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four no three

At one time, ancient astronomers believed that the heavens were eternal and made of ether. This theory made it impossible for them to observe meteors as burning stones from outer space. Although the ancients witnessed meteor showers and found some on the ground, they couldn’t recognize them as meteors from outer space. They sought out and observed only those things that confirmed their theory about the heavens. Albert Einstein intuitively knew that thinking is speculative and how personal beliefs and theories distort what we observe. We are like the ancient astronomers and actively seek out only that information that confirms our beliefs and theories about ourselves and the world.

A description of Einstein’s thinking process was found in a letter to his friend, Maurice Solovine. The letter started with a simple drawing consisting of one straight line which Einstein said represented experiences, which are given to us, and beliefs and axioms which are situated above the line but are not directly linked to experiences.

Einstein explained that psychologically, his beliefs and axioms rest upon his experiences. There exists, however, no logical path from experience to an axiom, but only an intuitive connection based on his interpretation of the experience, which is always subject to revocation. These speculative interpretations shape our beliefs and perceptions which determine our theories about the world. Finally, our theories determine what we observe and, paradoxically, we only observe what confirms our theories which further hardens our beliefs and axioms.

The following story illustrates how a person’s theory determines what is observed and how what is observed is interpreted according to the person’s theory.

The university professor challenged his students with this question. Did God create everything that exists? A student bravely replied, “Yes, he did!”

“God created everything? The professor asked. “Yes sir”, the student replied.

The professor answered, “If God created everything, then God created evil since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are, then God is evil”. The student became quiet before such an answer.

Another student raised his hand and said, “Can I ask you a question professor?”

“Of course”, replied the professor.

The student stood up and asked, “Professor, does cold exist?”

“What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?”

The young man replied, “In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-460 degrees F) is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat.”

The student continued, “Professor, does darkness exist?” The professor responded, “Of course it does.” The student replied, “Once again you are wrong sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact, we can use Newton’s prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn’t this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present.”

Finally, the young man asked the professor, “Sir, does evil exist?” Now uncertain, the professor responded, “Of course as I have already said. We see it every day. It is in the daily example of man’s inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.” To this the student replied, “Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is not like faith, or love that exist just as does light and heat. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.”

The young student’s name purportedly was— Albert Einstein. Einstein, himself, neither confirmed nor denied he was the student.

(Michael Michalko is the highly-acclaimed author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses; Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.



The Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle, was responsible for producing some of the greatest advances in human thought during his lifetime in ancient Greece. In his book On Interpretation, Aristotle described how words and chains of words were powerful tools for his thinking. He described how words reflected his thoughts and how he used words to shape his thinking.

Once I stayed for a week at the storied Ritz-Carlton in Montreal. Usually I don’t like staying in expensive hotels because of my frugal nature. Yet in the Ritz I felt great. The longer my stay, the better I felt. I discussed my feelings with the manager, and he told me his secret. He told me that the most significant factor for their success was training their employees to frame everything they say in a positive manner. For example, employees who perform services for you will say, “It’s a pleasure,” instead of something like “No problem,” when you thank them. Or “Our restaurant would be pleased to serve you tonight,” instead of “Why don’t you visit our restaurant?” Or the bartender will say, “Thank you. I look forward to your return” when cashing out patrons. Guests feel welcome and appreciated, and find themselves feeling happy and positive.

This feel-good feeling becomes contagious among the guests and they soon subconsciously begin emulating the positive speech patterns they hear from the staff. By consciously transforming their speech patterns into positive ones, the staff influenced themselves to be positive and happy. The Ritz-Carlton experience demonstrated to me how language allowed the staff to influence themselves in a particular way and how their mental state was then transferred to the minds of the guests and how the guests transferred it to the minds of others. This was a dramatic example to me of how language can be used to influence behavior and emotions.

Many educated adults have a negative mindset which you can hear in the language they use. They talk about “what is not,” instead of “what is.” For example, when you ask someone how they are, how many times have you heard something like “No complaints or no problems.” What does that mean? Does it mean the person has a list of possible complaints taped on the bedroom wall and then reads the list every morning? “Gee, what do you know, no complaints today.” Ask a child and a child will tell you how they feel. “I feel great,” “I feel sick,” “I feel excited,” and so on.

Following are some common examples of “what is not” language. Offer an idea to your boss at work and instead of saying “That’s good,” your boss says “Not bad.” What does that mean? Does that mean every other idea you offered was bad? Instead of “Go ahead and do it,” why do we say “I don’t have a problem with that.” Does that mean we had a problem with everything else? Instead of “We can solve this easily by looking at our options,” why do we say “There is not any reason why we can’t solve this easily.” Does this mean we should look as hard as we can for reasons why it can’t be solved? Instead of “It’s a pleasure,” why do we say “No problem,” when someone thanks us for a favor. Does that mean every favor we did before was a problem? Instead of “Here’s what will happen,” why do we say “It won’t hurt.” Does this mean some ideas hurt and some ideas don’t? Why do we say “Why don’t we get together for lunch?”, instead of “Let’s get together for lunch?” Does it mean to try and think of some excuse not to have lunch? Why do we say “What’s wrong with this idea?” instead of “How can we improve the idea? “Does it mean that if one part of an idea is wrong then the whole idea is wrong?

Aristotle believed that the words and chains of words that we use in framing a problem play a significant role in the way we approach problems. Toyota once posted a notice asking employees to offer suggestions on how to increase production. They received only a few ideas. A manager reworded the request to asking employees for suggestions on how to make their work easier. They were inundated with ideas. A manager at a large computer company had a mission to put together an on-line database that would make life easier for all his telephone support people, but he couldn’t get any cooperation from them. His memo began, “As you know, we are legally obligated to provide a 4-hour response on all customer calls. Currently, we are backlogged with customer calls and making little or no progress; complaints continue to grow…” This is a negative approach. He later reworded the memo to say, “How would you like to get through your stack of backlogged customer calls quickly? How would you like to have all the researched answers to customer calls at the tips of your fingers? Help is on the way. For the next 30 days, I’ m asking you simply to record and forward to me a copy of…”. The positive approach generated a much better response. Positive framing means to say what you’re for, not what you’re against; what you’re going to do.

YOU CAN USE WORDS TO PRIME BEHAVIOR Language also influences behavior. In a pair of studies, University of British Columbia researchers had participants play “dictator game.” The game is simple: you’re offered ten one dollar coins and told to take as many as you want and leave the rest for the player in the other room (who is, unbeknown to you, a research confederate). The fair split, of course, is 50-50, but most anonymous “dictators” play selfishly, leaving little or nothing for the other player. In the control group, the vast majority of participants kept everything or nearly everything. In the experimental condition, the researchers next prompted thoughts of God using a well-established “priming” technique: participants, who again included both theists and atheists, first had to unscramble sentences containing words such as God, divine, love, and sacred. That way, going into the dictator game, players had God on their minds without being consciously aware of it. Sure enough, the “God prime” worked like a charm, leading to fairer splits. Without the God prime, only a few of the participants split the money evenly, but when primed with the religious words, 62 percent did.

There is a curious term in Japanese that refers to a very special manner of polite, aristocratic speech known as “play language,” (asobase kotoba), whereby, instead of saying to a person, for example, “I see that you have come to Tokyo,” one would express the observation by saying, “I see that you are playing at being in Tokyo”–the idea being that the person addressed is in such control of his life and powers that for him, everything is a play, a game. He is able to enter into life as one would enter into a game, freely and with ease. What has to be done is attacked with such a will that in the performance, one is literally “in play.” For example, “I see that you are playing at being unemployed?” That is the attitude designated by Nietzsche as love of one’s fate.

Ralph Summy, who directs the Matsunaga Institute for Peace, is well aware of the influence of language and encourages students to replace violent emotions by replacing violent expressions with nonviolent language. Instead of describing someone as “shooting a hole in an argument,” he suggests that person could be described as “unraveling a ball of yarn.” Summy also recommends that the expression “to kill two birds with one stone” be replaced by “to stroke two birds with one hand.” “Dressed to kill,” he adds, might become “dressed to thrill.”

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT. Language profoundly changes the way people think. Consider our relationship with animals. We typically regard ourselves as superior as we see animals as a lower form of life. We see them as “its.” In contrast to our relationship to animals, the Native American Algonquins and Lakota Sioux regard the animal as equal to humans and in many ways superior as expressed in their language. The Native Americans address all animal life as “thou,” an object of reverence. The deer, the dog, the snake, the buffalo are all “thou.” The ego that sees a “thou” is not the same ego that sees an “it.” Whenever you see an animal, silently think the words “thou dog,” “thou bird,” and so on. Try it for a few days or so to see for yourself. I guarantee you will feel a dramatic change in your psychology toward all animal life.

(Michael Michalko is the highly-acclaimed author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses; Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.


no google

We have not been taught how to think for ourselves, we have been taught what to think based on what past thinkers thought. We are taught to think reproductively, not productively. What most people call thinking is simply reproducing what others have done in the past. We have been trained to seek out the neural path of least resistance, searching out responses that have worked in the past, rather than approach a problem on its own terms.

Educators discourage us from looking for alternatives to prevailing wisdom. When confronted with a problem, we are taught to analytically select the most promising approach based on past history, excluding all other approaches and then to work logically within a carefully defined direction towards a solution. Instead of being taught to look for possibilities, we are taught to look for ways to exclude them. This kind of thinking is dehumanizing and naturalizes intellectual laziness which promotes an impulse toward doing whatever is easiest or doing nothing at all. It’s as if we entered school as a question mark and graduated as a period.

When we learn something, we are taught to program it into our brain and stop thinking about or looking for alternatives. Over time these programs become stronger and stronger, not only cognitively but physiologically as well. 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 Wason that demonstrates this attitude. Wason would present subjects with the following triad of three numbers in sequence.

2     4     6

He would then ask subjects to write other examples of triads that follow the number rule and explain the number rule for the sequence. 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 “20, 22, 24,” or some similar sequence. And Watson would say, yes, that is an example of a number rule. Then they will say, “32, 34, 36″ 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 Wason 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, and 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 Wason 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 hypothesis 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.

On the other hand, creative thinkers have a vivid awareness of the world around them and when they think, they seek to include rather than exclude alternatives and possibilities. They have a “lantern awareness” that brings the whole environment to the forefront of their attention. So, by the way, do children before they are educated. This kind of awareness is how you feel when you visit a foreign country; you focus less on particulars and experience everything more globally because so much is unfamiliar.

A while back I attended a convention for a book signing event. During the event, I met several professors and recent graduates. Many of the graduates were just beginning their job searches and were being interviewed by recruiters. I met a person with a Ph.D. in creativity at the convention who is a professor at a distinguished university teaching others how to get a Ph.D. He spent a long time describing what he has learned in his studies and research. He expounded on the different theories of creativity, their founders, history, acceptance and the differences and similarities between them. He talked about the lives of the creative geniuses throughout history, who they were, how they lived, what they believed, what they created. He knew all kinds of information about creative thinking.

I told him his experience was fascinating and I enjoyed listening to his knowledge of creativity. I then asked him what advice he would give the graduates who were job hunting. He gave me the usual stuff about the importance of a resume. He suggested that prospects should emphasize their education, educational accomplishments, highlight recommendations from teachers and previous employers, if any. In short, I got the standard reproductive stuff about resumes you usually get.

Later that day, a student approached and introduced himself to me and told he how much he enjoyed my book Thinkertoys. He said he graduated recently and is going to start hunting for a job in marketing. Curious, I asked him how he was going to handle the resume process.

He explained that a person, when he or she is a prospect for a job, becomes a set of qualifications, potentially better but just like the rest. How easy positive bits of information are transferred to the potential employer is one of the essentials of a successful resume, just like a product in a supermarket to a consumer. So he wandered through supermarkets looking for examples of how consumer products are packaged and marketed. He settled on a carton of milk. He studied how the carton, itself, was used to market the company’s product.

Next, he created an actual milk carton with his resume printed on it. On each side of the milk carton information is formatted to match the theme. The front of the carton features quick tidbits like his name, tag-line, photograph and age. On one side, the designer’s experience and qualifications are listed and on the opposite, a table made to look like a nutritional information chart shows all his recommendations from teachers and past employers. On the lid is more glance-worthy items like “Let me help create your future” and “My love in life is Marketing.” He even put a recycling logo at the back of the box, just below contact.

milk jug

A few days later, he sent me his milk carton resume. Inside was an actual milk carton with his resume on it. I was very impressed. We stayed in touch and he was interviewed by virtually every company that received one. The student was a creative thinker who figured out his own way of catching fish, not simply repeating a specific way of fishing. Which one would you want on your marketing team? The Ph.D. or the student?

Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work by Michael Michalko … via @amazon

When You Are Working On Something an Find Something Interesting, Drop Everything Else and Work On It



Psychologist B.F. Skinner advised people that when you are working on something and find something interesting, drop everything else and study it. In fact, he emphasized this as a first principle of scientific creative methodology. This is what William Shockley and a multi-discipline Bell labs team did. They were formed to invent the MOS transistor and ended up instead with the junction transistor and the new science of semiconductor physics. These developments led to the integrated circuit and to new breakthroughs in electronics and computers. William Shockley described it as a process of creative failure methodology.

History is replete with examples of creative people who set out to do something, found something interesting, and then dropped everything to work on the interesting thing. John Wesley Hyatt, an Albany mechanic, worked long and hard trying to find a substitute for billiard-ball ivory, then coming into short supply. He invented, instead, celluloid, the first commercially successful plastic. Roy Plunkett set out to invent a new refrigerant at DuPont. Instead, he created a glob of white waxy material that conducted heat and did not stick to surfaces. Fascinated by this unexpected material, he abandoned his original line of research and experimented with this interesting material, which eventually became known by its household name, Teflon.

In another example, 3M primarily manufactured adhesives for industry. Researchers developed a new lightweight tape that industry rejected. The researchers were told to burn all the samples of the tape and were reassigned to other projects. One researcher took samples home. His teenage daughters took the tape and used it for setting their hair, taping pictures on the wall, taping cracks on toys and so on. He made a list of all the things his daughter did with the tape. When he returned to work, he arranged to meet with upper management. He showed them the list of the many things his daughters did with the tape, and then told them that what they had was not an industrial product but a consumer product. They named it Scotch Tape.

Creative thinkers use their intellect to explore every interesting aspect of an idea before they apply their existing emotions and prejudices. To explore an idea with our intellect, we need to will ourselves to direct our attention in a different way. Once you have the “will,” than the natural challenge to your intelligence is to capture in writing as many positive, negative, and interesting points as you can.
The guidelines are:

1. Make three columns. Title the columns “Yes,” “No,” and “Interesting.”
2. Under the “Yes” column, list all the positive aspects about the idea that you can.
3. Under the “No” column, list all the negative aspects that you can.
4. Under the “Interesting” column, list all those things that are interesting but do not fit under either “Yes” or “No.”

At the end of the exploration, emotions and feelings can be used to make a decision about the matter. The difference is that the emotions are now applied after the exploration instead of being applied before and so preventing exploration. Now, one of three things can happen:

You may decide the idea is viable.
You may reject the idea as unsound.
You may move from the idea to another idea. By exploring the “positive” and
“interesting” aspects of an idea, you may be able to recycle it into something else.

When you put down the positive, negative and interesting points, you react to what you put down and your feelings change. Once a point has been thought and captured under any of the headings, that point cannot be “unthought,” and it will influence the final decision.

A middle school principal had a problem with her female pupils who were experimenting with lipstick. The girls were kissing the mirrors in the bathroom leaving their lip prints on bathroom mirrors. The maintenance department constantly asked her to have the pupils stop this unsanitary practice. The principal brainstormed the problem with her faculty looking for ideas. One idea was to offer an incentive to the girls. They settled on offering a free pizza party on the last day of the month if no lip prints were found on any of the bathroom mirrors.

To evaluate the idea, they employed the technique of “Yes, No, Interesting.” On a chalkboard they listed all the positives, negatives and interesting aspects of the idea. The more items they listed, the more they made associations and connections to other ideas and interesting aspects of the idea.

When you are producing ideas, you are replenishing neurotransmitters linked to genes that are being turned on and off in response to what your brain is doing, which in turn is responding to your efforts. When you make the effort of trying to come up with new ideas, you are energizing your brain by increasing the number of contacts between neurons. The more times you try to get ideas and the more ideas you generate, the more active your brain becomes and the more creative you become.

We have the uncanny ability to quickly retrieve whatever information we need from the enormous store of our memories from our experiences. If a friend asks you to tell him what comes to mind when he says the word “zebra”, you do not have to clumsily sort back through some gigantic and cerebral alphabetic file to arrive at an answer. Instead, associations like “striped”, “horse like”, and “animal native to Africa” all pop into your head instantly. One of the most amazing things about the human thinking process is that every piece of information seems instantly cross-correlated with every other piece of information. It is nature’s supreme example of a cross-correlated system.

The teachers were soon associating pizza with celebrations, lifestyle, incentive programs, unique gifts, rumors and so on. Some of the associations made were:

    • October is national pizza month. Make one month a “No Lip Prints on Bathroom Mirrors” month.
    • A restaurant in NYC provides the most expensive pizza for $1000 or $125 a slice. Pizza is a very subjective food.          Some unusual toppings are caviar, lobster, venison, edible gold, and, even salt-water crocodile. Have pizzas with unusual toppings. Research the NYC restaurant, discover the toppings they offer and then prepare pizzas with the same or similar toppings. “Have a Most Expensive Pizza in the US party” as an incentive.
    • Have a pizza party as an incentive to encourage students to stop lip printing. The party would have the teachers prepare the pizza, serve the pizza to the students as service personnel and clean up after the party.
    • If the mirrors are lip print free after one month, the students select one teacher or administrator to sing a song that will be broadcast on the school’s PA system for everyone to hear, record and sent to a local radio talk show.

One teacher remembered a gross rumor about pizza she heard when she was a young student. She and all her friends patronized a nearby pizza shack nearly every day. One student became angry at the owner of the shack and started a nasty rumor about the pizza. The student told other students the pizza shack was using the water from a sewage ditch that ran behind the shack to make their pizza. They did this to save on their water bill. This powerful rumor grossed the students out and they stop going to the shack. The shack lacking student support had to close.

The teacher suggested that instead of rewarding good behavior why not start a rumor that would gross the students out and compel them to stop kissing the mirrors. After a discussion, many suggested gross rumors they could start, and finally settled on this solution.

After conspiring with the janitor, the principle invited a group of girls into the bathroom saying she wanted them to witness the extra work they made for the janitor cleaning their lip prints. The janitor came in and stepped into an open toilet stall. He slowly dipped his squeegee into the toilet bowl several times, shook off the excess toilet water then used the squeegee to clean the mirrors. The girls were visibly shocked as they watched.

That small group of girls quickly told all their friends what they had witnessed personally. Word spread and the janitors reported that there no longer was a problem with lip prints. Later, when new students entered the bathrooms and began to lip print, they were quickly discouraged by older students who warned them about the toilet water. The rumor was 100% effective.

In each and every experience there is a multitude of other experiences lying in wait, we choose one and marginalize the others. Usually the moment we call something “a” we have marginalized all of its other possible states (b,c,d,e, etc). That doesn’t mean that the other states do not exist, it just means that we are not aware of them. This technique enables your intellect to resurrect other possibilities by also focusing it on interesting thoughts about the idea. These are discontinuous thoughts which break you from the past habits by concentrating only on connecting related thoughts. This interaction excites the neurotransmitters in your brain to interact and connect with each other producing countless new associations and connections. These new connections breed intuitive guesses and hunches such as promoting a gross rumor to stop certain behavior.

Learn the creative thinking techniques and strategies that creative geniuses have used throughout history. Review Michael Michalko’s books and articles at


One day not too long ago the employees of a large company returned from their lunch break and were greeted with a sign on the front door. The sign said: “Yesterday the person who has been hindering your growth in this company passed away. We invite you to join the funeral service in the Presentation Room that has been prepared for the funeral.”

At first everyone was sad to hear that one of their colleagues had died, but after a while they started getting curious about who this person might be. The excitement grew as the employees arrived at the Presentation Room to pay their last respects. Everyone wondered: “Who is this person who was hindering my progress? No wonder I haven’t been promoted after all my years. I’ve always suspected some executive disliked something about me. Someone in a high position had a strong prejudice against me. Thank God, this company finally had the guts to admit how unfairly employees have been evaluated.”

One by one the employees got closer to the coffin and when they looked inside it, they suddenly became speechless. They stood over the coffin, shocked and in silence, as if someone had touched the deepest part of their soul.


There was a large mirror inside the coffin: everyone who looked inside it could see himself. There was also a sign next to the mirror that said: “There is only one person who is capable of setting limits to your growth: it is YOU. You are the only person who can revolutionize your life. You are the only person who can influence your happiness, your realization and your success. You are the only person who can help yourself. Your life does not change when your boss changes, when your friends change, when your parents change, when your partner changes, when your company changes. Your life changes when YOU change, when you go beyond your limiting beliefs, when you realize that you are the only one responsible for your life.


Change your life by reading Michael Michalko’s book CREATIVE THINKERING: PUTTING YOUR IMAGINATION TO WORK

Strange Eccentricities of Creative Geniuses


There is much anecdotal evidence to indicate that creative people are more often eccentric or more often have odd personality features than the non-creative population. Famous visionaries often develop a reputation for having a few eccentricities. Following are a few of the strange habits from Problema de Logica and Madness of Psychiatry by Saxby Pridmore:

• Hans Christian Anderson, the Danish author of children’s stories, carried a coil of rope for fear of being caught in a hotel room fire.

• When the wife of the poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti died, as a token of his love, he placed his unpublished manuscripts beside her in her coffin. Seven years later he dug up the coffin, dusted off his papers and published them.

• Sir Walter Scott had a salt cellar which was made from the fourth cervical vertebra of Charles I.

• James Joyce kept a tiny pair of doll’s knickers in his pocket.

• Marcel Proust wrote most of his novels lying in bed.

• Composer Gioachino Rossini was completely bald and wore a wig. In exceptionally cold weather, however, he wore two or three wigs simultaneously.

• Beethoven had no interest in personal cleanliness and his friends had to take his dirty clothes away and wash them while he slept.

• Many great scientists as well as writers and artists have been eccentric. Sir Francis Galton, one of the most prolific scientists of all time regularly carried a brick wrapped in brown paper and tied with a piece of rope, so that he could stand on it to see over people’s heads when he was in a crowd.

• Alexander Graham Bell kept his windows permanently covered to keep out the harmful rays of the moon.

• Sir Joseph Banks was described by his biographer as “a wild and eccentric character,” who scared his neighbors.

• Nicola Tesla, who gave his name to the unit of magnetism was celibate and said, “I don’t think that you can name many great inventions that have been made by married men”.

• Henry Cavendish, a great chemist and physicist, was exceptionally shy and would only ever eat mutton. He communicated with his servants by letter, if he met one by accident, they were dismissed. He had a second staircase built in his house so that he could avoid them more easily.

• Greek orator Demosthenes would force himself to stay focused on composing his orations by shaving off half of his hair, making him look so ridiculous that he wouldn’t be tempted to procrastinate by leaving his home. Victor Hugo would do something similar, forcing himself to meet his daily writing goals by having his valet hide his clothes. Yup, the guy who wrote “Les Miserables” liked to work in the nude.

• Some writers need to go through the ritual of touching base with a favorite literary totem. For example, Somerset Maugham would read Voltaire’s “Candide” before starting work, while Willa Cather read the Bible.

• Author William Faulkner preferred to type with his toes instead of his fingers. He kept his shoes on his hands while he worked.

• Prior to writing, George Orwell would swim across the English Channel, have a croissant and a coffee on the French side, then swim back. He did this almost every day of his adult life. Except during the war years. Because it was too dangerous then.

• Before Ernst Hemingway sat down to write, he would go over his writing goals for the day with his six-toed cats. He refused to share such things with other, normal toed cats, which he considered to be poor listeners.

• The surrealist artist Salvador Dali had the habit of keeping the pens of fans who asked him for autographs, which just goes to show you’re never too rich and famous to not enjoy stealing from people less well off than you.

• J B S Haldane, one of the best known scientists of the twentieth century, at one time did not remove his boots for three weeks. General Haig said of him that he was “the bravest and dirtiest soldier in the army.”

• Dr Paul Erdos was one of the most gifted mathematicians of all time, writing 1500 scientific papers. He lived as a homeless derelict, shunning material possessions because, “property is nuisance.”

• Rudyard Kipling did not actually do any writing, but instead delegated the task to a team of ghostwriters. Kipling himself spent his days sitting on his front porch smoking clove cigarettes because he felt they made him look artsy.

• English novelist Mary Shelley kept a domesticated 23-foot-long boa constrictor in her writing studio. She would wrap the snake around her shoulders while she wrote. When the snake grew restless and began to squeeze, she allowed herself to stop writing for the day.

• Ezra Pound preferred to breathe through his nose. But when writing, he would breathe exclusively through his mouth.

• William Wadsworth liked to narrate his poems to his dog. If the dog got upset or barked at the sounds of his words, he would start working on the poem again.

• Franz Kafka really loved pineapple upside down cake. And so anytime he finished a story, he allowed himself to eat a whole pineapple upside down cake all by himself without sharing any with anyone else, not even a bite.

• Ben Franklin knew the benefits of working long hours, as well as being known among his peers as being a person who worked long hours. This work ethic was essential for growing his printing business. He also had a routine of asking himself questions during the day. Ben Franklin asked himself each morning (at 5 am), “What good shall I do today?” and every night before bed (around 10 pm), “What good have I done today?”

• Playwright Henrik Ibsen would work at a desk decorated with a portrait of arch-rival playwright August Strindberg.

• Mathematician Paul Erdös used the last 25 years of his life to devote 19 hour days to the pursuit of higher math. To stay alert, he amped himself up with 10 to 20 milligrams of Benzedrine or Ritalin (along with strong espresso and caffeine tablets.) “A mathematician,” he said, “is a machine for turning coffee into theorems.”

• Artist Marcel Duchamp is associated with both surrealism and the dada movement. While he worked in a variety of styles, he’s most famous for his “readymade” art, which was basically a giant middle finger to the art world. Readymades are everyday objects that Duchamp came across and presented to the world as pieces of art. Duchamp made about twenty of these, but by far the most famous example is a work called “Fountain,” which is nothing more than a urinal he purchased. When it came time to display his “creation” at an art show, the board in charge of the exhibit had a fierce debate and eventually chose to hide the display from view, presumably in the washroom.

• Andy Warhol was an American painter who led the pop art movement. Much like Duchamp, he challenged notions of just what art was; among his most famous paintings is that of a Campbell’s soup can (which first sold for 1500 dollars). That’s right, somebody paid 1500 dollars for a picture of a soup label (something you can get for free). He mass produced his work, and to help him do so, he hired “Warhol Superstars,” which was a group of people who ranged from porno producers to drug addicts. Warhol’s Superstars tended to have drug filled orgies as they mass produced his art while he mostly sat and watched.

And lastly, my favorite:

King Otto, ruler of Bavaria from 1886 to 1913, shot a peasant every morning to start his day. Thankfully, his two advisors were kind-hearted: one gave the king a rifle filled with blanks, and the other dressed as a “peasant,” acting out death throes when he was “shot.”


(Michael Michalko is a highly-acclaimed creativity expert and the author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses; Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.


mind pop

When you keep a written record of your thoughts and ideas, you initiate a thinking process and make possible a phenomenon that George Mandler, a leading researcher in the problems of the consciousness, calls mind popping. Mind popping is when a solution or idea seems to appear after a period of incubation out of nowhere.

The act of recording your thoughts and ideas about a particular problem plants the information into your long-term memory and also into your unconscious. While consciousness plays the important role in our daily lives of restricting the boundaries of our actions, in the unconscious we can activate complexes of information without boundary. Information held in long-term memory can be processed in parallel in the unconscious and find its way into conscious thought. An innovative idea emerges not in any real-time sequence but in a mind popping explosion of thought. This is characteristic of analog processes.

Suppose your notebook contains:

1. Information about the problem you are working on.

2. Information about other ideas, concepts and other problems you are currently working on.

By periodically reviewing your notebook, you activate all the recorded information in your conscious and subconscious mind. You’ve now set up a mental system of network thinking where ideas, images, and concepts from completely unrelated problems combine to catalyze the nascent moment of creativity. This necessarily nonlinear thought process can occur unconsciously, and not necessarily in real time.

Recording your work plants the information in your subconscious mind and somehow activates relevant patterns so it can be processed into a mind popping solution, even after a long delay during which the problem is abandoned. In the 1970s, Frank Wilczek of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., deduced how the nuclei of atoms stay together, one of those rare knowing the mind of God discoveries. His breakthrough occurred when he was reviewing a totally different problem in fact, a completely different force of nature. When suddenly he experienced a mind pop, and realized that a failed approach in one area would be successful in another.

Archimedes got his sudden insight about the principle of displacement while daydreaming in his bath. According to legend, he was so excited by his discovery that he rushed naked through the streets shouting, Eureka! (I’ve found it.) Henri Poincare, the French genius, spoke of incredible ideas and insights that came to him with suddenness and immediate certainty out of the blue. So dramatic are the ideas that arrive that the precise moment in which the idea arrived can be remembered in unusual detail. Darwin could point to the exact spot on a road where he arrived at the solution for the origin of the species while riding in his carriage and not thinking about his subject. Other geniuses offer similar experiences. Like a sudden flash of lightning, ideas and solutions seemingly appear out of nowhere.

That this is a commonplace phenomenon was shown in a survey of distinguished scientists conducted over a half-century ago. A majority of the scientists reported that they got their best ideas and insights when not thinking about the problem. Ideas came while walking, recreating, or working on some other unrelated problem. This suggests how the creative act came to be associated with divine inspiration for the illumination appears to be involuntary.

The more problems, ideas and thoughts that you record and review from time to time, the more complex becomes the network of information in your mind. Think of thoughts as atoms hanging by hooks on the sides of your mind. When you think about a subject, some of these thoughts become loose and put into motion in your subconscious mind. The more work you put into thinking about a problem, the more information you put into your long-term memory by systematically recording them, the more thoughts are put into random motion. Your subconscious mind never rests. When you quit thinking about the subject and decide to forget it, your subconscious mind doesn’t quit working. The thoughts keep flashing freely in every direction through your subconscious. They are colliding, combining and recombining millions of times. Typically, many combinations are of little or no value, but occasionally, a combination is made that is appreciated by your subconscious as a good combination and delivered up to the conscious mind as a mind popping idea.

Our conscious minds are sometimes blocked from creating new ideas because we are too fixated. When we discontinue work on the problem for a period of time, our fixation fades, allowing our subconscious minds to freely create new possibilities. This is what happened to Nobel laureate Melvin Calvin. While idly sitting in his car waiting for his wife to complete an errand, he found the answer to a puzzling inconsistency in his research on photosynthesis. It occurred just like that quite suddenly and suddenly also, in a matter of seconds, the path of carbon became apparent to him.

To experience mind popping, try the following experiment. Write a letter to your unconscious about a problem you have been working on. Make the letter as detailed as possible. Describe the problem, what steps you have taken, the gaps, what is needed, what the obstacles are, the ideal solution and so on. Instruct your subconscious to find the solution. Your mission is to find the solution to the problem. I would like the solution in two days. Seal the letter and put it away. Forget it. Open the letter in two days. If the problem still has not been solved, write on the bottom of the letter “let me know the minute you solve this”. Sooner or later, when you are most relaxed and removed, ideas and solutions will pop up from your subconscious.

Your mind also works when you are sleeping. The reason most creative people give for their morning work schedule was expressed by Balzac, the great French novelist, who said he wanted to take advantage of the fact that his brain works while he sleeps. Once asked where he found his melodies, Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the giants of musical history, said that the problem is not finding them, it’s getting up in the morning and not stepping on them. Thomas Edison sometimes slept on a table in his laboratory so that he could start work as soon as he woke up so as to not forget anything.

Try this exercise before you go to sleep. Take a few minutes and review a problem that you are stuck about. Write down the key words on a sheet of paper and put the paper on your bed stand. Forget the problem and go to sleep. When you wake up, look at the paper. You will probably think of new insights, see the problem more clearly and you may get a mind popping idea.

(Michael Michalko is a highly-acclaimed creativity expert and the author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses; Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.



Our attitudes influence our behavior. But it’s also true that our behavior can influence our attitudes. The Greek philosopher Diogenes was once noticed begging a statue. His friends were puzzled and alarmed at this behavior. Asked the reason for this pointless behavior, Diogenes replied, “I am practicing the art of being rejected.” By pretending to be rejected continually by the statue, Diogenes was learning to understand the mind of a beggar. Every time we pretend to have an attitude and go through the motions, we trigger the emotions we pretend to have and strengthen the attitude we wish to cultivate.

You become what you pretend to be. The surrealist artist Salvador Dalí was pathologically shy as a child. He hid in closets and avoided all human contact, until his uncle counseled him on how to overcome this shyness. He advised Dalí to be an actor and to pretend he played the part of an extrovert. At first Dalí was full of doubts. But when he adopted the pose of an extrovert, his brain soon adapted itself to the role he was playing. Dalí’s pretense changed his psychology.

Think for a moment about social occasions — visits, dates, dinners out with friends, birthday parties, weddings, and other gatherings. Even when we’re unhappy or depressed, these occasions force us to act as if we are happy. Observing others’ faces, postures, and voices, we unconsciously mimic their reactions. We synchronize our movements, postures, and tones of voice with theirs. Then, by mimicking happy people, we become happy.

CIA researchers have long been interested in developing techniques to help them study the facial expressions of suspects. Two such researchers began simulating facial expressions of anger and distress all day, each day for weeks. One of them admitted feeling terrible after a session of making those faces. Then the other realized that he too felt poorly, so they began to keep track. They began monitoring their bodies while simulating facial expressions. Their findings were remarkable. They discovered that a facial expression alone is sufficient to create marked changes in the nervous system.

In one exercise they raised their inner eyebrows, raised their cheeks, and lowered the corner of their lips and held this facial expression for a few minutes. They were stunned to discover that this simple facial expression generated feelings of sadness and anguish within them. The researchers then decided to monitor the heart rates and body temperatures of two groups of people. One group was asked to remember and relive their most sorrowful experiences. The other group in another room was simply asked to produce a series of facial expressions expressing sadness. Remarkably, the second group, the people who were pretending, showed the same physiological responses as the first. Try the following thought experiment.


• Lower your eyebrows.

• Raise your upper eyelids.

• Narrow your eyelids.

• Press your lips together.

Hold this expression and you will generate anger. Your heartbeat will go up ten or twelve beats per minute. Your hands will get hot, and you will feel very unpleasant.

The next time you’re feeling depressed and want to feel happy and positive, try this: put a pen between your teeth, in far enough so that it stretches the edges of your mouth out to the left and right without feeling uncomfortable. Hold it there for five minutes or so. You’ll find yourself inexplicably in a happy mood. You will amaze yourself at how fast your facial expressions can change your emotions. Amazingly, an expression you do not even know you have can create an emotion that you did not deliberately choose to feel. Emotion doesn’t just go from the inside out. It goes from the outside in.


Psychologist Theodore Velten created a mood induction procedure in 1969 that psychologists have used for over forty years to induce a posi¬tive mind-set, especially in psychology experiments. It’s a simple approach that involves reading, reflecting on, and trying to feel the effects of some fifty-eight positive affirmations as they wash over you. The statements start out being fairly neutral and then become progressively more positive. They are specifically designed to produce a euphoric state of mind.

Velten’s Instructions: Read each of the following statements to yourself. As you look at each one, focus your observation only on that one. You should not spend too much time on any one statement. To experience the mood suggested in the statement, you must be willing to accept and respond to the idea. Allow the emotion in the statement to act upon you. Then try to produce the feeling suggested by each statement. Visualize a scene in which you experienced such a feeling. Imagine reliving the scene. The entire exercise should take about ten minutes.


1. Today is neither better nor worse than any other day.

2. I do feel pretty good today, though.

3. I feel lighthearted.

4. This might turn out to have been one of my good days.

5. If your attitude is good, then things are good, and my attitude is good.

6. I feel cheerful and lively.

7. I’ve certainly got energy and self-confidence to share.

8. On the whole, I have very little difficulty in thinking clearly.

9. My friends and family are pretty proud of me most of the time.

10. I’m in a good position to make a success of things.

11. For the rest of the day, I bet things will go really well.

12. I’m pleased that most people are so friendly to me.

13. My judgments about most things are sound.

14. The more I get into things, the easier they become for me.

15. I’m full of energy and ambition — I feel like I could go a long time without sleep.

16. This is one of those days when I can get things done with practically no effort at all.

17. My judgment is keen and precise today. Just let someone try to put something over on me.

18. When I want to, I can make friends extremely easily.

19. If I set my mind to it, I can make things turn out fine.

20. I feel enthusiastic and confident now.

21. There should be opportunity for a lot of good times coming along.

22. My favorite songs keep going through my mind.

23. Some of my friends are so lively and optimistic.

24. I feel talkative — I feel like talking to almost anybody.

25. I’m full of energy, and am really getting to like the things I’m doing.

26. I feel like bursting with laughter — I wish somebody would tell a joke and give me an excuse.

27. I feel an exhilarating animation in all I do.

28. My memory is in rare form today.

29. I’m able to do things accurately and efficiently.

30. I know good and well that I can achieve the goals I set.

31. Now that it occurs to me, most of the things that have depressed me wouldn’t have if I’d just had the right attitude.

32. I have a sense of power and vigor.

33. I feel so vivacious and efficient today — sitting on top of the world.

34. It would really take something to stop me now.

35. In the long run, it’s obvious that things have gotten better and better during my life.

36. I know in the future I won’t overemphasize so-called “problems.”

37. I’m optimistic that I can get along very well with most of the people I meet.

38. I’m too absorbed in things to have time for worry.

39. I’m feeling amazingly good today.

40. I am particularly inventive and resourceful in this mood.

41. I feel superb! I think I can work to the best of my ability.

42. Things look good. Things look great!

43. I feel that many of my friendships will stick with me in the future.

44. I feel highly perceptive and refreshed.

45. I can find the good in almost everything.

46. In a buoyant mood like this one, I can work fast and do it right the first time.

47. I can concentrate hard on anything I do.

48. My thinking is clear and rapid.

49. Life is so much fun; it seems to offer so many sources of fulfillment.

50. Things will be better and better today.

51. I can make decisions rapidly and correctly, and I can defend them against criticisms easily.

52. I feel industrious as heck — I want something to do!

53. Life is firmly in my control.

 54. I wish somebody would play some good, loud music!

55. This is great — I really do feel good. I am elated about things!

56. I’m really feeling sharp now.

57. This is just one of those days when I’m ready to go!

58. Wow, I feel great!

You’ll find yourself feeling good about yourself and thinking harmonious thoughts. When you are in a good mood, you find your body exhibiting it in your behavior. You’ll smile, and you’ll walk briskly.



Leonardo da Vinci once observed that it’s no mystery why it is fun to be around happy people and depressing to be around depressed people. He also observed a melancholy atmosphere in many portraits. He attributed that to the solitariness of artists and their environment. According to Giorgio Vasari, Leonardo, while painting the Mona Lisa, employed singers, musicians, and jesters to chase away his melancholy as he painted. As a result, he painted a smile so pleasing that it seems divine and as alive as the original. …………………………………………………………………………………………………

(Michael Michalko is a highly-acclaimed creativity expert and the author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses; Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.


Energize your brainstorming meetings about innovation and creativity by confounding expectations with the following tactics, exercises and suggestions.

IDEA TICKET. In advance of a meeting, frame a problem or issue to address. Ask each person to bring at least one new idea or suggestion about the problem as their ticket of admission to the meeting. Have the people write their ideas on index cards and collect them at the door. No one gets in without a ticket. Start the meeting by reading everyone’s contribution.

EXAMPLE: What is impossible to do now, but if it were possible, would change our business and industry forever?

SPACE CREATURE. Have the group imagine a creature living on another planet with a different atmosphere in a distant solar system. Ask them to draw a picture of the creature that they imagine. Then have the group display their drawings.

space creature

DISCUSSION: You’ll discover that most people draw creatures that resemble life as we understand it, even though we are free to think up anything. Namely, creatures with sense organs to see, hear and smell, and arms and legs with bilateral symmetry. Rather than creating something that=s idiosyncratic and unpredictable, most people create creatures that have a great deal in common with one another and with the properties of typical earth animals.

There is no reason why animals on other planets would have to resemble animals on earth. People drawing space creatures could have tapped into any existing knowledge base, such as rock formations, tumbleweed or clouds to get an idea for the general shape of their space creature, and each person could access something different and novel. But most people do not and draw animals that have similar properties to animals on earth.

What we’re exhibiting is a phenomenon called structured imagination. Structured imagination refers to the fact that even when we use our imagination to develop new ideas, those ideas are heavily structured in highly predictable ways according to existing concepts, categories and stereotypes. This is true whether the individuals are inventors, artists, writers, scientists, designers, business people, or everyday people fantasizing about a better life.

SHOES. With participants sitting at tables in groups of 6-10, tell everyone to take off their shoes under the table. Then talk for a few minutes about how it feels to be sitting in a serious business meeting with your shoes off. Talk about the fact that taking off your shoes is natural at home and on holiday, but not always in business settings.

 Then ask them to exchange shoes, actually put on someone else’s shoes. Ask them to try to make a big change; men put on women’s shoes etc. Talk about how that feels. Talk about social norms and begin talking about what it is like to be a bit outside the box.

 Next have all of the shoes put up on the table. Just let everyone kind of sit there looking at all the shoes for a while. Watch the nervousness. This is typically a very weird and uncomfortable and anti-social thing they are experiencing. Talk about what it feels like to have someone else’s shoes up on the table in front of you. Talk about how we deal with discomfort; typically by trying to reduce it. But point out that improvement implies change and change nearly always brings discomfort and innovative change must be really outside the box and that must bring even bigger discomfort and so on.

 Now, announce a contest. (E.g., One of the teams will receive a big contract. The team that would get the contract would be the one who could build the highest structure of shoes. The contest would be measuring the distance from the top of the table surface to the highest point of any shoe. Don’t discuss it, just say it, tell them they have 4 minutes and say go.  (One common solution: Have the tallest person in the group stand on the table top and hold one shoe over her head). Or you can make a rule that there be a continuous path of shoes touching shoes (like an electric circuit.)

Watch what they do so that you will have plenty to talk about when you debrief. You will be amazed at the creative solutions the groups develop. Look for how quickly or slowly the various groups get into the task. Look for the emergence of natural leaders. Look for cycles of build-up, down-build in another way, etc.  Just watch.

A variety of talking points will emerge:  

Handling shoes bonds the team.

I knew from the beginning that I was going to have you build a structure with your shoes, but let you warm up to the idea gradually. That may be a good strategy when implementing innovative ideas.

Things are most uncomfortable when we think too much about them; just start doing it and a lot of the discomfort goes away.

It’s not stealing when you take an idea from observing another team. That is the basis of benchmarking in business improvement.

It might be helpful to use other things you didn’t expect to use. For example, one group made a sort of chimney out of the binders containing the workshop materials and then filled the chimney with shoes stood on end. Someone always ends up taking off their belt to attach something to something else. Etc.

Innovation often proceeds through cycles of trying something, dismantling it, trying another tack, and so on. Rarely do you just sit and think and work it all out in your mind. Doing helps stimulate thinking.

The thought processes involved in the most creative approaches are often the combination of several ideas and concepts.

WHAT IS ANOTHER NAME FOR INNOVATION? An activity to practice getting rid of preconceptions is to create different names for things. For example, “rainbow” might be re-named “painted rain. Have the participants create different names for:

• mountain

• cloud

• ocean

Next have the participants rename the subject of the meeting with a different name. For example, if the meeting is about office morale, “morale” might be named as “a spring flower,” or “warm hug,” and so on. What is a different name for an innovation?

ARE YOU A HAMMER OR A NAIL? This is a fun go around the room discussion. You ask the group questions about what best describes you – X or Y – and then have them explain why they think so.

What comes closest to describing you as an employee:

• A hammer or nail?

• Cloud or rock?

When presenting an idea to your superiors?

• Tree or wind?

• Salt shaker or ketchup bottle?

When overcoming problems?

• Snowflake or boiling water?

• Thunderstorm or the smell of leaves burning?

As a participant at a brainstorming meetings?

• Handshake or kiss?

• Watch or compass?

FAILURE 101. To demonstrate the value of risk taking and failure, group the participants into teams. Each team has a pile of ice-cream bar sticks. The exercise is to see which team can build the highest structure using the sticks within 20 minutes. After the exercise ask the participants for their insights in every failure. You’ll find that whoever follows a fixed, logical idea from the outside never finished first. Those who finished with the highest projects went through the most failures. The lesson is to free themselves of the mindset about failures they learned in school, open themselves to surprise and learn to play like open-minded children again with perspective and context.

EVERYONE’S A CONSULTANT. Ask each person to write a current job-related problem or concern on a blank sheet of paper. Examples: “How can I get better support from my superiors for my ideas? “How can we better bring people from different parts of the organization to collaborate together to expand our creativity and breadth of ideas?” “What are your ideas for an innovation rewards program that invites people to vote on their favorite ideas?” After allowing a few minutes to write out the problems, ask each person to pass his or her problem to the right. That person reads the problem just received and jots down their responses. They are given 60 seconds to respond to the individual sheet. Keep the process going until each person gets his or her sheet back.

IDEA MARKETPLACES. Announce the theme of the meeting, and then invite everyone to identify a related issue for which they’re willing to take responsibility. When someone suggests an issue, he or she becomes the sponsor, writes the issue on a large sheet of paper, and posts the sheet on a wall. The process continues until all of the suggested issues have been posted. Next, have participants take part in an “Idea Marketplace” in which each person signs one or more of the large sheets to discuss the issues. The sponsors get together with their groups in private to discuss the issues and record the ideas.

IDEA GALLERY. Post sheets of flip-chart paper around the room, one per participant. Participants stand silently and write their ideas on the sheets (one sheet per person) for 10 to 15 minutes. Then the participants are allowed 15 minutes to walk around the “gallery” and look at the other ideas and take notes. Now, using the other ideas to stimulate further thought, participants return to their sheets and add to or refine their ideas. After about 10 minutes of additional writing, the participants examine all the ideas and select the best ones.

Another option for the gallery technique is to ask participants to draw or diagram their ideas instead of listing them. For example, how many windows are there in your house? Diagramming your house allows you to go inspect and count the windows. Creative insights sometimes occur as a result of drawing or diagramming a problem, because they help us notice certain features that may be overlooked.

THREE PLUS. Each person silently writes three ideas on the tops of sheets of paper. One idea per sheet. The sheets are passed to the person on their right. That person is asked to write down an idea that improves on the one listed at the top of the sheet. If participants have difficulty improving on the idea, ask them to list new ones. Do this for all three ideas. After five minutes or so, the idea sheets are again passed to the right. Continue the process until all members receive their original papers.

TELL A STORY. Storytelling is one of the oldest ways to teach and transform. Stories and parables allow people to think about things that would be difficult to approach any other way.  Storytelling, for example, can help people envision the future they want and how to achieve it. Tell participants that it is the year 2025 and your company has been voted the most innovative company in the nation. Have participants create stories of how your company achieved that honor. Examples:

• Tell each person to imagine that he or she had been voted employee of the year. Then, have each one give a speech to the group, telling what they did and how they did it to earn that honor.

• Ask each person to write out their most ambitious innovation goal for this year. Then, imagine that the goal was reached or surpassed. Again, ask each person to give a speech on the specifics of what they had to do to achieve it.

THOUGHT WALK. Have the group take a walk around your workplace and the surrounding grounds. Look for objects, situations or events that you can compare with your subject metaphorically. For example, suppose your problem is how to improve communications in your company. You take a walk and notice potholes in the road. How are “potholes” like your corporate communication problem? For one thing, if potholes are not repaired, they get bigger and more dangerous. Usually road crews are assigned to repair the potholes. Similarly, unless something is done to improve corporate communications, it’s likely to deteriorate even further. An idea with a similar relation to “road crews” is to assign someone in the organization to fill the role of “communications coach.” The role would entail educating, encouraging, and supporting communication skills in all employees. And just as road crews are rotated, you can rotate the assignment every six months.

The guidelines for taking a thought walk are:

 Take a walk around the grounds and look for objects, events or situations (For example, children skipping rope, a pebble, a bag of jelly beans, a drinking fountain, and so on) that might make interesting metaphors with your subject. Make a list.

 When you return, make as many metaphors as you can between your list and your subject. Look for similarities and similar circumstances.

 Look for ways to transfer principles and similar circumstances from what you observed and your subject. Try to build at least one idea or solution from each metaphor. Ask yourself what new insights the metaphors provide as to how to solve the problem.

If you are brainstorming in a group, ask each person to take a “thought walk” and come back with four or five things or objects (or a list). Ask each participant to silently list the characteristics and to build ideas around the characteristics. The group shares ideas and then elaborates on them into still more ideas.

A few months back, engineers looked for ways to safely and efficiently remove ice from power lines during ice storms and were stonewalled. They decided to take a “thought walk” around the hotel. One of the engineers came back with a jar of honey he purchased in the gift shop. He suggested putting honey pots on top of each power pole. He said this would attract bears and the bears would climb the poles to get the honey. Their climbing would cause the poles to sway and the ice would “vibrate” off the wires. Working with the principle of “vibration”, they got the idea of bringing in helicopters to hover over the lines. Their hovering vibrated the ice off the power lines.

PHOTO WALK. Another way to take a walk is take at least five pictures of visual metaphors of the subject or problem. Then write descriptions of the metaphors. Then, for each metaphor, look for new insights or solutions. For example, suppose you are in charge of improving the new employee training program and you take a photo of a building under construction. You would first describe what is involved in constructing a building and then transfer similarities or similar circumstances to your training program.

By focusing attention away from the challenge, you increase the probability of viewing the problem in new ways when you come back to it. An environmental think tank worked with the challenge of recycling garbage. The group leader had the group take a thought walk.

One person took a photo of a model plane. He described his hobby of building model planes and how he blends old, left-over paints to create a unique beige color to differentiate his model planes from others. This sparked a thought in another member who suggested that the same principle be applied to recycling. They developed a service that picks up old paint, blends it, and sells it for $5 a gallon. They call the paint “Earth Beige.” They are now working on another service to pick up junk mail and convert it into fiberboard which they will call “Earth Board.”

(Michael Michalko is a highly-acclaimed creativity expert and the author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses; Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.

To Get A Different Perspective, Turn Your Problem Upside Down

small duck

Because we’re taught to keep opposites separated, most paradoxes make us feel ambivalent and uncertain. We think of shapes such as curves and lines as separate and distinct. We know this because we’re taught to know things in relation and in opposition to each other.

Centuries ago, the fifteenth-century mathematician, Nicholas of Cusa, made the following observation regarding the shape of an infinite circle. The curvature of a circle’s circumference decreases as the size of the circle increases. For example, the curvature of the earth’s surface is so negligible that it appears flat. The limit of decrease in curvature is a straight line. The curvature of an infinite circle, then, is…a straight line! We arrive at this thought by means of our intellect, which recognizes the coincidence of these two opposites.

Read the following from top to bottom. Think for a moment about the meaning of the words. Now, read it again starting at the bottom and reading up. Changing the way you read the same words from (top to bottom) to (bottom to top) changed the meaning of the essay.

The Lost Generation

“Happiness comes from within”

is a lie, and

“money will make me happy.”

So in 30 years I will tell my children

They are not the most important thing in my life

My employer will know this I have my priorities straight

because work is more important than family

I will tell you this

Once upon a time families stayed together

but this will not be true in my era

this is a quick fix society

Experts tell me 30 years from now I will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of my divorce

I do not concede that I will live in a country of my own making

In the future

Environmental destruction will be the norm

No longer can it be said my peers and I care about the earth

It will be evident that my generation is apathetic and lethargic

It is foolish to presume

there is hope

We understand ideas and concepts in terms of their relation and opposition to each other. To get an alternative understanding, reverse an idea and see what new relationships are created. For example, many famous artists have designed and mass-marketed consumer goods such as purses, T-shirts, messenger bags, and so forth for a handsome profit. Unknown artists can’t avail themselves of this opportunity, because they are not recognized and no one is buying their art.

A group of artists in San Francisco reversed this formulation in an interesting way. They asked, if the reputation of a famous artist makes commercial sales of consumer goods possible, why can’t consumer goods make lesser-known artists famous?

THE IDEA: The group holds a variety of gallery shows, and, in addition to paintings, they sell wallets. Each artist prints his or her own design on a dozen wallets, which are priced at twenty-five dollars each. The wallets both produce a profit and serve as promotional items for the lesser-known artists. Wallets were chosen as the medium because they are not hung on a wall but are carried around, exposing the artists to a much wider audience.

Look at it one way, and famous art makes consumer sales possible; look at it another way, and it’s consumer sales that make famous art possible. It’s much like the illustration above the text. Look at it one way, it’s a rabbit; look at it another way, it’s a duck. Either way, it’s the same figure. It is you (the observer) who constructs reality.

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