The Zero Based Approach

By Dan Coulter Ever talked to someone who complains about a problem, and then shoots down every idea you have to solve it? Of course you have. Ever done this yourself? Of course, maybe. It's easy for any of us to get locked into a way of thinking that makes it difficult to solve problems. It's especially hard when you've tried a number of fixes that didn't work, and then have someone suggest those very fixes. Unfortunately, it's easy to take a wrong turn at that point and be convinced a problem can't have a solution. Part of this can be an unconscious mental defense. It can make us feel dumb to have someone point out a solution we didn't think of ourselves. Without meaning to, our minds can look for reasons that someone else's suggestions won't work. This can be a particular problem if you have Asperger Syndrome, or if you're dealing with someone who has Asperger Syndrome. Sometimes, people with Asperger Syndrome bring a different perspective to a problem and see innovative solutions others can't. But they also can sometimes be unable to recognize solutions that others see as obvious. One way to tackle this problem is what I'll call a zero-based approach, or a zero-baggage approach. You could call either a ZBA. Using a ZBA, you give yourself permission to let go of your preconceived notions, and consider all the ways a suggestion could work, rather than immediately focusing on why it won't or can't. While it's true that sometimes outsiders can't see the whole problem you're facing, it can't hurt to listen. You can analyze suggestions and see if there are any building blocks there you could use. Time can be a factor. A solution that might not have worked in the past, might work now because circumstances have changed – or because you tweak the solution to fit the situation. Or, someone else may see something you can't. If you have a child with Asperger Syndrome, the ZBA can be an invaluable skill to teach him or her. You might want to share the example of the Star Wars battle scene where the voice of Obi Wan Kanobi tells Luke Skywalker to let go and use The Force to hit a target that will blow up the Death Star. It goes against Luke's impulses. But he overcomes his preconceived notions, tries Obi Wan's solution, and is wildly successful. There is also power in the way we ask questions. Self-help guru Tony Robbins says asking better questions engages your mind's creativity. For example, asking yourself, “Why do I always fail at this difficult task?” makes you look for reasons you can't succeed. Asking yourself how you could succeed is better. But asking yourself how you could succeed in a way you enjoy and that could attract the attention of your parent, teacher, or boss -- is even better yet. It supercharges your thought process by engaging your mind with an incentive. Going back to our the idea that it's a good thing to get input on a problem, let me share an example from my own family. When I was working as a video producer for AT&T, I got a cool assignment. AT&T and The Disney Company were part of a presidential working group chaired by Vice-President Al Gore to help people learn about the potential of the Internet. AT&T and Disney volunteered to produce a video to help raise awareness, and I was the AT&T supervisor on the project. I thought up different approaches. Maybe we could do a “Back to the Future” parody and use actor Christopher Lloyd, who played Doc Brown in the movie. I mentioned this idea to my wife, who mentioned it to our 11 year old son, Drew, who has Asperger Syndrome. Drew responded, “Back to the Future was made by Universal. If you're working with Disney, you should use Bill Nye the Science Guy, because his show is produced by Disney.” The suggestion was great. I passed it along, giving Drew credit. AT&T and Disney bought off on it, and we contracted with Bill Nye's production company to create, “The National Information Infrastructure and You” starring Bill Nye. You can see this program on Youtube: While there were numerous people at AT&T, Disney and Bill Nye's production company involved in making the program, it started with an idea from an 11 year old boy with Asperger Syndrome. Good ideas can come from anywhere. Using a ZBA and keeping ourselves open to other people's input increases our chances of finding the best possible solution to any problem. And for those of us with Asperger Syndrome, it's a bonus that really listening and considering other people's ideas is a great way to get them to listen to and consider ours. May the ZBA Force be – and stay – with you. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the author of the book, "Life in the Asperger Lane" and thirteen videos about Aspeger Syndrome and autism. The videos are available both as DVDs and downloads. You can find more information at

Copyright 2013 Dan Coulter Used By Permission All Rights Reserved

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