THE WORLD IS NOT BLACK OR WHITE, IT IS GREY

any ideas

Some time ago I received a call from a friend. He told me a physics student got a zero for his answer to a physics question, while the student claimed a perfect score. The instructor and the student agreed to an impartial arbiter, and the instructor selected my friend.

The examination question: “SHOW HOW IT IS POSSIBLE TO DETERMINE THE HEIGHT OF A TALL BUILDING WITH THE AID OF A BAROMETER.” The student had answered, “Take the barometer to the top of the building, attach a long rope to it, lower it to the street, and then bring it up, measuring the length of the rope. The length of the rope is the height of the building.” The student really had a strong case for full credit since he had really answered the question completely and correctly! On the other hand, if full credit were given, it could well contribute to a high grade in his physics course and to certify competence in physics, but the answer did not confirm this.

My friend suggested that the instructor let the student have another try. He gave the student six minutes to answer the question with the warning that the answer should show some knowledge of physics. At the end of five minutes, he had not written anything. The student said he had many answers to this problem; he was just thinking of the best one. In the next minute, he dashed off his answer which read: “Take the barometer to the top of the building and lean over the edge of the roof. Drop the barometer, timing its fall with a stopwatch. Then, using the formula x=0.5*a*t^^2, calculate the height of the building.” At this point, the professor conceded and gave the student full credit.

My friend recalled that the student had said that he had other answers to the problem, so he asked him what they were. “Well,” said the student, “there are many ways of getting the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer. For example, you could take the barometer out on a sunny day and measure the height of the barometer, the length of its shadow, and the length of the shadow of the building, and by the use of simple proportion, determine the height of the building. Another way is a very basic measurement method. In this method, you take the barometer and begin to walk up the stairs. As you climb the stairs, you mark off the length of the barometer along the wall. You then count the number of marks, and this will give you the height of the building in barometer units.” “A very direct method.” “Of course. If you want a more sophisticated method, you can tie the barometer to the end of a string, swing it as a pendulum, and determine the value of g at the street level and at the top of the building. From the difference between the two values of g, the height of the building, in principle, can be calculated.” “On this same tact, you could take the barometer to the top of the building, attach a long rope to it, lower it to just above the street, and then swing it as a pendulum. You could then calculate the height of the building by the period of the precession”.

“Finally,” he concluded, “there are many other ways of solving the problem. Probably the best,” he said, “is to take the barometer to the basement and knock on the superintendent’s door. When the superintendent answers, you speak to him as follows: ‘Mr. Superintendent, here is a fine barometer. If you will tell me the height of the building, I will give you this barometer.”

THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT ANSWER.

HAYSTACK

Albert Einstein compared the way he thought with the way the average person is taught to think. “When the average person is asked to find the needle in a haystack, he or she will stop once they find a needle. I, on the other hand, will go through the entire haystack looking for all the possible needles.”

Reality is ambiguous. Aristotle said it is either A or not A. It cannot be both. The sky is either blue or not blue. This is black and white thinking as the sky is a billion different shades of blue. A beam of light is either a wave or not a wave (A or not A). Physicists discovered that light can be either a wave or particle depending on the viewpoint of the observer. The only certainty in life is uncertainty. When trying to get ideas, do not censor or evaluate them as they occur. Nothing kills creativity faster than self-censorship of ideas while generating them. Think of all your ideas as possibilities and generate as many as you can before you decide which ones to select. The world is not black or white. It is grey.

Here is a link to reviews of Michael Michalko’s books about creative thinking. Learn how to change the way you think to get the ideas you need to change your life.

http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs

The Paradox of Expertise

 

I have always been intrigued by the paradox of expertise. It seems that the more expert one becomes in an area of specialization, the less creative and innovative that person becomes. The paradox is that people who know more, see less; and the people who know less, see more. Apple Computer Inc. founder, Steve Jobs, attempted, without success, to get Atari and Hewlett-Packard interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer. As Steve recounts, “So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary; we’ll come work for you.’ And their experts laughed and said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.”  What is it that freezes the expert’s thought and makes it difficult to consider new things that deviate from their theories?

The figure below illustrates a series of progressively modified drawings that change almost imperceptibly from a man into a woman.

man to woman - Copy (2)

 

When test subjects are shown the entire series of drawings one by one, their perception of this intermediate drawing is biased according to which end of the series they started from. Test subjects who start by viewing a picture that is clearly a man are biased in favor of continuing to see a man long after an “objective observer” (an observer who has seen only a single picture) recognizes that the man is now a woman. Similarly, test subjects who start at the woman end of the series are biased in favor of continuing to see a woman. Once an observer has formed an image–that is, once he or she has developed an expectation concerning the subject being observed–this influences their future perceptions of the subject.

Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., thought the idea of a personal computer absurd, as he said, “there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry, was ridiculed by every scientist for his revolutionary liquid-fueled rockets. Even the New York Times chimed in with an editorial in 1921 by scientists who claimed that Goddard lacked even the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high school science classes. Pierrre Pachet, a renowned physiology professor and expert, declared “Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.” If we experience any strain in imagining a possibility, we quickly conclude it’s impossible. This principle also helps explain why evolutionary change often goes unnoticed by the expert. The greater the commitment of the expert to their established view, the more difficult it is for the expert to do anything more than to continue repeating their established view. It also explains the phenomenon of a beginner who comes up with the breakthrough insight or idea that was overlooked by the experts who worked on the same problem for years. There is also a tendency to assimilate new data into pre-existing images.

In the early 1900s, Psychologist Cheves W. Perky demonstrated this principle in several experiments. She would ask a group of subjects to form a mental image of a banana, and to mentally project it on a blank wall. She then surreptitiously projected a very dim slide of a banana. Anyone coming into the room sees the slide immediately, but the subjects did not. Perky claimed that the subjects incorporated the slide into their mental image of a banana. State-of-the-art experiments have borne out what is now called the Perky effect: holding a mental image interferes with perception and understanding. This is why experts always assimilate new insights, ideas and concepts into their view. Their mental image of the established view interferes with their perception and understanding of new ideas and concepts. In the case of the Perky experiment with the slide of a banana, the students did not see the slide. In the case of real life, physicists could not see Einstein’s theory of relativity because of their established, accepted view. For years, they tried to incorporate his view into the established view without success.

What happened in this experiment is what happens in real life; despite ambiguous stimuli, people form some sort of tentative hypothesis about what they see. The longer they are exposed to this blurred image, the greater confidence they develop in this initial and perhaps erroneous impression, the greater the impact this initial hypothesis has on subsequent perceptions.

If you survey the history of science, it is apparent that most individuals who have created radical innovations did not do so simply because they knew more than others. One of the most important experiences Noble laureate, Richard Feynman, had in his life was reading a copy of the James Watson’s typescript of what was to become his famous book, The Double Helix, about his discovery, together with Francis Crick, of the structure of DNA. Feynman had become unproductive and began to believe he had run out of ideas. The discovery Feynman made was that Watson had been involved in making such a fundamental advance in science, and yet he had been completely out of touch with what everybody else in his field was doing. As told in Watson’s classic memoir, “The Double Helix,” it was a tale of boundless ambition, impatience with authority and disdain, if not contempt, for received opinion. “A goodly number of scientists,” Watson explained, “are not only narrow-minded and dull but also just stupid.”

Feynman wrote one word, in capitals: DISREGARD on his notepad when he read that. This word became his motto. That, he said, was the whole point. That was what he had forgotten, and why he had been making so little progress. The way for thinkers like himself to make a breakthrough was to be ignorant of what everybody else was doing and make their own interpretations and guesses.

So Feynman “stopped trying to keep up with what others were doing and went back to his roots, comparing experiment with theory, making guesses that were all his own.” Thus he became creative again, as he had been when he had just been working things out for himself, before becoming a famous physicist in academia. While this is an important lesson for science, it is a supreme lesson for any discipline where “current knowledge” can be dominated that are simply incoherent, overlooked by the experts who worked on the same problem for years.

Make your own interpretations of your experiences to shape your own beliefs and concepts about your world. This is the lesson Feynman called the most important of his life.

Thinking outside the box

 

 

Learn How to Expand Your Imagination to Produce Novel and Original Ideas

Before you read this article, take a moment and imagine all the things that the figure above might represent.

I have no doubt that you will come up with several fascinating ideas. However, once the figures are given names and meanings, it is almost impossible to look at them and have the same perception which existed before you knew what it was. The names and meanings fixate you along a certain line of thought.  If I had first described the figure as the rear view of a washerwoman on her hands and knees washing a floor, and then asked you to list alternative explanations, your list would be minimal and much less creative.

A great deal of our education may be regarded as the inculcation of mindsets. We were taught how to handle problems and new phenomena with fixed mental attitudes (based on what past thinkers thought) that pre-determine our response to problems or situations. Consequently, we tend to process information the same way over and over again instead of searching for alternative ways. Once we think we know what works or can be done, it becomes hard for us to consider alternative ideas. We tend to develop narrow ideas and stick with them until proven wrong.

Creative thinking requires the generation of alternative perspectives. One can always look at a system from different levels of abstraction to create different perspectives. A very fine-grained description of a beach would include every position of every grain of sand. Viewed from a higher vantage point, the details become smeared together, the grains become a smooth expanse of brown. At this level of description, different qualities emerge: the shape of the coastline, the height of the dunes, and so on.

In the 1950s, experts believed that the ocean-going freighter was dying. Costs were rising, and it took longer and longer to get merchandise delivered. The shipping industry experts built faster ships that required less fuel and downsized the crew. Costs still kept going up, but the industry kept focusing its efforts on reducing specific costs related to ships while at sea and doing work.

A ship is capital equipment and the biggest cost for the capital equipment is the cost of not working, because interest has to be paid without income being generated to pay for it. Finally, a consultant abstracted the essence of the problem which is to “reduce costs.” This allowed them to consider all aspects of shipping, including loading and stowing. The innovation that saved the industry was to separate loading from stowing, by doing the loading on land, before the ship is in port. It is much quicker to put on and take off preloaded freight. The answer was the roll-on, roll-off ship and the container ship. Port time has been reduced by three quarters, and with it, congestion and theft. Freighter traffic has increased fivefold since this innovation and costs are down by over 60%.

Abstraction is one of the most basic principles used by creative geniuses to restructure problems so they could look at them in different ways. For instance, the standard procedure in physical science is to make observations or to collect systematic data and to derive principles and theories. Einstein despaired of creating new knowledge from already existing knowledge. How, he thought, can the conclusion go beyond the premise? So, he reversed this procedure and worked at a higher level of abstraction. This bold stance enabled him to creatively examine first principles (e.g., the constancy of speed of light independent of relative motion). The abstractions that others were not willing to accept because they could not be demonstrated by experimentation, Einstein took as his starting premise and simply reasoned from them.

Even Galileo used thought experiments to abstract to a possible world in which a vacuum exists. In this way, he could propose the astounding hypothesis that all objects fall through a vacuum with the same acceleration regardless of their weight. There were no laboratory vacuums large enough to demonstrate this spectacular idea until years after Galileo’s death. Today, this demonstration is standard fare in many science museums, where there are two evacuated columns in which a brick and feather released at the same moment fall side by side and hit the floor together.

Consider the incredible opportunity that the U.S. Postal Service and UPS both missed by failing to create an “overnight” delivery service. Their entire focus was on using established systems and theories to create the service. If, for instance, using the established system you want to connect one hundred markets with one another, and if you do it all with direct point-to-point deliveries, it will take one hundred times ninety-nine — or 9,900 — direct deliveries. They failed to look for alternative ideas and simply concluded that the cost was prohibitive. There was no way they could make it economically feasible.

It took an individual who looked at the problem in a different way to solve the problem. After a tour of duty with the Marines in Vietnam, Fred Smith returned home in 1971 to find that computers were becoming an indispensable part of doing business and delivery systems were not keeping up with the increased demand for speed and reliability when delivering computer parts. Fred abstracted the problem from delivery services to one of “movement.” How do things move?  He thought about how information is moved, and how banks move money around the world. Both information systems and banks, he discovered, put all points in a network and connect them through a central hub. He decided to create a delivery system — Federal Express, now known as FedEx — that operates essentially the way information and bank clearinghouses do. He realized that a hub-and-spoke network could create an enormous number of connections more efficiently than a point-to-point delivery system. The delivery system he conceived used both airplanes and trucks, which was unheard of at the time. His system was 100 times more efficient than existing systems at the time and was subsequently employed in, of course, all air cargo delivery systems in the airline industry.

Robert Dilts, an expert in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), wrote about an enlightening experiment in Anchor Point Magazine which was done by gestalt psychologists with a group of dogs. The dogs were trained to approach something when shown a “white” square and avoid it when shown a “gray” square. When the dogs learned this, the experimenters switched to using a gray square and a black square. The dogs immediately shifted to approaching the object in response to the gray square (which had previously triggered avoidance), and avoiding the object when shown the black square (which had not been conditioned to anything). Rather than perceive the gray as an absolute stimulus, the dogs were responding to the deeper essence of “lighter versus darker” as opposed to gray, white or black being properties.

You can train a human to approach something when shown a “white” square and avoid it when shown a “gray” square. When the squares are switched to gray and black, the human will still avoid the “gray” square. Once gray has been defined in our minds, we see the gray as independent and entirely self-contained. This means nothing can interact with it or exert an influence on it. It, in fact, becomes an absolute. We have lost the sensitivity to deeper relationships, functions, and patterns because we are educated to focus on the particulars of experience as opposed to the universals. We see them as independent parts of an objective reality.

All of the experts in the Postal Service and UPS were unable to conceive of alternatives to what existed because they focused on the particulars of existing delivery systems. Fred Smith’s abstraction of the problem from delivery systems to “movement” allowed him to make the relationship between moving money to moving air freight.

When you are searching for ideas, try the technique of abstraction. Think about your subject and decide the universal principle or essence of the subject. Suppose, for example, you want to invent a new can opener: You might decide that the essence of a can opener is “opening things.” Then spend time thinking about how things open in different domains. In nature, for example, pea pods open by ripening. Ripening weakens the seams and the pea pod opens. This inspires the idea of “opening a can by pulling a weak seam (like a pea pod). Instead of an idea to improve the can opener, we produced an idea for a new can design – a can with a weak seam beneath the cover that the user pulls to remove the cover.

This is why if you want to produce something creative, say a creative design for a new automobile, don’t think of an automobile — at least not at first. There is much suggestive evidence that a process of accessing a more abstract definition of a problem can lead to greater creativity and innovation than the more typical ways.

This is the creative strategy of some of the world’s leading creative designers, including Kenton Wiens, architect Arthur Ericson, and Martin Skalski, director of the transportation design sequence at Pratt Institute. Skalski, for example, doesn’t tell students to design an automobile or study various automobile designs on the market. Instead, he begins the design process by having them draw abstract compositions of things in motion. Then by progressively making the process less abstract, he eventually has them working on the real problem (designing automobiles) tying in the connections between the abstract work and the final model.

Suppose you want to improve the design of the umbrella. If you work with the more abstract definition “protection from the rain,” you are more likely to explore more possibilities including raincoats or even a new type of town design where there are arcades everywhere and umbrellas are no longer required. Or, consider the bookstore owner, for example, who viewed himself as a seller of books, a very specific idea. The trend toward the electronic media put him out of business. On the other hand, if he had viewed himself as a provider of information and entertainment, a more abstract characterization, a switch in the medium would not have been threatening, and it would have opened new opportunities.

BLUEPRINT

(1) Describe an abstract definition of your problem. What is the principle of the problem? What is its essence?
EXAMPLE: Our problem is how to protect rural designer mailboxes from theft and vandalism. The principle is protection.

(2) Brainstorm for ideas on protection generally. Generate a number of different ideas.
EXAMPLE: Think of general ways to protect things.
Place in a bank.
Rustproof it.
Provide good maintenance.
Get an insurance policy.
Hide it.

(3) Restate the problem so that it is slightly less abstract. Again, generate as many solutions as you can.
EXAMPLE: Think of ways to protect things that are outside and vulnerable.
Hire a guard.
Watch it constantly.
Drape it with camouflage.
Put a fence around it.
Keep it well lighted.

(4) Consider the real problem. Use your two abstraction processes’ ideas and solutions as stimuli to generate solutions.

EXAMPLE: The real problem is how to protect rural mailboxes from theft and vandalism. The idea triggered from “get an insurance policy” is to offer an insurance policy to owners of rural mailboxes: $5 a year or $10 for three years to cover the mailbox from theft or destruction.

IMAGINEERED IDEA: By following this approach, progressively stating a problem in less abstract ways, you will eventually be working on a solution to the real problem. The diminishing abstraction of each process guides your focus to the real problem, and its eventual solution.

Learn the creative thinking techniques you need to get the original and novel ideas you need to improve your business and personal lives. Explore the books and publications of Michael Michalko. http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs

ARE YOU A REPRODUCTIVE OR A PRODUCTIVE THINKER?

I became interested in Darwin in college when I read about Darwin’s experience with John Gould. When Darwin returned to England after he visited the Galapagos, he distributed his finch specimens to professional zoologists to be properly identified. One of the most distinguished experts was John Gould. What was the most revealing was not what happened to Darwin, but what had not happened to Gould.

Darwin’s notes show Gould taking him through all the birds he has named. Gould kept flip-flopping back and forth about the number of different species of finches: the information was there, but he didn’t quite know what to make of it. He assumed that since God made one set of birds when he created the world, the specimens from different locations would be identical. It didn’t occur to him to look for differences by location. Gould thought that the birds were so different that they might be distinct species.

What was remarkable to me about the encounter is the completely different impact it had on the two men. Gould thought the way he had been taught to think, like an expert taxonomist, and didn’t see, in the finches, the textbook example of evolution unfolding right before him. Darwin didn’t even know they were finches. So the guy who had the intelligence, knowledge and the expertise didn’t see it, and the guy with far less knowledge and expertise comes up with an idea that shaped the way we think about the world.

Darwin came up with the idea because he was a productive thinker. He generated a multiplicity of perspectives and theories. Gould would compare new ideas and theories with his existing patterns of experience. He thought reproductively. If the ideas didn’t fit with what he had been taught, he rejected them as worthless. On the other hand, Darwin was willing to disregard what past thinkers thought and was willing to entertain different perspectives and different theories to see where they would lead.

Most us are educated to think like John Gould. We were all born as spontaneous, creative thinkers. Yet a great deal of our education may be regarded as the inculcation of mindsets. We were taught how to handle problems and new phenomena with fixed mental attitudes (based on what past thinkers thought) that pre-determine our response to problems or situations. In short, we were taught more “what” to think instead of “how” to think. We entered school as a question mark and graduated as a period.

Consequently, we tend to process information the same way over and over again instead of searching for alternative ways. Once we think we know what works or can be done, it becomes hard for us to consider alternative ideas. We tend to develop narrow ideas and stick with them until proven wrong. Let’s say to advertise our product, we use television commercials during a popular prime time sitcom. We are fairly happy with the results and the television campaign seems to work. Are we going to check out other ideas that we don’t think will be as good or better? Are we likely to explore alternative ways to advertise our product? Probably not.

Even when we actively seek information to test our ideas to see if we are right, we usually ignore paths that might lead us to discover alternatives. Following is an interesting experiment, which was originally conducted by the British psychologist, Peter Watson, that demonstrates this attitude. Watson would present subjects with the following three numbers in sequence.

2    4    6

He would then ask subjects to explain the number rule for the sequence and to give other examples of the rule. The subjects could ask as many questions as they wished without penalty.

He found that almost invariably most people will initially say, “4, 6, 8” or some similar sequence. And Watson would say, yes, that is an example of a number rule. Then they will say, “20, 22, 24″ or “50,52, 54″ and so on– all numbers increasing by two. After a few tries, and getting affirmative answers each time, they are confident that the rule is numbers increasing by two without exploring alternative possibilities.

Actually, the rule Watson was looking for is much simpler– it’s simply numbers increasing. They could be 1, 2, 3 or 10, 20, 40 or 400, 678, 10,944. And testing such an alternative would be easy. All the subjects had to say was 1, 2, 3 to Watson to test it and it would be affirmed. Or, for example, a subject could throw out any series of numbers, for example, 5, 4, 3 to see if they got a positive or negative answer. And that information would tell them a lot about whether their guess about the rule is true.

The profound discovery Watson made was that most people process the same information over and over until proven wrong, without searching for alternatives, even when there is no penalty for asking questions that give them a negative answer. In his hundreds of experiments, he, incredibly, never had an instance in which someone spontaneously offered an alternative hypotheses to find out if it were true. In short, his subjects didn’t even try to find out if there is a simpler or even, another, rule.

Creative geniuses don’t think this way. The creative genius will always look for alternative ways to think about a subject. Even when the old ways are well established, the genius will invent new ways of thinking. If something doesn’t work, they look at it several different ways until they find a new line of thought. It is this willingness to entertain different perspectives and alternative ideas that broadens their thinking and opens them up to new information and the new possibilities that the rest of us don’t see.

In summary, creative geniuses are productive thinkers. To change the way you think and become a more productive thinker, you need to learn how to think like a genius. When you need original ideas or creative solutions for your business and personal problems, you need to:

● Generate a multiplicity of different perspectives about your subject until you find the perspective you want. Genius often comes from finding a new perspective that no one else has taken.

● Generate a large quantity of alternatives and conjectures. From this quantity, retain the best ideas for further development and elaboration.

● Produce variation in your ideas by incorporating random, chance or unrelated factors.

As I wrote these final words, I was reminded of an ancient Chinese story about a rainmaker who was hired to bring rain to a parched part of China. The rainmaker came in a covered cart, a small, wizened, old man who sniffed the air with obvious disgust as he got out of his cart, and asked to be left alone in a cottage outside the village; even his meals were to be left outside the door.
Nothing was heard from him for three days, then it not only rained, but there was also a big downfall of snow, unknown at that time of the year. Very much impressed, the villagers sought him out and asked him how he could make it rain, and even snow. The rainmaker replied, “I have not made the rain or the snow; I am not responsible for it.” The villagers insisted that they had been in the midst of a terrible drought until he came, and then after three days they even had quantities of snow.

“Oh, I can explain that. You see, the rain and snow were always here. But as soon as I got here, I saw that your minds were out of order and that you had forgotten how to see. So I remained here until once more you could see what was always right before your eyes.”

Learn more about Michael Michalko and his books about creative thinking by visiting: http://creativethinking.net/about/#sthash.UHDN22Om.dpbs

YOU SEE THE WORLD AS YOU ARE

One day a traveler was walking along a road on his journey from one village to another. As he walked, he noticed a monk sitting on a boulder beside the road. The monk said “Good day” to the traveler, and the traveler nodded. The traveler then turned to the monk and said “Excuse me, do you mind if I ask you a question?”.

“Not at all,” replied the monk.

“I am travelling from the village in the mountains to the village in the valley and I was wondering if you knew what it is like in the village in the valley?”

“Tell me,” said the monk, “What was your experience in the village in the mountains?”

“Dreadful,” replied the traveler, “to be honest I am glad to be away from there. I found the people most unwelcoming. When I first arrived, I was greeted coldly. I was never made to feel part of the village no matter how hard I tried. The villagers keep very much to themselves, they don’t take kindly to strangers. So, tell me, what can I expect in the village in the valley?”

“I am sorry to tell you,” said the monk, “but I think your experience will be much the same there”.

The traveler hung his head despondently and walked on.

A while later another traveler was journeying down the same road and he also came upon the monk.

“I’m going to the village in the valley,” said the second traveler, “Do you know what it is like?”

“I do,” replied the monk “But first tell me – where have you come from?”

“I’ve come from the village in the mountains.”

“And how was that?”

“It was a wonderful experience. I would have stayed if I could, but I am committed to travelling on. I felt as though I was a member of the family in the village. The elders gave me much advice, the children laughed and joked with me and people were generally kind and generous. I am sad to have left there. It will always hold special memories for me. And what of the village in the valley?” he asked again.

“I think you will find it much the same” replied the monk, “Good day to you”.

“Good day and thank you,” the traveler replied, smiled, and journeyed on.

The monk knew we do not see things as they are; we see them as we are. Perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” Perception implies understanding as well as awareness. It is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality on the basis of information provided them.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Take a look at these two tables. Which one of them do you think is longer, and which one is wider?

It might be hard to believe, but the two tables have the exact same dimensions! Measure both table surfaces with a ruler and prove it to yourself. Why, then, does the table on the left look elongated, while the table on the right appears to have a wider width? The illusion of two tables was first discovered by Roger Shepard at Stanford University.

It comes down to how we perceive the scene. Accustomed as we are to photography and Western art, we automatically interpret the scene as three-dimensional. The concept of perspective, first mastered by artists during the Renaissance, is one we encounter in our everyday lives, and our brains automatically assume that the further away an object is from us, the smaller it will be. To compensate, our brain interprets and “lengthens” lines that appear to be pointing away from us into the distance.

In this scene, the interpretation made by our brain extends the length of the table on the left by making it appear longer and the shorter side of the right-hand table by making it appear wider. Our brain constructs what we perceive based on our past experiences rather than what is there. We see the tables as we are, not as they are.

Perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” Perception is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality by how they interpret their experiences.

Suppose I am walking down a sidewalk and a woman barges into me knocking me off balance and rushes off. I could say she is an aggressive feminist consciously demonstrating her physical superiority over males, or I could say I am getting older and must be more careful how I walk, or I could say the architects poorly designed these walkways for the amount of traffic they bear, or I could say she is probably in a great hurry because of some personal emergency, or I could say I think she’s flirting with me. I give the experience the meaning by how I choose to interpret it.

HOW TO UNSTRUCTURE YOUR IMAGINATION

 

“If at first your idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it.”
…..Albert Einstein

When people use their imagination to develop new ideas, those ideas are heavily structured in predictable ways by the properties of those existing categories and concepts. This is true for scientists, artists, inventors, politicians and business people. Consider the following accident which was reported in The American Railroad Journal in 1835:

“AS A TRAIN WAS APPROACHING THE DEPOT AT PATERSON, AN AXLE OF THE LEADING CAR GAVE WAY, WHICH OVERTURNED THAT AND THE FOLLOWING TWO CARS. NONE OF THE PASSENGERS WERE INJURED, THOUGH THEY FELT THE SHOCK BY THE CONCUSSION. MR. SPEER, THE CONDUCTOR, A VERY INDUSTRIOUS AND SOBER MAN, WAS SEATED ON THE CAR AT THE BREAK, AND UNFORTUNATELY WAS CRUSHED TO DEATH UNDER THE LOAD.”

Mr. Speer was the only casualty. What factors contributed to his untimely death? Certainly, there was the immediate cause — the breaking of the axle and the overturning of the cars — but there is a more subtle cause as well. Note that Mr. Speer was riding on the car, not in it, and that none of the passengers, who were inside, was hurt. Why was he not in the car? What in the world was he doing on top of the car? Speer’s death was the result of a design flaw that required conductors to ride on the outside of cars.

This flaw is an example of the phenomenon of structured imagination. Early designs for railway cars were heavily influenced by the properties of the stagecoach, the most common vehicle of the day. The first railway cars were little more than stagecoaches with wheels on tracks, with no central aisle and designed so that conductors had to ride outside on running boards. The idea of a central aisle was considered odd and even unsanitary, based on the notion that it would become one long spittoon. Finally, as was true of stagecoaches, the brakes were located on the outside and were operated by the conductor who was seated on the top front of the car.

What this suggests is that even highly creative individuals and the ideas they develop are susceptible to the constraining influences of structured imagination. Their idea of a design for a railway car was heavily influenced by what they knew, understood, and were most familiar with — the stagecoach.

In genius, there is a tolerance for unpredictable avenues of thought. The result of unpredictable thinking may be just what is needed to shift the context and lead to a new perspective. When you come up with crazy or fantastical ideas, you step outside your cone of expectations — which is what happened to a manufacturer of dinner plates who had a problem with packaging. The plates were wrapped in old newspapers and packed in boxes. Every packer would eventually slow down to read the papers and look at the pictures. Most employees would drop to about 30 percent efficiency after a few weeks on the job.

The manufacturer tried using other material for packing, but that proved too expensive; the newspapers had been free. They tried using newspapers in different languages, but these were hard to obtain. They even offered incentives to workers to increase the number of plates wrapped, but without great success. Finally, one day in a meeting, an exasperated supervisor said they should tape the workers’ eyes shut so they couldn’t read. This absurd comment created a lot of laughter as the others joked about his comment. But the supervisor had an “Aha!” moment: he got the idea to hire blind people to do the packing. The company not only greatly increased its packing efficiency but also received tax benefits for hiring the disabled.

A way to break up your rigidity of thinking is to deliberately explore the absurd and unusual. This gives you the freedom from design or commitment and allows you to juxtapose things which would not otherwise have been arranged in this way and to construct a sequence of events which would not otherwise have been constructed.

Suppose, for example, you want to improve morale in your company. You would first list several odd, unusual or absurd ideas about the problem.

Absurd ideas:
• Allow people to stay at home and attend to household and landscape needs with full pay. E.g., three hours to mow a law, one week to paint a room, two weeks to repair a roof, four hours to repair a fence, and so on.
• Give every employee a company luxury car for personal use as long as they are employed.
• Give employees the same pension plan US senators have: Their annual pay for life with all comprehensive medical benefits.
Select one of the absurd ideas.
Paying people to stay home and attend to household needs.
Extract the principle and build it into a practical idea.

IDEA: The principle is working on employee homes and lawns. Offer employees the services of a handyman as a benefit. Employee pays for materials; employer employs and pays the handyman to fix sinks, hang wallpaper, and so on.

Creative-thinking techniques break up your conventional thinking patterns which stimulate new thinking patterns that lead to new ideas and concepts that you cannot get using your usual way of thinking.

Suppose you want to control the illegal whale harvesting by the Japanese whalers.

Absurd ideas:
• Pay whalers not to poach.
• Hire armed patrol boats to protect whales.
• Coast Guard captures Japanese whaler and ransoms crew and ship back to owner.
Examining the features and aspects of the various ideas focuses us on capturing the whalers and ransoming the crews and boat back to the owners. This would make the activity unprofitable, but it is also unlawful. We would become pirates.

This reminds us of the Somalian pirate ships off the coast of Africa. This inspired the thought of one way of fighting an illegal activity is to use an illegal enforcement activity. The final idea all this inspired is to make it a legal exemption for the Somali pirates and allow them to hijack illegal Japanese Whalers anywhere on the oceans and hold them for ransom.

Using criminals to help fight crime is an interesting thought that has led to other innovative solutions. A city was infested with drug activities and the police were overwhelmed. I worked with a team of detectives that came up with the crazy idea of treating drug dealers like entrepreneurs.

One entrepreneurial idea was to assist drug dealers increase their profit by helping them eliminate their competitors. Posters were printed and posted around the city. The posters were titled “Attention Drug Dealers: Is Your Competition Costing You Money? We offer a free service to help you eliminate your drug competition!” All the would-be clients need to do is jot down on the poster the names, addresses and dealing habits of their business rivals and mail it to the police station.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PERCEPTION AND PATTERN RECOGNITION SKILLS IN CREATIVE THINKING

Cognitive scientists understand the importance of perception and pattern recognition as a major component of creative thinking. When you are committed and start to actively work on a problem that you are passionate about, you will start to notice more and more things that relate to what you are working on. With an infinite amount of stimuli constantly hitting our brains, we need the ability to filter that which is most relevant to us. And our mind is that filter. Often these connections can seem like coincidences, but cognitive scientists tell us it is simply that part of our brain that screens out information we are not interested in and focuses on the things that we can use. These connections give you different ways to look at information and different ways to focus on it.

George de Mestral was inspired to improve the zipper. He thought about the essence of zippers which is to fasten two separate pieces of fabric together. His question became “How do things fasten?” He became committed to the idea of inventing a better fastener and spent considerable time pondering how things fasten in other domains including nature.

One day when George was hunting birds with his Irish pointer, he traveled through some burdock thistles. The prickly seed burrs from the plants clung to his clothing and to his dog. While pulling off the burrs he noticed how they were removable yet easily reattached.

The burdock fascinated George and he imagined a fastener that mimicked a burdock. He studied the burrs under a microscope and discovered a hook system used by the burdock plant to migrate its seeds by attachment. The hooks could grab onto loops of thread or fur and migrate with the object it fastened itself to. This gave him the idea of creating a hook and loop fastener.

It was not logic that guided his thinking process but perception and pattern recognition between two totally unrelated subjects: zippers and burdocks. Logic dictates that burdocks are animate plants and zippers are inanimate manmade objects that are totally unrelated and, therefore, any relationship between the two is to be excluded. It was George’s creative perception, not logic, that recognized the common factor between a burdock and a zipper that fastens, not logic.

George envisioned two fabrics that could attach in this manner with one having a surface covered with minuscule hooks and another with hoops. Most of the experts he visited did not believe hooks could be created on the surface of fabric. However, he found a weaver at a textile plant that was willing to work with him. George discovered that a multifilament yarn weaved from velvet or cotton terry cloth created a surface of hooped threads. To create hooks, George would partially cut the hoops so they would become hooks. There was a great deal of experimentation to get the right density, thread sizes and rigidity. He eventually weaved the hook-side yarn from nylon and invented Velcro.

AN EXERCISE TO TEST YOUR CREATIVE PERCEPTION

Russian computer scientist, Mikhail Bongard, created a remarkable set of visual pattern recognition problems to test one’s creative perception. The Bongard problems present two sets of relatively simple diagrams, say A and B. All the diagrams from set A have a common factor or attribute, which is lacking in all the diagrams of set B. The problem is to find, or to formulate, convincingly, the common factor.  Below is an example of a Bongard problem. Test your perception and pattern recognition skills and try to solve the problem. You have two classes of figures (A and B). You are asked to discover some abstract connection that links all the various diagrams in A and that distinguishes them from all the other diagrams in group B.

One has to take chances that certain aspects of a given diagram matter, and others are irrelevant. Perhaps shapes count, but not sizes — or vice versa. Perhaps orientations count, but not sizes — or vice versa. Perhaps curvature or its lack counts, but not location inside the box — or vice versa. Perhaps numbers of objects but not their types matter — or vice versa. Which types of features will wind up mattering and which are mere distracters. As you try to solve the problem, you will find the essence of your mental activity is a complex interweaving of acts of abstraction and comparison, all of which involve guesswork rather than certainty. By guesswork I mean that one has to take a chance that certain aspects matter and others do not.

Logic dictates that the essence of perception is the activity of dividing a complex scene into its separate constituent objects and attaching separate labels to the now separated parts of pre-established categories, such as ovals, X’s and circles as unrelated exclusive events. Then we’re taught to think exclusively within a closed system of hard logic.

In the above patterns, if you were able to discern the distinction between the diagrams, your perception is what found the distinction, not logic. The distinction is the ovals are all pointing to the X in the A group, and the ovals area all pointing at the circles in the B group.

The following thought experiment is an even more difficult problem, because you are no longer dealing with recognizable shapes such as ovals, X’s, circles or other easily recognizable structures for which we have clear representations. To solve this, you need to perceive subjectively and intuitively, make abstract connections, much like Einstein thought when he thought about the similarities and differences between the patterns of space and time, and you need to consider the overall context of the problem.

Again, you have two classes of figures (A and B) in the Bongard problem. You are asked to discover some abstract connection that links all the various diagrams in A and that distinguishes them from all the other diagrams in group B.

SCROLL DOWN FOR ANSWER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER: The rule is the “dots” in A are on the same side of the neck.

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Learn how to become a creative thinker. Review Michael Michalko’s books http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs

How the Creative Mind Works

 

Rockefeller University physicist, Heinz Pagels, in his book “The Cosmic Code,” wrote that quantum physics is a kind of code that interconnects everything in the universe. There are, for example, remarkable similarities between the mysteries of how our creative mind works and what quantum physicists have observed in their studies of the universe. Thoughts in our subconscious minds behave remarkably like subatomic particles in quantum physics which simultaneously exist and don’t exist until observed and eventually collapse into what physicists call “a collapse of the wave function.” This may be the same mental process that creates the “Aha” experience or divine inspiration that creative thinkers report.

One of the discoveries of quantum mechanics is that something can simultaneously exist and not exist; if a particle is capable of moving along several different paths, or existing in several different states, the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics allows it to travel along all paths and exist in all possible states simultaneously. However, if the particle happens to be measured by some means, its path or state is no longer uncertain. The simple act of measurement instantly forces it into just one path or state. It is as if the physical world wants to explore many alternative pathways before collapsing into a settled state by the interaction of an observer. Physicists call this a “collapse of the wave function.” An example in physics is Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle that demonstrated that light can be seen as a wave or as a particle depending upon the interaction of the observer. Renowned physicist, David Bohm, suggested parallels between this activity of quantum physics with subatomic particles and how the creative mind processes thought.

The Mind is Like the Universe

The mind is like the universe. You have billions of bits of thoughts, observations, and information floating around in your conscious and subconscious mind, totally unobserved, with each bit presenting a multitude of possibilities which evolve and change over time. These thoughts are in multiple states such as words, phrases, metaphors, images, feelings, dreams, symbols, abstractions, voices, and so on. Particles of thought pop up out of nothingness and become entangled with other thoughts influencing each other instantaneously.
Just as subatomic particles do not exist unless observed, your subconscious thoughts do not exist until observed. In other words, there is no thought independent of you, the observer. When you are brainstorming for ideas and have a thought, the value of that thought depends upon how you interact with it. If you are an analytical thinker and automatically classify many of your thoughts as irrelevant or unrelated, you are crippling your potential for creative ideas and solutions.

We are educated to be critical, judgmental, logical thinkers and to instantly evaluate and judge thoughts based on our past experiences. If there is any ambiguity, the judgment is invariably negative, and the thought dissipates back into nothingness. The ordinary mind has no tolerance for ambiguity because it is conditioned to simplify the complexities of life. We are taught to be exclusionary thinkers, which means we exclude anything that is not immediately related to our subject. If there is any ambiguity, the average person will invariably censor it and the thought dissipates back into nothingness. This exclusionary way of thinking is how we lost our natural capacity to spontaneously generate ideas.

This is why the average person produces only a handful of ideas when brainstorming, whereas, a creative genius will produce great quantities of ideas. Thomas Edison, for example, created 3000 different ideas for a lighting system before he stepped back to evaluate them for practicality and profitability. All geniuses produce great quantities of ideas because they uncritically search for all possible alternatives. If you ask the average person to find a needle in a haystack, he or she will stop when they find a needle. Creative thinkers, on the other hand, will go through the entire haystack looking for all the possible needles.

You give value to your thoughts when you interact with them and accept them uncritically. Once observed and accepted, thoughts become loose and move freely around in your subconscious mind. The more work you put into thinking about a problem, the more thoughts and bits of information you set in random motion. Your subconscious mind never rests. When you quit thinking about the subject, your thoughts keep colliding, combining, recombining and making associations. Eventually, bits of thoughts and information will become entangled and create a novel idea which will bubble up into your consciousness when you least expect it.

Charles Darwin’s richness of imagination was equaled only by his willingness to consider what others did not consider worthwhile. His colleagues would compare new ideas and theories with their existing patterns of experience. If the ideas didn’t fit, they would reject them out of hand. Conversely, Darwin would consider all ideas and theories to see where they led. Darwin’s colleagues called him a fool and his work the experiments of a fool. His willingness not to judge what others called fool’s experiments filled his subconscious mind with billions of colliding thoughts that eventually led to his epiphany about biological evolution.

The Key to creative thinking is knowing how to harvest your thoughts and ideas.

The key to productive creative thinking is to harvest the quantum wave-like proliferations of thoughts which abound in our subconscious mind. We make these real by observing and accepting them without judgment of any kind. After a conscious preparation to produce new ideas, list every thought, particles of thoughts, hunch, and, in short, everything that comes to mind without categorizing, evaluating or judging.

My favorite technique to generate ideas is to give myself an idea quota. A quota will focus your energy in a way that guarantees fluency of thought. Suppose I ask you to list alternative uses for the common brick as fast as you can. No doubt, you would come up with some uses, but my hunch is not very many. The average adult comes up with three to six.

However, if I asked you to come up with sixty uses for the common brick as fast as you can, this forces you to come up with 60 ideas. By forcing yourself to meet a quota, you put your internal critic on hold and write everything down, including the obvious and weak. To meet your quota, you find yourself listing all the usual uses (build a wall, fireplace, outdoor barbeque and so on) as well as listing everything that comes to mind (anchor, projectile in riots, ballast, a tool for leveling dirt, material for sculptures, doorstop, device to hold down newspapers, a portable step to carry with you so you can stand on it in crowds, stone crab cracker and so on) as you stretch your imagination to meet your quota. A quota allows you to generate more imaginative alternatives than you otherwise would.

Can you create a new pillow?

Two designers wanted to create a new unique pillow and decided to have a free-wheeling brainstorming session with a quota of 120 ideas. They listed every idea that popped into their minds. Pillows made of grass, pillows with different scents, pillows which played lullabies, pillows that recorded night sounds such as snoring and talking, pillows that move gently like rolling waves, pillows that woke you by being timed to wake you with a dim glow that grows brighter and brighter as more time goes by—like waking up to the rising sun, pillows with text devices so you say “good night” to your loved one miles away, and so on. After they reached 120 ideas, they walked away from the problem.

Three days later they met and agreed to produce a novel pillow. They decided to have electroluminescent wire woven into the textile pattern of two pillows. When you touch or hug one the other starts glowing correspondingly — even if it is located somewhere else in the world. The two pillows are connected wirelessly via a communication platform on the Internet and thus you can experience a sense of closeness over long distances.

The designers produced a number of uncensored ideas to meet their quota, recorded them and then left the thoughts to incubate in their subconscious minds. The thoughts collided, combined, and recombined in a million different ways until the most likely combination of pillows glowing by touch via the internet surfaced as the idea they decided to pursue.

In each and every experience there is a multitude of other experiences lying in wait. Once you chose one, you marginalize the others. To say it very simply, the moment we call something “a” we have marginalized all of its other possible states (b, c, d, e, etc.) into nothingness because we don’t see them. By not marginalizing any of their ideas from brainstorming, the pillow designers multiplied their possibilities. Instead of just “a,” to work with, they had a, b, c, d, e, f, and so on and ended up combining three or four of their possibilities into a new, novel and creative idea.
If you spend your time and energy looking for reasons why things can’t work or can’t be done, you end up with nothing. You can’t create something out of nothing. You need to persistently work on your challenge and uncritically feed quantities of thoughts, ideas, opinions and observations into your subconscious mind, so it has something it can actively create into the new and novel ideas you need for your personal and business lives.

Can You Think Out Of The Box?

In the graphic above, 9 toothpicks are arranged to form a 100. Can you change 100 to form the word CAT by altering the position of just 2 toothpicks? Take a few moments and see if you can solve it.

One of the many ways in which our mind attempts to make life easier is to solve the first impression of the problem that it encounters. Like our first impressions of people, our initial perspective on problems and situations are apt to be narrow and superficial. We see no more than we’ve been conditioned to see–and stereotyped notions block clear vision and crowd out imagination. This happens without any alarms sounding, so we never realize it’s occurring.

Once we have settled on a perspective, we close off but one line of thought. Certain kinds of ideas occur to us, but only those kinds and no others. What if the crippled man who invented the motorized cart had defined his problem as: “How to occupy my time while lying in bed?” rather than “How to get out of bed and move around the house?”

Have you ever looked closely at the wheels on a railroad train? They are flanged. That is, they have a lip on the inside to prevent them from sliding off the track. Originally train wheels were not flanged–instead, the railroad tracks were. Because the problem of railroad safety had been expressed as: “How can the tracks be made safer for trains to ride on?” hundreds of thousands of miles of track were manufactured with an unnecessary steel lip. Only when the problem was redefined as: “How can the wheels be made to secure the track more securely?” was the flanged wheel invented.

Leonardo Da Vinci believed that to gain knowledge about the form of problems, you began by learning how to restructure it to see it in many different ways. He felt the first way he looked at a problem was too biased toward his usual way of seeing things. He would restructure his problem by looking at it from one perspective and move to another perspective and still another. With each move, his understanding would deepen and he would begin to understand the essence of the problem. Leonardo called this thinking strategy saper vedere or “knowing how to see.”

To start with, it’s helpful to coin problems in a particular way. Write the problems you want to solve as a definite question. Use the phrase “In what ways might I…?” to start a problem statement. Using this phrase instead of simply asking “how” will psychologically influence you to look for alternative ways.

When we first look at our problem, we read it the way we’re taught to read figures left to right. It can’t be solved this way moving just 2 sticks. In what ways might you look at the problem? One other way is to visualize the figure as being upside down read the figure from right to left.

The trick is that the word CAT will be upside down after you solve the puzzle. Simply take the toothpick that is the left side of the second zero, and place it horizontally and centered at the bottom of the 1. Then move the toothpick at the top of the first zero halfway toward the bottom.
Now turn it upside down.

Genius often comes from finding a new perspective of a problem by restructuring it in some way. When Richard Feynman, the Nobel Laureate physicist, was “stuck” with a problem, he would look at it in a different way. If one way didn’t work, he would switch to another. Whatever came up, he would always find another way to look at it. Feynman would do something in ten minutes that would take the average physicist a year because he had a lot of ways to represent his problem.

Memory Test: Are Your Memories Real or False?

The actor Alan Alda once visited a group of memory researchers at the University of California, Irvine, for a TV show he was making. During a picnic lunch, one of the scientists offered Alda a hard-boiled egg. He turned it down, explaining that as a child he had made himself sick eating too many eggs.

In fact, this had never happened, yet Alda believed it was real. How so? The egg incident was a false memory planted by one of UC Irvine’s researchers, Elizabeth Loftus.

Before the visit, Loftus had sent Alda a questionnaire about his food preferences and personality. She later told him that a computer analysis of his answers had revealed some facts about his childhood, including that he once made himself sick eating too many eggs. There was no such analysis but it was enough to convince Alda.

Your memory may feel like a reliable record of the past, but it is not. Loftus has spent the past 30 years studying the ease with which we can form “memories” of nonexistent events. She has convinced countless people that they have seen or done things when they haven’t – even quite extreme events such as being attacked by animals or almost drowning. Her work has revealed much about how our brains form and retain memories.

While we wouldn’t want to plant a memory of a nonexistent childhood trauma in your own brain, there is a less dramatic demonstration of how easy it is to form a false memory called the Deese-Roediger-McDermott paradigm. Read the first two lists of words and pause for a few minutes. Then scroll down and read list 3. Put a tick against the words that were in the first two. Now go back and check your answers.

 

LIST ONE

APPLE, VEGETABLE, ORANGE, KIWI,
CITRUS, RIPE, PEAR, BANANA, BERRY,
CHERRY, BASKET, JUICE, SALAD, BOWL, COCKTAIL

 

 

LIST TWO

WEB, INSECT, BUG, FRIGHT, FLY,
ARACHNID, CRAWL, TARANTULA, POISON,
BITE, CREEPY, ANIMAL, UGLY, FEELERS, SMALL

 

 

SCROLL DOWN

 

 

 

 

 

LIST THREE

SPIDER, FEATHER, CITRUS, UGLY, ROBBER,
PIANO, GOAT, GROUND, CHERRY, BITTER,
INSECT, FRUIT, SUBURB, KIWI, QUICK,
MOUSE, PILE, FISH

 

 

 

MICHAEL MICHALKO is the author of the best-seller Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), which the Wall Street Journal reported “will change the way you think.” He is also the author of Cracking Creativity (The Secrets of Creative Geniuses) which describes the common thinking strategies creative geniuses have used in the sciences, art, and industry throughout history and shows how we can apply them to become more creative in our business and personal lives. In addition, he created Thinkpak (A Brainstorming Card Set), which is a novel creative-thinking tool that is designed to facilitate brainstorming sessions. Michael’s most recent book Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work focuses on how creative geniuses combine and conceptually blend dissimilar subjects create original thoughts and ideas. http://www.creativethinking.net

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