Category: Techniques (page 2 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.

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.

What You Can Learn About Creative Thinking from Vincent Van Gogh and the Wright Brothers

VANGOGH4.

What would you think of someone who said, “I would like to have a cat provided it barked”?

The common desire to achieve or create great things provided it’s something that can be easily willed or wished is precisely equivalent. The principles of behavior that lead to great accomplishments are no less rigid than the biological principles that determine the characteristics of cats. Consider, for example, the life of Vincent Willem van Gogh.

He is generally considered to be one of history’s greatest artists and had a far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. His artistic accomplishments are not an accident, not a result of some easily magic trick or secret, but a consequence of his nature to work persistently on his art every day. He revered “the doing” in art. He wrote about his hard work many times to his brother Theo. In a letter he sent Theo in 1885 he stated that one can only improve by working on your art, and many people are more remarkably clever and talented than him, but what use is it if they do not work at it.

He did not begin painting until his late twenties, completing many of his best-known works during the last two years of his life. In the first years of his career, van Gogh displayed no natural talent. David Sweetman’s biography “Van Gogh: His Life and His Art” gives a detailed description of his intention to be an artist and his insatiable capacity for hard work to become one. He turned himself into an artist by acting like an artist and going through the motions by turning out mostly bad innumerable rough sketches, day and night. In Van Gogh’s own words he said, “In spite of everything I shall rise again and take up my pencil and draw and draw.”

He received mild encouragement from his cousin, Anton Mauve, who supplied him with his first set of watercolors. Mauve was a successful artist and gave Vincent some basic instructions in painting. Their relationship was short-lived, however, as Vincent was incapable of receiving criticism of his art from Mauve. Mauve even went to Vincent’s father and told him it would be better for Vincent to stop attempting to be an artist and find another occupation that better suited his talent. It was then that Vincent unveiled what art critics label as his first “masterpiece,” The Potato Eaters.

VANGOGH3

He turned himself into an artist by acting like an artist and going through the motions by turning out mostly bad innumerable rough sketches, day and night.

Lesson #1 Stop waiting and Take Action

The lesson about creative thinking I learned from Van Gogh is action. Just do it. Stop waiting and start working toward what you want. What we think, or what we know, or what we believe something is, in the end, of no consequence. The only consequence is what we actually do. In Van Gogh’s own words “Just slap anything on when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face like some imbecile. You don’t know how paralyzing that is, that stare of a blank canvas is, which says to the painter, “You can’t do a thing.” The canvas has an idiotic stare and mesmerizes some painters so much that they turn into idiots themselves. Many painters are afraid in front of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the real, passionate painter who dares and who has broken the spell of ‘you can’t’ once and for all by getting to work and painting.”

It was very difficult at times, but he believed nobody can do as he wishes in the beginning when you start but everything will be all right in the end. Each day he made every effort to improve because he knew making beautiful paintings meant painstaking work, disappointment and perseverance. In the end, Van Gogh produced 2000 works of art between 1880 and 1890 (1100 paintings and 900 sketches). That’s 4 works of art a week for a decade, and he didn’t start making art until his mid twenties.

LESSON #2 Commit and Go through the motions

Van Gogh taught me to commit myself to a desire and go through the motions of working toward accomplishing it. His advice was if you do nothing, you are nothing. You must keep working and keep working come what may. Even when your final goal is not clear, the goal will become clearer and will emerge slowly but surely, much as the rough drawing turns into a sketch, and the sketch into a painting through the serious work done on it and through the elaboration of the original vague idea and through the consolidation of your fleeting and passing thoughts on it as you work.

Think of the first airplane. On December 8, 1903, Samuel Pierpont Langley, a leading government-funded scientist, launched with much fanfare his flying machine on the Potomac. It plummeted into the river. Nine days later, Orville and Wilbur got the first plane off the ground. Why did these bicycle mechanics succeed when a famous scientist failed? It was because Langley did the mental work and hired other people to build and execute his intellectual design for him.

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Lesson #3 Do your own work.

The Wright brothers did their own work. When they were working and producing creative ideas and products they were replenishing neurotransmitters which are linked to genes that are being turned on and turned off in response to what the brain is doing, which in turn is responding to challenges. When they constantly worked on their idea and learned through trial and error, they were energizing their brains by increasing the number of contacts between neurons. The more times they act, the longer they worked the more active their brains became and the more creative they became.

Their creative brains made them aware of the range of many potentials for each adjustment they built into their design. Their personal observations of the many alternative potentials led them to constantly change and modify their ideas that created the airplane.

When they constantly worked on their idea and learned through trial and error, they were energizing their brains by increasing the number of contacts between neurons. I like to metaphorically compare working toward a desired goal such the goals of Van Gogh and the Wright brothers to weight lifting.  If you want to build muscles you lift weights. If the weight is heavy enough it’s going to damage the muscles. That damage creates a chemical cascade and reaches into the nuclei of your muscle cells, and turns on genes that make proteins and build up muscle fibers. Those genes are only turned on in response to some environmental challenge. That’s why you’ve got to keep lifting heavier and heavier weights. The phrase, “No pain no gain,” is literally true in this case. Interaction with the environment turns on certain genes which otherwise wouldn’t be turned on; in fact, they will be turned off if certain challenges aren’t being faced.

Lesson #4 Don’t wait for perfect moments

Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what. Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful. We are what we repeatedly do.

Start Now

To get a feel for how powerful the simple act of just starting something creative and working on it is, try the following thought experiment.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Take out a sheet of paper and at least ten items, money, credit cards, keys, coins, etc. Your task is to create an assemblage that metaphorically represents you.

Here are the guidelines:

  1. In your mind, imagine an assemblage that metaphorically represents you. Do not think about the materials you have in hand. Instead think about the shape you would like your assemblage to have. What are the rhythms you want? The texture? Where would you want it to be active? Passive? Where do things overlap and where are they isolated? Think in general and overall pictures, and leave out the details. Do not think about great art; just think about who you are and what how you can represent yourself metaphorically.
  2. Now form a more specific idea of the final assemblage. As you look at the paper, imagine the specific assemblage you want to create. Make sure you’ve formed this image before you move to the next step.
  3. Place the items on the paper. Since the composing stage is already done, it’s time to bring your creation into physical existence. How closely did it come to your conception? Become a critic for the assemblage. Look at it for its own sake, independent of the fact that you have created it. Take the items off and go through the same procedures. Make the assemblage again.
  4. By conceptualizing and using materials you had on hand, you created an artistic assemblage from nothing.
  5. If you performed this exercise every day with different objects for five to ten straight days you will find yourself becoming an artist who specializes in rearranging unrelated objects into art. It is the activity that turns on the synaptic transmissions in your brain that turn on the genes that are linked to what you are doing, which is responding to an environmental challenge (i.e., the making of an assemblage).

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Michael Michalko author of THINKERTOYS, CRACKING CREATIVITY, THINKPAK, and CREATIVE THINKERING www.creativethinking.net

Michelangelo’s Mindset

attitude

Our attitudes influence our behavior, and this is true. Michelangelo believed he was the greatest artist in the world and could create masterpieces using any medium. His rivals persuaded Junius II to hire him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, because they knew Michelangelo had rarely used color and had never painted in fresco. They were sure he would turn down the commission due to his inexperience. They planned to use his refusal as proof of his lack of talent. If he did accept it, they were convinced the result would be clownish and planned to use the result to point out his inadequacies to the art world.

Michelangelo accepted the commission. Because he had the attitude of a great artist his behavior followed. Going through the motions and practicing with colors and painting in fresco, endlessly, he became an expert in the technique.  He executed the frescos in great discomfort, having to work with his face looking upwards, which impaired his sight so badly that he could not read save with his head turned backwards for months. By acting upon his belief that he could create anything, he created the masterpiece that established him as the artist of the age.

And it’s also true that our behavior influences our attitudes. Tibetan monks say their prayers by whirling their prayer wheels on which their prayers are inscribed. The whirling wheels spin the prayers into divine space. Sometimes, a monk will keep a dozen or so prayer wheels rotating like some juggling act in which whirling plates are balanced on top of long thin sticks.

Many novice monks are not all that emotionally or spiritually involved at first. It may be that the novice is thinking about his family, his doubts about a religious vocation or something else while he is going through the motions of spinning his prayer wheel. When the novice adopts the pose of a monk and makes it obvious to themselves and others by playing a role, their brain will soon follow the role they are playing. It is not enough for the novice to have the intention of becoming a monk: the novice must act like a monk and rotate the prayer wheels. If one has the intention of becoming a monk and goes through the motions of acting like a monk, one will become a monk.

The great surrealist artist Salvador Dali was described by his fellow students at the Madrid art academy as “morbidly” shy according to his biographer Ian Gibson. He had a great fear of blushing and his shame about being ashamed drove him into solitude. It was his uncle who gave him the sage advice to become an actor in his relations with the people around him. He instructed him to pretend he was an extrovert and to act like an extrovert with everyone including your closest companions. Dali did just that to disguise his mortification. Every day he went through the motions of being an extrovert and, eventually, he became celebrated as the most extroverted, fearless, uninhibited and gregarious personalities of his time. He became what he pretended to be.

The Greek philosopher Diogenes was once noticed begging from 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 beginning 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 create and strengthen the attitude we wish to cultivate.

If you want to become an artist and go through the motions of being an artist by painting a picture every day, you will become an artist. You may not become another Vincent Van Gogh, but you will create the attitude of an artist and you will become more of an artist than someone who has never tried.

The Secret of Mona Lisa’s Smile

Think, for a moment, about social occasions–visits, dates, dinners out with friends, gatherings, birthday parties, weddings, etc. Even when you’re unhappy or depressed, these occasions force us to act as if we were happy. Observing other’s faces, postures, and voices, we unconsciously mimic their reactions. We synchronize our movements, posture, and tone of voice with theirs. Then my mimicking happy people, we become happy. You begin to behave like the people who surround you, and that behavior influences your attitude.

mona lisa smileLeonardo da Vinci also 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 the melancholy that painters usually give to portraits. He attributed that to the solitariness of the artist and their joyless environment.

According to Giorgio Vasari (1568) that while painting the Mona Lisa Leonardo employed singers, musicians and jesters to chase away his melancholy as he painted. The musicians and jesters forced him laugh and be joyful. This behavior created the attitude of joy and pleasure as he painted. As a result, he painted a smile so pleasing that it seems divine and as alive as the original.

 Even Facial Expressions Can Change Your Emotions 

CIA researchers have long been interested in developing techniques to help them study facial expressions of suspects. Two of the 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 felt poorly, too, so they began to keep track. They began monitoring their body during facial movements. 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 rate and body temperatures of two groups of people. One group was asked to remember and relive the most sorrowful experience in their life. 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.

The CIA researchers in a further experiment had one group of subjects listen to recordings of top comedians and look at a series of cartoons while holding a pen pressed between their lips – an action that makes it impossible to smile. Another group held a pen between their teeth which had the opposite effect and made them smile.

The people with the pen between their teeth rated the comedians and cartoons much funnier than the other group. What’s more, neither group of subjects knew they were making expressions of emotion. Amazingly, an expression you do not even know you have can create an emotion you did not choose to feel. Emotion doesn’t just go from the inside out. It goes from the outside in.

Try the following thought experiment:

Lower your eyebrows.

Raise your upper eyelid.

Narrow the eyelids.

Press your lips together.

Hold this expression and you will generate anger. Your heartbeat will go up ten or twelve beats. 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’s stretching the edges of your mouth back without feeling uncomfortable. This will force a smile. Hold it there for five minutes or so. You’ll find yourself inexplicably in a happy mood. Then try walking with long strides and looking straight ahead. You will amaze yourself at how fast your facial expressions can change your emotions.

Michael Michalko

http://www.creativethinking.net

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People with fixed mindsets think intelligence is fixed from birth. People with learning goals have a growth mind-set about intelligence, believing it can be developed. Discover what mindset you have. See:

http://creativethinking.net/new-q-factor/#sthash.zpdavVyz.dpbs

Creative Thinking Technique: Abstraction

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT. The figure below is a square defined by four dots. A square is a rectangle with four equal sides and four 90-degree angles. Your challenge is to move 2 dots and create a square twice as big as the one defined by the dots as they are presently arranged. Try to solve this before you read further.The reason many of us have difficulty with this problem is the definition of the word square. The word square biases our perception of the problem which closes off  but one line of thought. Consequently, we try to solve it by keeping the sides of the larger square parallel with the smaller one. That won’t work.4dotsquare

Continue reading

How to Get your Subconscious Mind Working on a Problem

bosch paintingHas this ever happened to you? You’re walking down the street, completely relaxed, and you are not thinking about any particular thing.  Then all of a sudden the solution to a problem you’ve been working on for weeks pops into your head out of the blue.  You wonder why you didn’t think of it before.You’ve experienced your subconscious mind at work.  Your subconscious mind will continue to work on a problem long after you leave it.  This is known as incubating the problem.  Many idea people report that their best ideas come when they are not thinking about their problem.  Fehr, the French scientist, said he observed that in his lifetime practically all good ideas came to him when he was not working on a problem or even thinking about a problem, and that most of his contemporaries make their discoveries in the same way.  When Thomas Edison was stonewalled by a problem, he would lie down and take a nap and allow his subconscious mind to work on it. Continue reading

Idea Triggers

OUTOFIDEAS

When you are out of ideas, try one of the following idea triggers to stimulate your imagination.

IDEA TRIGGERS

What technique will the leader in your field be using 20 years from now?

Explain your problem to someone who doesn’t know any of the technical jargon. Ask how he/she would solve the problem.

What is impossible to do in your industry, but if it were, would change the nature of your industry forever?

How would you pursue the goals if you had unlimited resources: people and money?

Spend a couple of hours in the library leafing through journals that are distinctly peripheral to your project.

If there were a crisis and you had to complete your project within a week, what would you do? Continue reading

What I Learned about Creative Thinking from Aristotle

aristotleAristotle, ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, was one of the greatest intellectual figures of Western history. His thinking strategies were responsible for producing some of the greatest advances in human thought. Our modern society and education have tended to focus more on the discoveries resulting from these strategies than on the mental processes through which the discoveries were made. We learn about great ideas and we learn the names of the creative geniuses, but we are seldom taught about the mental processes or creative thinking techniques creative geniuses used to look at the same things as the rest of us and see something different.

We learn who got the ideas, but not how. This article is about what I learned about the importance of using words to shape your thinking from Aristotle. In his book, On Interpretation, Aristotle described how words and chains of words were powerful tools for thought that both reflected and shaped his thinking. His ability to record and express his ideas and discoveries was as important as his ability to make them. Continue reading

10 Odd Facts about Famous Creative Geniuses

Creative geniuses are usually honored and mythologized in history books. We seldom read about their dark sides or their somewhat bizarre behaviors and habits. Here are some little known facts about some of the well known creative thinkers, authors, artists, inventors and innovators in history.

einstein and wifeEINSTEIN’S MARRIAGE CONTRACT. In Walter Isaacson’s book on Einstein, he reveals the great physicist as a smooth operator when it comes to picking up ladies. Einstein was quite the ladies man. At one point Einstein’s cousin, Elsa, who is the object of his intense affection, writes to him and asks for a photograph as well as a book that explains the theory of relativity. Einstein writes back: “There is no book on relativity that is comprehensible to the layman. But what do you have a relativity cousin for? If you ever happen to be in Zurich, then we (without my wife, who is unfortunately very jealous) will take a nice walk, and I will tell you about all of those curious things I have discovered.  Baby, I’m your relativity relative”. Continue reading

101 Tips on How to Become More Creative

  1. Take a walk and look for something interesting.
  2. Make metaphorical-analogical connections between that something interesting and your problem.
  3. Open a dictionary and find a new word. Use it in a sentence.
  4. Make a connection between the word and your problem.
  5. How is an iceberg like an idea that might help you solve your problem?
  6. Create the dumbest idea you can.
  7. Ask a child.
  8. Create a prayer asking for help with your problem.
  9. What does the sky taste like?
  10. Create an idea that will get you fired. Continue reading

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