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.