Category: Creativity (page 5 of 15)

Articles from selected publications written by Michael Michalko. These articles offer some clarification and amplification of his views towards creative thinking and his vision of reality.

Thinking Inclusively

We are trained to think reproductively, logically and exclusively. By thinking reproductively I mean that whenever we are confronted with a problem we fixate on our past experiences, then analytically select the most logical approach and apply that to the problem, excluding all other lines of thought.

Correct this formula with a single stroke 5 + 5 + 5 = 550.

Many of us have difficulty with this problem because of our past experiences of arithmetic and arithmetical formulas. We were taught how to handle problems and new phenomena with fixed mental mindsets (based on what past thinkers thought) that predetermine our response to problems or situations. We are also taught to be exclusive thinkers and to disregard everything that is not immediately related to the way we were taught to handle arithmetical problems. This kind of thinking will keep you focused on the wrong items in the formula and make it impossible to solve the problem.

INCLUSION.22EDITED

This problem can only be solved by approaching the problem on its own terms and by thinking inclusively with an open mind. By thinking inclusively, I mean you consider all approaches to the problem and consider all the elements in the problem. It is only when we start thinking inclusively that we start tinkering with everything in the formula including the symbols. You take the first addition symbol + and with one single diagonal stroke change it into a 4. Now 5 + 5 + 5 = 550 becomes 5 4 5 + 5 = 550.

I first became interested in Charles Darwin in college when I read about his thinking process that created his theory of biological evolution. 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 flip-flopping back and forth about the number of different species of finches: the information was there, but he didn’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 didn’t occur to him to look for differences by location. Gould thought that the birds were so different that they might be distinct species.

What was remarkable to me about the encounter is the completely different impact it had on the two men. Gould thought the way he had been taught to think, like an expert taxonomist, and didn’t see, in the finches, the textbook example of evolution unfolding right before him. Darwin didn’t even know they were finches. So the guy who had the intelligence, knowledge and the expertise didn’t see it, and the guy with far less knowledge and expertise comes up with an idea that shaped the way we think about the world.

Darwin came up with the idea because he was an inclusive thinker. He generated a multiplicity of perspectives and theories. Gould would compare new ideas and theories with his existing patterns of experience. He thought reproductively and exclusively. If the ideas didn’t fit with what he had been taught, he rejected them as worthless. On the other hand, Darwin was willing to disregard what past thinkers thought and was willing to entertain different perspectives and different theories to see where they would lead.

Most of us are educated to think like John Gould. We were all born as spontaneous, creative thinkers. Yet a great deal of our education may be regarded as the inculcation of mindsets. We were taught how to handle problems and new phenomena with fixed mental attitudes (based on what past thinkers thought) that predetermine our response to problems or situations. In short, we were taught more “what” to think instead of “how” to think. We entered school as a question mark and graduated as a period.

Consequently, we tend to process information the same way over and over again instead of searching for alternative ways. Once we think we know what works or can be done, it becomes hard for us to consider alternative ideas. We tend to develop narrow ideas and stick with them until proven wrong. Let’s say to advertise our product, we use television commercials during a popular prime time sitcom. We are fairly happy with the results and the television campaign seems to work. Are we going to check out other ideas that we don’t think will be as good or better? Are we likely to explore alternative ways to advertise our product? Probably not.

Even when we actively seek information to test our ideas to see if we are right, we usually ignore paths that might lead us to discover alternatives. Following is an interesting experiment, which was originally conducted by the British psychologist Peter Watson, that demonstrates this attitude. Watson would present subjects with the following three numbers in sequence.

                                                                                      2         4         6

He would then ask subjects to explain the number rule for the sequence and to give other examples of the rule. The subjects could ask as many questions as they wished without penalty.

He found that almost invariably most people will initially say, “4, 6, 8” or some similar sequence. And Watson would say, yes, that is an example of a number rule. Then they will say, “20, 22, 24″ or “50, 52, 54″ and so on– all numbers increasing by two. After a few tries, and getting affirmative answers each time, they are confident that the rule is numbers increasing by two without exploring alternative possibilities.

Actually, the rule Watson was looking for is much simpler– it’s simply numbers increasing. They could be 1, 2, 3 or 10, 20, 40 or 400, 678, 10,944. And testing such an alternative would be easy. All the subjects had to say was 1, 2, 3 to Watson to test it and it would be affirmed. Or, for example, a subject could throw out any series of numbers, for example, 5, 4, and 3 to see if they got a positive or negative answer. And that information would tell them a lot about whether their guess about the rule is true.

The profound discovery Watson made was that most people process the same information over and over until proven wrong, without searching for alternatives, even when there is no penalty for asking questions that give them a negative answer. In his hundreds of experiments, he, incredibly, never had an instance in which someone spontaneously offered an alternative hypotheses to find out if it were true. In short, his subjects didn’t even try to find out if there is a simpler or even, another, rule.

Creative geniuses don’t think this way. The creative genius will always look for alternative ways to think about a subject. Even when the old ways are well established, the genius will invent new ways of thinking. If something doesn’t work, they look at it several different ways until they find a new line of thought. It is this willingness to entertain different perspectives and alternative ideas that broadens their thinking and opens them up to new information and the new possibilities that the rest of us don’t see.

As I wrote these final words, I was reminded of an ancient Chinese story about a rainmaker who was hired to bring rain to a parched part of China. The rainmaker came in a covered cart, a small, wizened, old man who sniffed the air with obvious disgust as he got out of his cart, and asked to be left alone in a cottage outside the village; even his meals were to be left outside the door.

Nothing was heard from him for three days, then it not only rained, but there was also a big downfall of snow, unknown at that time of the year. Very much impressed, the villagers sought him out and asked him how he could make it rain, and even snow. The rainmaker replied, “I have not made the rain or the snow; I am not responsible for it.” The villagers insisted that they had been in the midst of a terrible drought until he came, and then after three days they even had quantities of snow.

“Oh, I can explain that. You see, the rain and snow were always here. But as soon as I got here, I saw that your minds were out of order and that you had forgotten how to see. So I remained here until once more you could see what was always right before your eyes.”

What the Emperor Moth Teaches Us

emperormoth.2

The emperor moth, with its wide wingspan, is the most majestic of all the moths. Its wide wings span out majestically when it flies. Before it can become a full-grown moth, it has to be a pupa in a cocoon.

One day I found a cocoon of an emperor moth. I took it home so I could observe the moth come out of the cocoon. Soon, a small opening appeared in the cocoon. I sat and watched the moth for several hours as the moth struggled to force the body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no farther. It seemed to be stuck but kept struggling and pushing. I decided to help the moth, so I took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The moth then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. I expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. I waited and waited for the little moth to become the majestic moth it was born to become and fly gloriously away in freedom.

Nothing happened! In fact, the little moth spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen and shriveled body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly. What I did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the moth to get through the tiny opening was the way of forcing fluid from the body of the moth into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon. Freedom and flight would only come after the struggle. By depriving the moth of a struggle, I deprived the moth of health and it became entirely dependent upon me for its very survival.

Perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” You construct how you choose to interpret your experiences. All human experiences in life are neutral. They have no meaning. We give the experiences meaning by how we choose to interpret them. Your interpretations will shape your theory about life and your theory will determine what you choose to observe in life. You will only observe what confirms your theory which then further reinforces your theory.

Some people from the same socio-economic backgrounds choose to be helpless victims while others from the same background choose to become self-reliant high achievers in life. Government programs make it easier for us not to struggle by providing welfare assistance and financial help when we are confronted with obstacles. If we go through life believing we are helpless victims and demanding society support us, we become like the baby moth I helped out of its cocoon, weak, helpless and a victim dependent upon the government for our survival.

We do not choose to be born. We do not choose our parents. We do not choose our historical epoch, or the country of our birth, or the immediate circumstances of our upbringing. We do not, most of us, choose to die; nor do we choose the time or conditions of our death. But within all this realm of choicelessness, we do choose how we shall live: with purpose or adrift, with joy or with joylessness, with hope or with despair, with humor or with sadness, with a positive outlook or a negative outlook, with pride or with shame, with inspiration or with defeat and with honor or with dishonor. We decide what makes us significant or insignificant. No matter how indifferent the universe may be to our choices and decisions, these choices and decisions are ours to make. We decide. We choose. Regardless of the circumstances, it is the individual who chooses the life they live.

When I think of people who chose to overcome their adversity in life, I think of Richard Cohen. You may not know Richard Cohen. He is the author of Blindsided: Lifting a Life above Illness (HarperCollins). He lives a life defined by illness. He has multiple sclerosis, is legally blind, has almost no voice, and suffers chronic pain, which makes sleeping difficult and leaves him constantly exhausted. Two bouts of colon cancer in the past five years have left him with impaired intestines. And though he is currently cancer-free, he lives with constant discomfort.

Cohen worked as a producer for CBS until he was physically unable to continue. Because his chronic illness and physical disability precluded him from engaging in many activities, it initially left him feeling worthless. Friends and relatives encouraged him to seek professional help from a psychologist, but he refused. He felt psychologists always focus on what’s wrong with you and explain why you feel worthless. Like the emperor moth, Richard decided to use his struggles to become truly alive.

Cohen recognized the inevitable consequences of his illness, but he also recognized that he and he alone controlled his destiny. Cohen says, “The one thing that’s always in my control is what is going on in my head. The first thing I did was to think about who I am and how I could prevail. By choosing my feelings on a conscious level, I am able to control my mood swings and feel good about myself most of the time.” He cultivates a positive attitude toward life by interpreting all of his experiences in a positive way. He said his life is like standing on a rolling ship. You’re going to slip. You’re going to grab on to things. You’re going to fall. And it’s a constant challenge to get up and push yourself to keep going. But in the end, he says, the most exhilarating feeling in the world is getting up and moving forward with a smile.

Richard Cohen became the subject of his life when he decided to control his own destiny. Struggles and adversity are exactly what we need in our life in order to become strong, independent and self-reliant.

CREATIVE THINKERING PREFACE

The key question isn’t “Why are some people creative and others not?” It is why in God’s name isn’t everyone creative? Where and how was our potential lost? How was it crippled? Why does education inhibit creativity? Why can’t educators foster more creativity instead of less? Why is it that the more expert people become in their fields, the less creative and innovative they become? Why is it that people who know more create less, and people who know less create more? Why are people amazed when someone creates something new, as if it were a miracle?

We’ve been educated to process information based on what has happened in the past, what past thinkers thought, and what exists now. Once we think we know how to get the answer, based on what we have been taught, we stop thinking. The Spanish word for an “answer” is respuesta, and it has the same etymological root as response (responsory), the song people sing to the dead. It’s about what has no life anymore. In other words, when you think you know the answers, based on what has happened in the past, your thinking dies.

This is why, when most people use their imaginations to develop new ideas, those ideas are heavily structured in predictable ways by the properties of existing categories and concepts. Creative thinking requires the ability to generate a host of associations and connections between two or more dissimilar subjects, creating new categories and concepts. We have not been taught to process information this way.

CONCEPTUAL BLENDING

The key to creatively generating associations and connections between dissimilar subjects is conceptual blending. This is a creative-thinking process that involves blending two or more concepts in the same mental space to form new ideas.

Imagine, for a moment, that thought is water. When you are born, your mind is like a glass of water. Your thinking is inclusive, clear, and fluid. All thoughts intermingle and combine with each other and make all kinds of connections and associations. This is why children are spontaneously creative.

In school you are taught to define, label, and segregate what you learn into separate categories. The various categories are kept separate and not allowed to touch each other, much like ice cubes in a tray. Once something is learned and categorized, your thoughts about it become frozen. For example, once you learn what a can opener is, whenever someone mentions “can opener” you know exactly what it is.

You are taught, when confronted with a problem, to examine the ice cube tray and select the appropriate cube. Then you take the cube and put it in a glass, where your thinking heats and melts it. For example, if the problem is to “improve the can opener,” the glass will contain all you have learned about can openers, and nothing more. You are thinking exclusively, which is to say you are thinking only about what you have learned about the can opener. No matter how many times the water is stirred, you end up creating, at best, a marginal improvement.

ICE CUBES

Now if you take another cube (for example, vegetables) and put it in the same glass with the can-opener cube, your thinking will heat and melt both together into one fluid. Now when you stir the water, more associations and connections are made and the creative possibilities become immensely greater. The vegetable cube, once blended with the can-opener cube, might inspire you to think of how vegetables open in nature. For example, when pea pods ripen, a seam weakens and opens, freeing the peas. This might inspire you to come up with novel ideas. You could, for example, manufacture cans with a weak seam that can be pulled to open the can. You cannot get this kind of novel idea using your conventional way of thinking.

What happens when you think simultaneously, in the same mental space, about a shower head and a telescope orbiting the earth? When the Hubble telescope was first launched into space, scientists were unable to focus it. It could be salvaged only by refocusing it using small, coin-shaped mirrors. The problem was how to deliver the mirrors and insert them precisely into the right location. The right location was in a light bundle behind the main mirror. The NASA experts who worked on the problem were not able to solve it, and the multi¬million dollar Hubble seemed doomed.

Electrical engineer James Crocker was attending a seminar in Germany when he found out about the problem. He worked on it all day. Tired, he stepped into the shower in his hotel room. The European-style shower included a showerhead on an arrangement of adjustable rods. While manipulating the showerhead, Crocker suddenly realized that similar articulated arms bearing coin-shaped mirrors could be extended into the light bundle from within a replacement axial instrument by remote control. Mentally blending the Hubble telescope and the shower head created this remarkable solution.

Crocker was startled by his sudden realization of the solution that was immensely comprehensive and at the same time immensely detailed. As Crocker later said, “I could see the Hubble’s mirrors on the shower head.” The NASA experts could not solve the problem using their conventional linear way of thinking. Crocker solved it by thinking unconventionally — by forcing connections between two remotely different subjects.

Look at the following illustration of the square and circle. Both are separate entities.

square and circle

Now look at the extraordinary effect they have when blended together. We now have something mysterious, and it seems to move. You can get this effect only by blending the two dissimilar objects in the same space. The power of the effect is not contained in the circle or in the square, but in the combination of the two.

Circle Moving

Creativity in all domains, including science, technology, medicine, the arts, and day-to-day living, emerges from the basic mental operation of conceptually blending dissimilar subjects. When analyzed, creative ideas are always new combinations of old ideas. A poet does not generally make up new words but instead puts together old words in a new way. The French poet Paul Valéry is quoted by mathematician Jacques Hadamard in Jacques Hadamard, A Universal Mathematician, by T. O. Shaposhnikova, as saying, “It takes two to invent anything. The one makes up combinations; the other one chooses, recognizes what he wishes and what is important to him in the mass of the things which the former has imparted to him.” Valéry related that when he wrote poetry he used two thinking strategies to invent something new. With one strategy, he would make up combinations; and with the other, he would choose what was important.

Consider Einstein’s theory of relativity. He did not invent the concepts of energy, mass, or speed of light. Rather, he combined these ideas in a new and useful way.

Think for a moment about a pine cone. What relationship does a pinecone have to the processes of reading and writing? In France in 1818, a nine-year-old boy accidentally blinded himself with a hole puncher while helping his father make horse harnesses. A few years later the boy was sitting in the yard thinking about his inability to read and write when a friend handed him a pinecone. He ran his fingers over the cone and noted the tiny differences between the scales. He conceptually blended the feel of different pinecone scales with reading and writing, and realized he could create an alphabet of raised dots on paper so the blind could feel and read what was written with it. In this way Louis Braille opened up a whole new world for the blind.

Braille made a creative connection between a pine cone and reading. When you make a connection between two unrelated subjects, your imagination will leap to fill the gaps and form a whole in order to make sense of it. Suppose you are watching a mime impersonating a man taking his dog out for a walk. The mime’s arm is outstretched as though holding the dog’s leash. As the mime’s arm is jerked back and forth, you “see” the dog straining at the leash to sniff this or that. The dog and the leash become the most real part of the scene, even though there is no dog or leash. In the same way, when you make connections between your subject and something that is totally unrelated, your imagination fills in the gaps to create new ideas. It is this willingness to use your imagination to fill in the gaps that produces the unpredictable idea. This is why Einstein claimed that imagination is more important than knowledge.

Just as conceptual blending allows information to intermingle in the mind of the individual, when people swap thoughts with others from different fields this creates new, exciting thinking patterns for both. As Brian Arthur argues in his book The Nature of Technology, nearly all technologies result from combinations of other technologies, and new ideas often come from people from different fields combining their thoughts and things. One example is the camera pill, invented after a conversation between a gastroenterologist and a guided-missile designer.

THE BOOK

My purpose in writing this book is to emphasize the importance of conceptual blending in creative thinking in your business and personal lives. Conceptual blending of dissimilar subjects and ideas and concepts is the most important factor in creative thinking. The topics I discuss include the following:

• We are all born spontaneous and creative thinkers.

• How the thinking patterns inculcated in us by educators prevent us from using our natural creativity.

• Why geniuses are geniuses, and how geniuses use conceptual blending to create their novel ideas.

• How to think differently by looking for analogical connections between the essences, functions, and patterns of dissimilar subjects.

• How to combine problems with random stimuli to create original ideas.

• How to change the way things are by changing the way you look at them.

• How to combine opposites and think paradoxically.

• How to combine “crazy” and “absurd” ideas with yours to provoke exciting new thinking patterns.

• The importance of incubating your thinking, and when to do it. In the final three chapters, I hope to convey the three notable traits that all creative geniuses have in common:

• The importance of intention and how to use it to develop a creative mind-set.

• How to change your thinking patterns by changing the way you speak.

• How you become what you pretend to be.

The book’s conclusion contains stories about human potential and people who have had the courage and will to overcome personal adversity. Interlarded throughout the book are thought experiments I’ve devised — a variety of questions to ponder, creative-thinking techniques, illusions, and puzzles to inspire your thinking.

I titled this book Creative Thinkering. The word thinkering is itself a combination of the words thinker and thinking. Enfolding the two words into the one word thinkering symbolizes how both the creative personality and the creative-thinking process, like form and content in nature, are inextricably connected.

Combine What Exists Into Something That Has Never Existed Before

combine

In his book, Scientific Genius, psychologist Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California at Davis suggests that geniuses are geniuses because they form more novel combinations than the merely talented. He suggests that, in a loose sense, genius and chance are synonymous. 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.

Because geniuses are willing to entertain novel combinations, they are able to discard accepted ideas of what is possible and imagine what is actually possible. In 1448, Johannes Gutenberg combined the mecha¬nisms for pressing wine and punching coins to produce movable type, which made printing practical. His method of producing movable type endured almost unchanged for five centuries. The laws of heredity on which the modern science of genetics is based are the result of the work of Gregor Mendel, who combined mathematics and biology to create this new science. 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. Imagine, for a moment, that thought is water. When you are born, your mind is like a glass of water. Your thinking is inclusive, clear, and fluid. All thoughts intermingle and combine with each other and make all kinds of connections and associations. This is why children are spontaneously creative.

ICE CUBES

In school, you are taught to define, label, and segregate what you learn into separate categories. The various categories are kept separate and not allowed to touch each other, much like ice cubes in a tray. Once something is learned and categorized, your thoughts about it become frozen. For example, once you learn what a can opener is, whenever someone mentions “can opener” you know exactly what it is.

You are taught, when confronted with a problem, to examine the ice cube tray and select the appropriate cube. Then you take the cube and put it in a glass, where your thinking heats and melts it. For example, if the problem is to “improve the can opener,” the glass will contain all you have learned about can openers, and nothing more. You are thinking exclusively, which is to say you are thinking only about what you have learned about the can opener. No matter how many times the water is stirred, you end up creating, at best, a marginal improvement.

If you take another cube (e.g., vegetables) and put it in the same glass with the can-opener cube, your thinking will heat and melt both together into one fluid. Now when you stir the water, more associations and connections are made and the creative possibilities become immensely greater. The vegetable cube, once blended with the can opener cube, might inspire you to think of how vegetables open in nature. For example, when pea pods ripen, a seam weakens and opens, freeing the peas. This might inspire you to come up with novel ideas. You could, for example, manufacture cans with a weak seam that can be pulled to open the can. You cannot get this kind of novel idea using your conventional way of thinking.

What happens when you think simultaneously, in the same mental space, about a showerhead and a telescope orbiting the earth? When the Hubble telescope was first launched into space, scientists were unable to focus it. It could be salvaged only by refocusing it using small, coin-shaped mirrors. The problem was how to deliver and insert the mirrors precisely into the right location. The right location was in a light bundle behind the main mirror. The NASA experts who worked on the problem were not able to solve it, and the multi-million dollar Hubble seemed doomed.

NASA engineer, James Crocker, was attending a seminar in Germany when he found out about the problem. He worked on it all day. Tired, he stepped into the shower in his hotel room. The European-style shower included a shower-head on an arrangement of adjustable rods. While manipulating the shower-head, Crocker suddenly realized that similar articulated arms bearing coin-shaped mirrors could be extended into the light bundle from within a replacement axial instrument by remote control. Blending the Hubble telescope and the shower-head in the same mental space simultaneously created this remarkable solution.

Crocker was startled by his sudden realization of the solution that was immensely comprehensive and at the same time immensely detailed. As Crocker later said “I could see the Hubble’s mirrors on the shower head.” Crocker solved it by thinking unconventionally by forcing connections between two remotely different subjects.

Look at the following illustration A of the rectangle and circle. Both are separate entities. Now look at the extraordinary effect they have when blended together in illustration B. We now have something mysterious, and it seems to move. You can get this effect only by blending the two dissimilar objects in the same space.

SQUARE.AND.CIRCLE

Combining a rectangle with the circle changed our perception of the two figures into something extraordinary. In the same way, combining information in novel ways increases your perceptual possibilities to create something original.

Creativity in all domains, including science, technology, medicine, the arts, and day-to-day living, emerges from the basic mental operation of conceptually blending dissimilar subjects. When analyzed, creative ideas are always new combinations of old ideas. A poet does not generally make up new words but, instead, puts together old words in a new way. The French poet, Paul Valery, is quoted by Jacques Hadamard in Jacque Hadamard: a universal mathematician by T.O. Shaposhnikova as saying “It takes two to invent anything. The one makes up combinations; the other chooses, recognizes what he wishes and what is important to him in the mass of things which the former has imparted to him.” Valery related that when he writes poetry, he uses two thinking strategies to invent something new in writing poetry. With one strategy, he would make up combinations; and with the other, he would choose what is important.

Think for a moment about a pinecone. What relationship does a pinecone have with the processes of reading and writing? In France, in 1818, a nine-year-old boy accidentally blinded himself with a hole puncher while helping his father make horse harnesses. A few years later the boy was sitting in the yard thinking about his inability to read and write when a friend handed him a pinecone. He ran his fingers over the cone and noted the tiny differences between the scales. He conceptually blended the feel of different pinecone scales with reading and writing, and realized he could create an alphabet of raised dots on paper so the blind could feel and read what was written with it. In this way Louis Braille opened up a whole new world for the blind. Braille made a creative connection between a pinecone and reading. When you make a connection between two unrelated subjects, your imagination will leap to fill the gaps and form a whole in order to make sense of it.

Just as conceptual blending allows information to intermingle in the mind of the individual, when people swap thoughts with others from different fields, it creates new, exciting thinking patterns for both. As Brian Arthur argues in his book, The Nature of Technology, nearly all technologies result from combinations of other technologies, and new ideas often come from people from different fields combining their thoughts and things. One example is the camera pill, invented after a conversation between a gastroenterologist and a guided missile designer. Suppose you are watching a mime impersonating a man taking his dog out for a walk. The mime’s arm is outstretched as though holding the dog’s leash. As the mime’s arm is jerked back and forth, you “see” the dog straining at the leash to sniff this or that. The dog and the leash become the most real part of the scene, even though there is no dog or leash. In the same way, when you make connections between your subject and something that is totally unrelated, your imagination fills in the gaps to create new ideas. It is this willingness to use your imagination to fill in the gaps that produces the unpredictable idea. This is why Einstein claimed that imagination is more important than knowledge.

Our Life Is What Our Attitude Makes It

attitudeMost people presume that our attitudes affect our behavior, and this is true. But it’s also true that our behavior determines 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.

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, AI 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 of having that attitude, we trigger the emotions we create and strengthen the attitude we wish to cultivate.

                                                                         Power of the Imagination

Cognitive scientists have discovered that the brain is a dynamical system—an organ that evolves its patterns of activity rather than computes them like a computer. It thrives on the creative energy of feedback from experiences either real or fictional. An important point to remember is that you can synthesize experience, literally create it in your imagination. The human brain cannot tell the difference between an “actual” experience and an experience imagined vividly and in detail.

The real key to turning imagination into reality is acting as if the imagined scene were real. Instead of pretending it is a scene from the future, imagine it as though you are truly experiencing it in the present. It is a real event in the now. The great masters of antiquity have told us through the ages that whatever you believe you become. If you believe and imagine in the now that you are whatever you wish to be, then reality must conform.

This is how Air Force Colonel George Hall survived his harrowing experience during the Viet Nam war. He was a POW locked in the dark box of a North Vietnamese prison for seven grueling years. Every day Hall imagined he was a golf professional and played a full game of golf in his imagination. One week after he was released from his POW camp, he entered the Greater New Orleans Open and shot a 76.

The surrealist artist, Salvador Dali, was pathologically shy as a child. He hid in closets and avoided all human contact until his uncle counseled him on how to overcome this shyness. He advised Dali to be an actor and to pretend he was an extrovert genius. At first Dali was full of doubts as he began to act the part. When he adopted the pose of an extrovert and made it obvious to himself and others by acting the part, his brain soon adapted itself to the role he was playing. He became what he pretended to be. Dali’s acting the part changed his psychological state.

As you imagine yourself to be, so shall you be, and you are that which you imagine. Another remarkable example is Victor Frankl’s account of being in a concentration camp in his book From Death-Camp to Existentialism. While most of his fellow inmates lost hope and died, Frankl reframed his experience and pretended to be an academic lecturer and occupied his mind creating lectures he would give after he was released from camp—lectures that would draw upon his experiences in the camp. He took a hopeless situation and transformed it in his mind to a source of rich experiences that he could use to help others overcome potentially deadening and hopeless situations.

Consider what Nikola Tesla accomplished with his imagination. He is the man who invented the modern world. He was a physicist first, and electrical engineer and mechanical engineer later. Tesla invented AC electricity, the electric car, radio, the bladeless turbine, wireless communication, fluorescent lighting, the induction motor, a telephone repeater, the rotating magnetic field principle, the poly-phase alternating current system, alternating current power transmission, Tesla Coil transformer, and more than 700 other patents.

At an early age Tesla created an imaginary world where he pretended to reside. In his autobiography “My Inventions,” Tesla described: “Every night and sometimes during the day, when alone, I would start out on my journeys, see new places, cities and countries, live there, meet with people, make friendships and acquaintances and, however unbelievably it is a fact that they were just as dear to me as those in actual life and not a bit less intense in their manifestations.” He used to practice this kind of mind-journey constantly.

When he became a physicist, he would imagine himself in the future and observe what devices and machines they had. Tesla imagined himself to be a time traveler. He would note how they created energy, how they communicated, and lived. He could picture them all as if they were real in his imaginary mind. He would conduct imaginary experiments and collect data. He described that he needed no models, drawings or experiments in a physical place.

When he attained an idea for a new machine, he would create the machine in his imagination. Instead of building a model or prototype, he would conceive a detailed mental model. Then he would leave it running in his imagination. His mental capacity was so high that after a period of time, he would calculate the wear and tear of the different parts of his imaginary machine. Always his results would prove to be incredibly accurate.

The problem most of us have is that when we look at our lives, we see only who we are not and dwell on that. Instead, imagine who you want to be and go through the motions of being it. You will become who you pretend to be.

The Power of Words

words

The Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle, was responsible for producing some of the greatest advances in human thought during his lifetime in ancient Greece. In his book On Interpretation, Aristotle described how words and chains of words were powerful tools for his thinking. He described how words reflected his thoughts and how he used words to shape his thinking.

Once I stayed for a week at the storied Ritz-Carlton in Montreal. Usually I don’t like staying in expensive hotels because of my frugal nature. Yet in the Ritz I felt great. The longer my stay, the better I felt. I discussed my feelings with the manager, and he told me his secret. He told me that the most significant factor for their success was training their employees to frame everything they say in a positive manner. For example, employees who perform services for you will say, “It’s a pleasure,” instead of something like “No problem,” when you thank them. Or “Our restaurant would be pleased to serve you tonight,” instead of “Why don’t you visit our restaurant?” Or the bartender will say, “Thank you. I look forward toward your return” when cashing out patrons.

Guests feel welcome and appreciated, and find themselves feeling happy and positive. This feel-good feeling becomes contagious among the guests and they soon subconsciously begin emulating the positive speech patterns they hear from the staff. By consciously transforming their speech patterns into positive ones, the staff influenced themselves to be positive and happy. The Ritz-Carlton experience demonstrated to me how language allowed the staff to influence themselves in a particular way and how their mental state was then transferred to the minds of the guests and how the guests transferred it to the minds of others. This was a dramatic example to me of how language can be used to influence behavior and emotions.

Many educated adults have a negative mindset which you can hear in the language they use. They talk about “what is not,” instead of “what is.” For example, when you ask someone how they are, how many times have you heard something like “No complaints or no problems.” What does that mean? Does it mean the person has a list of possible complaints taped on the bedroom wall and then reads the list every morning? “Gee, what do you know, no complaints today.” Ask a child and a child will tell you how they feel. “I feel great,” “I feel sick,” “I feel excited,” and so on.

Following are some common example of “what is not” language. Offer an idea to your boss at work and instead of saying “That’s good,” your boss says “Not bad.” What does that mean? Does that mean every other idea you offered was bad? Instead of “Go ahead and do it,” why do we say “I don’t have a problem with that.” Does that mean we had a problem with everything else? Instead of “We can solve this easily by looking at our options,” why do we say “There is not any reason why we can’t solve this easily.” Does this mean we should look as hard as we can for reasons why it can’t be solved? Instead of “It’s a pleasure,” why do we say “No problem,” when someone thanks us for a favor. Does that mean every favor we did before was a problem? Instead of “Here’s what will happen,” why do we say “It won’t hurt.” Does this mean some ideas hurt and some ideas don’t? Why do we say “Why don’t we get together for lunch?”, instead of “Let’s get together for lunch?” Does it mean to try and think of some excuse not to have lunch? Why do we say “What’s wrong with this idea?” instead of “How can we improve the idea? “Does it mean that if one part of an idea is wrong then the whole idea is wrong?

Aristotle believed that the words and chains of words that we use in framing a problem play a significant role in the way we approach problems. Toyota once posted a notice asking employees to offer suggestions on how to increase production. They received only a few ideas. A manager reworded the request to asking employees for suggestions on how to make their work easier. They were inundated ideas.

A manager at a large computer company had a mission to put together an on-line database that would make life easier for all his telephone support people, but he couldn’t get any cooperation from them. His memo began, “As you know, we are legally obligated to provide a 4-hour response on all customer calls. Currently, we are backlogged with customer calls and making little or no progress; complaints continue to grow…” This is a negative approach.
He later reworded the memo to say, “How would you like to get through your stack of backlogged customer calls quickly? How would you like to have all the researched answers to customer calls at the tips of your fingers? Help is on the way. For the next 30 days, I’ m asking you simply to record and forward to me a copy of…”. The positive approach generated a much better response. Positive framing means to say what you’re for, not what you’re against; what you’re going to do.

YOU CAN USE WORDS TO PRIME BEHAVIOR

Language also influences behavior. In a pair of studies, University of British Columbia researchers had participants play “dictator game.” The game is simple: you’re offered ten one dollar coins and told to take as many as you want and leave the rest for the player in the other room (who is, unbeknown to you, a research confederate). The fair split, of course, is 50-50, but most anonymous “dictators” play selfishly, leaving little or nothing for the other player. In the control group, the vast majority of participants kept everything or nearly everything.

In the experimental condition, the researchers next prompted thoughts of God using a well-established “priming” technique: participants, who again included both theists and atheists, first had to unscramble sentences containing words such as God, divine, love, and sacred. That way, going into the dictator game, players had God on their minds without being consciously aware of it. Sure enough, the “God prime” worked like a charm, leading to fairer splits. Without the God prime, only a few of the participants split the money evenly, but when primed with the religious words, 62 percent did.

There is a curious term in Japanese that refers to a very special manner of polite, aristocratic speech known as “play language,” (asobase kotoba), whereby, instead of saying to a person, for example, “I see that you have come to Tokyo,” one would express the observation by saying, “I see that you are playing at being in Tokyo”–the idea being that the person addressed is in such control of his life and powers that for him, everything is a play, a game. He is able to enter into life as one would enter into a game, freely and with ease. What has to be done is attacked with such a will that in the performance, one is literally “in play.” For example, “I see that you are playing at being unemployed?” That is the attitude designated by Nietzsche as love of one’s fate.

Ralph Summy, who directs the Matsunaga Institute for Peace, is well aware of the influence of language and encourages students to replace violent emotions by replacing violent expressions with nonviolent language. Instead of describing someone as “shooting a hole in an argument,” he suggests that person could be described as “unraveling a ball of yarn.” Summy also recommends that the expression “to kill two birds with one stone” be replaced by “to stroke two birds with one hand.” “Dressed to kill,” he adds, might become “dressed to thrill.”

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Language profoundly changes the way people think. Consider our relationship with animals. We typically regard ourselves as superior as we see animals as a lower form of life. We see them as “its.” In contrast to our relationship to animals, the Native Americans Algonquin and Lakota Sioux regard the animal as equal to humans and in many ways superior as expressed in their language. The Native Americans address all animal life as “thou,” an object of reverence. The deer, the dog, the snake, the buffalo are all “thou.”

The ego that sees a “thou” is not the same ego that sees an “it.” Whenever you see an animal, silently think the words “thou dog,” “thou bird,” and so on. Try it for a few days or so to see for yourself. I guarantee you will feel a dramatic change in your psychology toward all animal life.

If You Always Think the Way You’ve Always Thought, You Will Always Get What You’ve Always Got

Read aloud the following colors as fast as you can:

colortest

Difficult isn’t it? No matter how hard you concentrate, no matter how hard you focus, you will find that it is almost impossible to read the colors aloud without becoming confused. The word patterns have become so strong in your brain that they are activated automatically whether you want them to be or not. Continue reading

INNOVATION KEYS

KEYS

We were all born spontaneous and creative. Every one of us. As children, we accepted all things equally. We embraced all kinds of outlandish possibilities for all kinds of things. When we were children, we knew a box was much more than a container. A box could be a fort, a car, a tank, a cave, a house, something to draw on, and even a space ship. Our imaginations were not structured according to some existing concept or category. We did not strive to eliminate possibilities, we strove to expand them. We were all amazingly creative and always filled with the joy of exploring different ways of thinking.

Remember how, when you were a little child, you felt that you were everything. You formed the thought that there was no limit to what was possible. You had this bright, shining self- image and were laughing and curious about everything every day. And then something happened to us, we went to school. In school we were taught how past thinkers thought. We were not taught how to think, we were taught how to reproduce what past thinkers had done in the past. It’s as if we entered school as a question mark and graduated as a period.

This is why we so often fail when confronted with a new problem that is similar to past experiences only in superficial ways and is different from previously encountered problems in its deep structure. Interpreting problems by excluding possibilities through the prism of past experience will, by definition, lead the thinker astray. This kind of reproductive thinking leads us to the usual ideas and not to original ones. If you always think the way you always thought, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

When confronted with a truly original idea, we experience a kind of conceptual inertia comparable to the physical law of inertia which states that objects resist change; an object at rest remains so, and an object in motion continues in the same direction unless stopped by some force. Just as physical objects resist change, ideas resist movement from their current state and change in their direction of movement. Consequently, when people develop new ideas, they tend to resemble old ones; new ideas do not move much beyond what exists.

The more educated and expert the person is, the more change is resisted. They see what they expect to see, not what is there. At one time, ancient astronomers believed that the heavens were eternal and made of ether. This theory made it impossible for them to observe meteors as burning stones from outer space. Although the ancients witnessed meteor showers and found some on the ground, they couldn’t recognize them as meteors from outer space. They only sought out and observed only those things that confirmed their theory about the heavens.

Many business people are like the ancient astronomers and actively seek out only that information that confirms their theories about their business and their markets. History is replete with examples of how experts were unable to see the merit or even give fair value to new ideas. 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.

Duell was not able to think beyond the conventional paradigms of the times. Other examples are:

• The computer is not for business. 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. Along came IBM.

• The computer is not for personal use. IBM 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 their market research experts were absolutely certain there were no more than five or six people in the entire world who had need for a personal computer. Along came Apple.

• The copier is not for business. In 1938, Chester Carlson invented the electronic copier. Every major corporation turned down his ideas, because carbon paper was so cheap and plentiful no one would buy an expensive copy machine. • It is not a watch. 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.

• No business will use Federal Express. 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.

The first key to innovation is the ability to think beyond conventional paradigms and to examine traditional constraints using non-traditional thinking. You have to be able to go outside your own frame of reference and find another way of looking at the problem. Before Fred Smith created Federal Express, overnight delivery did not exist at the national level. The U.S. Postal Service and UPS both believed that overnight point-to-point delivery was economically not feasible.

Fred Smith realized that computers were replacing human functions, but the dependability of those products and the delivery systems for repairs were not up to par. Where the Postal Service and UPS were satisfied with the available delivery systems, Fred saw an opportunity for a new business.

His solution was to create a delivery system that operates essentially the way a bank clearinghouse does: Put all points on a network and connect them through a central hub. If you take any individual transaction, that kind of system seems absurd — it means making at least one extra stop. But if you look at the network as a whole, it’s an efficient way to create an enormous number of connections. If, for instance, you want to connect 100 markets with one another and if you do it all with direct point-to-point deliveries, it will take 100 times 99 — or 9,900 — direct deliveries. But if you go through a single clearing system, it will take at most 100 deliveries. So you’re looking at a system that is about 100 times as efficient. The same idea was subsequently employed, of course, in the airline industry.

He did something else a little bit unusual, which was to combine the airplanes and trucks into one delivery system. This combination seems innocuous today, but at the time, all the traditional people felt that it was highly iconoclastic. So that’s the genesis of Federal Express.  

The second key to innovation is to be able to discern the important issues and to keep your goal in view. Fred Smith said he didn’t understand what his real goal was when he started Federal Express.  He thought he was selling the transportation of goods. In fact, he discovered what they were really selling was “peace of mind.” After he figured it out, he made it possible for customers to track packages right from their desktops.

The Postal Service and UPS got in trouble when they confused the means as an end. They were complacent and were reluctant to change or innovate because they were afraid of failure. They followed the old “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” rule. Innovative companies and people understand that whenever we try to do something and fail, we end up doing something else. The two most important questions to ask when we fail are: “What have I learned?” and “What have I done?”

These are questions that are asked at Dell where innovation is about taking risks and learning from failure. Today, Dell is well known for inventory management, logistics, and supply chain management. That wasn’t always the case. In 1989, they were faced with a disaster that rocked the company. The personal computer industry was making a transition to a new type of memory chip, and Dell was way overstocked with the old chip.

That was a costly mistake for a small company, and it took over a year to recover, but Dell learned from it. The failure led them to create and develop a new way to manage inventory, and they went from being in last place in the minor leagues of the computer industry to where they win the World Series every year.

Dell discovered what all innovators know……….that failure is a prerequisite to invention. No business can develop a breakthrough product or service if it’s not willing to encourage risk taking and learn from the subsequent mistakes. IBM’s Thomas Watson, Sr. put it this way, “The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.”

Remember the Ford Edsel? Everybody knows the Ford Edsel was the biggest new car failure in automotive industry. What people don’t realize is that the Edsel was the foundation for the company’s later successes. When the Edsel spectacularly bombed, Ford executives realized that something was happening in the automobile market. No longer was the market segmented by income groups; the new principle of segmentation was “lifestyles.” Ford’s response was the Mustang, a car that reestablished Ford as the industry leader.

Understanding how and why Ford succeeded after the failure, changes one’s perception of the value of the failure of the Edsel. “The glass is half full” and “the glass is half empty” are descriptions of the same phenomenon but have vastly different meaning. Changing a company’s perception from half full to half empty opens up big innovation opportunities. There have been dramatic improvements in health care over the last twenty years leading to longer and healthier lives for Americans. Still, rather than rejoicing in the great improvements, Americans emphasize how far away they still are from immortality. This perception of the glass being half empty opened vast opportunities in the nineties for new health magazines, exercise classes, jogging equipment and health foods.

A change in perception does not alter facts. It changes the meaning. You do not see things as they are, you see them as you are. There was a time when no one wanted to use Post-It notes. When Arthur Fry, corporate scientist at 3M, first started talking about Post-It notes, no one understood what he was talking about. Advertising didn’t work so, of course, no one at 3M believed there was a market for it. Fry had to plead with management not to kill the idea. Desperate, he launched his own innovative campaign to generate interest. He had the Mid-Atlantic sales manager give away Post-Its to secretaries and other key people in companies up and down the east coast. Then, abruptly, he stopped giving out free samples. Within a short time, everyone realized how much they had come to rely on those notes. They had become addicted to them. Fry realized that the only way to change the market’s perception about the notes was to get people to try them by giving away samples free.

Another way to look at things with a new perspective is to hire people from some other industry. Citizens Financial Group in Providence R.I. hires people who have experience outside of banking– creative people who can apply what they’ve learned from other industries to the Group’s traditional business. For example, they’ve put full-service branches into grocery stores run by a person with a sales background. Their ATM division is run by someone who was in real estate. One of the chief executives has a background in packaging.

Employing people with diverse skills and talents helps the group to continually challenge the status quo when developing business strategies. Most banks, for example, concentrate on being a service for existing customers. Citizens uses their grocery store branches to acquire new customers. The staff go into the grocery aisles wearing their Citizens aprons pushing Citizens shopping carts with promotional offers, and getting into friendly conversations. Their objective is to develop relationships with store customers. Then when shoppers have banking needs, they’ll find a friendly, familiar face at the bank.

To truly understand the necessity of innovation, sit down and prepare a trial P&L for your business dated five years from now, assuming no new products, services, and improved business processes. People who have done this suddenly realize that innovation is their lifeline to the future and the time to grab it is now. If you wait too long, it may be beyond your reach.

What Would You Have Done?

report carda

The above is a copy of a school report for Nobel prize winner, Dr John Gurdon, from his days studying Biology at Eton College. His professor, a Mister Gaddum, noted that for Gurdon to study science would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part, and on those teachers who have to teach him.

My question is: If you were John’s parent, would you have discouraged his interest in science and directed his attention to another field of study?

Dr. Gurdon said that this was the only item about him that he ever framed. It hangs on a wall behind his desk as a reminder to trust your own instincts. It was at Oxford as a postgraduate student that he published his groundbreaking research on genetics and proved for the first time that every cell in the body contains the same genes. He did so by taking a cell from an adult frog’s intestine, removing its genes and implanting them into an egg cell, which grew into a clone of the adult frog. The idea was controversial at the time because it contradicted previous studies by much more senior scientists, and it was a decade before the then-graduate student’s work became widely accepted.

But it later led directly to the subsequent discovery by Prof Yamanaka that adult cells can be “reprogrammed” into stem cells for use in medicine. This means that cells from someone’s skin can be made into stem cells, which in turn can turn into any type of tissue in the body, meaning they can replace diseased or damaged tissue in patients.

Not allowing yourself to get discouraged by others is the most important lesson Dr. Gurdon learned in his life. Trust your own instincts. Albert Einstein was expelled from school because his attitude had a negative effect on serious students; he failed his university entrance exam and had to attend a trade school for one year before finally being admitted; and was the only one in his graduating class who did not get a teaching position because no professor would recommend him. One professor said Einstein was “the laziest dog” the university ever had. Beethoven’s parents were told he was too stupid to be a music composer. Charles Darwin’s colleagues called him a fool and what he was doing “fool’s experiments” when he worked on his theory of biological evolution. Walt Disney was fired from his first job on a newspaper because “he lacked imagination.” Thomas Edison had only two years of formal schooling, was totally deaf in one ear and was hard of hearing in the other, was fired from his first job as a newsboy and later fired from his job as a telegrapher; and still he became the most famous inventor in the history of the U.S.

Why Experts Create Few New Ideas

I have always been intrigued by the paradox of expertise. It seems that the more expert one becomes in an area of specialization, the less creative and innovative that person becomes. The paradox is that people who know more, see less; and the people who know less, see more. Apple Computer Inc. founder, Steve Jobs, attempted, without success, to get Atari and Hewlett-Packard interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer. As Steve recounts, “So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary; we’ll come work for you.’ And their experts laughed and said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.”  What is it that freezes the expert’s thought and makes it difficult to consider new things that deviate from their theories? Continue reading

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