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Thought Puzzles And Creative Thinking

Oct 30, 12 Thought Puzzles And Creative Thinking

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. – Albert Einstein

As part of my ongoing commentary on the skills needed to become a scientist – and what one can do to advance these skills – I’m launching a weekly item on Thought Puzzles. One of the key elements to being a scientist is having the ability to think deeply, critically, analytically and creatively about problems. I’ll cover each of these notions individually in later posts, but for now I want to offer a question for your consideration: How many gas stations are in the United States?

Of course, most of you are likely aware of a thing called Google and could find the answer in a matter of moments. However, that is escaping the point of this exercise.

This question first became famous as an interview question, usually when they were looking for new scientists and engineers. The goal of the question was not to necessarily elicit the exact answer, but to see how the interviewee approached the problem. What assumptions did they make? What basic pieces of information were they able to combine to arrive at an answer?

Such questions really have one purpose: challenge the listener (or reader) to think deeply, analytically and creatively about something and see what they come up with.

So I put the question to you; ask your friends, parents, children and co-workers. And I encourage you to post your solutions to the question in the comments section below. Later in the week I will post at least one approach to answering the question and may even quote some of your creative answers. Then come back next week for a new Thought Puzzle.

Image Credit: Coronado / Shutterstock.com

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About 

John P. Millis, Ph.D., is professor of physics and astronomy at Anderson University, in Anderson Indiana. He teaches a wide variety of courses while maintaining an active research program in high energy astrophysics.

His research focus is on pulsars, pulsar wind nebulae, and supernova remnants. Using the VERITAS gamma-ray observatory in southern Arizona, he studies the very high energy radiation from these dynamic sources to extract information about their formation and emission mechanisms. Dr. John received his B.S. in physics at Purdue University and remained there for the completion of his Ph.D., where he focused on High Energy Astrophysics. When not teaching or writing about physics and space, Dr. John enjoys spending time with his family, tickling the keys on his piano and playing a wide variety of sports.

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3 Comments

  1. Anonymous /

    i would say as many as are supported by the current need vs the current economic situation :D

  2. Anonymous /

    Asking myself the question I would have to answer it this way- Create a spreadsheet that will manage an import of petroleum distribution companies. Contact each distribution company and slip some money to the salesman to give me a figure for the number of customers they have over Chat so our discussion won’t be recorded. Enter the number in each dist. co. line. When finished look at the total at the bottom of the spreadsheet. :)

  3. Anonymous /

    love it

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