The Big Idea: 

  1. If you changing how you look at something, it helps you understand people or ideas that are different from your own. This is called empathy. 
  2. You can come up with new ideas to solve problems or get inspiration if you change your perspective.


Step 1: Ask everyone to stand up and hold a pencil.

Step 2: Have them hold the pencil straight up in the air, and pretend to draw a circle on the ceiling, in a clockwise direction. Tell them to keep drawing the circle and looking up. (Do a quick visual check that everyone is going clockwise.)

Step 3: Act out the motion with them and say, "Now slowly continue to draw the circle clockwise, bring the pencil down a few inches at a time until it is in front of your face. Continue to circle the pencil, and slowly bring it down until you are looking down on top of it. Continue to draw the circle while looking down on it."

Step 4: Ask the group, "What direction is the pencil moving?" (It will be a counter clockwise direction at this point. If people say "clockwise," ask them to try it again.)

Note: Some people lose the integrity of the circle as they bring it down. If you notice this ask them to start over and encourage them to practice "drawing" the circle on the ceiling several times before moving down.


Ask the group, "so what happened?" The initial responses tend to range from the insightful ("what changed is my perspective") to the incredulous and funny. After people have had a chance to try it again, most of them will see that what changed as they brought the pencil down was not the direction of the pencil, but their perspective or vantage point. Have the students share examples about when they were able to shift perspective and see something from a new vantage point.

In relationship to Creative Power, the exercise illustrates how:

  1. Changing your perspective is often simpler than we might imagine. Seeing problems from multiple perspectives is essential when we are trying to solve hard problems. 
  2. Having empathy is a sign of strength and self-awareness. Also by shifting the way we see something, we are able to come up with much more interesting new ideas. 

Exercise adapted from the Systems Thinking Playbook
by Linda Booth Sweeney and Dennis Meadows (2001). The book is available through Chelsea Green Publishers. For an educator’s discount, contact: