Author: Michael Michalko (page 1 of 25)

If You Always Think the Way You’ve Always Thought, You Will Always Get What You Always Got

picture for if you always think.........

Read the following paragraph.

I cdnuolt blveiee taht ppoele cluod aulaclty raed and uesdnatnrd tihs. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mind. It deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is besauae ocne we laren how to raed we bgien to aargnre the lteerts in our mnid to see waht we epxcet to see. The huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but preecsievs the wrod as a wlohe. We do tihs ucnsoniuscoly wuithot tuhoght. Amzanig. I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

Amazing, isn’t it? How are you able to see and understand a group of jumbled letters as words? How can you find meaning in a mass of jumbled letters? Show this paragraph to any child just learning to read and they will tell you that what you think are words is nonsense. This is because the word patterns in their brain have not yet become frozen. Our word patterns are so rigid that once we read the scrambled letters as words, we no longer see them as a bunch of mixed up letters but as ordinary words.

The dominant factor in the way our minds work is the buildup of patterns that enable us to simplify and cope with a complex world. These patterns are based on our past experiences in life, education, and work that have been successful in the past. We look at 6 X 6 and 36 appears automatically without conscious thought. We brush our teeth in the morning, get dressed, and drive to work without conscious thought because our thinking patterns enable us to perform routine tasks rapidly and accurately.

But this same patterning makes it hard for us to come up with new ideas and creative solutions to problems, especially when confronted with unusual data. In our paragraph, our word patterns are so hard wired that even a small bit of information (the first and last letter of a word) activates the entire word pattern.

Think of your mind as a dish of jelly which has settled so that its surface is perfectly flat. When information enters the mind, it self-organizes. It is like pouring warm water on the dish of jelly with a teaspoon. Imagine the warm water being poured on the jelly dish and then gently tipped so that it runs off. After many repetitions of this process, the surface of the jelly would be full of ruts, indentations, and grooves.  New water (information) would start to automatically flow into the preformed grooves. After a while, it would take only a bit of information (water) to activate an entire channel. This is the pattern recognition and pattern completion process of the brain. Even if much of the information is out of the channel, the pattern will be activated. The mind automatically corrects and completes the information to select and activate a pattern.

This is why when we sit down and try to will new ideas or solutions, we tend to keep coming up with the same-old, same-old ideas. Information is flowing down the same ruts and grooves making the same-old connections and producing the same old ideas over and over again.

Consider what happens when you read these words:

Thief…………careless……….prison

Just three words activate a thinking pattern in your brain that relates a story about a thief who is careless, gets caught and ends up in prison. There is no story. There are only three unrelated words. Your brain simply recognized a certain pre-existing cognitive pattern and assumed the story.

The brain processes new information by immediately imposing meaning based on the dominant, associated, assumed context rather than objective inspection. Secondly, our judgments and decisions are often based on automatic, rule of thumb responses to this information rather than on thorough, logical analysis. The next sentence is a combination of letters and numbers. Note how your brain assumes it is a sentence by its appearance and then responds by automatically identifying the numbers as letters they resemble.

S1M1L4RLY, Y0UR M1ND 15 R34D1NG 7H15 4U70M471C4LLY W17H0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17

It is this habitual use of pattern recognition that provides us with an instant interpretation of the problem. It also limits our view of the world, our access to new ideas, and our access to unique solutions. If you always think the way you’ve always thought, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

An enlightening experiment 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 as being properties.

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. For example, if the average person were trained to approach something when shown a white square and avoid it when shown a gray square, the person would do so. 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.

Over time we have cultivated an attitude which puts the major emphasis on separating human experience into different domains and universes. We’ve been tacitly taught that perception is the activity of dividing a complex scene into its separate parts followed by the activity of attaching standard labels to the parts. For example, if the average person were asked to create a better zipper, the person would think in terms of pre-established categories such as “material zipper is made from, position of zipper on clothing, size of zipper, color and design of zipper, fasteners, zipper pulls to move the zipper up and down, and so on.” This kind of thinking is exclusive. Its goal is to separate and exclude elements from thought based upon what exists now. It discourages creative thought.
You cannot will yourself to look at things in a different way, no matter how inspired you are to do so. No matter how hard or how long you think about a zipper, you will continue to see a zipper as an independent part of an independent reality and will continue to focus on the particulars of a zipper.

Change Your Thinking Patterns

You can change your thinking patterns by focusing on the universal instead of the particular. When you do this, you will find yourself looking at the same thing as everyone else, but seeing something different. The essence of a zipper, for example, is fastening. Think of the process of fastening instead of the particular zipper. Now instead of thinking of the particular (zippers) open your mind and think of how things fasten (universal). Some examples:

How does a wasp fasten to its hive?
How does a window fasten to a sill?
How does a bird fasten its nest to a branch?
How does a person fasten a shoe to his foot?
How do mountain climbers fasten themselves to the mountain?
How do burdocks fasten to passerbys?

George de Mestral, a Swiss inventor occupied his mind with the idea of creating a better zipper. A creative thinker, he perceived the essence of a zipper to be “fastening.” Thinking inclusively, he was always trying to connect all sorts of things with the essence of “fastening.”

One day he took his dog for a nature hike. They both returned covered with burrs, the plant like seed-sacs that cling to animal fur in order to travel to fertile new planting grounds. He made the “Aha” connection between a burrs and zippers when he examined the small hooks that enabled the seed-bearing burr to cling so viciously to the tiny loops in the fabric of his pants. This inspired him to invent a two-sided fastener (two-sided like a zipper), one side with stiff hooks like the burrs and the other side with soft loops like the fabric of his pants. He called his invention “Velcro,” which is itself a combination of the word velour and crochet.

The key feature of George de Mestral’s thinking was his conceptual connection between patterns of a burr and patterns of a zipper. He bounced back and forth among ideas guessing as to what works and what doesn’t. By “guessing,” what I mean is that he had to take chances as to what aspects of a “burr” pattern matter, and what doesn’t. Perhaps shapes count, but not textures–or vice versa. Perhaps orientation count, but not sizes–or vice versa. Perhaps curvature or its lack counts and so on until he got it. The idea of Velcro is not only greater than the sums of their parts, but it is different from the sums of their parts.

Blueprint

Suppose you were challenged with the task of finding a better way to organize the way information flows on the internet. The average person will organize and think only about those particulars that relate to the internet, the way information is digitally organized, and the way existing search engines work.

What is the essence of the problem? How are things organized so they can flock and flow? The principle is “flocking and flowing.”

Think about how things flock and flow in other worlds. Examples:

a. How do fish flock and flow?
b. How do molecules flock and flow in liquids?
c. How do birds flock and flow while flying?
d. How do sheep flock and flow in herds?
e. How do people flock and flow in and out of a football stadium?

Xiaohui Cui at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee immersed himself in the problem of a better way to organize information on the internet. He did this by abstracting the principle of the problem (flocking and flowing) and immersed himself in searching in other domains for how things flock and flow. When he made the analogical connection between how birds of the same species flock and flow together and how information flocks and flows on the internet, he was able to look at his problem with a new perspective.

The system he created mimics the ways birds of the same species congregate while flying. He created flocks of virtual “birds.” Each bird carries a document, which is assigned a string of numbers. Documents with a lot of similar words have number strings of the same length. A virtual bird will fly only with others of its own “species” or, in this case, documents with number strings of the same length. When a new article appears on the Internet, software scans it for words similar to those in existing articles and then files the document in an existing flock or creates a new one.

Chi’s new tool will, whenever you go online, automatically update your browser with any new stories added to your favorite websites. It will also provide automatic updates from other websites, such as when new scientific papers are added to journals.

Chi discovered the abstract connection that links and does not separate parts of two complex wholes by thinking of universals and essences. He connected the flocking and flowing of information with the flocking and flowing of birds. This is the essence of creative thinking: a complex blending of elements of two or more dissimilar subjects, all of which involve guesswork rather than certainty.

Mind Popping

mind pop

When you keep a written historical record of your ideas and problems, 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 you follow my past post suggestion about the importance of keeping a written record or journal of all your ideas. Now you have a new idea, so you record as much information as you have about it. By periodically reviewing your notebook, you activate all the recorded information in your conscious and subconscious mind. You have 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.

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 and 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.

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! 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 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.

Recording your creative 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.

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.

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 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 subconscious 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. Write “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 is 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 and 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 may get a mind popping idea.

SUMMARY

There is, in the universe, a vast order. It never forsakes you. I throw a coin into the air, and it returns and hits the floor every time. Because there is a vast order, all things can be separated and understood. Observe that when NASA sends up four rockets one-half second apart, thereafter images are approximately simultaneous. So, we say that we see four rockets at the same time. This is the illusion of simultaneity. In the order of things, we attempt to comprehend spontaneously those things which are not simultaneous.

In the same way, we think of a creative genius as a mysterious person who spontaneously creates ideas out of the blue. This is not so. Creative geniuses think fluently and flexibly. Fluent thinking means to generate quantities of ideas and flexible thinking means to think beyond the ordinary and conventional nature of things. Geniuses are fluent thinkers because of the following practices. They:

Defer judgement when looking for ideas.

Generate as many ideas as possible. Accept all ideas.

List their ideas as they occur and keep a written record.

Constantly review, elaborate or improve their written records. This allows their                 subconscious minds to continually incubate and generate new ideas.

 

Mind Popping

mind pop

When you keep a written historical record of your ideas and problems, 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 you follow my past post suggestion about the importance of keeping a written record or journal of all your ideas. Now you have a new idea, so you record as much information as you have about it. By periodically reviewing your notebook, you activate all the recorded information in your conscious and subconscious mind. You have 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.

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 and 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.

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! 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 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.

Recording your creative 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.

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.

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 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 subconscious 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. Write “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 is 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 and 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 may get a mind popping idea.

SUMMARY

 There is, in the universe, a vast order. It never forsakes you. I throw a coin into the air, and it returns and hits the floor every time. Because there is a vast order, all things can be separated and understood. Observe that when NASA sends up four rockets one-half second apart, thereafter images are approximately simultaneous.  So, we say that we see four rockets at the same time. This is the illusion of simultaneity. In the order of things, we attempt to comprehend spontaneously those things which are not simultaneous.

In the same way, we think of a creative genius as a mysterious person who spontaneously creates ideas out of the blue. This is not so. Creative geniuses think fluently and flexibly. Fluent thinking means to generate quantities of ideas and flexible thinking means to think beyond the ordinary and conventional nature of things. Geniuses are fluent thinkers because of the following practices. They:

Defer judgement when looking for ideas.

Generate as many ideas as possible. Accept all ideas.

List their ideas as they occur and keep a written record.

Constantly review, elaborate or improve their written records. This allows their subconscious minds to continually incubate and generate new ideas.

The Value of Focusing on Universals Instead of Particulars

As humans, many of us have lost the sensitivity to deeper relationships and essences because we’ve become educated to focus on the particulars of experience as opposed to the universals. For example, suppose we were asked to design a new can opener. Most of our ideas would be driven by our experience and association with the particulars of existing can openers, and we would likely design something that is only marginally different from existing can openers. If, however, we determined the essence of a can opener to be “opening things,” and looked for analogies and cues in other worlds, we increase our chances of discovering a novel idea. One example of “opening things” are pea pods. Ripening weakens the seams on a pea pod and it 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.

One of the early design problems in the space program was the problem of reentering the earth’s atmosphere without burning up. Scientists were baffled until they determined the essence of the problem. The essence of the problem was to survive frictional heating. They brainstormed and listed every conceivable possibility they could imagine that contained that essence and settled on a meteor. They studied how meteors survived frictional heating. They discovered that the frictional heat generated during entry into the earth’s atmosphere was dissipated into the heat of vaporization of the meteor surface. Consequently, an analogy between the space capsule and the meteor led to the use of a sacrificial material of the capsule surface that vaporized and thus dissipated the frictional heating.

Working with principles and essences will break you out of the habit of associating qualities with things and will expand your thinking. For example, the principle of “resonance” lies in the heart of much of Nikola Tesla’s work. Resonance describes the way in which large quantities of energy can be exchanged between such systems when their vibrations coincide. An example of resonance is a little girl pushing her brother higher and higher on a swing by timing her pushes to coincide with the natural oscillation of the swing. If the pushes are in resonance, then each impulse adds progressively. Tesla saw this principle at work in all systems in nature, for example, in the swing of the pendulum in a grandfather clock, the notes of a violin, oscillations of an electric current, the waves of a lake, etc., and used this principle as the basis of many of  his inventions, including the Tesla coil, a device that turns ordinary household electric current into current at a very high voltage.

The guidelines for thinking this way are: Decide the major principle represented by your problem. What is the essence of it? For example, the essence of a new marketing strategy might be “attraction.” Namely, how are things and people attracted. Once you determine its essence, then generate a list of things from other worlds that represent the major principle. Examples of attracting are:

– Bees attracted to honey.

– Magnets attracting metal.

– Politicians attracting voters.

– People attracted to a Web site on the Internet.

– Colleges attracting premier athletes.

Select one and describe it in as much detail as possible. For example, politicians attracting voters suggest many things including the themes of values, canvassing voters door to door, and debates. Use the descriptions to suggest analogies and look for cues to stimulate ideas. For example, both major political parties campaigned on the values theme differently in presidential election. One party used the adjectives honesty, honor, and reliability; whereas the other used verbs and specific accomplishments. The campaign using verbs was the more successful with voters who identified it as proactive and action-oriented. This triggers the thought of an action-oriented marketing strategy using action verbs and specific customer benefits.

Sometimes the descriptor itself will provide the cue for an idea as it did for a group of engineers who wanted to improve the telephone. They determined that the essence of a telephone was a way of communicating. They listed several different ways of communicating including:

– With sign language.

– With nonverbal language.

– With hugs and embraces.

– Cats communicate by rubbing.

– Police use codes to communicate with each other.

The descriptor “hugs and embraces” was the cue that inspired them to invent a telephone that could actually reach out and touch you. The telephone incorporates video, audio and touch. When you press down on a pad of pins (force transducers), the pins come up at the other end of the line. Wherever you touch, or however you move your fingers, that exact same pressure and design will be transmitted to the other pad.

Thomas Edison had a particular talent for identifying the essence of a problem and then finding an appropriate analogy. For example, one of his discoveries was how to send four simultaneous messages along a telegraph wire, two in each direction at once. This was important at the time as it would quadruple the power of the telegraph without the need of having to build four times the number of wires. The essence of his problem was “flow of current,” and he looked to the world of water. He built an” analog” of the electric wire, with pipes and valves and assorted gadgets for affecting the flow of water in the pipe. Using gadgets to force water back and forth in the pattern of wires, he tinkered and ended with separating the separable features of the flow of current, sending one message controlled by one, and another controlled by another.

Like a spark that jumps across a gap, an idea from one world is used to create a new idea or  creative solution to a problem in another world. The idea that the solar system is continually restored came to Pierre-Simon Laplace, the brilliant French astronomer, when he considered the body’s self-healing system. Many years after Laplace’s insight, Bell engineers developed a technology designed to be a self-healing communication system based on a similar analogy with the human being’s circulation system. When important telephone arteries are damaged or cut, the system will pump phone service through new channels, keeping communications alive. The self-healing network links each central office with optical fiber cable in a loop. Next, the central offices are equipped with a special switch, a special device that duplicates signals and sends them in opposite directions on the ring, ensuring that at least one arrives even if there is a problem. If there is a problem, like the human being’s circulatory system, the system is designed to go around it.

You can’t Google the word “vacuum” without seeing the name Dyson. Since their introduction of their innovative bagless technology, the company’s devices have become known as top-of-the-line products to suck the dust from your carpet.

Today, the company’s founder and namesake, Sir James Dyson, has an estimated net worth of $4.6 billion. Not a bad deal for someone who 20 years ago was just a guy with a game-changing idea for a better vacuum — that he couldn’t sell to a manufacturer if he tried. And trust him, he tried.

Dyson’s journey to the top of Vacuum Mountain began when he decided there had to be a way to build a better device than the popular vacuums of the day. “I started Dyson with an idea: a bagless vacuum that didn’t lose suction. It seemed so simple — bagged vacuums begin to lose suction as soon as they fill with dust,” he told New York. “So, I invented a vacuum that didn’t rely on bags, and cyclone technology meant the vacuum wouldn’t lose suction.”

The idea came to him after seeing a local sawmill which used a 30-foot-high conical centrifuge that would spin dust out of the air. The same technology, Dyson reckoned, could be shrunk down and built into a vacuum cleaner, omitting the need for a bag and ensuring the device wouldn’t lose suction and become less useful over time.

Your mind is lying in wait for some cue or suggestion that will initiate thinking about your problem in a different way. When you use analogies between your subject and a subject in another world, you produce cues and hints that will make novel combinations and connections more likely. Philo Farnsworth’s interest in farming gave him the clue that led to television. One day, while sitting on a hillside in Idaho, he observed the neat rows in a nearby farm. The neat rows inspired the idea of creating a picture on a cathode ray tube out of rows of light and dark dots. He was 14 at the time, and the next year he presented the concept at a high-school science fair, and he later demonstrated the first working model of a television set when he was 21.

For more information, please visit www.creativethinking.net

HOW EDUCATION INHIBITS OUR NATURAL CREATIVITY

CREATIVE THINKING.jpg

Our natural creative genius is stifled from the time we are born.

NASA had contacted Dr George Land to develop a highly specialized test that would give them the means to effectively measure the creative potential of NASA’s rocket scientists and engineers. The test turned out to be very successful for NASA’s purposes, but the scientists were left with a few questions: where does creativity come from? Are some people born with it or is it learned? Or does it come from our experience?

The scientists then gave the test to 1,600 children between the ages of 4 and 5. What they found shocked them.

This is a test that looks at the ability to come up with new, different and innovative ideas to problems. What percentage of those children do you think fell in the genius category of imagination?

A full 98 percent!

But this is not the real story. The scientists were so astonished that they decided to make it a longitudinal study and tested the children again five years later when they were ten years old.

The result? Only 30 percent of the children now fell in the genius category of imagination.

When the kids were tested at 15 years the figure had dropped to 12 percent!

What about us adults? How many of us are still in contact with our creative genius after years of schooling?

Sadly, only 2 percent.

These are not isolated incidences — these results have actually been replicated many times. The question is “Does our education rob us of our creative genius?”

Albert Einstein was once asked what the difference was between him and the average person. He said that if you asked the average person to find a needle in the haystack, the person would stop when he or she found a needle. He, on the other hand, would tear through the entire haystack looking for all the possible needles. With creative thinking, one generates as many alternative approaches as one can.

Creative thinking is inclusive thinking. You consider the least obvious as well as the most likely approaches, and you look for different ways to look at the problem. It is the willingness to explore all approaches that is important, even after one has found a promising one.

Most of us have been educated to think exclusively which means we think in deficit by focusing our attention on specific information and excluding all else. Exclusive thinking is fine when we absolutely know which information is relevant and what is not. Many situations, in fact, most are ambiguous. In these instances, exclusive thinking leads us to neglect potentially important pieces of the puzzle. Exclusive thinking doesn’t merely inhibit irrelevant facts and perceptions. It can also smother the imagination.

We are instructed in schools to think reproductively by memorizing formulae, systems, and methodologies that others have used successfully in the past and to think logically and analytically. This instruction has created strong thinking patterns. When confronted with problems, these thinking patterns are activated with even a small bit of information and lead our thinking in a clearly defined direction toward something that has worked in the past for someone else, excluding all other approaches.

Think of your mind as a dish of jelly which has settled so that its surface is perfectly flat. When information enters the mind, it self-organizes. It is like pouring warm water on the dish of jelly with a teaspoon. Imagine the warm water being poured on the jelly dish and then gently tipped so that it runs off. After many repetitions of this process, the surface of the jelly would be full of ruts, indentations, and grooves.

New water (information) would start to automatically flow into the preformed grooves. After a while, it would take only a bit of information (water) to activate an entire channel. This is the pattern recognition and pattern completion process of the brain. Even if much of the information is out of the channel, the pattern will be activated. The mind automatically corrects and completes the information to select and activate a pattern.

This is why when we sit down and try to will new ideas or solutions, we tend to keep coming up with the same-old, same-old ideas. Information is flowing down the same ruts and grooves making the same-old connections producing the same old ideas over and over again.

Creativity occurs when we tilt the jelly dish and force the water (information) to flow into new channels and make new connections. These new connections give you different ways to focus your attention and different ways to interpret whatever you are focusing on. These different ways of focusing your attention and different ways of interpreting what you are focusing on lead to new insights, original ideas and solutions.

You cannot will yourself to look at things in a different way, no matter how inspired you are to do so. To illustrate, following are two rows of parallel dots which are equal in length. Try to will yourself to see the rows of dots as unequal in length. No matter how hard you concentrate and how long you look at the dots, the two rows remain equal.

UNEVEN DOTS

However, if you change the way you look at the dots by combining the dots with two convergent straight lines, your perception of the dots changes. When you do that, the top row appears longer than the other one.

COMBINING DOTS.LINES

The rows are still equal (go ahead and measure them), yet, you are now seeing something different. Combining the dots with straight lines focused your attention in a different way and caught your brain’s processing routines by surprise. This provoked a different thinking pattern that changed your perception of the illustration and allowed you to see something that you could not otherwise see.

If one particular thinking strategy stands out for creative geniuses throughout history, it is the ability to provoke different thinking patterns by using creative thinking techniques that enable them to perceive conceptual, analogical and metaphorical juxtapositions between dissimilar and unrelated subjects and information.

Habits of Creative Geniuses

Another habit to consciously cultivate is the habit of keeping a written record of your creativity attempts in a notebook, on file cards or in your computer. A record not only guarantees that the thoughts and ideas will last, since they are committed to paper or computer files, but will goad you into other thoughts and ideas. The simple act of recording his ideas enabled Leonardo da Vinci to dwell on his ideas and improve them over time by elaborating on them. Thus, Leonardo was able to take simple concepts and work them into incredible complex inventions that were years ahead of their time, such as the helicopter, the bicycle and the diving suit.

EDISON’S NOTEBOOKS. Edison relentlessly recorded and illustrated every step of his voyage to discovery in his 3,500 notebooks that were discovered after his death in 1931. His strategy of keeping a written record of his work was a significant key to his genius. His notebooks got him into the following habits:

1. They enabled him to cross-fertilize ideas, techniques and conceptual models by transferring them from one problem to the next. For example, when it became clear in 1900 that an iron-ore mining venture in which Edison was financially committed was failing and on the brink of bankruptcy, he spent a weekend poring over his notebooks and came up with a detailed plan to redirect the company’s efforts toward the manufacture of Portland cement, which could capitalize on the same model of the iron-ore company.

2. Whenever he succeeded with a new idea, Edison would review his notebooks to rethink ideas and inventions he had abandoned in the past in the light of what he recently learned. If he was mentally blocked working on a new idea, he would review his notebooks to see if there was some thought or insight that could trigger a new approach. For example, Edison took his unsuccessful work to develop an undersea telegraph cable “variable resistance” and incorporated it into the design of a telephone transmitter that adapted to the changing sound waves of the caller’s voice. This technique instantly became the industry standard.

3. Edison would often jot down his observations of the natural world, failed patents and research papers written by other inventors, and ideas others had come up with in other fields. He would also routinely comb a wide variety of diverse publications for novel ideas that sparked his interest and record them in his notebooks. He made it a habit to keep a lookout for novel and interesting ideas that others have used successfully on other problems in other fields. To Edison, your idea needs to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are working on.

4. Edison also studied his notebooks of past inventions and ideas to use as springboards for other inventions and ideas in their own right. To Edison, his diagrams and notes on the telephone (sounds transmitted) suggested the phonograph (sounds recorded), which notes and diagrams, in turn, suggested motion pictures (images recorded). Simple, in retrospect. Genius usually is.

Walt Whitman was another genius who collected ideas to stimulate his creative potential. His journals describe an ingenious technique he developed for recording ideas. Anytime an idea would strike his imagination, he would write it down on a small slip of paper. He placed these slips into various envelopes that he titled according to the subject area each envelope contained. In order to have a place for each new idea he encountered, Whitman kept ideas in many different envelopes.

Whitman, whenever he felt a need to spawn new thoughts or perspectives, would select the various envelopes pertaining to his current subject or interests. He retrieved ideas from the envelopes, randomly at times or, on other occasions, only those ideas relevant to his subject; then he would weave these ideas together as if he were creating an idea tapestry. These idea tapestries often became the foundation for a new poem or essay.

Following are guidelines for keeping a written record:

1. Collect all interesting ideas that you encounter from brainstorming sessions, ideas you read about or ideas you create.

2. Record them thematically in a notebook, in your computer, or on note cards and file them by subject (E.g., Organizational improvement, sales presentations, new markets, new product ideas, etc.) in a file box. In the event you need further information about an idea, indicate the source where you found the idea. Cross reference any ideas that may fit into several different categories.

3. Once you have developed a fairly extensive idea base, there are several methods to glean insight from your collection.

Whenever you experience a problem, retrieve ideas from your file that you feel may apply to your need. Spread the ideas out before you and review them. Use the following suggestions to select the ideas most suited to your needs:

1. Select ideas containing attributes closely related to your subject’s attributes.

2. Once you have selected several ideas from the larger group, prepare to apply the ideas to your current needs. You may realize that the entire idea applies or only one procedure or portion of the idea applies. Likewise, ideas may have to be modified in order to apply them to the situation.

3. Combine and apply appropriate attributes or procedures from two or more ideas.

Geniuses recognize the essential merits and attributes of a good idea and can adapt these elements to their subjects, thereby creating a new idea. Many original ideas are second hand, consciously or unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources and used by the idea garnerer with pride and satisfaction. Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, once said that his simple genius was the ability to create something new from the ideas and inventions of others.

Try the following thought experiment.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Have someone slowly read this list out loud. (If you don’t have anyone handy, read the list to yourself, then close the book.) Take three minutes to write down all the words you remember.

sour nice candy
honey sugar soda
bitter pie good
heart taste cake
tooth tart chocolate

Compare the words you wrote down to the original list.

Most people falsely remember the word sweet as being on the list. The word isn’t there, but it is related to the words that are on the list. Thinking is associative and thinking about one thing can get you thinking about related things.

Here’s an interesting story about John Patterson who was president of National Cash Register. He was a fan of Napoleon, who always wrote his thoughts in a journal he carried with him. Patterson rode horseback with his executives every day at 5 A.M. He demanded that they maintain a little red book to record their daily thoughts, ideas, and so on. He ruthlessly fired many executives who failed to maintain a red book. Interestingly, one-sixth of the major U.S. companies were headed by ex-NCR employees for 20 years after Patterson’s death, including Tom Watson, founder of IBM.

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

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