Retro Gas Station
October 30, 2012

Thought Puzzles And Creative Thinking

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. – Albert Einstein

As part of my ongoing commentary on the skills needed to become a scientist – and what one can do to advance these skills – I’m launching a weekly item on Thought Puzzles. One of the key elements to being a scientist is having the ability to think deeply, critically, analytically and creatively about problems. I’ll cover each of these notions individually in later posts, but for now I want to offer a question for your consideration: How many gas stations are in the United States?

Of course, most of you are likely aware of a thing called Google and could find the answer in a matter of moments. However, that is escaping the point of this exercise.

This question first became famous as an interview question, usually when they were looking for new scientists and engineers. The goal of the question was not to necessarily elicit the exact answer, but to see how the interviewee approached the problem. What assumptions did they make? What basic pieces of information were they able to combine to arrive at an answer?

Such questions really have one purpose: challenge the listener (or reader) to think deeply, analytically and creatively about something and see what they come up with.

So I put the question to you; ask your friends, parents, children and co-workers. And I encourage you to post your solutions to the question in the comments section below. Later in the week I will post at least one approach to answering the question and may even quote some of your creative answers. Then come back next week for a new Thought Puzzle.

Image Credit: Coronado /

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