Help From Sherlock Holmes

If you’ve read any accounts of how Sherlock Holmes solved crime cases, you know he didn’t rely heavily on the technology available to him at the time. Instead, he trusted his uncanny ability to use his imagination to establish patterns and relationships.

One of the best examples of that is Silver Blaze, one of Holmes’s more well known cases described in Arthur Conan Doyle’s book, Memories of Sherlock Holmes. In it, Holmes and Watson, his assistant, are investigating an incident in which a man was killed. Holmes picked up on the fact that because the inspector lacked imagination, he had failed to recognize the crucial importance of what, at the time, appeared to be nothing more than an otherwise innocent fact.

Imagination used to solve a possible murder?  There’s a bit more insight there than meets the eye. If the dog that the inspector mentioned in his report had been at the specified location, it would have barked if the suspect had been prowling around in the middle of the night as was claimed So, the fact that the dog didn’t bark was critically important in the solving of the case.

You would agree that whether you’re home or at work, you normally use hard facts to solve problems and make decisions. It would never occur to you to use your imagination. To regard imagination in such a superficial way, though, misses the point by a country mile.

From dullard to brilliant, all of us are born with the power to imagine. Watch a child at play, and you’ll see that to them, a simple object can be anything they want it to be and do anything they want it to do. That stuffed bear really can talk. That toy airplane really can fly!

Now add this: Your environment enhances your imagination. The more you experience, the more curious you’ll become. With that curiosity comes greater imagination which then spills over into your everyday life.

That will cause you to ask yourself such questions as: What if I did it this way or how would I be affected if this happened or to carry it to extreme, what’s the worst thing that could happen if I did this?

Such a “what if” approach isn’t limited only to personal issues. It can also have tremendous value in the workplace regardless of the size of the business. By merely asking such questions, you’ll be using your imagination to project forward, to suggest a situation, happening or condition that could exist but likely never has. Using the imagination to either solve a problem or launch a project can be particularly helpful in a group situation because it causes others to abandon the usual line of reasoning in favor of striking out on a new path of thought.

I’ve used that technique while interviewing people. I’d take what they had told me about their situation or operation and use it to fire my own imagination. That, in turn, led to me giving them ideas they might try or steps they might take leading to even greater results.

Magical have been those times when the other person has paused then said something like, “Hmmmmm.  Strange you should mention that. I’ve never thought of that before.” That most often occurred when my idea was so simple and logical that the other person had overlooked it.

Imagination can be used at any time, applied to any problem. All you need to do is properly guide it so it complements what you are attempting to learn and achieve.

As Holmes was so famous for saying to his associate, “That’s elementary, my dear Watson, elementary.”