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Slice the Gordion Knot
In the ancient city of Gordion, King Midas tied a chariot to a post with an intricate knot. A wise oracle prophesied that the person who could untie the knot would become the ruler of all of Asia. Hundreds of soldiers and craftsmen tried and failed in the endeavor. Finally, in one version of the story, a man approached the situation, studied the knot, and then, with one strike of his sword, sliced the knot in two, thus claiming his title as king. That man was Alexander the Great, who had the irreverent attitude to rethink the challenge and create a different solution to the problem.
Since then, a Gordion Knot has become a symbol for how to address a seemingly impossible problem with a solution that is simple, but not always obvious or intuitive. This requires what popular culture calls “out-of-the-box thinking.” Thinking outside the box is a metaphor about thinking differently, unconventionally, or from a fresh perspective. It’s not easy, given that the world loudly implores us to follow along, to avoid big risks, and to conform to the latest fad. Yet, great teams think out of the box, and they have leaders that push them to do so.
Encouraging imaginative and out-of-the-box solutions to problems requires leaders who understand that unconventional thinking depends less on intelligence and creativity and more on independence. Great leaders ask others to ignore the box. They do this by asking others to work backward from a goal instead of forward from a problem. Thinking backward as to the steps needed to achieve a goal ignores the “so-called” problem. By working backward, we break the causal chain that binds us to the problem and keeps us in the box. Remember, we can’t solve knotty problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created it. Instead, work backward from the goal.