Our usual thinking is logical and goal-oriented. Creativity is difficult with this kind of thinking because the conclusion is implicit in the premises. We could think of this kind of thinking as crystalline. It is nicely structured, but the probability of two remotely-associated thoughts or concepts bumping into each other is zero. Creative thinking is analogical, fantastical, and free associative. We could compare movement toward creative thinking as analogous to heating the crystal. When heated through, it turns into a fluid. In the fluid state, the probability of two remotely-associated thoughts or concepts colliding and combining is tremendously increased. If we had a flawed or imperfect crystal (imperfect idea or solution), this is, in fact, just what we would do: heat it so that it turned into a fluid (move toward creative thinking) and then gradually lower the temperature (move back toward logical thinking). The result would be a flawless crystal.

One way to move toward creative thinking (heating the crystal) when your thinking has crystallized is to forget your problem and think about some other unrelated subject. Then conceptually blend the two dissimilar subjects to provoke different thinking patterns in your brain. These new patterns will make new connections which will give you different ways to focus your attention and different ways to interpret what you are focusing on. It is impossible to think of two or more dissimilar subjects, no matter how unrelated, without connections being formed.

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.

In a more recent example, a chef noticed the title of a book while browsing in a bookshop. The book was titled “The Talking Eggs.” The idea of a talking egg intrigued him. How can you create an egg that tells you when it’s done? He became intrigued and consequently researched ink. He discovered a heat-sensitive ink that displays only when a certain temperature is reached. This inspired him to partner with an egg producer to market a self-timing egg. The eggs come in hard-boiled, medium, or  soft varieties, meaning you have to buy the kind you want or else the ink is useless. He and his partner are now experimenting using heat-sensitive ink on other foods, like steak. Imagine a steak displaying “Well Done” or “Medium Rare” when the meat reaches the right temperature.


Random theme generator is a technique some leading designers use to spark inspiration. They make a big list of adjectives, colors, verbs, and attributes that might or might not apply to the project (20 or 30 of each). They write them on index cards, and keep them in stacks. When they need inspiration they shuffle each stack and then pick one from each, and try to design something for it.

A food critic wanted to create a website that would recommend restaurants. He wanted something novel. He decided to use a variation of the random them generator for inspiration. First he listed the following parameters on separate index cards: 

  • Customer moods.
  • Atmosphere.
  • Types of people you will be dining with.
  •  Cuisine.
  • Noise volume.
  • Entertainment.


Under each parameter, he listed variations. Each variation was on a separate card. For example, under “Customer Moods,” he listed energetic, sophisticated, hung over, contemplative and so on. Under “Atmosphere” he listed classy, upscale, hipster, romantic, cozy, quaint and so on. And under “Types of People,” he listed friends, family, date, business associate, in-laws, elderly, retired and so on. Then he spread out the parameter cards on a table and below each parameter placed a variation card. Then he mentally mixed and matched the variations in his mind looking for the right combination. Then it suddenly hit him—use all variations in a search engine on his web site.

 He created a database using natural language processing technology and algorithms with each restaurant tagged with one of the ten atmospheres. Users can manage their search results based on these categories, as well as the type of people they will be dining with – whether friends, family, business associate or date — the food they would like to eat, and the noise volume. His data draws information from several sources including restaurant reviews and online testimonials. Search results are complemented by food and drink deals through sites such as Groupon, which are shown beside the restaurant options.


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