
What would you do if you were in Paul Magadan’s position?
Guess what Paul Magadan did?
He upgraded his restroom!
It was an incredibly innovative idea. Traditionally gas station restrooms are horrible. They’re notorious for stench, broken fixtures, and grimy walls. And they always seem like they’ve run out of paper. People hate to go to gas station restrooms because they’re so awful.
So, when Paul Magadan was intuitively going through the 3-step strategy, looking at the elements he had to work with, and trying to figure out how he could change or add to any of them, the lightbulb of inspiration flicked on when he thought about the restroom.
It so happens that Paul Magadan has a brother who is an architectural designer, so Magadan decided to radically upgrade his restroom. He spent $5,000 putting in a crystal chandelier, a recessed ceiling and marbled walls. There is an Italian slate floor. Magadan put in wide marble counters, a graceful oval sink, and gold-plated fixtures. There is even impressionist art on the walls!
It is an absolutely amazing restroom. And it is in a gas station that actually exists. It is located in the very modest city of West Covina on Vincent Avenue, just north of the San Bernardino freeway. It is a real restroom in a real gas station. But it is unlike any gas station restroom you have ever seen before.
Needless to say, it has attracted great notice and tremendous business. It is astonishing to go into a gas station and find such an amazing restroom, so people drive from miles around to look at it. I drove over thirty miles to see if the story was actually true. I first read about it on the front page of the Los Angeles Times!
All kinds of people heard about this restroom and started visiting. Some even brought relatives and friends from out of town. (Note: Only customers get to use the restroom.)
So, if you are frustrated and feeling stuck, remember the story of Paul Magadan. He started our stuck and then became triumphantly un-stuck. The key was his intuitive use of the 3-step strategy. Try it in your situation, and you may be amazed at the results.
Good news is just around the corner!