Category: Creativity (page 2 of 14)

Articles from selected publications written by Michael Michalko. These articles offer some clarification and amplification of his views towards creative thinking and his vision of reality.

THE ONE PERSON THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE

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.

COFFIN

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.

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

http://www.amazon.com/Creative-Thinkering-Putting-Your-Imagination/dp/160868024X/ref=pd_sim_b_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=0AZ4HDTTG40XHBRPX22Q

Strange Eccentricities of Creative Geniuses

einstein.tongue

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.”

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(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. http://www.creativethinking.net)

HOW TO CREATE A GOOD MOOD

GOOD MOOD

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.

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.

HOW TO CREATE A GOOD MOOD

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.

VELTEN MOOD INDUCTION STATEMENTS

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.

MONA LISA’S SMILEmona lisa

 

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.  http://www.creativethinking.net)

CREATIVE WAYS TO ENERGIZE EMPLOYEES TO BRAINSTORM FOR INNOVATIVE AND CREATIVE IDEAS

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. http://www.creativethinking.net)

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.

Creative Thinking Technique: Lotus Blossom

 

 

 

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Creative thinking technique:  Lotus Blossom

A creative-thinking technique that will help you expand your thinking beyond your usual paths of thinking is Lotus Blossom. According to author, Michael Michalko, Lotus Blossom helps you to organize your thinking around significant themes, helping you to explore a number of alternate possibilities and ideas.

We were all born as spontaneous, creative thinkers. Yet a great deal of our education may be regarded as the inculcation of mind sets. We were taught how to handle problems and new phenomena with fixed mental attitudes (based on what past thinkers thought) that predetermine our response to problems or situations. Typically, we think on the basis of similar problems encountered in the past. When confronted with problems, we fixate on something in our past that has worked before. Then we analytically select the most promising approach based on past experiences, excluding all other approaches, and work within a clearly defined direction toward the solution of the problem.

Our rutted paths of thinking

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. Following is an interesting experiment, which was originally conducted by the British psychologist Peter Watson, that demonstrates the way we typically process information. 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 think differently

Creative geniuses don’t think this way. The creative genius will always look for a multiplicity of ways to approach a subject. It is this willingness to entertain different perspectives and alternative approaches that broadens their thinking and opens them up to new information and the new possibilities that the rest of us don’t see. 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 a 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 possible needles.

When Charles Darwin first set to solve the problem of evolution, he did not analytically settle on the most promising approach to natural selection and then process the information in a way that would exclude all other approaches. Instead, he initially organized his thinking around significant themes, principally eight, of the problem, which gave his thinking some order but with the themes connected loosely enough so that he could easily alter them singly or in groups. His themes helped him capture his thoughts about evolutionary change by allowing him to reach out in many alternative directions at once and pull seemingly unrelated information into a coalescent body of thought.

Darwin used his themes to work through many points that led to his theory of evolution by helping him to comprehend what is known and to guide in the search for what is not yet known. He used them as a way of classifying the relation of different species to each other, as a way to represent the accident of life, the irregularity of nature, the explosiveness of growth, and of the necessity to keep the number of species constant. Over time, he rejected some of his themes— the idea of direct adaptation, for instance. Some were emphasized — the idea of continuity. Some were confirmed for the first time — the idea that change is continuous. Some were recognized — the frequency of variation. By adjusting and altering the number of themes and connections, Darwin was able to keep his thought fluid and to bring about adaptive shifts in his thinking. He played the critic, surveying his own positions; the inventor, devising new solutions and ideas; and the learner, accumulating new facts not prominent before.

The Lotus Blossom brainstorming technique

The point is that by organizing his thinking around loosely-connected themes, Darwin expanded his thinking by inventing alternative possibilities and explanations that, otherwise, may have been ignored. A creative-thinking technique that will help you expand your thinking in a similar fashion is Lotus Blossom, which was originally developed by Yasuo Matsumura of Clover Management Research in Chiba City, Japan. The technique helps you to diagrammatically mimic Darwin’s thinking strategy by organizing your thinking around significant themes. You start with a central subject and expand into themes and sub-themes, each with separate entry points. In Lotus Blossom, the petals around the core of the blossom are figuratively “peeled back” one at a time, revealing a key component or theme. This approach is pursued in ever-widening circles until the subject or opportunity is comprehensively explored. The cluster of themes and surrounding ideas and applications, which are developed in one way or another, provide several different alternative possibilities. The guidelines for Lotus Blossom are:

1. Write the central problem in the center of the diagram.

2. Write the significant themes, components or dimensions of your subject in the surrounding circles labeled A to H surrounding the central theme. The optimal number of themes for a manageable diagram is between six and eight. If you have more than eight, make additional diagrams. Ask questions like: What are my specific objectives? What are the constants in my problem? If my subject were a book, what would the chapter headings be? What are the dimensions of my problem?

3. Use the ideas written in the circles as the central themes for the surrounding lotus blossom petals or boxes. Thus, the idea or application you wrote in Circle A would become the central theme for the lower middle box A. It now becomes the basis for generating eight new ideas or applications.

4. Continue the process until the lotus blossom diagram is completed.

An example: How to add value to your organization

Suppose, for example, you want to create more value for your organization by increasing productivity or decreasing costs. You would write “Add Value” in the center box. Next, write the eight most significant areas in your organization where you can increase productivity or decrease costs in the circles labeled A to H that surround your central box. Also write the same significant areas in the circles with the corresponding letters spread around the diagram. In my example, I selected the themes “suppliers,” “travel expenses,” “partnerships,” “delivery methods,” “personnel,” “technology,” “facilities,” and “evaluation.” Also write the same significant areas in the circles with the corresponding letters spread around the diagram. For instance, in the sample diagram, the word “technology” in the circle labeled A, serves as the theme for the lower middle group of boxes. Each area now represents a theme that ties together the surrounding boxes.

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For each theme, try to think of eight ways to add value. Phrase each theme as a question to yourself. For example, ask “In what ways might we use technology to increase productivity?” and “In what ways might we use technology to decrease expenses?” Write the ideas and applications in the boxes numbered 1 through 8 surrounding the technology theme. Do this for each theme. Think of eight ideas or ways to make personnel more productive or ways to decrease personnel expenses, eight ideas or ways to create more value for your delivery methods, your facilities and so on. If you complete the entire diagram, you’ll have 64 new ideas or ways to increase productivity or decrease expenses.

When you write your ideas in the diagram, you’ll discover that ideas continually evolve into other ideas and applications, as ideas seem to flow outward with a conceptual momentum all their own.

An important aspect of this technique is that it shifts you from reacting to a “static” snapshot of the problem and will encourage you to examine the significant themes of the problem and the relationships and connections between them. Sometimes when you complete a diagram with ideas and applications for each theme, a property or feature not previously seen will emerge. Generally, higher level properties are regarded as emergent — a car, for example, is an emergent property of the interconnected parts. If a car were disassembled and all the parts were thrown into a heap, the property disappears. If you placed the parts in piles according to function, you begin to see a pattern and make connections between the piles that may inspire you to imagine the emergent property–the car, which you can then build. Similarly, when you diagram your problem thematically with ideas and applications, it enhances your opportunity to see patterns and make connections. The connections you make between the themes and ideas and applications will sometimes create an emergent new property or feature not previously considered.

 

Michael Michalko is author of Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius and Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck. Michael’s web address is www.creativethinking.net.

Letting Go

man hugging tree

At one time in my life, I felt shackled by chains of responsibilities, family obligations and expectations of others. At work I felt restricted and confined by its bureaucratic nature. I was reluctant to follow my instincts in business because I might be fired or demoted.

My friend, Father Tom, was a Franciscan monk at a nearby monastery. I discussed my feelings with him and asked for advice. Instead of answering me directly, Father Tom jumped to his feet and bolted to a nearby tree, flung his arms around it, grasping the tree as he screamed, “Save me from this tree!” Save me from this tree!” I could not believe what I saw. I thought he had gone mad. The shouting soon brought a small crowd of people. “Why are you doing that?” I asked. “Are you crazy!” “You are holding the tree; the tree is not holding you. You can simply let go.” Father Tom let go of the tree and said, “If you can understand that, you have your answer. Your chains of attachment and fears are not holding you, you are holding them. You can simply let go.”

One person who did let go of his fears was 3M’s legendary Richard Drew. Stories about him and his incredible creativity and drive are often told at 3M gatherings to inspire new employees. Former 3M Chairman and CEO, Lewis Lehr, said that if Dick Drew had not worked at 3M, 3M might not exist today or, at best, it would be a lot smaller than it is.

Drew was a consummate risk-taker, constantly pushing to and beyond the edge of the envelope. He ignored his boss when he was summarily ordered to quit working on masking tape and get back to work on improving a brand of Wet-or-Dry sandpaper. That Drew ignored management and wasn’t fired, speaks volumes not only about Drew but about 3M’s management philosophy even back then. It tells you that Drew would pursue his belief in the face of any obstacle, and it tells you that 3M’s management genius included an intuitive understanding of the need to let creative talent alone and to gamble on their ideas.

After creating the initial version of masking tape, Drew asked an executive for permission to buy a thirty-seven-thousand-dollar paper maker. He said it would help improve the masking tape, which has a crepe-like paper backing. The executive, Edgar Ober, told Drew to hold off for a while because finances were tight, and he didn’t feel the paper maker was worth the expenditure. Six months later, Drew took Ober into the laboratory and there was the paper maker, working away productively, turning out a vastly improved backing for the masking tape. Ober was flabbergasted and angry! He asked Drew where the hardware came from. Drew explained that he simply submitted a blizzard of 100 dollar purchase orders over a six-month period of time. The machine was paid for in the small amounts in petty cash he was authorized to spend on his own. The paper maker helped make masking tape into a phenomenal commercial success for 3M.

Drew also encouraged his own workers to attack their goals as relentlessly as he pursued his own. One day, one of his subordinates went to Drew with an idea he was very excited about. He presented his idea enthusiastically and sat back to wait for Drew’s response. Drew paused thoughtfully and then he replied, “Your idea leaves me colder than a Billy goat in hell.” Before disappointment could set in, however, he told him, “You obviously believe in your idea so strongly that I’ll fire you if you don’t continue to work on it, regardless of what I or anyone else here think.”

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, is another example of letting go and living in continuous movement. His biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put him up for adoption. She felt very strongly that he should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for him to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when Steve was born they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So his parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” His biological mother later found out that adoptive mother had never graduated from college and that his adoptive father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when his parents promised that he would someday go to college.

And 17 years later Steve did go to college. But he naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of his working-class parents’ savings were being spent on his college tuition. After six months, he couldn’t see the value in it. He had no idea what he wanted to do with his life and no idea how college was going to help him figure it out. So he decided to move on with his life and drop out. He said it was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions he ever made. The minute he dropped out he stopped taking the required classes that didn’t interest him, and begin dropping in on the ones that did.

He slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, He returned coke bottles for the deposits to buy food with, and he would walk 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. And much of what he stumbled into by following his curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Because he had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, Steve decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. Steve learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in his life. But ten years later, when he designed the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to him and he designed it all into the Mac. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If he had never dropped out, he would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.

Steve Jobs was able to let go of the expectations of his parents, his biological mother and his peers and move forward driven by his curiosity and restlessness for something more.

My favorite example of human potential is a story I’ve heard about a man who bags and carries out groceries in a supermarket. His name is Johnny and he has Downs Syndrome. He loves his job. One day all the employees gathered for a meeting with the owner. The owner talked about customer service and asked each employee to try to do something special for the customers to create a good memory about the market and bring them back. The managers and employees had meetings to discuss various thoughts and ideas. When Johnny tried to get involved with them, he was ignored.

Johnny was used to being treated with indifference and being ignored by the store’s managers and employees, so it didn’t bother him. Johnny thought and thought about what he could do as a grocery bagger. He thought about the things that made him feel good. His favorite thing to do each day after he got home was to look up a quote or make one up if he couldn’t find one he liked and repeat it silently to himself all the next day at work. Then he got his idea. If it makes him feel good, it will make customers feel good too.

He would give his daily quote or saying to his father who would set it up in a computer and print multiple copies. Steve would cut out each quote and sign his name on the back and brought them to work. While bagging groceries he would put a quote in the bag and say “Thank you for shopping with us.”

A month later, the owner noticed Johnny’s checkout lane was five times longer than other lanes. He tried to encourage the shoppers to move to other lanes. Incredibly, the people wouldn’t leave Steve’s lane. They said they wanted Johnny’s “thought for the day.” Three months later, the owner discovered Johnny’s spirit had pervaded the whole staff and each employee was now trying to add that little touch to make people feel special. For example, an employee in the florist section would take broken flowers and pin them on elderly women or small girls.

Whenever I think of human potential and the courage and will of some to overcome personal adversity to create ways to make ordinary tasks into extraordinary examples of inspiration that makes life brighter for the rest of us, I think of Johnny.

(Michael Michalko is 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. http://www.creativethinking.net)

Michael Jordan’s Most Valuable Lesson About Success

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There is no such thing as failure. Failure is only a word that human beings use to judge a given situation. The artificial judgments of failure only keep you from trying something and erring or making a mistake. Yet those mistakes and errors are the way we learn and the way we grow.

Whenever we attempt to do something and fail, we end up doing something else or producing something else. You have not failed; you have produced some other result. The two most important questions to ask are: “What have I learned?” and “What have I done?”

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 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 eventually led to the MOS transistor and then to the integrated circuit and to new breakthroughs in electronics and computers. William Shockley described it as a process of creative failure methodology.

Richard Feynman, a Nobel Laureate physicist, had an interesting practical test that he applied when reaching a judgment about a failed idea: for example, did it explain something unrelated to the original problem. E.g., What can you explain that you didn’t set out to explain? And, What did you discover that you didn’t set out to discover? In 1938, 27 year old Roy Plunkett set out to invent a new refrigerant. 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.

Failures, mistakes and errors are the way we learn and the way we grow. Many of the world’s greatest successes have learned how to fail their way to success. Some of the more famous are:

Albert Einstein: Most of us take Einstein’s name as synonymous with genius, but he didn’t always show such promise. Einstein did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social. Eventually, he was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. He attended a trade school for one year and was finally admitted to the University. He was the only one of his graduating class unable to get a teaching position because no professor would recommend him. One professor labeled him as the laziest dog they ever had in the university. The only job he was able to get was an entry-level position in a government patent office.

Robert Goddard: Goddard today is hailed for his research and experimentation with liquid-fueled rockets, but during his lifetime his ideas were often rejected and mocked by his scientific peers who thought they were outrageous and impossible. The New York Times once reported that Goddard seemed to lack a high school student’s basic understanding of rocketry. Today rockets and space travel don’t seem far-fetched at all, due largely in part to the work of this scientist who worked against the feelings of the time.

Abraham Lincoln: While today he is remembered as one of the greatest leaders of our nation, Lincoln’s life wasn’t so easy. In his youth he went to war a captain and returned a private (if you’re not familiar with military ranks, just know that private is as low as it goes.) Lincoln didn’t stop failing there, however. He started numerous failed businesses, went bankrupt twice and was defeated in 26 campaigns he made for public office.

J. K. Rowling: Rowling may be rolling in a lot of Harry Potter dough today, but before she published the series of novels, she was nearly penniless, severely depressed, divorced, trying to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel. Rowling went from depending on welfare to survive to being one of the richest women in the world in a span of only five years through her hard work and determination.

Walt Disney: Today Disney rakes in billions from merchandise, movies and theme parks around the world, but Walt Disney had many personal failures. He was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” After that, Disney started a number of businesses that didn’t last too long and ended with bankruptcy and failure. He kept trying and learning, however, and eventually found a recipe for success that worked.

Harland David Sanders: Perhaps better known as Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, Sanders had a hard time selling his chicken at first. In fact, his famous secret chicken recipe was rejected 1,009 times before a restaurant accepted it. He learned not to fear rejection and persevered.

Thomas Edison: In his early years, teachers told Edison he was “too stupid to learn anything.” Work was no better, as he was fired from his first two jobs for not being productive enough. Even as an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. One day, an assistant asked him why he didn’t give up. After all, he failed over a thousand times. Edison replied that he had not failed once. He had discovered over 1000 things that don’t work.

Ludwig van Beethoven: In his formative years, young Beethoven was incredibly awkward on the violin and was often so busy working on his own compositions that he neglected to practice. Despite his love of composing, his teachers felt he was hopeless at it and would never succeed with the violin or in composing. In fact, his music teacher told his parents he was too stupid to be a music composer.

Michael Jordan: Most people wouldn’t believe that a man often lauded as the best basketball player of all time was actually cut from his high school basketball team. Luckily, Jordan didn’t let this setback stop him from playing the game and he has stated, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Stephen King: The first book by this author, the iconic thriller Carrie, received 30 rejections, finally causing King to give up and throw it in the trash. His wife fished it out and encouraged him to resubmit it, and the rest is history, with King now having hundreds of books published and the distinction of being one of the best-selling authors of all time.

Bill Gates: Gates didn’t seem destined for success after dropping out of Harvard. He started a business with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen called Traf-O-Data. While this early idea for a business failed miserably, Gates did not despair and give up. Instead he learned much from the failure and later created the global empire that is Microsoft.

Henry Ford: While Ford is today known for his innovative assembly line and American-made cars, he wasn’t an instant success. In fact, his early businesses failed and left him broke five times. He was advised by countless people not to get into the manufacturing of automobiles because he had neither the capital or know how.

F. W. Woolworth: Some may not know this name today, but Woolworth was once one of the biggest names in department stores in the U.S. Before starting his own business, young Woolworth worked at a dry goods store and was not allowed to wait on customers because his boss said he lacked the sense needed to do so. Woolworth also had many ideas of how to market dry goods – all of which were rejected by his boss. He quit and marketing ideas became the foundation of his phenomenal retail success with his own stores.

Akio Morita: You may not have heard of Morita but you’ve undoubtedly heard of his company, Sony. Sony’s first product was a rice cooker that unfortunately didn’t cook rice so much as burn it, selling less than 100 units. The rice cooker was the object of scorn and laughter by the business community. This did not discourage Morita and his partners as they pushed forward to create a multi-billion-dollar company.

Orville and Wilbur Wright: These brothers battled depression and family illness before starting the bicycle shop that would lead them to experimenting with flight. They were competing against the best engineering and scientific minds in America at the time, who were all well financed and supported by the government and capital investors to make the first airplane. After numerous attempts at creating flying machines, several years of hard work, and tons of failed prototypes, the brothers finally created a plane that could get airborne and stay there.

Vincent Van Gogh: During his lifetime, Van Gogh sold only one painting, and this was to a friend and only for a very small amount of money. While Van Gogh was never a success during his life, he plugged on with painting, sometimes starving to complete his over 800 known works. Today, they bring in hundreds of millions of dollars each.

Fred Astaire: In his first screen test, the testing director of MGM noted that Astaire “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Not handsome. Can dance a little.” Astaire went on to become an incredibly successful actor, singer and dancer and kept that note in his Beverly Hills home to remind him of where he came from.

Steven Spielberg: While today Spielberg’s name is synonymous with big budget, he was rejected from the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television three times. He eventually attended school at another location, only to drop out to become a director before finishing. Thirty-five years after starting his degree, Spielberg returned to school in 2002 to finally complete his work and earn his BA.

Charles Darwin was chastised by his father for being lazy and too dreamy. Darwin himself once wrote that his father and teachers considered him rather below the common standard of intellect. When Charles Darwin first presented his research on evolution, it was met with little enthusiasm. He continued to work on his theory of evolution when all of his colleagues called him a fool and what he was doing “a fool’s experiment.”

Jack Canfield was rejected 144 times before he found a publisher for his book, Chicken Soup for the Soul. When Jack told the publisher he wanted to sell 1.5 million books in the first 18 months, the publisher laughed and said he’d be lucky to sell 20,000. That first book sold more than 8 million copies in America and 10 million copies around the world. Canfield’s book brand is now a $1 Billion brand.

The artist genius of the ages is Michelangelo. His competitors once tried to set him up for failure or force him to forgo a commission because of the possibility of failure. Michelangelo’s competitors persuaded Junius II to assign to him a relatively obscure and difficult project. It was to fresco the ceiling of a private chapel. The chapel had already been copiously decorated with frescoes by many talented artists. Michelangelo would be commissioned to decorate the tunnel-vaulted ceiling. In this way, his rivals thought they would divert his energies from sculpture, in which they realized he was supreme. This, they argued, would make things hopeless for him, since he had no experience in fresco, he would certainly, they believed, do amateurish work as a painter. Without doubt, they thought, he would be compared unfavorably with Raphael, and even if the work were a success, being forced to do it would make him angry with the Pope, and thus one way or another they would succeed in their purpose of getting rid of him.

Michelangelo, protesting that painting was not his art, still took on the project. In every way it was a challenging task. He had never used color, nor had he painted in fresco. He executed the frescos in great discomfort, having to work with his face looking upwards, which impaired his sight so badly that he could not read or look at drawings save with his head turned backwards, and this lasted for several months. In that awkward curved space, Michelangelo managed to depict the history of the Earth from the Creation to Noah, surrounded by ancestors and prophets of Jesus and finally revealing the liberation of the soul. His enemies had stage managed the masterpiece that quickly established him as the artist genius of the age. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  (Michael Michalko is the author of the highly acclaimed 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. http://www.creativethinking.net)

Approach Problems on Their Own Terms

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

“As a train was approaching the depot at Paterson, an axle of the leading car gave way, which overturned that and the following two cars. None of the passengers were injured, though they felt the shock by the concussion. Mr. Speer, the conductor, a very industrious and sober man, was seated on the car at the break, and unfortunately was crushed to death under the load.”

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

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

We would not consider the developers of the railroads to be unimaginative people. On the contrary, they were visionaries who saw the railroad as the transportation of the future long before other people took the idea seriously. Yet, even after a number of conductors had been killed, there was strong resistance to designing the railway cars so conductors could ride safely inside. As late as 1866, according to the Railroad and Engineering Journal (1887), 72 trainmen were killed in falls from cars in Massachusetts, New York, and Michigan alone.

What this suggests is that even highly creative individuals and the ideas they develop are susceptible to the constraining influences of structured imagination. Their idea of a design for a railway car was heavily influenced by what they knew, understood, and were most familiar with–the stagecoach. Even Thomas Edison’s idea for an electric lighting distribution system is an example of an idea that was the result of a structured imagination. His reliance on the existing gas distribution system at the time led to his stubborn reliance on the problematic procedure of running wires underground, just as gas mains ran underground. More recently, the fact that many modern computer terminals display exactly 80 columns of text is a direct outgrowth from the era when we literally fed data into computers by way of 80-column punch cards.

With creative thinking, one generates as many alternative approaches as one can. You consider the least obvious as well as the most likely approaches. It is the willingness to explore all approaches that is important, even after one has found a promising one. 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.

Please solve the following challenge. The challenge is to draw no more than four straight lines which will link up all nine dots without lifting your hand from the paper. What is your solution?

dots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first time a person tries to solve this puzzle they are stymied. This is because of our perception of the arrangement of the dots as a box or square. Once perceived as a box, most people will not exceed the imaginary boundaries of the imaginary box and are unable to solve the puzzle.

There is nothing in the challenge statement that defines the arrangement as a box and nothing demands the lines must be drawn within the box, but people make the assumption based on past experiences with boxes and find the puzzle difficult.

The answer involves drawing a line that goes beyond the limitations of the imagined box. This is where the cliché “Think out of the box” comes from. To solve it, you have to start the line outside of the imaginary box. The nine-dot puzzle was popularized by William North Jayme, a direct-mail copywriter who was hired by Esquire magazine in 1958 which wanted to abandon its unwholesome image for a more sophisticated one. Mr. Jayme came up with the ”puzzle letter”: an envelope with nine dots on it and a challenge to the recipient to connect them using no more than four uninterrupted lines. The enclosed letter showed that to do so, one had to go outside the box. Or, in other words, you had to break normal thinking patterns, something that the new Esquire said it could help modern men do. The letter was a phenomenal success, Esquire’s image was changed overnight and the subscriptions poured in.

DOTS.3LINES

Over time the puzzle became synonymous with creative thinking and the phrase “thinking outside the box” has now become a cliché for creativity. A cliché because the puzzle has become commonplace and most people remember the solution from their past experience with it. When the brain recognizes the pattern and we solve the problem it seems like a new insight has been sparked.

Education has conditioned us to think of one right answer to a problem. When we have an answer we stop thinking. Creative geniuses, on the other hand, are constantly searching for more and better alternative answers and never stop with their first good idea.

APPROACH A PROBLEM ON ITS OWN TERMS. If you approached the problem with the perspective of “How can I connect all nine dots………? you create the impression that there is only one right answer. The wording limits your thinking. Approaching the puzzle with this perspective “In what ways might I connect all nine dots ……………..?” liberates the mind to think more freely about alternatives.

You are now encouraged to imagine the following perspectives of the lines, the dots and the puzzle as a whole. Looking at the puzzle from the perspective of the lines gets you thinking of the number of lines, the lengths of the lines, and the width of the lines.

THREE LINES. For instance, there is no requirement that you must use four consecutive straight lines. Why not three, two or even one line? When linking things such as dots, we are used to linking the centers and our first attempts are to draw lines through the centers of the dots. This is another false assumption based on past experiences. The way to link up the dots is to have the line just touch the dots as illustrated.

3LINES

ONE LINE. Another dimension of the puzzle is the instrument used to draw the line. Most people assume you must use a pencil or pen and draw a normal-sized line. But there is nothing in the challenge statement that prohibits the person from using an alternative instrument. One solution is to use a wide paint brush, dip it in paint and connect all nine dots with one straight continuous wide swipe.

PAINTBRUSH.2

PAINTBRUSH.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

LENGTH OF LINE. There is no limit on how long you can draw the straight line. So another solution is to draw the line around the world three times intersecting and linking up all nine dots.

WORLD.1

This, of course, is impossible to do. Your brain is a dynamic system that evolves its patterns of activity rather than computes them like a computer. It thrives on the creative energy of feedback from experiences real or fictional. You can synthesize experience; literally create it in your own imagination. The human brain cannot tell the difference between an “actual” experience and a fantasy imagined vividly and in detail. In the nine dot puzzle, we take the impossible solution of going around the world three times and imaginer the essence of this idea into a solution that is realistic and practical as illustrated.

WORLD.2

Or you can adjust place the paper with the dots on the center of a turntable and replace the needle at the tip of the recording arm with a tiny pen. Turn on the turntable and the pen will draw a line through all nine dots.

PHONOGRAPH

GET RID OF THE BOX. Now, let’s look at from the perspective of the way the dots are arranged. There is nothing that prohibits us from rearranging the dots, so another one line solution is to cut out the dots and tape them into one straight line and draw one line straight through.

DOT.1LINE

REARRANGE. And another is to fold the puzzle over and over following the below steps until you have one line of dots and then link them with one straight continuous line.

FOLDED.PAPER

Another way to change the pattern is to cut the dots out and line them up in a row. Then punch a pencil through the centers linking all nine dots.

PENCIL.DOTS

The more ideas you generate, the more connections you make. These connections and their associated ideas often spark new ideas and new questions. The creative mind synthesizes all that is created and goes beyond them to create more creative products. For example, the above idea of stabbing a pencil through the cut out dots triggers another idea. That is to rumple up the puzzle into a small wad of paper and punch a pencil through the wad. You may have to do this several times, but probability being what it is, sooner or later, you will punch the pencil through the dots linking them together.

PENCIL.BALL OF PAPER

In genius, there is a patience for the odd and the unusual avenues of thought. This intellectual tolerance for the unpredictable allows geniuses to bring side by side what others had never sought to connect. An unusual and imaginative solution is to widen the dots with a pencil so that each dot touches the adjacent dots. Now the nine dots are linked together with no lines.

LARGE BALLS

The playful openness of creative geniuses is what allows them to explore unthinkable ideas. Once Wolfgang Pauli, the discoverer of electron spin, was presenting a new theory of elementary particles before a professional audience. An extended discussion followed. Niels Bohr summarized it for Pauli’s benefit by saying that everyone had agreed his theory was crazy. The question that divided them, he claimed, was whether it was crazy enough to have a chance of being correct. Bohr said his own feeling was that it wasn’t crazy enough.

Logic hides in Bohr’s illogic. In genius, there is a tolerance for unpredictable avenues of thought. The result of unpredictable thinking may be just what is needed to shift the context and lead to a new perspective.

Another unusual solution is to light a match and burn the paper with the puzzle into a pile of ashes. Then carefully form the ashes into one straight line.

MATCH

Within a short time, we came up with a quantity of solutions because we approached the problem on its own terms, looked at the problem from several different perspectives, did not settle for the first good idea, did not censor ideas because they looked silly or stupid and consequently created several ideas, thought unconventionally, changed the way we looked at the puzzle, worked with the essence of the problem and used our imagination.

 

 

(Michael Michalko is 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. http://www.creativethinking.net)

What I Learned From Charles Darwin about Creative Thinking

charles-darwin-quote

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 alternatives 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/#sthash.MDsGewWA.dpbs

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