# CREATIVE THINKING

#### Category: Articles and Techniques (page 9 of 22)

Ernst Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in six words. He wrote “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Legend has it that Hemingway called it his best work. Hemingway’s story spawned the six word story popularized by Smith Magazine which celebrates personal storytelling. Editors asked their readers to submit six word memoirs of their life and were mesmerized with the offerings, some of which follow:

“Cursed with cancer, blessed with friends.”

“Love me or leave me alone.”

“I still make coffee for two.”

“Hockey is not just for boys.”

“I like big butts, can’t lie.”

“Should never have bought that ring.”

“Ex-wife and contractor now have house.” Continue reading

The initial statement of a problem often reflects a preconceived solution. Once we have settled on a perspective, we close off  but one line of thought. Certain kinds of ideas occur to us, but only those kinds and no others. What if the crippled man who invented the motorized cart had defined his problem as: “How to occupy my time while lying in bed?” rather than “How to get out of bed and move around the house?”

Have you ever looked closely at the wheels on a railroad train? They are flanged. That is, they have a lip on the inside to prevent them from sliding off the track. Originally, train wheels were not flanged–instead, the railroad tracks were. Because the problem of railroad safety had been expressed as: “How can the tracks be made safer for trains to ride on?” hundreds of thousands of miles of track were manufactured with an unnecessary steel lip. Only when the problem was redefined as: “In what ways might we make railroad traffic safer? was the flanged wheel invented. Continue reading

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.

Has 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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 that recognized the common factor between a burdock that fastens and a zipper that fastens, not logic.

Cognitive scientists understand the importance of perception and pattern recognition as a major component of creative   thinking. Russian computer scientist, Mikhail Bongard, created a   remarkable set of visual pattern recognition problems. 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, Xs 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, Xs, 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.

Thought Experiment

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

All art is a reaction to the first line drawn. Unless the artist sits in front of the canvas and paints, there can be no art. Unless the writer sits down and starts to type, there can be no book. Unless the musician plays their instrument, there can be no music. Unless the sculptor begins to chip away at the marble, there can be no sculpture. Unless the explorer begins the journey, there can be no discovery. It is the same with everything in life, even civilizations; unless one acts, nothing is created or discovered. Continue reading

One of the paradoxes of creativity is that in order to think originally, we must first familiarize ourselves with the ideas of others. Thomas Edison put it this way: “Make it a habit to keep on the lookout for novel and interesting ideas that others have used successfully. Your idea needs to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are working on.” Many cultural historians agree with Edison in that a whole host of new objects and ideas are based on objects and ideas already in existence. Adaptation is a common and inescapable practice in creativity. Even the “Star Spangled Banner,” which was written in defiance of England, was essentially the same as a popular tune sung in English pubs.   Continue reading

Much of creative thinking involves combining previously unrelated ideas or subjects to make something new. This process is called synthesis, and is regarded by many experts as the essence of creativity. Gregor Mendel created a whole new scientific discipline, genetics, by combining mathematics with biology.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: Before you read the next paragraph, take a moment and try to combine a Christmas card with something else to make a new product.  Ask:

What can be combined?

Can we combine purposes?

How about an assortment? A blend? An alloy? An ensemble?

Combine units? Combine materials? What other article could be merged with this?

How could we package a combination?

What can be combined to multiply possible uses?

Combine appeals?

How did you do?

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Sofie Los and Saskia Clarijs operate a store in Japan called Niko Niko which means to “say cheese.” The company  designs products that are surprising, eco-friendly and  designed to make you smile. This year they combined wild flower seeds with Christmas cards into a biodegradable card. Instead of throwing the card way, you can plant it instead. So long as you supply it with soil and water, you will have a garden overflowing with wildflowers by summer.

Think for a moment about other products you can combine with wild flower seeds. Some possibilities include:

• One might be biodegradable wedding confetti embedded with the seeds.
• Business cards with printed instructions of how to bring the flowers to bloom in the office.
• Thank you notes.
• Get well cards.
• Sympathy cards.
• Birthday cards.

What else can you combine with Christmas cards or wildflower seeds?

Religious beliefs polarize many humans. Some will say there is no scientific evidence that God exists, therefore there is no God. Others say the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence; therefore we must have faith that God exists to give meaning to our existence. The following story illustrates how a person’s theory determines what is observed and how what is observed is interpreted according to the person’s theory.

The university professor challenged his students with this question. Did God create everything that exists? A student bravely replied, “Yes, he did!”

“God created everything? The professor asked. “Yes sir”, the student replied.

The professor answered, “If God created everything, then God created evil since evil exists, and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil”. The student became quiet before such an answer. Continue reading

Ask the average adult for ideas and you will be amazed at how few ideas they have. For example, ask a friend to come up with alternative uses for the common brick and my hunch is your friend may come up with not many, perhaps three or four.

However, if I asked you to come up with sixty uses for the common brick as fast as you can, this forces you to come with 60 ideas. By forcing yourself to meet a quota, you put your internal critic on hold and write everything down, including the obvious and weak. The first third will be the same-old, same-old ideas you always get. These ideas are the familiar and safe responses that lie closest to your consciousness, and therefore, are naturally thought of first. The second third will be more interesting and the last third will show more insight, curiosity and complexity because now you are stretching your imagination. Continue reading

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