This article explains the “Question the Premise” method of thinking, which often leads to creative solutions for problems. It is a specific application of Edward DeBono’s “Provocative Operation” lateral thinking technique. We use “Question the Premise” at Truly Free School as we consider the administrative aspects of running the school, as well as training students to use it as they pursue independent projects.
Given a certain problem to solve, propose a solution that bypasses the problem by questioning the premise the problem is based on, affirming the opposite premise.
A school is struggling to get students to arrive on time in the morning. They have tried many methods of achieving greater timeliness: incentives for arriving early; negative consequences for arriving late; frequent reminders of the importance of being on time, etc. None of these methods have yielded the results they hoped for. In order to use the “Question the Premise” technique, those looking to solve the problem must bypass the original problem by questioning the premise the problem is based on – namely, that students should arrive on time – and instead suggesting the opposite premise, as a starting point for creative thinking, “students can arrive at whatever time they choose, and do not need to arrive at a particular time”. This could lead to creative solutions, such as self-selected staggered start times in the morning; or simply requiring that students attend school for any of the 6 hours out of the 8 hours that the school is open; or moving to an asynchronous, online model of education; etc. Any one of these solutions might not work for that particular school, but by “Questioning the Premise” they have opened their minds up to new ideas and potential solutions that might not have been explored if the old premise had been assumed.