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One day a traveler was walking along a road on his journey from one village to another. As he walked, he noticed a monk sitting on a boulder beside the road. The monk said “Good day” to the traveler, and the traveler nodded. The traveler then turned to the monk and said “Excuse me, do you mind if I ask you a question?”.

“Not at all,” replied the monk.

“I am travelling from the village in the mountains to the village in the valley and I was wondering if you knew what it is like in the village in the valley?”

“Tell me,” said the monk, “What was your experience in the village in the mountains?”

“Dreadful,” replied the traveler, “to be honest I am glad to be away from there. I found the people most unwelcoming. When I first arrived, I was greeted coldly. I was never made to feel part of the village no matter how hard I tried. The villagers keep very much to themselves, they don’t take kindly to strangers. So, tell me, what can I expect in the village in the valley?”

“I am sorry to tell you,” said the monk, “but I think your experience will be much the same there”.

The traveler hung his head despondently and walked on.

A while later another traveler was journeying down the same road and he also came upon the monk.

“I’m going to the village in the valley,” said the second traveler, “Do you know what it is like?”

“I do,” replied the monk “But first tell me – where have you come from?”

“I’ve come from the village in the mountains.”

“And how was that?”

“It was a wonderful experience. I would have stayed if I could, but I am committed to travelling on. I felt as though I was a member of the family in the village. The elders gave me much advice, the children laughed and joked with me and people were generally kind and generous. I am sad to have left there. It will always hold special memories for me. And what of the village in the valley?” he asked again.

“I think you will find it much the same” replied the monk, “Good day to you”.

“Good day and thank you,” the traveler replied, smiled, and journeyed on.

The monk knew we do not see things as they are; we see them as we are. Perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” Perception implies understanding as well as awareness. It is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality on the basis of information provided them.


Take a look at these two tables. Which one of them do you think is longer, and which one is wider?

It might be hard to believe, but the two tables have the exact same dimensions! Measure both table surfaces with a ruler and prove it to yourself. Why, then, does the table on the left look elongated, while the table on the right appears to have a wider width? The illusion of two tables was first discovered by Roger Shepard at Stanford University.

It comes down to how we perceive the scene. Accustomed as we are to photography and Western art, we automatically interpret the scene as three-dimensional. The concept of perspective, first mastered by artists during the Renaissance, is one we encounter in our everyday lives, and our brains automatically assume that the further away an object is from us, the smaller it will be. To compensate, our brain interprets and “lengthens” lines that appear to be pointing away from us into the distance.

In this scene, the interpretation made by our brain extends the length of the table on the left by making it appear longer and the shorter side of the right-hand table by making it appear wider. Our brain constructs what we perceive based on our past experiences rather than what is there. We see the tables as we are, not as they are.

Perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” Perception is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality by how they interpret their experiences.

Suppose I am walking down a sidewalk and a woman barges into me knocking me off balance and rushes off. I could say she is an aggressive feminist consciously demonstrating her physical superiority over males, or I could say I am getting older and must be more careful how I walk, or I could say the architects poorly designed these walkways for the amount of traffic they bear, or I could say she is probably in a great hurry because of some personal emergency, or I could say I think she’s flirting with me. I give the experience the meaning by how I choose to interpret it.



“If at first your idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it.”
…..Albert Einstein

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


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

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

What this suggests is that even highly creative individuals and the ideas they develop are susceptible to the constraining influences of structured imagination. Their idea of a design for a railway car was heavily influenced by what they knew, understood, and were most familiar with — the stagecoach.

In genius, there is a tolerance for unpredictable avenues of thought. The result of unpredictable thinking may be just what is needed to shift the context and lead to a new perspective. When you come up with crazy or fantastical ideas, you step outside your cone of expectations — which is what happened to a manufacturer of dinner plates who had a problem with packaging. The plates were wrapped in old newspapers and packed in boxes. Every packer would eventually slow down to read the papers and look at the pictures. Most employees would drop to about 30 percent efficiency after a few weeks on the job.

The manufacturer tried using other material for packing, but that proved too expensive; the newspapers had been free. They tried using newspapers in different languages, but these were hard to obtain. They even offered incentives to workers to increase the number of plates wrapped, but without great success. Finally, one day in a meeting, an exasperated supervisor said they should tape the workers’ eyes shut so they couldn’t read. This absurd comment created a lot of laughter as the others joked about his comment. But the supervisor had an “Aha!” moment: he got the idea to hire blind people to do the packing. The company not only greatly increased its packing efficiency but also received tax benefits for hiring the disabled.

A way to break up your rigidity of thinking is to deliberately explore the absurd and unusual. This gives you the freedom from design or commitment and allows you to juxtapose things which would not otherwise have been arranged in this way and to construct a sequence of events which would not otherwise have been constructed.

Suppose, for example, you want to improve morale in your company. You would first list several odd, unusual or absurd ideas about the problem.

Absurd ideas:
• Allow people to stay at home and attend to household and landscape needs with full pay. E.g., three hours to mow a law, one week to paint a room, two weeks to repair a roof, four hours to repair a fence, and so on.
• Give every employee a company luxury car for personal use as long as they are employed.
• Give employees the same pension plan US senators have: Their annual pay for life with all comprehensive medical benefits.
Select one of the absurd ideas.
Paying people to stay home and attend to household needs.
Extract the principle and build it into a practical idea.

IDEA: The principle is working on employee homes and lawns. Offer employees the services of a handyman as a benefit. Employee pays for materials; employer employs and pays the handyman to fix sinks, hang wallpaper, and so on.

Creative-thinking techniques break up your conventional thinking patterns which stimulate new thinking patterns that lead to new ideas and concepts that you cannot get using your usual way of thinking.

Suppose you want to control the illegal whale harvesting by the Japanese whalers.

Absurd ideas:
• Pay whalers not to poach.
• Hire armed patrol boats to protect whales.
• Coast Guard captures Japanese whaler and ransoms crew and ship back to owner.
Examining the features and aspects of the various ideas focuses us on capturing the whalers and ransoming the crews and boat back to the owners. This would make the activity unprofitable, but it is also unlawful. We would become pirates.

This reminds us of the Somalian pirate ships off the coast of Africa. This inspired the thought of one way of fighting an illegal activity is to use an illegal enforcement activity. The final idea all this inspired is to make it a legal exemption for the Somali pirates and allow them to hijack illegal Japanese Whalers anywhere on the oceans and hold them for ransom.

Using criminals to help fight crime is an interesting thought that has led to other innovative solutions. A city was infested with drug activities and the police were overwhelmed. I worked with a team of detectives that came up with the crazy idea of treating drug dealers like entrepreneurs.

One entrepreneurial idea was to assist drug dealers increase their profit by helping them eliminate their competitors. Posters were printed and posted around the city. The posters were titled “Attention Drug Dealers: Is Your Competition Costing You Money? We offer a free service to help you eliminate your drug competition!” All the would-be clients need to do is jot down on the poster the names, addresses and dealing habits of their business rivals and mail it to the police station.


Cognitive scientists understand the importance of perception and pattern recognition as a major component of creative thinking. When you are committed and start to actively work on a problem that you are passionate about, you will start to notice more and more things that relate to what you are working on. With an infinite amount of stimuli constantly hitting our brains, we need the ability to filter that which is most relevant to us. And our mind is that filter. Often these connections can seem like coincidences, but cognitive scientists tell us it is simply that part of our brain that screens out information we are not interested in and focuses on the things that we can use. These connections give you different ways to look at information and different ways to focus on it.

George de Mestral was inspired to improve the zipper. He thought about the essence of zippers which is to fasten two separate pieces of fabric together. His question became “How do things fasten?” He became committed to the idea of inventing a better fastener and spent considerable time pondering how things fasten in other domains including nature.

One day when George was hunting birds with his Irish pointer, he traveled through some burdock thistles. The prickly seed burrs from the plants clung to his clothing and to his dog. While pulling off the burrs he noticed how they were removable yet easily reattached.

The burdock fascinated George and he imagined a fastener that mimicked a burdock. He studied the burrs under a microscope and discovered a hook system used by the burdock plant to migrate its seeds by attachment. The hooks could grab onto loops of thread or fur and migrate with the object it fastened itself to. This gave him the idea of creating a hook and loop fastener.

It was not logic that guided his thinking process but perception and pattern recognition between two totally unrelated subjects: zippers and burdocks. Logic dictates that burdocks are animate plants and zippers are inanimate manmade objects that are totally unrelated and, therefore, any relationship between the two is to be excluded. It was George’s creative perception, not logic, that recognized the common factor between a burdock and a zipper that fastens, not logic.

George envisioned two fabrics that could attach in this manner with one having a surface covered with minuscule hooks and another with hoops. Most of the experts he visited did not believe hooks could be created on the surface of fabric. However, he found a weaver at a textile plant that was willing to work with him. George discovered that a multifilament yarn weaved from velvet or cotton terry cloth created a surface of hooped threads. To create hooks, George would partially cut the hoops so they would become hooks. There was a great deal of experimentation to get the right density, thread sizes and rigidity. He eventually weaved the hook-side yarn from nylon and invented Velcro.


Russian computer scientist, Mikhail Bongard, created a remarkable set of visual pattern recognition problems to test one’s creative perception. The Bongard problems present two sets of relatively simple diagrams, say A and B. All the diagrams from set A have a common factor or attribute, which is lacking in all the diagrams of set B. The problem is to find, or to formulate, convincingly, the common factor.  Below is an example of a Bongard problem. Test your perception and pattern recognition skills and try to solve the problem. You have two classes of figures (A and B). You are asked to discover some abstract connection that links all the various diagrams in A and that distinguishes them from all the other diagrams in group B.

One has to take chances that certain aspects of a given diagram matter, and others are irrelevant. Perhaps shapes count, but not sizes — or vice versa. Perhaps orientations count, but not sizes — or vice versa. Perhaps curvature or its lack counts, but not location inside the box — or vice versa. Perhaps numbers of objects but not their types matter — or vice versa. Which types of features will wind up mattering and which are mere distracters. As you try to solve the problem, you will find the essence of your mental activity is a complex interweaving of acts of abstraction and comparison, all of which involve guesswork rather than certainty. By guesswork I mean that one has to take a chance that certain aspects matter and others do not.

Logic dictates that the essence of perception is the activity of dividing a complex scene into its separate constituent objects and attaching separate labels to the now separated parts of pre-established categories, such as ovals, X’s and circles as unrelated exclusive events. Then we’re taught to think exclusively within a closed system of hard logic.

In the above patterns, if you were able to discern the distinction between the diagrams, your perception is what found the distinction, not logic. The distinction is the ovals are all pointing to the X in the A group, and the ovals area all pointing at the circles in the B group.

The following thought experiment is an even more difficult problem, because you are no longer dealing with recognizable shapes such as ovals, X’s, circles or other easily recognizable structures for which we have clear representations. To solve this, you need to perceive subjectively and intuitively, make abstract connections, much like Einstein thought when he thought about the similarities and differences between the patterns of space and time, and you need to consider the overall context of the problem.

Again, you have two classes of figures (A and B) in the Bongard problem. You are asked to discover some abstract connection that links all the various diagrams in A and that distinguishes them from all the other diagrams in group B.









ANSWER: The rule is the “dots” in A are on the same side of the neck.

Learn how to become a creative thinker. Review Michael Michalko’s books

When To Put An Apple Down

When I was a boy I played shortstop for our high school baseball team. The last game we played was for the championship. In the ninth inning a ground ball was hit sharply to me. I bumbled the catch and then overthrew the ball to 1st base. My errors cost us the championship.

I felt terrible and worthless. This was the worst experience of my life. Later that day my grandfather came over to our house. He noticed how upset and forlorn I was and sat down beside me. I told him about my awful experience and how bad I felt.

He asked me to stand up and put my arm out straight. I did, and he placed an apple in my hand. He asked me “How heavy is the apple?” I replied that it was not heavy and weighed only a few ounces.
He replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long you hold it. If you hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If you hold it for an hour, your arm will ache. If you hold it for a day, your arm will become numb and paralyzed. Notice that the weight doesn’t change, but the longer you hold it, the heavier it becomes.”

The stresses and misfortunes in life are like that apple. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them constantly all day long you will feel paralyzed—incapable of doing anything.

It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses and worries. As early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don’t carry them through the evening and into the night. Remember to put the apple down!


Change the Way You Look At Things and the Things You Look At Change

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


Below is an illustration of irregular black and white shapes:

Concentrate on the four small dots in the vertical row in the middle of the picture for at least 30 seconds.

Then close your eyes and tilt your head back. Keep them closed. Eventually, you will see a circle of light.

Continue looking at the circle. What do you see? Amazing isn’t it?

By focusing your attention in a different way (focusing on the dots and closing your eyes), you changed your perception of the pattern thereby allowing yourself to see something that you could not otherwise see.

Similarly, Michael Michalko’s creative thinking techniques change the way you think by focusing your attention in different ways and giving you different ways to interpret what you focus on. The techniques will enable you to look at the same information as everyone else and see something different.

Michael Michalko. Creativity consists of seeing what no one else is seeing, to think what no one else is thinking, and doing what others had wish they had done. Become creative.


I’m always fascinated to hear stories about the lives of those men and women that I admire. Somehow hearing these stories and anecdotes makes them more human, which brings a stronger sense of hope and inspiration.

Many of them are people who have contributed to make significant changes in the areas of science, art, politics or business. Their names and deeds can be read in most history books and they are usually regarded as geniuses. But less is known about the way they came up with their ideas. What were they thinking when they came up with such insight? Are there some common traits amongst these men and women that we can learn and emulate?




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.


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.


Learn the creative thinking habits from history’s greatest creative geniuses.  Read


A Special Operations officer, told me a story about a Special Forces soldier who was captured by the North Vietnamese during the Viet Nam war. There was a bounty for the heads of all Special Forces personnel who participated in operation Phoenix at the time and the soldier figured his life was over. He was […]

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