A Fast Way to Get Your Best Answers

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 5 (11 May 1997)

Last week (in the feeling-good procedures), we gave you a variation on a traditional method of discovering solutions. That method works some of the time. Here today is a much faster way to discover your best answer on just about anything, and it works nearly every time.

Things you know from earlier rounds of this column, and from elsewhere:

Thinking in images draws upon and involves a lot more of the brain than does thinking in words, which is largely limited to the left temporal lobe. Thinking in images was our original – and is still our strongest – modality for thinking, from birth on. It didn’t disappear when parents and teachers told us to stop daydreaming, sit straight, pay attention, don’t gaze out that window when I’m talking to you, etc. It only went “underground” and is still there – easily tapped by many of us, there but with a little digging for some of us. We haven’t found anyone yet in whom this resource was not and in whom access could not be re-established.Visual thinking a la Einstein, Tesla, the dreaming Kekule (the benzene ring, basis of all organic chemistry), the nightmare-struck Howe (the cannibals attacking in his dream had holes in the heads of their spears, the answer to his problem for inventing the sewing machine), is not the only type of method powerfully associated with ingenious creative and intellectual or artistic achievement. The Socratic method is one. It originated in the schools of classical Greece. (These were founded not to benefit students but to provide audiences to whom the leading thinkers, by describing their own perceptions, could further develop them….) Socratic method is associated with a rate of production of world-class genius hundreds of thousands of times higher than conventional teaching. It produces its miracles by getting people to examine their perceptions and to describe in detail what they discover there. This method is also closely – and causally – associated with historic traditions of high intellectual achievement.

Put these two effective mind-use systems together, each of them closely linked to historical traditions of profoundly high mental or intellectual achievement, and you get methods like the following “Over-the-Wall” procedure.

Another key, as we go into that procedure, is of the nature of problem-solving itself. It seems natural when facing an unanswered question or problem to review what we know about the problem situation and to seek its answer in terms of what we know. Alas, the problems which are left around us are the ones which were NOT (and will not) be solved that way. What we “know” has BECOME the problem by standing between us and fresh perceptions. Of thousands of creative techniques and a dozen major systems of such techniques now in professional use around the planet, each succeeds precisely to the extent that it somehow moves us BEYOND what we think we know about the problem, and into fresh perceptions on it.

Seems like all we have to do, then, is to put aside what we know and start examining again our actual perceptions in the problem context. Alas, within seconds, nearly all of us seem to find ourselves back in rehashing what we think we know about the problem. So, we’ve used types of visual thinking which leave behind our “knowledge” about the problem. These approaches look at the problem in imagistic or other special ways designed to get us around what our left temporal lobe EXPECTS, so we can SEE the answer. The “Over-the-Wall” technique below takes us beyond that left-temporal-lobe-expectant mind-set and into fresh perceptions and insights.


  1. You MUST have either a live listener to describe and develop your perceptions to (and who can cue you to the next step in the process if need be so you can focus more completely on the experience), or at least a tape recorder (a cheap one or even an old dictaphone will do) and blank tape to record onto, representing at least a POTENTIAL listener.
  2. Arrange your surroundings – including phone, secretaries, children, whatever – so you won’t be interrupted for at least 30-40 minutes barring some real emergency. Later uses of this “Over-the-Wall” procedure will be quicker and quicker. With practice you will find ingenious answers to almost any problem or question in less than two minutes!
  3. Decide upon and write out your question. Choose an issue or problem or topic you would truly desire to have good answer to – that desire or need helps involve more of your mental resources. The more difficult or seemingly impossible-to-solve the problem seems, the better for our purposes here. Your chances are good, even this first time and certainly in subsequent rounds, that you will discover a great and ingenious, retrospectively obvious, answer. If that is a matter which has baffled the experts, YOUR discovering an answer to it can be very empowering.

Once you’ve met these three conditions you can begin “Over-the-Wall”. The steps are in a form which can be read aloud to members of a group. If working with a live person OR with a group: the instructions to be read aloud to your answer-seeking partner are in brackets. After the group form is a much briefer version for when working alone.

The Step-By-Step Procedure for “Over-The-Wall” 

Listener (or tape recorder) at the ready? 

Your selected question or problem issue written down?

Excellent. Here are the step-by-step instructions for the rest of the “Over-the-Wall” procedure…

  1. With your question established, simply set it aside and don’t give it more conscious thought for a while. For a while, no longer confront the question directly. Instead, give your more sensitive resources the opportunity to set up a space where the answer to that question will be on display for you. To screen that answer space from interference by what you “know” about the problem in your conscious mind, imagine that this answer space is screened from your view by a great wall. –A wall you can’t “see” past until you are beyond it yourself. With your eyes closed to see more freely, imagine that wall to be screening from sight your Answer Space on its far side while on this side, the nearer side, of that wall you are in a very beautiful garden, a garden extraordinarily lovely but very different from any you’ve ever seen before. Beyond that wall, without further concern or effort from your conscious mind, is now being set for you on display the best answer to that question you decided to address some moments ago. Over here, on this side of that screening wall, be in this exquisitely beautiful garden….
  2. {With your eyes kept closed without interruption, imagine being in the midst of this strangely beautiful garden. It might help to pretend that you are a radio reporter, setting background just before an expected event, “painting word pictures” of this garden for your listening radio audience. Starting with what is directly in front of you, there in that garden, and then all around, describe this garden in richly textured detail to your listening audience. Make your listener see and feel and smell and taste and experience the utter reality of your garden, through the rich textures of your describing–(5-10 minutes of rapid continuous description)}
  3. {Now go up to this side of the wall and describe the wall the same way that you’ve been describing the garden. Don’t sneak a peek yet at what is on the other side of that wall. But put your hand on the wall and study the feel of it, lean your face up against it, make the feel and smell of the wall real to your listeners as well as its appearance….}{(In all this description, notice when and if you get visual mental images in your mind’s eye, like in a dream. If you see them, switch to describing THEM even if they go off into things other than garden and wall and answer space, because they can be a more direct route to what your more sensitive faculties want to show you.)}
  4. {Don’t sneak a peek yet, at the answer on display on the other side of the wall. SUDDENNESS is the key here, to catching your answer in view BEFORE your conscious “knowledge” about the question can jump in and say, “no, that can’t be it, so the answer has to look like thus and so.” The trick is to experience “jumping over the wall” so suddenly that you catch even yourself by surprise, to catch by surprise what’s there now on the far side of the wall and you are yourself surprised by what you find there. Whatever is your very first impression of what’s on the far side of the wall after you’ve jumped, when THAT time comes describe THAT. Continue describing AS IF you were still looking at it, even if it were just a glimpse or a momentary impression, and more of that impression will come. Sooner or later, you will discover enough of it through describing it that you will learn HOW what is here in this answer space is an effective answer to your problem.}

    (That suddenness can be supplied by your live listener – “jump NOW!” – after you’ve described the garden side of the wall for a while. Or, use anything happening in your auditory environment, perhaps out on the street with a car horn or dog bark, to abruptly jump over the wall even if you weren’t ready to yet, in order to get that needed suddenness.){(To the extent that what you find beyond the wall in the answer space SURPRISES you; the degree to which what you find over there is different from what you expected; is an indicator of your getting fresh input from your more sensitive faculties instead of simply recycling what you already “know” in your louder, conscious mind. Describe that very FIRST impression even if it seems unrelated or trivial at first — describing this first impression regardless of what it is and whether it’s a picture or just some sort of conceptual impression. The ACT of describing this first impression opens up on your ingenious and unexpected good answer.)}
  5. {Continuing to explore and describe what you’ve found here in the Answer Space: is there some feature which especially attracts your attention? Is there some oddity which doesn’t fit with the rest of the scene (often the subtler faculties’ way of underscoring the key to the message)? Detail that further; or select some particular feature here, such as a bush, tree, or side of a house, and ask it mentally, “Why are YOU here, in this context? How do YOU relate to this answer?” In what ways does your picture or impression change, in response to your question? Detail these.}(If by now you already fully understand the answer that has been shown you, skip on to Step # 7 below. If you do not yet understand that answer or understand it fully, go instead to Step # 6, next.)
  6. {Mentally thank your subtler faculties for showing you the answer to your question–but ask their help in UNDERSTANDING it. Find some object in your Answer-Space which can serve as a screen, just as your garden wall did earlier. This can be the wall of a house, a thicket, an as-yet closed door, a curtain, a bend in a hallway, a cover to a photo album, a hillside, anything which fits the purpose of being a screen, behind which you “can’t” see, until you suddenly go across into the space beyond it. Without sneaking a peek yet at what’s beyond, go up to and lay your hand on whatever that screening object is, and ask your subtler faculties to show you, on its far side, exactly the SAME answer to the SAME question as before, but this time in an entirely DIFFERENT SCENE. In effect: you are creating a second answer-space, with an entirely different scene in it. What is the SAME between old and new pictures, when everything else is different, by inductive inference gives you the key to the “message” or answer! So: first detail out the new scene after going into it, then search for what’s the same between the old and new pictures – perhaps it is grass, perhaps the color blue, perhaps water, perhaps people running or perhaps no one there, or triangular-shaped objects, perhaps a certain feeling to both pictures…..}
  7. {Return to here and now fully refreshed. If you’ve been working with a live listener, now grab up your tape recorder, or a notepad and pen. If you’ve been working with a tape recorder, now is the time for your notepad and pen…. some different medium from what you were using for the original experience….}
  8. Like an astronaut returning from a mission to some far world, DE-BRIEF. Describe in detail, to that different medium from the one you’ve just been using, a little of your garden experience, but every detail you can from when you jumped over the wall. This further, retrospective, describing is often the stage at which understandings and meanings click into place. Also: if you did the original experience with eyes closed, debrief with them open; if for some reason you did the original experience with eyes open, debrief with them closed. To make relation-building effects within your brain a little more immediate, try to use the present tense grammatically while describing and stay in that present tense mode, even though the experience is already in your recent past – e.g., “I AM looking at all this ripe wheat bending in the wind,” not “I WAS looking….”

Short Form for “Over-the-Wall”

In order that you don’t have to keep looking over at the instructions to see what comes next, and in order to let your eyes stay uninterruptedly closed during the experience and free to deal fully with the subtler reaches of that experience….

–Here is the short form, with a memory device to help you remember each step and the step which comes next–

Describe, describe, describe in richly textured detail–

  1. The Garden;
  2. The Wall; and after your sudden jump over it,
  3. The Answer-Space beyond that wall.
    G.W.A.S. (“gaWAS”) – easily remembered word of initials to help you remember Garden, Wall, and the Answer-Space beyond it. Continuing from “gaWAS” –
  4. Question some particular Aspect or feature in your Answer-Space
  5. New Scene – same answer to same question, but shown differently
    (NS) so this part of the mnemonic is QANS; your total mnemonic is “gaWAS-qans,” easy to hold in the back of your mind so each part of it in turn will remind you of the next step in the procedure. –Until the procedure becomes familiar enough to you that you no longer need any special devices to find your way with.

Getting The Meaning From Your Displayed Answers

For inventions, technical or mechanical problems and art, these “over-the-wall” answers are usually quite literal. For most other issues, perhaps because of the sensory language in which the more sensitive regions of your brain work, the answer may be shown in some sort of metaphor – a cartoon, a parable, a pun or simile, in which case relating these sometimes takes effort to figure out consciously. The most important thing in figuring your answer out is: to not try to figure it out until after you’ve let the whole experience unfold, and you’ve described it out in detail. Always go for the sensory data first, figure it out AFTERward. If your a-HA! hits you in mid-stream, well and good – and that will happen more and more frequently as this process and set of skills become familiar to you. But going for meanings before you’ve fully detailed your experience, invites your conscious knowledge about the problem situation to come back in, interfering with your more sensitive internal data because it “knows” what the answer “ought” to be, stopping you short of seeing what the answer IS.

Once your experience is fully described and recorded, though, your “data out there on the table,” so to speak, the conscious search for meaning can no longer hide or distort it. Here are several ways to improve your chances of finding the meaning of what you found over the wall (or the meaning of your dreams, for that matter)–

  1. The more richly textured the detail in which you describe, the better your chances of discovering the meaning.
  2. The more rapidly you describe, the better the chances of outrunning your internal editor and getting to the most meaningful part of the experience.
  3. The more different senses you engage in the experience by noticing and describing–sight, touch, smell, movement, space and pressure, mass, temperature, texture, taste, atmospheric feel, etc.–the better your contact with your more sensitive faculties and the better your chances to discover the meaning.
  4. After initially orienting to the scene: the more you experience moving around in or doing various things to what you find in the Answer Space, and observe and describe the results, the better your chances of discovering the meaning.
  5. Question other objects or features in the experience, asking “why are YOU here in this experience, what role do YOU play in this answer – then observe and describe how the scene changes or what else happens in response (we call this procedure “Feature-Questioning”). Likewise, pursue what we call the “Clarification Question,” asking your subtler faculties to help you in understanding their answer by showing you that same answer to that same question again, but through an entirely DIFFERENT scene (Inductive Inference again). Usually, three different scenes displaying the same answer are enough to let you infer the meaning from their common elements.

Follow-up questions: See also, and describe, what changes occur in your scene or impressions when you ask such questions as–

  1. “How can I make sure that I’m understanding the correct answer here?” (How can I verify this answer?)
  2. “What else should I know about this situation?”
  3. “How best can I turn this answer into useful action?”
  4. “What’s ‘Step One’ in acting on this answer?” (If there is something else you have to do first, that is not ‘Step One,’ so what is ‘Step One?” Whenever in doubt about what to ask, ask:
  5. “What is the best thing for me to ask in this context – and the best answer to it?”

Most approaches to creative problem solving teach that one has to invest 90% or more of his total effort to finding the right question to ask about a situation. Yet your subtler faculties already know what is the most cogent question to ask about a given situation, so asking this directly lets you take advantage of that and saves you considerable time and effort.

Special note regarding verification

Even when some answers come through with the seeming certainty of the Word of God, it’s a human instrument receiving them, just as subject as any other information instrument, process or content to the Laws of Entropy. Thus, to the extent that there are significant stakes at issue in the answers you get, even if these interior processes do tend to be more accurate than other information processes, it behooves you to check their validity against other indicators, just as you would and should for information from any other source.

Perhaps this deserves even further comment. Politicians speak in certainties even when they have only the vaguest clue, in order to get other people to follow their lead. Most organized religions exhort their followers to absolute belief – but it’s interesting to note that the two greatest doubters in the tradition of the Bible, Gideon and Thomas, were rewarded, not punished, for having doubted.

You may remember the story of “Gideon and his brave three hundred.” One day Gideon got the word from God, we are told, to rise up and overthrow the Mideonites who had established sway over Israel for generations. “How can I tell,” asked Gideon, “that it’s your word, Lord, that I’m hearing and not my own imagination or wishful thinking?”

The answer came back, to set out a sheep fleece that night and check it in the morning. So Gideon did. In the morning, the fleece was dry, while the grass was soaked with dew. “Well, Lord, that’s very interesting, but….”

The answer came back, to set that fleece out again and to check the results in the morning. So he did. According to the story, in the morning the fleece was soaking wet with dew while the grass all around was bone dry. So he acted on the rest of his message and was rewarded with a most extraordinary victory….

Likewise, by the other story, if “Doubting Thomas” hadn’t put his hands in Jesus’s wounds, Christianity could not have spread nearly so rapidly nor far. For his doubts, Thomas was rewarded with sainthood, not punished.

Thus even in Biblical tradition, the basis of most of the established religions which are exhorting unswerving belief, the most outstanding instances of doubt are rewarded, not punished. All our human-instrumented information needs to be verified, whatever its apparent source. By now, with the bloodstained pages of history lying all about, we don’t need to continue imposing our unverified certainties on each other. Check things out as you go.

Compare the fields of human endeavor which have advanced in the last thousand years – notably empirical science and technology – with those which have not, notably politics and religion. To progress, we have to be willing to risk our beliefs and put matters to test.

So please don’t hesitate to ask your inner processes, “How can I tell if I’m understanding the right answer here?” or “How best can I test this to make sure it is so?” And be alert to some opportunities to check out your answers by other means as well, including conventionally gathered empirical and scientific data.

Frankly — and this reflects the central theme and purpose of these “winsights” briefs — over the years easily ninety per cent or more of everything I’ve been taught has been contradicted by direct observation. I suspect that a majority of what you or anyone has been taught is likewise contrary to what direct observation will show. Frankly, I trust what I can see for myself far better than I trust what I’ve been taught or “what everyone knows.” By now, with all that has happened to and in our country, so should you.

Once verified, though, please note: an answer is not a solution until it is acted upon, and put into effect!

The easiest thing for many in the creativity field to do is settle for some easy generality as answer, and leave matters there. Your challenge is to move beyond such easy generality to action plans and action specifics and an immediate Step One from among those specifics and beyond.

Whether using a garden, park, wilderness, or perhaps one of the “running-start devices” among our “back-up procedures” (if you didn’t get mental pictures, send us your ground-mail address with that request and we’ll send them to you for free, NO one has to go without!!!); or whether using wall, screen, window-shade, curtains, door, thicket or other screening device to insulate your Answer Space until it’s time to suddenly go land in it and catch your first impressions of what’s there–

–Whatever the details of your preferred or present version of this post-Einsteinian “Over-the-Wall” discovering process:

  1. Pose and write down a significant question or problem or issue beforehand so that the experience can show you its solution;
  2. Remember during the experience to orient on some one particular feature, ask it why it’s there in that context – watch and describe what changes occur in the scene in answer to that;
  3. Ask to be shown another scene which shows you exactly the same answer to the same question but in an entirely different way;
  4. Remember to use your follow-up questions to verify your answer, and to develop specific actions. Remember that when you don’t know what you should be asking, ask what it is you should be asking, and its best answer. Remember to ask what more you need to know about that context…..