Switch or Stay?

How to use both creative thinking and analytical skills to achieve better results
(+ give your children an intelligent Christmas!)


by Andrew Grant

You might like to try playing a game with your children next birthday or Christmas – a game where they have to use their brain to receive a present from you! In this game, there are 3 beautifully wrapped boxes under the tree, 2 boxes containing a picture of a goat and one containing a very expensive present from you. You ask your children to choose which box they think has the most expensive present (they are not allowed to shake or feel the boxes). They can point to any of the three to make their choice. Then, before they make their final commitment, you say you are going to make it easier for them. You open one of the boxes which you know does not contain the expensive gift and show them that box only has a picture of a goat, and remove it from under the tree. Now comes the part where they have to think. Ask them whether they want to stick with the original box they chose, or whether they would rather switch to the other remaining box. Tell them that they only get to keep what’s in the box – whether it is the present or the picture of a goat!

Will the children stay with their original choice or switch? This is an old dilemma that has been explored in a number of different ways over the years.

This dilemma has reappeared many times in history, including in a famous TV game show, but originally it was known as Bertrand’s Box Paradox (1889). If you think that your kids just lost the chance to get an expensive present from you, you may be interested to know that when the above statement of the problem and the solution appeared in the magazine Parade, approximately 10,000 readers, including nearly 1,000 with PhDs, wrote to the magazine claiming the published solution was wrong. Even though the facts were made very clear, most people could not go against their initial gut instincts. They weren’t able to open themselves up to other possibilities.


Following are some interesting outcomes from this experiment that can help us to improve our creative thinking and analytical skills:


Sometimes when the facts are shown in black and white, we stick with our gut instinct instead of being prepared to explore other options. We are so convinced that we are right, that we become blinded to where we might wrong. But we can improve processes only if we are actively looking for ways to improve. Too often we settle for where we are at rather than thinking about where we might need to be. Making the jump from what our emotions tend to tell us to the reality of the situation can be difficult. When faced with the above dilemma many people simply freeze up and cannot make a decision – most people stick with what is familiar and do not switch. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely believes that people’s biases are rarely altered even by their vast experience or when the facts are staring them in the face.


Psychologists call the type of mistake that people make in this dilemma the ‘availability bias’ because in reconstructing the past, we give unwarranted importance to memories that are most vivid and hence most available for retrieval.

When we are in the grasp of an illusion—or, for that matter, whenever we have a new idea—instead of searching for ways to prove our ideas wrong, we usually attempt to prove them correct. Psychologists call this the ‘confirmation bias’, and it presents a major impediment to our ability to break free.


The way we perceive ideas in our mind makes a huge difference to the extent to which we can connect with them. A picture of a goat may not ignite the imagination – while the anticipation of an expensive present may In order to make the jump from just ideas to reality we may need to visualize the end result. This type of transition from perception to action in the workplace or in personal life can be a challenge for many people, but for creativity to be effective it needs a grounding, a vision, and a directed action. People, teams and organizations not only need to be think creatively but also to learn how to innovate and turn ideas into practical actions through using their imagination productively. .


Possessing information offers no advantage in life, as much as our education system may encourage us to believe this. And m emorization is not the most important skill. Instead, it is the ability to use information well which differentiates successful people from others. This requires a combination of both creative thinking and problem-solving, of imagination and focused logic of abstract thinking and analysis : t he ability to use both the left and right brain.
As Dan Pink has said, “When facts become widely available they become less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in CONTEXT and deliver them with EMOTIONAL impact.”  


As Merriman and Bronson explain in The Creativity Crisis, “Creativity requires constant shifting, blender pulses of both divergent thinking and convergent thinking, to combine new information with old and forgotten ideas. Highly creative people are very good at marshalling their brains into bilateral mode, and the more creative they are, the more they dual-activate. When you try to solve a problem, you begin by concentrating on obvious facts and familiar solutions, to see if the answer lies there. This is a mostly left-brain stage of attack. If the answer doesn’t come, the right and left hemispheres of the brain activate together. Neural networks on the right side scan remote memories that could be vaguely relevant. A wide range of distant information that is normally tuned out becomes available to the left hemisphere, which searches for unseen patterns, alternative meanings, and high-level abstractions.”


Many companies like to talk about creativity. What company these days would say they are NOT creative or don’t innovate? Creativity is embraced because it sounds like fun (and appears to be low cost). But if you open your mind too far, it used to be said, your brain will fall out! So companies embrace creativity (ideas) and hope that innovation (action) will happen by osmosis.  (Richard Watson). To foster real creativity companies need to allow the ambiguity of individuals and teams to embrace both their creative and analytical skills: when they do, the results can be amazing.
Every time we run our simulation, ‘The Chocolate Factory’ we watch a team redesign a process (left brain) using their creative skills (right brain) and the end result is a 200 %+ improvement in revenue and increased morale. Helping people to see beyond what they think is just one of the many advantages of embracing creativity, even for analytical processes. Creativity helps people see beyond what is assumed. We can improve processes only if we are actively looking for ways to improve AND if we can seamlessly jump between the analytical and creative parts of our brain.

Learning to deal with ambiguity and address the perception biases we tend to experience is critical to creative problem solving. When it comes to coming up with the best solutions, thinking outside the box suddenly takes on a whole new meaning.



By the way – is receiving a goat as a present actually all that bad? We just gave a goat to our daughter for her birthday, and she said it was the best present she had ever received. Why? Because the goat was for a village in Africa. Did you know that giving brings more happiness than receiving? Something to think about when you next need to give a gift. So it seems all 3 boxes can bring happiness! (Give a goat for your next present http://www.oxfamunwrapped.com.au/gift-94-goat )


The answer to stay or switch with a full explanation and even a chance to try it yourself can be read below.

Stay or Switch Solution:

You should always switch as you are twice as likely to win the reading if you switch with the chances increased from one third to two thirds by changing. (*The dilemma: originally called the Bertrand’s Box Paradox and later known as the Monty Hall problem is a probability puzzle loosely based on the American television game show Let’s Make a Deal where the contestants could choose between a car or 2 goats behind hidden doors.)

Let’s say I will always put the present in box C. C is our winning box.  Two out of three times, you will first choose A or B and be wrong.  That means that two out of three times, if you think about it, I have no choice which of the remaining two to open and remove, as one of the two boxes you leave for me to choose between will be the winning box C. If you choose A, l must open B and that  leaves C, and if you choose B, I must open A and leave C. In both cases I am avoiding the winning box. In both cases you should switch to the one I avoid because it will be the winning box. On the rare occasion (one out of three) when you are knowingly pick the winning box C straight away, I can then either open A or B, and of course you should not switch. But that is only one out of three cases.

*If you always switch doors after Monty Hall reveals a goat, then your odds of winning are two-in-three, or 66.7 percent on average. If you keep your original choice, your chances of winning are just one-in-three, or 33 percent on average. That seems weird, because after Monty reveals a goat, there are two closed doors left, and it might seem as if there should be a 50-50 chance that the car is behind either door. To help explain, let’s look at the situation from the other side, so we have as much information as Monty Hall does. The critical aspect of the problem is that Monty Hall always opens a door to reveal one of the goats. If you correctly chose the door with the car at the start, he can open either of the other doors to reveal a goat. If you accept his offer to switch doors, you will switch away from your winning choice and end up with a goat. So far, switching doesn’t sound like a winning strategy.

But look what happens if your initial choice of door was hiding a goat. If you picked the middle door, Monty Hall opens the third door to show you a goat. In this case, if you switch doors, you switch to the door hiding the car. The same situation applies if you chose the third door initially. (Remember, Monty Hall knows where the car is and needs to open a door that will reveal a goat.) Again, switching from your initial choice to the other closed door means you trade a goat for a car. If your strategy is to always switch doors, you will lose only if your initial choice is the door with the car, which is a 33.3 percent chance. In the other two cases (66.7 percent of the time) you will switch to the car and walk away a winner.

Have a try yourself http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/08/science/08monty.html?_r=2

References Derren Brown, ‘Tricks of the Mind ‘
The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely
Also see

One Response to “Switch or Stay?”

  1. I can easily go along with that

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