[Ed. Note: Last week, in Part 1 of this story, David Deutsch introduced his “inside the box” way of thinking. As you may remember, the narrator of the story has been desperately trying to keep his bookstore afloat. He is about to give up when he meets his new neighbor “Tom” – an ingenious inventor with an innovative approach to problem solving. Today, let’s see how Tom helps his neighbor apply just one of David Deutsch’s 15 “boxes” – the Add a New Dimension Box – to come up with some new ideas to help his struggling business succeed.]

 

“When I first came up with this system,” Tom said, “I thought of it only in terms of engineering-type problems. But the more I worked with it, the more I saw that it could be used to solve other types of problems as well. Everyday problems, like the kids always wanting to borrow the car. Business problems, like how to sell or license my inventions.”

“Say, I’ve got a business problem or two,” I said, vastly understating the situation. “Can you show me how I might use this system on my business?”

“Sure,” said Tom. “You own a bookstore, right?”

“As of right now I do,” I answered. “Not sure how much longer, though.” I showed him the note from the landlord that I still had in my pocket.

Tom read the note. “Well then, it appears to be very important that we get you thinking in some new ways immediately. Tell me, how would you use the Add a New Dimension box to help solve your problem?”

I could feel myself tensing up, as I always do when under pressure to come up with an answer quickly or be “creative.”

“Relax,” said Tom. “We’re just going to look in one tiny little box right now. We’ll take this one step at a time. As I already told you, the first part of this box is to add something that you can either hear, feel, see, taste, or smell. Let’s take these dimensions one at a time, and let’s apply them to a specific problem that you have. What should we try them on first?”

“Well,” I said, feeling like I was stating the obvious, “I’d like to get more customers into my store.”

“Great! How might you get more people into your store with visual, auditory, kinesthetic – which is feeling – or olfactory elements?”

That sounded like something I could do.

“Let’s see … some¬thing you can see? Maybe I could get more people to come in if I had a TV in the sitting area where the customers (or their significant others who don’t read) could watch some sports, the news, or a favorite program that they would otherwise have to miss if they stayed home?

“Something you can hear?” I continued. “I could have live music! People love live music. It would bring them in as they walk by, and I could advertise that we have it. It would be so easy to get music students or fledgling jazz combos to play. It’s good practice, fun, and would give them free publicity.

“Something you can feel? Let’s see … I could have a fire going in the fireplace on cold days. Let the kids toast marshmallows. Offer hot cider!

“Smell? That’s easy. I’ve noticed that the smell of popcorn really carries in movie theaters. I bet if I popped some popcorn, people could smell it from the street and that would draw them in. And I could advertise that we have free popcorn.

“And another thing I could do is …”

“Okay, okay,” Tom interrupted. “I think you get the idea! And that’s just the first part of this box. You can also explore new dimensions by adding to or replacing things. You can work with the dimension of movement by making an object or process that moves stationary or by making one that’s stationary move. You can make something change over time, or stop something from changing. And you can go from random to ordered or from ordered to random.”

“Stationary to moving. That doesn’t really apply to bookselling,” I said. “Although, now that I think about it, books shelved in a bookstore are stationary, which is awfully limiting. Why couldn’t I find a way to take books to people at different events – maybe a little kiosk selling sports books at sporting events? Or selling business books where business groups and associations have meetings? That could open up whole new markets for us!

“What was next? Make something change. Well, the menu in our cafe hasn’t changed since we opened it. Why couldn’t there be at least one or two new things on it every week? People might come in just to see what we have.

“Random to ordered … It’s random the way people come in the store and whatever salesperson happens to be available waits on them. What if it were ordered, say by assigning a specific salesperson to each of our best customers? That way, the customer could call us anytime, and their personal salesperson could keep them informed about new books of interest that are coming in.”

“You’re really getting the hang of this,” said Tom. “Now, when you look inside this box in the future, don’t just limit yourself to the dimensions we’ve just discussed: the senses, movement, change, and so on. Feel free to add your own and to look at or emphasize a new dimension of any object, part, or process.”

I felt like a long-suffering prospector who had finally found an infallible gold detector that could spot gold wherever it was hidden. “I don’t know when I’ve been able to come up with so many new ideas! For goodness sake,” I exclaimed eagerly. “What are all the other boxes?”

“Don’t worry,” said my new friend. “It’s late and they’ll still be here tomorrow. Why don’t you stop by tomorrow evening so we can continue our little discussion then?”

“You can count on it.”

“Oh, and by the way … come hungry.”