Some Rocks Float: Cracking the Code of Transformational Problem Solving

E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.Decision Making, Strategic Intuition


Years ago I attended a seminar on problem solving. I no longer remember a single thing the speaker said except one provocative statement: Some rocks float.

Strategic Intuition sparks all truly transformational business solutions. It springs from your ability to embrace a completely counterintuitive or serendipitous perspective, like that statement, and use it to completely change the game.

Here’s one recent example of a transformational solution derived from such seemingly contrarian thinking: At this very moment, the FDA is considering approving poop as an “investigational new drug.”


Yes, you should still wash your hands after using the bathroom, but as it turns out once you get past the eeewww factor a, um, “fecal transplant” from a healthy donor can be profoundly curative for severe colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and Crohn’s disease. After the fact, it seems obvious: Volcanic pumice floats. A healthy digestive ecosystem cures intestinal disease.

However, until the shift occurs our biases and assumptions not only blind us to the obvious, they blind us to our blind spot. This has been scientifically proven.

In a famous demonstration described by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons in their book The Invisible Gorilla, viewers are shown a film of basketball players passing a ball. Half wear white shirts and the other half wear black. Viewers are instructed to count the number of times players on the white team pass the ball, ignoring the players wearing black. The task demands their undivided attention.

Halfway through the video, someone crosses the room and stands in the middle of the milling basketball players, remaining visible on screen for nine seconds before exiting. Wearing a gorilla suit, they even pound on their chest to be more obvious.

Here’s what fascinates me: Half the people watching the film not only don’t notice the gorilla, they are quite certain it couldn’t have been there. Their attention is elsewhere, so for them the gorilla doesn’t exist.

Though it sounds very Zen, it is absolutely true that our attention determines our awareness, and our awareness determines our reality. What if your most intractable business problem has a solution staring you in the face? What if your assumptions and worldview are blinding you to the obvious? What if your attention is so intently focused on the wrong thing that brilliant alternatives go unnoticed?

Last week’s feature article, Creative Thinking for Transformational Problem Solving, gives simple strategies for creating the flexible mindset needed in creating solutions that are not just incremental, but game changing. Go back and take another look, choosing at least one business situation you can experiment with this coming week. When I did that I developed a whole new marketing strategy. Watch for a description and a full report on how that’s working in a couple of months.

Meanwhile, I know you’re dying of curiosity. Click here to watch the Invisible Gorilla video.

E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.

E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.
Managing Partner
The Cogent Executive LLC

Ann Hollier provides strategic consulting and performance coaching to high achieving senior executives and management teams. She specializes in change management, strategic planning and implementation, leadership development, and building world-class collaborative teams. Learn more at

E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.Some Rocks Float: Cracking the Code of Transformational Problem Solving