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No. 78 (September/October 2004)

Guest article —

AAA — Ask, Aware, Answer

A Creative Problem-Solving Technique

by Christopher Gooch

What is this AAA technique? The AAA procedure is a creative problem-solving technique that is an easy to remember, easy to perform, and easy to apply. It takes you from a well-defined question to a powerful answer with little or no work. Merely ask the question, sit back, and wait for the answer. Your unconscious will be hard at work on it for you!

Itís based on the first law of psychology:   You get more of what you reinforce. In performing AAA, more of your unconscious will come "online" and accessible to the rest of you, through the simple practice of reinforcing your fleeting thoughts. When you learn to use the AAA method of creative problem-solving, you will reinforce the behavior of being aware and perceptive; and thus you can catch those numerous original creative insights that you have constantly, but never notice or recall.

The AAA problem-solving method works because it gives your creative and powerful unconscious time to incubate, turn over and solve the problem, while you go about living your life. Thereís no real "trick" to it — other than taking notice of those subtle fleeting thoughts. Simply staying aware of the various insights that come up in relation to the problem will get you that much closer to your answer.

While you usually concentrate on one or two things at a time, you also have "sidebands" of awareness. These sidebands are where those short-lived insights occur, and if you pay attention to those, without doing anything more than jotting down those insights, your answer will turn up.

In fact, this is similar to Dr. Wengerís portable memory bank technique. Instead of paying attention to all of your thoughts, insights and ideas (which produces many wonderful inspirations), you will focus particularly on those relating to your specific question.

By verbalizing and writing down your question, you make the process infinitely easier. So many times the answers to many of our pressing daily problems pass by us merely because we werenít paying attention to them, we werenít looking for the answer to the question, or we didnít even know what the question was to begin with.

The AAA technique blasts you past this and gets you to actually set out your question, so you can be actively looking for the answer (and not beating your head against the wall in frustration!).

The Technique
The three steps of the AAA creative problem-solving procedure are:

Ask the question.

This may sound stupidly simple, but do it anyway. Itís essential. Go ahead — write it down, speak it aloud, and put it into words. Remember, thereís no way you can solve your problem if you donít know what it is in the first place!

In this step, articulate your question and get it down on paper.

Aware: Stay aware.

There are three ways to do this — mix it up a bit and use all three:

  • Look at the question, and as you do, pay particular attention to those thoughts that usually pass by unnoticed. If you notice anything relating to the question in your sidebands of awareness, write it down!

  • Donít sit and brood on your question. In addition to being nonproductive, brooding frustrates you and inhibits your creativity. Relax, do something else, and pay attention! Ask the question, then go about your daily tasks. Allow the question to incubate for a while, then come back to it. Do you have anything to add? Are there any more insights youíve thought of? Again, pay attention to everything going through those sidebands of awareness.

  • Stay aware of the many thoughts — particularly those incidental ideas — that you have throughout the day. As you go about your day, just remain aware of all those little ideas you have and write every one down, regardless of whether it applies, and especially those ludicrous and absurd ones.

Answer the question

after compiling a page or so of different answers, original insights, and creative thoughts. How do you know you have enough?

When you have at least three answers, you probably have enough to compile and synthesize it all into an answer. Look at the answers you have, find the similarities, the special ideas and benefits that come with them, and mold it all into your final answer.

Here are some useful pointers and tips to help you in this technique:

  • Itís important to have a structure before you ask the question. If you have no background or specific answer you want, it will be more difficult to see how your answers apply. You should have some kind of a structure and a base when you ask the question and be specific. For example, donít ask, "How can I get more done?" but, "How can I accomplish more things today?"

  • Remember that the neither awareness process, nor the answering of your question ends. Always be striving for better and better answers, and donít be satisfied with the one you currently have. So donít stop being aware when you have a good answer; stay aware and strive for more and better answers.

  • When you are being aware, donít allow your conscious editor to step in. Some part of our brain (some people say it is the left side, though there are many different views of the way the brain works) likes to edit and criticize our wonderful and creative ideas. So never listen to it, and jot down your potential answer or insight anyways, and you can edit, criticize and synthesize later, after youíve gotten it down on paper.

  • In answering the question, look at the similarities between your few answers and insights. Is there an underlying principle or idea? How can you include and synthesize all three (or more) of them? Can you put them together and come up with a better answer somehow?

Awarenesses and Staying Aware
You and I have 126 bits of conscious awareness, some of which are used when we focus on the current task while others are sidebands of awareness. Doubtlessly thousands of creative, unique and original insights have gone through your sidebands of awareness, because, by not writing down those ideas, you have been reinforcing the behavior of not being aware of them.

So how do you go about paying attention to them now? With the AAA technique, because you are looking for a specific answer to a particular question, you know what you are looking for.

Secondly, if youíre sure to carry a notepad and a pen with you everywhere you go, and you start reinforcing those thoughts and ideas by writing them down, you will slowly begin to recognize and pay attention to those other thousands that pass you by. You get more of what you reinforce, and if you reinforce paying attention to those creative ideas that you have (consciously or unconsciously), you will gradually be aware of more of them.

Finally, just pay attention to these ideas and jot them down, whether or not you think they are relevant. Remember, even if they donít turn out to be relevant in the end, you are still reinforcing the behaviors of being creative and being aware of those little subtle thoughts that constantly zip past you. Before you know it, you will not only have more of your intelligence online, but youíll have creatively solved countless problems in the process!

Using the AAA Technique
Thinking of questions to ask yourself in the AAA procedure is not hard at all! Iím sure you have innumerable questions you would like to ask — ranging from the menial, day-to-day questions like, "How can I better deal with this person?" to the deeper questions like, "What is the best way to regulate the economy?"

Furthermore, the first law of psychology (you get more of what you reinforce) applies here, too. The more questions you ask yourself, the more you will ask. By reinforcing the behavior of asking yourself questions, you unlock even more of your brain and bring more online by bringing those deep, unconscious questions to conscious awareness.

Can you ask yourself more than one question at once? Yes, by all means! Ask yourself as many as youíd like, pay attention to those fleeting thoughts, and soon youíll have reams of answers! You may even find that the more questions you have going at once, the better the quality and quantity of answers.

If your question is particularly important or urgent, make an extra copy and post it where youíll see it often. Just by seeing it more frequently, you may find that you focus on it more and produce more possible answers.

Lastly, donít be afraid to ask yourself creative questions or questions that involve or require creativity. In fact, your unconscious is amazingly creative — far more than you think!


  • First, you need to have the framework set before you build your answer. You donít start building a house without first laying the foundation, do you? Lay the foundation for your answer! That means that your question should be specific and well-defined, with a clear-cut 'background — this just makes it so much easier to answer.

  • Second, this technique becomes completely useless if you never carry a little notepad around with you everywhere. (Keep it in your pocket!) Why? Couldnít you just run into your bedroom and scribble it down on some paper there? No. That wonít work. Then you have to deal with the procrastination. "I have to go all the way into my room." "Oh well, Iím sure Iíll remember it!" youíll say. But you will not remember it, believe me. So keep that pad and pen in your pocket!

  • Finally, donít forget the AAA procedure:   ask a specific question, stay aware at all times for potential answers and insights, answer your question (with a specific answer) by compiling your various answers and putting it all together.


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