Category: Articles and Techniques (page 10 of 22)

What Politicians can Learn about Decency from George Washington


By age sixteen, George Washington had copied out by hand, 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. They are based on a set of rules composed by French Jesuits in 1595. The first English translation of the French rules appeared in 1640, and  are ascribed to Francis Hawkins, the twelve-year-old son of a doctor.

These were the rules that governed Washington’s behavior and helped to mould the man who attracted the love, loyalty and respect of all who served with him during the American Revolution and his Presidency. It would be easy to dismiss them as outdated and appropriate to a time of powdered wigs  and quills, but they reflect a focus that is increasingly difficult to find in our political leaders these days. The rules have in common a focus on other people rather than the narrow focus of their own self-interests that we find so prevalent with our politicians. They represent more than just manners. They are the small sacrifices that we should all be willing to make for the good of all and the sake of living together. These rules proclaim our respect for others and in turn give us the gift of self-respect and heightened self-esteem. Continue reading

What You Think About, You Bring About


Many of us have the illusion that we think comprehensively, but we don’t. We cannot take in multitudes of information, assimilate it, and make it valuable in any meaningful way; we take in information in sequence. It isn’t possible to simultaneously process in parallel multiple potent stimuli and do it effectively. You can demonstrate this to yourself by performing the following thought experiment.

Thought Experiment

Visualize the alphabet in capital letters.

EXERCISE:      A……………………………………………………………………………………………………..Z

How many letters have “curved” lines in them?     Continue reading

There Is No Such Thing as Failure

FAILUREAs an infant, you learned how to walk by trial and error. The first time you made the effort, you fell down and returned to crawling. You ignored your fears about falling and the results you had produced. You stood up again and again and fell again and again. Eventually you stood with a wobble and then another fall. Finally, you walked upright. Suppose, as infants, we had learned to fear failure. Many of us would still be crawling around on all fours.

Yet, because we have been educated to think critically and judgmentally, we imagine strong reasons for inaction and then allow it to become our reality, even before we make an attempt. Our fear is supported by an illusion that it is possible to fail, and that failure means we are worthless. We allow this fear to become our reality even before we make an attempt. Continue reading

Do You Think Like a Bee or a Fly?

BEES.FLIESIf you place in a bottle half a dozen bees and the same number of flies, and lay the bottle down horizontally, with its base to the window, you will find that the bees will persist, until they die of exhaustion or hunger, in their endeavor to discover an issue through the glass; while the flies, in less than two minutes, will all have sallied forth through the neck on the opposite side. Continue reading

Thomas Edison’s Creative Thinking Habits


EDISONThomas Edison was granted 1,093 patents for inventions that ranged from the light bulb, typewriter, electric pen, phonograph, motion picture camera and alkaline storage battery—to the talking doll and a concrete house that could be built in one day from a cast-iron mold. When he died in 1931, he left 3500 notebooks which are preserved today in the temperature-controlled vaults of the West Orange Laboratory Archives at the Edison National Historic Site in New Jersey.

The notebooks read like a turbulent brainstorm and present a verbal and visual biography of Edison’s mind at work. Spanning most of his six-decade career, the notebooks are yielding fresh clues as to how Edison, who had virtually no formal education, could achieve such an astounding inventive record that is still unrivaled. The notebooks illustrate how Edison conceived his ideas from their earliest inceptions and show in great detail how he developed and implemented them. Following are some of Edison’s creative-thinking strategies:  Continue reading

Idea Triggers


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


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



1) Never, ever examine yourself or your company. “We’ve always done it this way.” “Don’t rock the boat.”

2) Whatever it is you do, do it over and over and over and over again. “Now’s not the right time for change.” “Our staff will never buy change.”

3) Never look at what your business, market, or competition is doing. “We have to answer to our stockholders, not theirs.”

4) Never tolerate any suggestion that implies that you or your management system may contribute to a problem. “This is company policy. Take it or leave it.”

5) Never change your plans. “We tried that before.”

6) Keep company goals vague. “Our place is different.” Continue reading

How the Creative Mind Works

subatomic particles

The Rockefeller University physicist, Heinz Pagels,  in his book “The Cosmic Code,” wrote that quantum physics is a kind of code that interconnects everything in the universe. There are, for example, remarkable similarities between the mysteries of how our creative mind works and what quantum physicists have observed in their studies of the universe. Thoughts in our subconscious minds behave remarkably like subatomic particles in quantum physics which simultaneously exist and don’t exist until observed and eventually collapse into what physicists call “a collapse of the wave function.” This may be the same mental process that creates the “Aha” experience or divine inspiration that creative thinkers report. Continue reading

Creativity Means Seeing the Same Things You See Every Day with New Eyes

One of the many ways in which we have become cognitively lazy is to accept our initial impression of the problem that it encounters. Once we settle on an initial perspective we don’t seek alternative ways of looking at the problem. We close off all other lines of thought. Like our first impressions of people, our initial perspective on problems and situations are apt to be narrow and superficial. We see no more than we expect to see based on our past experiences in life, education and work.


By now most everyone has been challenged with the nine dot puzzle. The challenge is to draw no more than four straight lines which will cross through all nine dots without lifting your hand from the paper.

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

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

The answer, as I’m sure you all now know, involves drawing a line that goes beyond the limitations of the imagined box.  This is where the cliché “Think out of the box” comes from. To solve it, you have to start the line outside of the imaginary box.

fourlinesolutionThe nine-dot puzzle was popularized by William North Jayme, a direct-mail copywriter who was hired by Esquire magazine in 1958 which wanted to abandon its unwholesome image for a more sophisticated one. Mr. Jayme came up with the ”puzzle letter”: an envelope with nine dots on it and a challenge to the recipient to connect them using no more than four uninterrupted lines. The enclosed letter showed that to do so, one had to go outside the box. Or, in other words, you had to break normal thinking patterns, something that the new Esquire said it could help modern men do. The letter was a phenomenal success, Esquire’s image was changed overnight and the subscriptions poured in.

Over time the puzzle became synonymous with creative thinking and the phrase “thinking outside the box” has now become a cliché for creativity. A cliché because the puzzle has become commonplace and most people remember the solution from their past experience with it. When the brain recognizes the pattern and we solve the problem it seems like a new insight has been sparked. However, when asked to search for other ways to solve the puzzle, the rationalizations begin. We think “If I can’t see it right away, it either isn’t there or not worth finding.” Apparently, if we think “outside the box” once, we are done and our thinking is done. Surrendering to this rationalization limits our thinking, our creativity, and our ability to apply ideas and skills to novel situations.

This has always troubled me somewhat as creative thinking means to approach a problem on its own terms using multiple perspectives to generate many different alternatives without judgment before deciding which alternative is best suited to the challenge

To begin with, the original “Think Outside the Box” solution was just one way to solve the puzzle. THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT ANSWER. Reality is ambiguous. Aristotle said it is either A or not-A. It cannot be both. The sky is either blue or not blue. This is black and white thinking as the sky is a billion different shades of blue. A beam of light is either a wave or not a wave (A or not-A). Physicists discovered that light can be either a wave or particle depending on the viewpoint of the observer. The only certainty in life is uncertainty. When trying to get ideas, do not censor or evaluate them as they occur. Nothing kills creativity faster than self-censorship of ideas while generating them. Think of all your ideas as possibilities and generate as many as you can before you decide which ones to select. The world is not black or white. It is grey.

NEVER STOP WITH YOUR FIRST GOOD IDEA. Always strive to find a better one and continue until you have one that is still better. In 1862, Phillip Reis demonstrated his invention which could transmit music over the wires. He was days away from improving it into a telephone that could transmit speech. Every communication expert in Germany dissuaded him from making improvements, as they said the telegraph is good enough. No one would buy or use a telephone. Ten years later, Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone.

Spencer Silver developed a new adhesive for 3M that stuck to objects but could easily be lifted off. It was first marketed as a bulletin board adhesive so the boards could be moved easily from place to place. There was no market for it. Silver didn’t discard it. One day Arthur Fry, another 3M employee, was singing in the church’s choir when his page marker fell out of his hymnal. Fry coated his page markers with Silver’s adhesive and discovered the markers stayed in place, yet lifted off without damaging the page. Hence the Post-it Notes were born.

APPROACH A PROBLEM ON ITS OWN TERMS. Approaching the puzzle with this perspective “In what ways might I connect all nine dots with a continuous line without lifting my hand from the paper?”  liberates the mind to think more freely about alternatives.

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


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


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


This, of course, is impossible to do.  Your brain is a dynamic system that evolves its patterns of activity rather than computes them like a computer. It thrives on the creative energy of feedback from experiences real or fictional. You can synthesize experience; literally create it in your own imagination. The human brain cannot tell the difference between an “actual” experience and a fantasy imagined vividly and in detail. This discovery is what enabled Albert Einstein to create his thought experiments with imaginary scenarios that led to his revolutionary ideas about space and time. Imagination gives us the impertinence to imagine making the impossible possible. Einstein, for example, was able to imagine alternatives to the sacred Newtonian notion of absolute time, and discovered that time is relative to your state of motion. Think of the thousands of scientists who must have come close to Einstein’s insight but lacked the imagination to see it because of the accepted dogma that time is absolute, and who must have considered it impossible to contemplate any theory.

In the nine dot puzzle, we take the impossible solution of going around the world three times and imaginer the essence of this idea into a solution that is realistic and practical as illustrated.


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


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


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


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


In genius there is a patience for the odd and the unusual avenues of thought. This intellectual tolerance for the unpredictable allows geniuses to bring side by side what others had never sought to connect. In 1979, for instance, physicist Alan Guth was playing with the idea of hypothetical chunks of magnetic north divorced from the south. He was also playing with the odd notions of false vacuums. These odd notions led him to an astounding new theory of genesis which posits that the universe began with a hyper explosion. His theory answers mysteries of cosmology which other physicists had not been able to comprehend.

An unusual and imaginative solution is to widen the dots with a pencil so that each dot touches the adjacent dots?  Now the nine dots are linked together with no lines.


Einstein said it best when he remarked “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”


America’s Collective Unconsiousness



The Japanese monkey, Macaca Fuscata, had been observed in the wild for a period of over 30 years. In 1952, on the island of Koshima, scientists were providing monkeys with sweet potatoes dropped in the sand. The monkey liked the taste of the raw sweet potatoes, but they found the dirt unpleasant, so they ignored the potatoes and ate other vegetables.

An 18-month-old female named Imo discovered she could solve the problem by washing the potatoes in a nearby stream. She taught this trick to her mother. Her playmates also learned this new way and they taught their mothers too.

This cultural innovation was gradually picked up by various monkeys before the eyes of the scientists. Between 1952 and 1958 all the young monkeys learned to wash the sandy sweet potatoes to make them more palatable. Only the parents who imitated their children learned this social improvement. Other adults kept eating the dirty sweet potatoes and paid no attention to what the other monkeys were doing.

Then something startling took place. In the autumn of 1958, a certain number of Koshima monkeys were washing sweet potatoes — the exact number is not known. Let us suppose that when the sun rose one morning there were 99 monkeys on Koshima Island who had learned to wash their sweet potatoes. Let’s further suppose that later that morning, the hundredth monkey learned to wash potatoes.

Then an extraordinary event occurred. By that evening almost everyone in the tribe was washing sweet potatoes before eating them. The added energy of this hundredth monkey somehow created an ideological breakthrough.

But wait, something even more surprising happened. The scientists discovered that the behavior of washing the sweet potatoes then jumped over the sea. Colonies of monkeys on other islands and the mainland troop of monkeys at Takasakiyama began washing their sweet potatoes. All the monkeys everywhere suddenly realized how to make the potatoes palatable by washing them.

Incredibly, it seems, when a certain critical number achieves an awareness, this new awareness may be communicated from mind to mind. Although the exact number may vary, this Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon means that when only a limited number of people know of a new way, it may remain the conscious property of these people. But there is a point at which if only one more person tunes-in to a new awareness, a field is strengthened so that this awareness is picked up by almost everyone.

The central idea is that when enough individuals in a population adopt a new idea or behavior, there occurs an ideological breakthrough that allows this new awareness to be communicated directly from mind to mind without the connection of external experience and then all individuals in the population spontaneously adopt it. “It may be that when enough of us hold something to be true, it becomes true for everyone.”

This seems to confirm the concept of Carl Jung’s collective unconscious, and the parallel stories from biologists’ morphogenetic fields. Archetypes, patterns, or fields that are themselves without mass or energy, could shape the individual manifestations of mass and energy. The more widespread these fields are, the greater their influence on the physical level of reality.

Is it too much of an imaginative strain to interpret significant events in history as the result of spontaneous transmission of ideas? Could this, for example, explain the fall of the Roman Empire when its citizens became rampantly corrupt? Karl Marx’s overthrow of the Czar when the Russians lost faith in the integrity of their government? The rise of Adolph Hitler when the Germans lost their belief in democratic reforms? The defeatism exhibited by the French in WWII because of their losses suffered in WWI? Is this what happened during the Viet Nam war? In the beginning of the war there was almost universal support for the war, but over time opposition to the war grew to the point when suddenly the population almost spontaneously began to demand an end to the war.

Since the 1960’s, I’ve observed a predominance of liberalism in the universities and, consequently a growing dominance of liberalism in government, education, media, religion, community organizers, law and labor. Is it possible that the universities have spawned the spontaneous transmission of liberalism that is transforming America from free enterprise and personal responsibility into the passive acceptance of big government controlling every aspect of our lives? Has the population reached the tipping point?


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