Category: Techniques (page 1 of 4)

Michael Michalko’s creative-thinking techniques give you the extraordinary ability to focus on information in a different way as well as different ways to interpret what you’re focusing on.

Creative Thinking Habit: Always Look at Problems with Multiple Perspectives

Leonardo da Vinci always assumed that his first way of looking at a problem was too biased toward his usual way of thinking. He would always look at a problem from at least three different perspectives to get a better understanding. It has been my observation that people who pride themselves on their ability to think logically and analytically ignore his advice and trust their usual way of thinking

Peter Cathcart Wason was a cognitive psychologist at University College, London who pioneered the Psychology of Reasoning. He progressed explanations as to why people make certain consistent mistakes in logical reasoning. The problem described below is a variation on the Wason selection task that was devised by Peter Wason. The Wason selection task was originally developed as a test of logical reasoning, but it has increasingly been used by psychologists to analyze the structure of human reasoning mechanisms.

Consider the following problem. Four cards are laid out with their faces displaying respectively, an E, a K, a 4 and a 7.

You are told that each card has a letter on one side and a number on the other. You are then given a rule, whose truth you are expected to evaluate. The rule is: “If a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an even number on the other.” You are then allowed to turn over two, but only two, cards in order to determine whether the rule is correct as stated.

Which two cards do you turn over?

If you worked this problem silently, you will almost certainly miss it, as have the large percentage of subjects to whom it has been presented. Most subjects realize that there is no need to select the card bearing the consonant, since it is irrelevant to the rule; they also appreciate that it is essential to turn over the card with the vowel, for an odd number opposite would prove the rule incorrect.

The wording of the problem determines the perspective most people mentally default to almost immediately. Most people assume that the object is to examine the cards to ascertain that if a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an even number on the other; and if a card has an even number on one side, then it has a vowel on the other side. This assumption leads them to make the fatal error of picking the card with the even number, because the even number is mentioned in the rule. But, in fact, it is irrelevant whether there is a vowel or a consonant on the other side, since the rule does not take a stand on what must be opposite to even numbers.

On the other hand, it is essential to pick the card with the odd number on it. If that card has a consonant on it, the result is irrelevant. If, however, the card has a vowel on it, the rule in question has been proved incorrect, for the card must (according to the rule) have an even (and not an odd) number on it.

The content of this specific problem influenced the way we constructed our perception of the problem. This perception created the assumption that leads to error. This should give one pause about mentally defaulting to first impressions.

“If a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an even number on the other.” Here we are working with letters and numbers. Transposing the words to read “If a card has an even number on one side, then……….” Clarifies the problem and gives us a different perspective on even numbered cards. It becomes apparent that what even numbered cards have on the other side has no significance. The rule is only concerned with cards that have vowels on one side.

Sigmund Freud would “reframe” something to transform its meaning by putting it into a different framework or context than it has previously been perceived. For example, by reframing the “unconscious” as a part of him that was “infantile,” Freud began to help his patients change the way they thought and reacted to their own behavior.

The important thing is not to persist with one way of looking at the problem. Consider the following interesting twist, again using four cards. This time, however, we reframe the problem by substituting journeys and modes of transportation for letters and numbers. Each card has a city on one side and a mode of transportation on the other.

LOS ANGELES    NEW YORK    AIRPLANE    CAR

This time, the cards have printed on them the legends, respectively, Los Angeles, New York, airplane, and car; and the rule is reframed to read: “Every time I go to Los Angeles, I travel by airplane. While this rule is identical to the number-letter version, it poses little difficulty for individuals. In fact, now 80 percent of subjects immediately realize the need to turn over the card with “car” on it.

Apparently, one realizes that if the card with “car” on it has the name “Los Angeles” on the back, the rule has been proved incorrect; whereas it is immaterial what it says on the back of the airplane since, as far as the rule is concerned, one can go to New York any way one wants.

Why is it that 80 percent of subjects get this problem right, whereas only 10 percent know which cards to turn over in the vowel-number version? By changing the content (cities and modes of transportation substituted for letters and numbers), we restructured the problem, which dramatically changed our reasoning. The structure of a problem colors our perspective and the way we think.

The significant point about this test is that we are incredibly bad at it. And it doesn’t make much difference what the level of education is of the person taking the test. Moreover, even training in formal logic seems to make little difference to a person’s performance. The mistake that we tend to make is fairly standard. People almost always recognize that they have to pick up the card with the vowel, but they fail to see that they also have to pick up the card with the odd number. They think instead that they have to pick up the card with the even number.

One of the most interesting things about this phenomenon is that even when the correct answer is pointed out, people feel resistance to it. It apparently feels “right” that the card with the even number should be picked up. It feels right because your initial perspective is biased toward the usual way of thinking. It is only when you look at it from different perspectives that you get a deeper understanding of the problem.

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Learn the creative thinking habits from history’s greatest creative geniuses.  Read https://www.amazon.com/Cracking-Creativity-Secrets-Creative-Genius/dp/1580083110/ref=pd_sim_14_2?ie=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=CAJTPVGTFC7R940PAQSN

HOW TO OPEN UP YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS MIND

 

brain

black squares

Illusory grey spots mysteriously appear at the points of intersection in the following black and
white grid. However, the spot does not occur at the specific intersection on which you concentrate your attention.
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Sometimes ideas, like the gray spots, do not appear when you are concentrating your attention and mysteriously appear when you are not. Modern science recognizes this phenomenon of incubation and insight yet cannot account for why it occurs. 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 and appears to be involuntary.

The more problems, ideas and thoughts that you think about from time to time, the more complex becomes the network of information in your mind. Think of thoughts as atoms hanging by hooks on the sides of your mind. When you think about a subject, some of these thoughts become loose and put into motion in your subconscious mind. The more work you put into thinking about a problem, the more thoughts and bits of information you 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. Your thoughts keep colliding, combining and making associations. This is why you’ve experienced suddenly remembering names, getting solutions to problems you’ve forgotten about, and ideas out of the blue when you are relaxing and not thinking about any particular thing.

There’s a thing in mathematics called “factorial”, which calculates how many ways you can combine things. If you have three objects, then there are one times two times three, which leaves six combinations. The factorial of ten is over three million. Ten bits of information will combine and recombine in three million different ways in your mind. So you can imagine the cloud of thoughts combining and making associations when you incubate problems when you stop working.

There is an important Chinese term, “wuwei,” “not doing,” the meaning of which is not “doing nothing,” but “not forcing.” Things will open up of themselves, according to their nature. And they do.

Cognitive scientists have observed that people, after a period of incubation from a problem, are 39 percent more likely to infer connections among distantly related ideas. Yet this enhancement of creative thinking exists completely beneath the radar screen. In other words, people are more creative after they forget about the problem for a period of time, but they don’t know it. It’s as if a period of incubation resets your mind. You’re taking a walk or taking a shower and realize “Wait a minute, there’s another way to do this.”

The famous philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russell was quoted in The Conquest of Happiness as having said: “I have found, for example, that if I have to write upon some rather difficult topic, the best plan is think about it with very great intensity—the greatest intensity with which I am capable—for a few hours or days, and at the end of that time give orders, so to speak, that the work is to proceed underground. After some months, I return consciously to the topic and find the work has been done. Before I discovered this technique, I used to spend time worrying because I was making no progress; I arrived at the solution none the faster for this worry and the worrying time was wasted.” When author Norman Mailer had writer’s block, he would instruct his subconscious mind to work on the problem and to notify him when it was resolved. Then he would leave the problem until the “insight” arrived in his consciousness.

Incubation usually involves setting a problem aside for a few hours, days, or weeks and moving on to other projects. The creative act owes little to logic or reason. In their accounts of the circumstances under which big ideas occurred to them, scientists have often mentioned that the inspiration had no relation to the work they happened to be doing. Sometimes it came while they were traveling, shaving or thinking about other matters. The creative process cannot be summoned at will or even cajoled by sacrificial offering. Indeed, it seems to occur most readily when the mind is relaxed and the imagination roaming freely.

I gave a seminar for an advertising agency that was under pressure from a major television network to come up with an innovative marketing campaign to introduce the networks new shows. I compared our subconscious mind to an egg. I said imagine an egg sitting in its nest of straw. It doesn’t do anything and makes no sound. It doesn’t change shape, it doesn’t change color. It doesn’t pulsate. It doesn’t roll around. You could look at it for days and days and you’d come away thinking that it was an inert object and there was nothing going on.

Yet inside the egg a riot of change is taking place, a storm of re-organization, feeding and growth, of total activity as a bunch of random cells become an entity, which in turn becomes ever more defined and more complex, more organized in every way, more mature, more fantastic with every heartbeat, every breath that passes.

One day the egg that lay so motionless for so very long and seemed to be nothing but an inert shape will begin to rock, and then it will crack, and the a newly born bird will emerge, spread its wings for the first time and take its first small steps.

We talked a lot about the similarity between the subconscious mind and eggs. Then I asked them to perform a thought experiment which is to write a letter to their subconscious mind. (The guidelines for the thought experiment are at the end of the article.)

Bert, the creative director at the agency, wrote a letter which he addressed to his subconscious mind that he called “Secret Expert.”

“How are you Secret Expert?

I haven’t heard from you in some time, so I thought I would write you a letter. I need your help with a problem. I need to come up with an exciting new marketing program to introduce a new season of television shows. The shows include programs about criminal forensics, contests for prizes, lawyer shows and comedies. I’m interested in coming up with some kind of campaign that will capture the audience’s attention more than one time. The approach of the campaign should be unique and unexpected.

We’ve had several meetings but keep coming up with the same old traditional marketing campaign ideas. What do people need and keep? Is there something they need that we can advertise on? What kind of goods, products, foods and services should we investigate? What producers, distributors and retailers should we study? Can we combine our services with another company? Do we need to share revenue? I need a fresh approach to advertising. Your mission is to give me a new idea on how to advertise television shows. I need the idea in two days. Help!!!

Thanks, Bert”

Bert mailed the letter to himself and two days later received it. When he read what he had written, he got his brainstorm, which was to advertise on “eggs.” Did the connection come from our discussions about eggs and the subconscious? Or did it come from an association between “foods,” “need,” “producers,” and “fresh approach,” as in “fresh eggs?”

He arranged to place laser imprints of the network’s logos, as well as some of its shows on eggs—some thirty million. Some of the slogans that will be imprinted on the eggs are “Crack the Case on CSI,” “Scramble to win the great race,” “Hard-boiled drama,” “Leave the Yolks to us,” and “Funny Side UP.”

The consumers look at a single egg at least a few times. When they open the carton at the store, when they transfer them to the refrigerator, and when they crack them open. It’s unlike any other ad medium in the world because you’re looking at it while you are using it. Egg producers, distributors and retailers all love the concept as they will all share in the ad revenue.

Ideas are free to combine with other ideas in novel patterns and new associations in your subconscious mind. It is also the storehouse of all your experience, including things you can’t easily call into awareness. When I use this technique and don’t receive an answer within the allotted time frame, I’ll say “Oh well, let me know as soon as you think of something.” Without exception, I will get the answer sooner or later.

Here is another example of this technique. The marketing director for a soft drink corporation wanted to come up with a novel way to package soft drinks. He spent time listing all the ways products and liquids can be packaged. He then turned off his self-censor by giving himself an idea quota of 120 ways to package things. This forced him to list every single thought he had no matter how obvious or absurd. The first third were his usual ideas, the next third became more interesting and complex and the last third became fantastical and absurd as he stretched his imagination to meet his quota.

Finally, he wrote the following letter he addressed to MacGuyver (He calls his subconscious mind MacGuyver after the TV character who solves cases by improvisation.)

Dear MacGuyver,

How are you? I haven’t heard from you in a long time, so I thought I would write you a letter. I need some innovative ideas about packaging our soda, a package that would create a new experience for the consumer. Right now, as you know, our soft drinks are packaged in bottles and cans. I’m trying to think of ways to make our packaging innovative and fun in such a way that it will heighten consumer attention. So far, I’ve researched the methodology of packaging, brainstormed for ideas, and have asked everyone I know for their thoughts.

Reviewing my list of ideas, I’ve noticed a theme of environmental concerns. Citizens have become aware and sensitive to what happens to discarded bottles and cans. So I think the package should be environmentally friendly. Another theme, I noticed, is “put to other uses.” In other words, how else can the consumer use the package? A cousin of mine told me about the time he was in the peace corps in a very poor section of Guatemala. Soft drinks in bottles were too expensive for the natives. He told me popular domestic sodas are instead poured into sandwich baggies and sold.

I need your help. Please deliver your ideas to me within three days.

Sincerely,

John

The Idea he received from MacGuyver is to create a biodegradable plastic bag in the shape of a soda bottle. This bag will save buyers bottle deposit money and retains the drink’s fizz and experience, while simultaneously being more environmentally friendly. Being new and fun, it actually creates a new brand experience adapted to cultural environmental tendencies that local consumers are sure to appreciate. Additionally, the plastic bags afford greater flexibility in storage options and can also be re-used by the consumer as a storage container for other foods and liquids. Additionally, the product adapts itself to new markets in impoverished countries.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT BLUEPRINT

• Work on a problem until you have mulled over all the relevant pieces of information. Talk with others about the problem, ask questions, and do as much research as you can until you are satisfied that you have pushed your conscious mind to its limit.

• Write a letter to your subconscious mind about the problem. Make the letter as detailed and specific as possible. Describe the problem definition, the attributes, what steps you have taken, the problems, the gaps, what is needed, what you want, what the obstacles are, and so on. Just writing the letter will help better define a problem, clarify issues, point out where more information is needed, and prepare your unconscious to work on a solution. The letter should read just like a letter you would send to a real person. Imagine that your unconscious is all-knowing and can solve any problem that is properly stated.

• Instruct your unconscious to find the solution. Write, “Your mission is to find the solution to the problem. I would like the solution in three days.”

• Seal the letter and put it away. You may even want to mail it to yourself.

• Let go of the problem. Don’t work on it. Forget it. Do something else. This is the incubation stage when much of what goes on occurs outside your focused awareness, in your unconscious.

• Open the letter in three days. If the problem still has not been solved, then write on the bottom of the letter, “Let me know the minute you solve this” and put it away again. Sooner or later, when you are most relaxed and removed from the problem, the answer will magically pop into your mind.

 

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

THE WORDS YOU USE SHAPE THE WAY YOU THINK

saying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MIND POPPING

mind pop

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

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

Suppose your notebook contains:

1. Information about the problem you are working on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

lotus3

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.

Think Outside your Caged Imagination

birdcage

At this very moment, you are actually moving your eyes over a white page dotted with black marks. Your mind recognizes and transforms the marks into patterns which we call words and sentences. Our minds created the patterns when we first learned to talk and read. Now we no longer see the words as patterns of black marks and lose ourselves in what we are reading.

The patterns are so hard wired in our brains that we no longer can imagine the black marks being anything else but letters, words, and sentences. Look at this page and try not to see the words and letters, but only black shapes on white paper; that is, try to see the original input that you had when you were a two-year-old. You’ll find that it’s impossible because of the word patterns stored in your brain.

We learn from new experiences, spot resemblances in those experiences, and translate those resemblances into patterns. Imagine if you had to relearn each day how to tie your shoelaces, how to read, how to drive to work, or how to do your job. We couldn’t function the way we do as human beings if our minds were not able to recognize and respond to patterns.

When we learn something, we program it into our brain and stop thinking about or looking for alternatives. Over time these thinking patterns become stronger and stronger, not only cognitively but physiologically as well. Habitual pattern recognition provides us with instant interpretations and enables us to react quickly to our environment. Though pattern recognition simplifies the complexities of life and makes it easier, it also limits our perception of the world and our ability to create new ideas and unique solutions to problems.

The dominant factor in the way our minds work is the buildup of patterns that enable us to simplify the assimilation of complex data. These patterns are based on our reproducing our past experiences in life, education, and work that have been successful in the past. These patterns enable us to perform routine tasks rapidly and accurately. When confronted with a problem, the information self-organizes into thinking patterns that are based on our past experiences. Then the mind analytically selects the most promising approach and applies it to the problem.

For example, when asked what is 6 X 6, 36 automatically appears. These number patterns rapidly produce answers for us without conscious thought. For example, to demonstrate how quickly these patterns produce answers, add up the following numbers in your head as quickly as you can. Take 1000 and add 40 to it. Now add another 1000. Now add 30. Add another 1000. Now add 20. Now add another 1000. Now add 10. What is the total?

Our confidence in our ability to add according to the way we were taught in base ten encourages us to process the information this way and jump to a conclusion. If your total is 5,000, then you are wrong. 96% of people who add these simple numbers get the wrong answer. The numbers are arranged in such a way to set people up to get the wrong answer when adding using base ten. The correct answer is 4,100.

The mind was imagined as a collection of programs based on fixed knowledge transferred from sources of people and institutions regarded as authorities (i.e., parents, teachers, experts, pundits, gurus, etc.) to you. When confronted with a problem, your mind analytically selects the most promising program, excluding all other approaches, and works within a clearly defined direction towards the solution of the problem.

According to this model of the brain, neurons replace transistors. And just as most of us are unaware of the architecture of a computer that manipulates the colorful pictures and symbols we see on a computer screen, we are equally unaware of how our brains operate. It’s like you know that two plus two equals four, not because you worked through the solution; but because the answer appears automatically without conscious thought.

It’s almost as if our education has hard wired our brains to circumvent deliberative and creative thinking wherever possible through rote memorization and robotic learning of formulas and principles. We have been trained to seek out the neural path of least resistance, searching out responses that have worked in the past first, rather than approach a problem on its own terms.

Read the following:

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabridge Uinvervtisy, it deosnt mttaer in waht oredr the litteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a ttoal 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 tp see. The huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. We do tihs ucnsolniuscoy.

Amazing, isn’t it? These are jumbled letters, not words, yet our minds see them as words. How is this possible? How do our minds do this?

Think of your mind as a bowl of butter with a surface that is perfectly flat. Imagine gently pouring hot water on the butter from a teaspoon and then gently tipping the bowl so that it runs off. After many repetitions of this process, the surface of the butter will self-organize into ruts, indentations, and grooves.

New water will automatically flow into the existing grooves. After a while, it would take only a tiny bit of water to activate an entire channel. Even if much of the water is out of the channel, the existing channel will be selected.

When information enters the mind, it self-organizes into patterns and ruts much like the hot water on butter. New information automatically flows into the preformed grooves. After a while, the channels become so deep it takes only a bit of information 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 you can read the jumbled letters above as words. The first and last letters of the words are correct. For example, in the word “According” I kept the “A” and “g” and mixed up the rest into the nonsense word “Aoccdrnig.” Just this tiny bit of information (the first and last letters) is enough to activate the word pattern in your brain and you read “According.”

This is also 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. Even tiny bits of information are enough to activate the same patterns over and over again.

These patterns enable us to simplify and cope with a complex world. These thinking patterns give us precision as we perform repetitive tasks, such as driving an automobile, writing a book, teaching a class or making a sales presentation. Patterns enable us to perform routine tasks rapidly and accurately. When we see something that we have seen before, we understand what it means immediately. We don’t have to spend time studying and analyzing it. For example, we automatically know that the logo below represents the Coca Cola Company.

cocacoca

Habits, thinking patterns and routines with which we approach life gradually accumulate until they significantly reduce our awareness of other possibilities. It’s as if a cage is built up around our imagination over time and its effects slowly become obvious. Because the accumulation of thinking patterns goes almost unnoticed until the cage reduces our awareness significantly. Have you noticed, for example, that the logo is not a logo for coca–cola? It reads coca–coca.

How then can we change our thinking patterns and escape the cage? Nature creates many possibilities through blind “trial and error” and then lets the process of natural selection decide which species survive. In nature, 95% of new species fail and die within a short period of time. Over time, the gene pool for the surviving species stabilizes and thrives, but eventually seeks variation. In nature, a gene pool totally lacking in variation would be unable to adapt to changing circumstances, with consequences which would be fatal to the species’ survival. In time the genetically encoded wisdom would convert to foolishness.

How does nature provide for variations? Nature creates genetic mutations to provide the variations needed for survival. A genetic mutation is a variation that is created by a random or chance event which ignores the conventional wisdom contained in parental chromosomes. Nature then lets the process of natural selection decide which variations survive and thrive.

A comparable process operates within us. Every individual has the ability to create ideas based on his or her existing patterns of thinking which are based on past education and experience. But without any provision for variations, ideas eventually stagnate and lose their adaptive advantages. In the end, if you always think the way you’ve always thought, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. The same-old ideas.

Look at the two lines of dots below.  Can you will yourself to see one line longer that the other?

straight line

You cannot. You cannot will yourself to look at things in a different way, no matter how inspired you are to do so. Think again about the dish of butter with all the preformed channels. Creativity occurs when we tilt the dish in a different direction and force the water (information) to create new channels and make new connections with other channels. These new connections give you different ways to focus your attention and different ways to interpret whatever you are focusing on.

Creative thinkers get variation by using creative thinking techniques which provoke different thinking patterns and provides them with a variety of alternatives and conjectures. From this variety of alternatives and conjectures, the intellect retains the best ideas for further development and communication. The majority of ideas, like the majority of new species in nature, fail and are discarded.

Johannes Guttenberg researched and experimented for years trying to find a better printing process. He studied the existing process and worked tirelessly to improve it without much success. It was Guttenberg’s chance visit to a winery where he observed a wine press in operation that provided the idea he needed to revolutionize the way we communicate information.

straight line with two other lines

In the illustration, I add another variable (two straight lines). The lines of dots are still the same length (go ahead and measure them) but now the top line appears longer. The two lines provoked a different thinking pattern and gave you a different way to focus on the information and a different way to interpret what you are focusing on.

In a similar way, the screw mechanism Gutenberg observed in a wine press gave him a different way to focus on his printing problem. He combined “transferring of juice from grapes” with “transferring ink from moveable type to paper.” His insight was that he could use the screw mechanism found in a wine press in a printing press to mechanize the transfer of ink from moveable type to paper.

This simple innovation allowed for an assembly line-style printing production process that was much more efficient than pressing paper to ink by hand. For the first time in history, books could be mass-produced — at a fraction of the cost of conventional printing methods. His chance visit at a wine press permitted him to conceptually blend the “pressing grapes” process with the “printing process,” two totally unrelated subjects in two unrelated fields.

The quintessential activity of perception is the discovery of some abstract connection that links and does not separate parts of complex wholes. The essence of creative thinking is a complex blending of elements of two or more different subjects, all of which involve guesswork rather than certainty. Perception is far more than the recognition of members of already-established categories–it involves the spontaneous manufacture of new categories.

To get a unique perspective on your problem, try this creative thinking technique.

BLUEPRINT

Gillette scientists were tasked with creating a better toothbrush.

1. First determine the essence of the problem. What is the universal principle? Gillette scientists determined the essence of their problem was “cleaning.” How are things cleaned?

2. Secondly, look in other worlds to observe how things are cleaned. The Gillette scientists generated a list of things in other worlds that incorporated the major principle of cleaning. Their list included such items as:

  • a. How is hair cleaned.
  • b. How are cars cleaned.
  • c. How are fish cleaned.
  • d. How are ears cleaned.
  • e. How are stoves cleaned.
  • f. How are waterways cleaned.
  • g. How is polluted air cleaned.

3. Then select the most promising ones and describe in detail. The scientists focused on how cars were cleaned in car washes which have multiple soaping and brushing actions in different directions.

4. Create an idea. The scientists conceptually blended how cars are cleaned with how teeth are cleaned and created the Oral B toothbrush which contains multiple brushes brushing in different directions and it became the bestselling toothbrush on the market.

Michael Michalko is the author of books on creative thinking including THINKERTOYS, CRACKING CREATIVITY and CREATIVE THINKERING. For more information visit http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.nKpU3THj.dpbs

How Geniuses Think

How do geniuses come up with ideas? What is common to the thinking style that produced “Mona Lisa,” as well as the one that spawned the theory of relativity? What characterizes the thinking strategies of the Einsteins, Edisons, daVincis, Darwins, Picassos, Michelangelos, Galileos, Freuds, and Mozarts of history? What can we learn from them?

For years, scholars and researchers have tried to study genius by giving its vital statistics, as if piles of data somehow illuminated genius. In his 1904 study of genius, Havelock Ellis noted that most geniuses are fathered by men older than 30; had mothers younger than 25 and were usually sickly as children. Other scholars reported that many were celibate (Descartes), others were fatherless (Dickens) or motherless (Darwin). In the end, the piles of data illuminated nothing.

Academics have also tried to measure the links between intelligence and genius. But intelligence is not enough. Marilyn vos Savant, whose IQ of 228 is the highest ever recorded, has not exactly contributed much to science or art. She is, instead, a question-and-answer columnist for Parade magazine. Run-of-the-mill physicists have IQs much higher than Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman, who many acknowledge to be the last great American genius (his IQ was a merely respectable 122).

Genius is not about scoring 1600 on the SATs, mastering fourteen languages at the age of seven, finishing Mensa exercises in record time, having an extraordinarily high I.Q., or even about being smart. After considerable debate initiated by J. P. Guilford, a leading psychologist who called for a scientific focus on creativity in the sixties, psychologists reached the conclusion that creativity is not the same as intelligence. An individual can be far more creative than he or she is intelligent, or far more intelligent than creative.

Most people of average intelligence, given data or some problem, can figure out the expected conventional response. For example, when asked, “What is one-half of 13?” most of us immediately answer six and one-half. You probably reached the answer in a few seconds and then turned your attention back to the text.

Typically, we think reproductively, that is 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. We ask, “What have I been taught in life, education or work on how to solve the problem?” Then we analytically select the most promising approach based on past experiences, excluding all other approaches, and work within a clearly defined direction towards the solution of the problem. Because of the soundness of the steps based on past experiences, we become arrogantly certain of the correctness of our conclusion.

In contrast, geniuses think productively, not reproductively. When confronted with a problem, they ask “How many different ways can I look at it?”, “How can I rethink the way I see it?”, and “How many different ways can I solve it?” instead of “What have I been taught by someone else on how to solve this?” They tend to come up with many different responses, some of which are unconventional and possibly unique. A productive thinker would say that there are many different ways to express “thirteen” and many different ways to halve something. Following are some examples.

6.5

13 = divided with a vertical line between the one and three = 1 and 3

THIR TEEN = 4 letters in each half.

XIII = split in half XI/II = gives you 11 and 2 in Roman numerals.

Or XIII divided in half horizontally gives you = 8 or VIII in Roman numerals.

(Note: As you can see, in addition to six and one half, by expressing 13 in different ways and halving it in different ways, one could say one-half of thirteen is 6.5, or 1 and 3, or 4, or 11 and 2, or 8, and so on.)

With productive 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.

How would you describe the pattern in the following illustration? Most people see the pattern as a square composed of smaller squares or circles or as alternate rows of squares and circles. It cannot be easily seen as columns of alternate squares and circles. Once it’s pointed out that it can also be viewed as columns of alternate squares and circles, we, of course, see it. This is because we have become habituated to passively organize similar items together in our minds. Geniuses, on the other hand, subvert habituation by actively looking for alternative ways to look at things and alternative ways to think about them. Whenever Noble prize winner Richard Feynman was stuck on a problem he would invent new thinking strategies. He felt the secret to his genius was his ability to disregard how past thinkers thought about problems and, instead, would invent new ways to think. He was so “unstuck” that if something didn’t work, he would look at it several different ways until he found a way that moved his imagination. He was wonderfully productive.

Feynman proposed teaching productive thinking in our educational institutions in lieu of reproductive thinking. He believed that the successful user of mathematics is an inventor of new ways of thinking in given situations. He believed that even if the old ways are well known, it is usually better to invent your own way or a new way than it is to look it up and apply what you’ve looked up.

The problem 29 + 3 is considered a third-grade problem, because it requires the advanced technique of carrying; yet Feynman pointed out that a first grader could handle it by thinking 30, 31, 32. A child could mark numbers on a line and count off the spaces — a method that becomes useful in understanding measurements and fractions. One can write larger numbers in columns and carry sums larger than 10. Use fingers or algebra (2 times what plus 3 is 7?). He encouraged the teaching of an attitude where people are taught to figure out how to think about problems many different ways using trial and error.

Reproductive thinking fosters rigidity of thought. This is why we so often fail when confronted with a new problem that is similar to past experiences only in superficial ways, or on the surface, and is different from previously encountered problems in its deep structure. Interpreting such a problem through the prism of past experience will, by definition, lead the thinker astray. Reproductive thinking leads us to the usual ideas and not to original ones. If you always think the way you’ve always thought, you’ll always get what you’ve always got — the same old, same old ideas. In 1968, the Swiss dominated the watch industry. The Swiss themselves invented the electronic watch movement at their research institute in Neuchatel, Switzerland. It was rejected by every Swiss watch manufacturer. Based on their past experiences in the industry, they believed this couldn’t possibly be the watch of the future. After all, it was battery powered, did not have bearings or a mainspring and almost no gears. Seiko took one look at this invention that the Swiss manufacturers rejected at the World Watch Congress that year and took over the world watch market. When Univac invented the computer, they refused to talk to business people who inquired about it, because they said the computer was invented for scientists and had no business applications. Then along came IBM. IBM, itself, once said that according to their past experiences in the computer market, there is virtually no market for the personal computer. In fact, they said they were absolutely certain there were no more than five or six people in the entire world who had need for a personal computer. And along came Apple.

In nature, a gene pool that is totally lacking in variation would be totally unable to adapt to changing circumstances. In time, the genetically encoded wisdom would convert to foolishness, with consequences that would be fatal to the species’ survival. A comparable process operates within us as individuals. We all have a rich repertoire of ideas and concepts based on past experiences that enable us to survive and prosper. But without any provision for the variation of ideas, our usual ideas become stagnate and lose their advantages and in the end, we are defeated in our competition with our rivals. Consider the following:

  • In 1899 Charles Duell, the Director of the U.S. Patent Office, suggested that the government close the office because everything that can be invented has been invented.
  • In 1923, Robert Millikan, noted physicist and winner of the Noble Prize, said there is absolutely no likelihood that man can harness the power of the atom.
  • Phillip Reiss, a German, invented a machine that could transmit music in 1861. He was days away from inventing the telephone. Every communication expert in Germany persuaded him there was no market for such a device as the telegraph was good enough. Fifteen years later, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and became a multi-millionaire with Germany as his first most enthusiastic customer.
  • Chester Carlson invented xerography in 1938. Virtually every major corporation, including IBM and Kodak, scoffed at his idea and turned him down. They claimed that since carbon paper was cheap and plentiful, who in their right mind would buy an expensive copier.
  • Fred Smith, while a student at Yale, came up with the concept of Federal Express, a national overnight delivery service. The U.S. Postal Service, UPS, his own business professor, and virtually every delivery expert in the U.S., doomed his enterprise to failure. Based on their experiences in the industry, no one, they said, will pay a fancy price for speed and reliability.
  • When Charles 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 going back and forth about the number of different species of finches: the information is there, but he doesn’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 never occurred to him to look for differences by location. Gould thinks that the birds are so different that they are distinct species.What is remarkable about the encounter is the completely different impact it has on the two men. Gould thought the way he has been conditioned to think, like an expert taxonomist, and didn’t see the textbook case of evolution that unfolded right before him with the finches. Darwin didn’t even know they were finches. The person with the intelligence, knowledge and the expertise didn’t see it, and the person with far less knowledge and expertise comes up with an idea that shapes the way we think about the world.

I have always been impressed by Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and have become fascinated with scholastic attempts to apply Darwinian ideas to creativity and genius. My own outlook about genius has roots in Donald Campbell’s blind-variation and selective-retention model of creative thought which he published in 1960. Campbell was not the first to see the connection between Darwinian ideas on evolution and creativity. As early as 1880, the great American philosopher, William James, in his essay “Great Men, Great Thoughts, and the Environment,” made the connection between Darwinian ideas and genius. Campbell’s work has since been elaborated on by a number of scholars including Dean Keith Simonton and Sarnoff Mednick. The work of these and many other scholars suggests that genius operates according to Darwin’s theory of biological evolution. Nature is extraordinarily productive. Nature creates many possibilities through blind “trial and error” and then lets the process of natural selection decide which species survive. In nature, 95% of new species fail and die within a short period of time.

Genius is analogous to biological evolution in that it requires the unpredictable generation of a rich diversity of alternatives and conjectures. From this variety of alternatives and conjectures, the intellect retains the best ideas for further development and communication. An important aspect of this theory is that you need some means of producing variation in your ideas and for this variation to be truly effective it must be “blind.” Blind variation implies a departure from reproductive (retained) knowledge.

How do creative geniuses generate so many alternatives and conjectures? Why are so many of their ideas so rich and varied? How do they produce the “blind” variations that lead to the original and novel? A growing cadre of scholars are offering evidence that one can characterize the way geniuses think. By studying the notebooks, correspondence, conversations and ideas of the world’s greatest thinkers, they have teased out particular common thinking strategies and styles of thought that enabled geniuses to generate a prodigious variety of novel and original ideas.

STRATEGIES

Following are thumbnail descriptions of strategies that are common to the thinking styles of creative geniuses in science, art and industry throughout history.

GENIUSES LOOK AT PROBLEMS IN MANY DIFFERENT WAY. Genius often comes from finding a new perspective that no one else has taken. Leonardo daVinci believed that to gain knowledge about the form of problems, you begin by learning how to restructure it in many different ways. He felt the first way he looked at a problem was too biased toward his usual way of seeing things. He would restructure his problem by looking at it from one perspective and move to another perspective and still another. With each move, his understanding would deepen and he would begin to understand the essence of the problem. Einstein’s theory of relativity is, in essence, a description of the interaction between different perspectives. Freud’s analytical methods were designed to find details that did not fit with traditional perspectives in order to find a completely new point of view.

In order to creatively solve a problem, the thinker must abandon the initial approach that stems from past experience and re-conceptualize the problem. By not settling with one perspective, geniuses do not merely solve existing problems, like inventing an environmentally-friendly fuel. They identify new ones. It does not take a genius to analyze dreams; it required Freud to ask in the first place what meaning dreams carry from our psyche.

GENIUSES MAKE THEIR THOUGHTS VISIBLE. The explosion of creativity in the Renaissance was intimately tied to the recording and conveying of a vast knowledge in a parallel language; a language of drawings, graphs and diagrams — as, for instance, in the renowned diagrams of daVinci and Galileo. Galileo revolutionized science by making his thought visible with diagrams, maps, and drawings while his contemporaries used conventional mathematical and verbal approaches.

Once geniuses obtain a certain minimal verbal facility, they seem to develop a skill in visual and spatial abilities which give them the flexibility to display information in different ways. When Einstein had thought through a problem, he always found it necessary to formulate his subject in as many different ways as possible, including diagrammatically. He had a very visual mind. He thought in terms of visual and spatial forms, rather than thinking along purely mathematical or verbal lines of reasoning. In fact, he believed that words and numbers, as they are written or spoken, did not play a significant role in his thinking process.

One of the most complete descriptions of Einstein’s philosophy of science was found in a letter to his friend, Maurice Solovine. In the letter, Einstein explained the difficulty of attempting to use words to explain his philosophy of science, because as he said, he thinks about such things schematically. The letter started with a simple drawing consisting of (1) straight line representing E (experiences), which are given to us, and (2) A (axioms), which are situated above the line but were not directly linked to the line. Einstein explained that psychologically the A rests upon the E. There exists, however, no logical path from E to A, but only an intuitive connection, which is always subject to revocation. From axioms, one can deduce certain deductions (S), which deductions may lay claim to being correct. In essence, Einstein was saying that it is the theory that determines what we observe. Einstein argued that scientific thinking is speculative, and only in its end product does it lead to a system that is characterized as “logical simplicity.” Unable to satisfactorily describe his thoughts in words, Einstein made his thought visible by diagramming his philosophy’s main features and characteristics.

GENIUSES PRODUCE. A distinguishing characteristic of genius is immense productivity. Thomas Edison held 1,093 patents, still the record. He guaranteed productivity by giving himself and his assistants idea quotas. His own personal quota was one minor invention every 10 days and a major invention every six months. Bach wrote a cantata every week, even when he was sick or exhausted. Mozart produced more than six hundred pieces of music. Einstein is best known for his paper on relativity, but he published 248 other papers. T. S. Elliot’s numerous drafts of “The Waste Land” constitute a jumble of good and bad passages that eventually was turned into a masterpiece. In a study of 2,036 scientists throughout history, Dean Kean Simonton of the University of California, Davis found that the most respected produced not only great works, but also more “bad” ones. Out of their massive quantity of work came quality. Geniuses produce. Period.

GENIUSES MAKE NOVEL COMBINATIONS. Dean Keith Simonton, in his 1989 book Scientific Genius suggests that geniuses are geniuses because they form more novel combinations than the merely talented. His theory has etymology behind it: cogito — “I think — originally connoted “shake together”: intelligo the root of “intelligence” means to “select among.” This is a clear early intuition about the utility of permitting ideas and thoughts to randomly combine with each other and the utility of selecting from the many the few to retain. Like the highly playful child with a pailful of Legos, a genius is constantly combining and recombining ideas, images and thoughts into different combinations in their conscious and subconscious minds. Consider Einstein’s equation, E=mc2. Einstein did not invent the concepts of energy, mass, or speed of light. Rather, by combining these concepts in a novel way, he was able to look at the same world as everyone else and see something different. The laws of heredity on which the modern science of genetics is based are the results of Gregor Mendel who combined mathematics and biology to create a new science.

GENIUSES FORCE RELATIONSHIPS. If one particular style of thought stands out about creative genius, it is the ability to make juxtapositions between dissimilar subjects. Call it a facility to connect the unconnected that enables them to see things to which others are blind. Leonardo daVinci forced a relationship between the sound of a bell and a stone hitting water. This enabled him to make the connection that sound travels in waves. In 1865, F. A. Kekule’ intuited the shape of the ring-like benzene molecule by forcing a relationship with a dream of a snake biting its tail. Samuel Morse was stumped trying to figure out how to produce a telegraphic signal b enough to be received coast to coast. One day he saw tied horses being exchanged at a relay station and forced a connection between relay stations for horses and b signals. The solution was to give the traveling signal periodic boosts of power. Nickla Tesla forced a connection between the setting sun and a motor that made the AC motor possible by having the motor’s magnetic field rotate inside the motor just as the sun (from our perspective) rotates.

GENIUSES THINK IN OPPOSITES. Physicist and philosopher David Bohm believed geniuses were able to think different thoughts because they could tolerate ambivalence between opposites or two incompatible subjects. Dr. Albert Rothenberg, a noted researcher on the creative process, identified this ability in a wide variety of geniuses including Einstein, Mozart, Edison, Pasteur, Joseph Conrad, and Picasso in his 1990 book The Emerging Goddess: The Creative Process in Art, Science and Other Fields. Physicist Niels Bohr believed that if you held opposites together, then you suspend your thought and your mind moves to a new level. The suspension of thought allows an intelligence beyond thought to act and create a new form. The swirling of opposites creates the conditions for a new point of view to bubble freely from your mind. Bohr’s ability to imagine light as both a particle and a wave led to his conception of the principle of complementarity. Thomas Edison’s invention of a practical system of lighting involved combining wiring in parallel circuits with high resistance filaments in his bulbs, two things that were not considered possible by conventional thinkers, in fact were not considered at all because of an assumed incompatibility. Because Edison could tolerate the ambivalence between two incompatible things, he could see the relationship that led to his breakthrough.

GENIUSES THINK METAPHORICALLY. Aristotle considered metaphor a sign of genius, believing that the individual who had the capacity to perceive resemblances between two separate areas of existence and link them together was a person of special gifts. If unlike things are really alike in some ways, perhaps, they are so in others. Alexander Graham Bell observed the comparison between the inner workings of the ear and the movement of a stout piece of membrane to move steel and conceived the telephone. Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, in one day, after developing an analogy between a toy funnel and the motions of a paper man and sound vibrations. Underwater construction was made possible by observing how shipworms tunnel into timber by first constructing tubes. Einstein derived and explained many of his abstract principles by drawing analogies with everyday occurrences such as rowing a boat or standing on a platform while a train passed by.

GENIUSES PREPARE THEMSELVES FOR CHANCE. Whenever we attempt to do something and fail, we end up doing something else. As simplistic as this statement may seem, it is the first principle of creative accident. We may ask ourselves why we have failed to do what we intended, and this is the reasonable, expected thing to do. But the creative accident provokes a different question: What have we done? Answering that question in a novel, unexpected way is the essential creative act. It is not luck, but creative insight of the highest order. Alexander Fleming was not the first physician to notice the mold formed on an exposed culture while studying deadly bacteria. A less gifted physician would have trashed this seemingly irrelevant event but Fleming noted it as “interesting” and wondered if it had potential. This “interesting” observation led to penicillin which has saved millions of lives. Thomas Edison, while pondering how to make a carbon filament, was mindlessly toying with a piece of putty, turning and twisting it in his fingers, when he looked down at his hands, the answer hit him between the eyes: twist the carbon, like rope. B. F. Skinner emphasized a first principle of scientific methodologists: when you find something interesting, drop everything else and study it. Too many fail to answer opportunity’s knock at the door because they have to finish some preconceived plan. Creative geniuses do not wait for the gifts of chance; instead, they actively seek the accidental discovery.

SUMMARY

Recognizing the common thinking strategies of creative geniuses and applying them will make you more creative in your work and personal life. Creative geniuses are geniuses because they know “how” to think, instead of “what” to think. Sociologist Harriet Zuckerman published an interesting study of the Nobel Prize winners who were living in the United States in 1977. She discovered that six of Enrico Fermi’s students won the prize. Ernst Lawrence and Niels Bohr each had four. J. J. Thompson and Ernest Rutherford between them trained seventeen Nobel laureates. This was no accident. It is obvious that these Nobel laureates were not only creative in their own right, but were also able to teach others how to think creatively. Zuckerman’s subjects testified that their most influential masters taught them different thinking styles and strategies rather than what to think.

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