YOU SEE THE WORLD AS YOU ARE

One day a traveler was walking along a road on his journey from one village to another. As he walked he noticed a monk sitting on a boulder beside the road. The monk said “Good day” to the traveler, and the traveler nodded. The traveler then turned to the monk and said “Excuse me, do you mind if I ask you a question?”.

“Not at all,” replied the monk.

“I am travelling from the village in the mountains to the village in the valley and I was wondering if you knew what it is like in the village in the valley?”

“Tell me,” said the monk, “What was your experience of the village in the mountains?”

“Dreadful,” replied the traveler, “to be honest I am glad to be away from there. I found the people most unwelcoming. When I first arrived I was greeted coldly. I was never made to feel part of the village no matter how hard I tried. The villagers keep very much to themselves, they don’t take kindly to strangers. So tell me, what can I expect in the village in the valley?”

“I am sorry to tell you,” said the monk, “but I think your experience will be much the same there”.

The traveler hung his head despondently and walked on.

A while later another traveler was journeying down the same road and he also came upon the monk.

“I’m going to the village in the valley,” said the second traveler, “Do you know what it is like?”

“I do,” replied the monk “But first tell me – where have you come from?”

“I’ve come from the village in the mountains.”

“And how was that?”

“It was a wonderful experience. I would have stayed if I could but I am committed to travelling on. I felt as though I was a member of the family in the village. The elders gave me much advice, the children laughed and joked with me and people were generally kind and generous. I am sad to have left there. It will always hold special memories for me. And what of the village in the valley?” he asked again.

“I think you will find it much the same” replied the monk, “Good day to you”.

“Good day and thank you,” the traveler replied, smiled, and journeyed on.

The monk knew we do not see things as they are; we see them as we are. Perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” Perception implies understanding as well as awareness. It is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality on the basis of information provided them.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Take a look at these two tables. Which one of them do you think is longer, and which one is wider?

It might be hard to believe, but the two tables have the exact same dimensions! Measure both table surfaces with a ruler and prove it to yourself. Why, then, does the table on the left look elongated, while the table on the right appears to have a wider width? The illusion of two tables was first discovered by Roger Shepard at Stanford University.

It comes down to how we perceive the scene. Accustomed as we are to photography and Western art, we automatically interpret the scene as three-dimensional. The concept of perspective, first mastered by artists during the Renaissance, is one we encounter in our everyday lives, and our brains automatically assume that the further away an object is from us, the smaller it will be. To compensate, our brain interprets and “lengthens” lines that appear to be pointing away from us into the distance. In this scene, the interpretation made by our brain extends the length of the table on the left by making it appear longer and the shorter side of the right-hand table by making it appear wider. Our brain constructs what we perceive based on our past experiences rather than what is there. We see the tables as we are, not as they are.

Perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” Perception is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality by how they interpret their experiences.

Suppose I am walking down a sidewalk and a woman barges into me knocking me off balance and rushes off. I could say she is an aggressive feminist consciously demonstrating her physical superiority over males, or I could say I am getting older and must be more careful how I walk, or I could say the architects poorly designed these walkways for the amount of traffic they bear, or I could say she is probably in a great hurry because of some personal emergency, or I could say I think she’s flirting with me. I give the experience the meaning by how I choose to interpret it.




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Assumptions are your Windows on the World. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.

ASSUME

CHALLENGE ALL ASSUMPTIONS. Thomas Edison felt his lack of formal education was, in fact, “his blessing.”  This enabled him to approach his work of invention with far fewer assumptions than his more educated competitors, which included many theoretical scientists, renowned Ph.D.s, and engineers. He approached any idea or experience with wild enthusiasm and would try anything out of the ordinary, including even making phonograph needles out of compressed rainforest nuts and clamping his teeth onto a phonograph horn to use as a hearing aid, feeling the sound vibrate through his jaw. This wild enthusiasm inspired him to consistently challenge assumptions.

He felt that in some ways too much education corrupted people by prompting them to make so many assumptions that they were unable to see many of nature’s great possibilities. When Edison created a “system” of practical lighting, he conceived of wiring his circuits in parallel and of using high-resistance filaments in his bulbs, two things that were not considered possible by scientific experts, in fact, were not considered at all because they were assumed to be totally incompatible until Edison put them together.

Before Edison hired a research assistant, he would invite the candidate over for a bowl of soup. If the person seasoned the soup before tasting it, Edison would not hire the candidate. He did not want people who had so many built-in assumptions into their everyday life, that they would even assume the soup is not properly seasoned. He wanted people who consistently challenged assumptions and tried different things.

An easy way to challenge assumptions is to simply reverse them and try to make the reversal work. The guidelines are:

  • List your assumptions about a subject.
  • Challenge your fundamental assumptions by reversing them. Write down the opposite of each assumption.
  • Ask yourself  how to accomplish each reversal.  List as many useful viewpoints as you can.

Suppose, for example, you want to start a novel restaurant.

  1. You would begin by listing the assumptions you make about restaurants. One assumption might be: All restaurants have menus, either written, verbal or implied.
  2. Next, you would reverse this to: I will start a restaurant that does not have a menu of any kind.
  3. Now, look for ways to make the “reversal” work and list every idea you can. “How can I operate a viable restaurant that does not have a menu?”
  4. One idea would be to have the chef come to the table and display what the chef bought that day at the meat market, fish market and vegetable market. The customer checks off the ingredients he or she likes and the chef prepares a special dish based on the “selected” ingredients. The chef also names the dish after the customer and prints out the recipe for the customer to take home. You might call the restaurant “The Creative Chef.”

Suppose your town has a problem with drivers who park their cars on main streets for long periods of time.

  • Your assumption is drivers control parking time of their autos.
  • Reverse this to the car controls the parking time.
  • How? Allow parking anywhere on Main streets as long as you leave the lights on.

Tired of being put on hold when telephoning someone? I’ve consulted with a small company that has invented an ingenuous device that puts the person who is holding you on hold.

  • Assumption: the person who puts you on hold controls the call.
  • Reverse this to you control the call.
  • How? This company has invented a small device called a “Hold Holder.” When someone puts you on hold you activate the Hold Holder and it will repeat a message “You have been placed on hold. Please press five and I will pick up the phone. When the person who put you on hold presses five, your phone rings and you pick up your phone.

Suppose you assume you are not creative.

  • Reverse this to you are creative.
  • How? Get a copy of Thinkertoys : A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques and learn the techniques that creative geniuses have used to get their ideas throughout history.

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THE IMPOSSIBLE QUESTION

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Try to solve the following thought experiment before you read the paragraph that follows it.

 One morning, exactly at sunrise, a Buddhist monk began to climb a tall mountain. The narrow path, no more than a foot or two wide, spiraled around the mountain to a glittering temple at the summit. The monk ascended the path at a varying rate of speed, stopping many times along the way to rest and to eat the dried fruit he carried with him. He reached the temple shortly before sunset. After several days of fasting and medi­tation, he began his journey back along the same path, starting at sunrise and again walking at a varying speed with many stops along the way. His average speed descending was, of course, greater than his average climbing speed. Is there a spot along the path that the monk will occupy on both trips at precisely the same time of day?

…….

If you try to logically reason this out or use a mathematical approach, you will conclude that it is unlikely for the monk to find himself on the same spot at the same time of day on two different occasions. Instead, visualize the monk walking up the hill, and at the same time imagine the same monk walking down the hill. The two figures must meet at some point in time regardless of their walking speed or how often they stop. Whether the monk descends in two days or three days makes no difference; it all comes out to the same thing.

Now it is, of course, impossible for the monk to duplicate himself and walk up the mountain and down the mountain at the same time. But in the visual image he does; and it is precisely this indifference to logic, this superimposition of one image over the other, that leads to the solution.

The imaginative conception of the monk meeting himself blends the journeys up and down the mountain and superimposes one monk on the other at the meeting place. The ancient Greeks called this kind of thinking homoios, which means “same.” They sensed that this was really a kind of mirror image of the dream process, and it led to art and scientific revelations.

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.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: THE IMPOSSIBLE QUESTION

Think of something that is impossible to do, but if it were possible to do, would change the nature of your business forever? Then try to come up with ideas that take you as close as possible to make that impossibility a reality.

EXAMPLE: A non-profit in Russia was concerned that over 30 percent of Russian drivers failed to comply with parking regulations concerning disabled spaces. The impossibility they imagined was to hire disabled people to park in wheelchairs in the parking spaces to ward off people trying to take the disabled places.

IMAGINEERING. Then they brainstormed for ideas to come as close to this impossibility as possible. How can we imagineer this into a realistic and practical idea?

IDEA: The idea they settled on was to use projections of real disabled people to ward off people who try to take disabled spaces. The system uses a camera which can detect whether or not a driver has a disabled sticker in their windshield — a hologram appears to confront them if they don’t. The image is projected onto a thin, water mist screen, which is initially invisible to the public eye. When the system detects an offender, a projection appears in the form of a disabled individual and says, ‘Stop. What are you doing? I’m not just a sign on the ground. Don’t pretend that I don’t exist.’

Another impossible idea they imagined was to deputize every resident and give them the authority to ticket and fine offending parkers. They imagineered this by introducing warning tickets designed to look like parking tickets. The tickets can be printed and issued by anyone and placed on any car wrongly parked in a disabled space. This campaign enables all residents to lend a helping hand. Participants are encouraged to place them on cars which they find wrongly parked in disabled bays. The tickets look like parking fines and feature text reminding the recipient of the importance of refraining from using the spaces.

When the non-profit participants imagineered the impossibilities, their minds decomposed them into several parts and then focused on the interesting parts to build ideas. This focus on the interesting parts is what inspired the new insights and ideas.

In another example the owners of a nightclub wanted to issue unique personal invitations to their grand opening. They started their brainstorming session with the question (What is impossible to do but if it were possible would….?) They generated many interesting and amusing ideas such as create a plant that sprouts an invitation, fit prospect’s chairs with a sensor so that, when a prospect sits, the chair invites the person.

The one idea they worked with was to have the invitation magically appear on their prospect’s desk while they are sitting at it. They worked with this idea into the the following result. The club sent out a blue pill nestled in black velvet ring. On top of the box was written “This is a magic pill that we guarantee will make you happy. Inside the box the instructions read “Drop into warm water, stir and let dissolve.” When the pill was immersed the capsule dissolved and bubbled, and a piece of cellophane with the date, time and place of the grand opening floated to the top. The invitations cost one dollar and the grand opening was a huge success.

(Michael Michalko is the author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses;  Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.

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BOOK REVIEW OF CREATIVE THINKERING BY CHRISTOPHER BOYD

 We read ’em, so you don’t have to! As the nuns used to say, put on your thinking caps. Remember that, when you’d have to fake-tie on your cap? (No, well this would be a good time to make fun of me, now wouldn’t it?) This month’s selection, Creative Thinkering by Michael Michalko, is like one long session with Sister Helen Margaret and the thinking cap. Michalko takes the reader through numerous thought experiments and exercises centered on the random approach to thinking and problem solving. Like last month’s recommended book, Tribal Leadership, this one is perfect for the business leader who is stuck and in need of new approaches to day-in-and-day-out challenges. With a cup of da Vinci here, a dose of van Gogh there, and a pinch of Picasso for good measure, this book reads like a Renaissance recipe for those in need of more creativity.

One of the key takeaways here comes toward the end, when the author challenges the reader with something he calls “the word pattern of impossibility.” Let’s say you don’t consider yourself to be the creative type; Michalko would say that you’ve likely stopped striving to become so. To address this malaise, he takes the reader through new ways of thinking to get from “I can’t be creative” to “I will be creative.” If you’re hearing a big of Stuart Smalley here, you’re not far off. (Let’s face it, you’re not going to tackle self-limiting thinking without it coming off as, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”) But if you can get beyond that, you’ll find value in the author’s recommendations to go from impossibility, to possibility, to necessity, to certainty, to desire. His experiments are simple yet highly effective. The stories about utterly random strategies to overcoming tough challenges are remarkable, notably how one would-be author overcame the classic Catch-22 struggle of you can’t be published without an agent/you can’t get an agent if you’re not published that has to read twice to be believed.

The recurring theme in Creative Thinkering is that there are ways to return to our formative years, when spontaneity and creativity came naturally. Michalko claims that our schools ruined us for thinking, that it’s as if “we entered school as a question mark and graduated as a period.” And he hammers the point that “we see no more than we expect to see.” Retold here is the wonderful social experiment conducted by The Washington Post years ago, through which a world-class violinist, playing intricate material on a $3.5 million instrument in a Metro station was virtually ignored by everyone save for children who tried to stop and listen. Adults assumed a bum was playing for tips; children heard what was real – a rare talent who had sold out a concert hall two days before. If you’re up for starting 2013 by taking a different tack to your average day’s occurrences, this book will surely help you get there.

 

KUDOS FOR CREATIVE THINKERING

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There are three persons in the world that I find motivating in my path to professional heights. It is Neil Patel, Michael Michalko and Mark Forsyth. However, one of them is a genius of creative thinking that made me change all my approaches to historical research, legal casuistry and content marketing.

I believe that the years will pass and after many years or maybe centuries, people will put Michael Michalko after Leonardo da Vinci in terms of creative thinking. My words are not an exaggeration and I recommend to all my colleagues and friends to read Michalko’s Creative Thinkering in order to understand what I was talking about.

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Learn how to change the way you think by reading:

GROUP BRAINSTORMING TECHNIQUES

brainwriting

Richard Feynman, while working at Los Alamos on the first atomic bomb, noted that only one problem was fed into the computer at a time. Instead of thinking of more efficient ways of solving one problem at a time, he thought of ways of processing multiple problems in parallel, spontaneous sequences. He invented a system for sending three problems through the machine simultaneously. He had his team work with colored cards with a different color for each problem. The cards circled the table in a multicolored sequence, small batches occasionally having to pass other batches like impatient golfers playing through. This simple innovation dramatically increased idea production and accelerated the work on the bomb.

BRAINWRITING. In traditional brainstorming groups, people suggest ideas one at a time. This is serial processing of information: i.e., only one idea is offered at a time in a series. Horst Geschka at the Batelle Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, developed a variety of group creative-thinking techniques called Brainwriting which, like Feynman’s innovative problem-solving approach, are designed to process ideas in parallel, spontaneous sequences. If a brainwriting group has 10 members, up to 10 ideas will be generated for every one generated in a typical brainstorming session of 10 members. Brainwriting increases idea production dramatically.

The basic guidelines are:

  1. First, discuss the problem to clarify it. Write the problem in a location visible to all group members.
  2. Distribute 3X5 index cards to each participant and instruct them to silently write their ideas on the cards. One idea per card. Whereas group brainstorming involves participants shouting ideas out loud,  has people silently writing down ideas.
  3. As participants complete a card, they pass it silently to the person on the right.
  4. Tell the group members to read the cards they are passed and to regard them as “stimulation” cards. Write down any new ideas inspired by the stimulation  cards on  blank cards and pass them to the person on their right. Within a few minutes, several idea cards will be rotating around the table.
  5. After 20-30 minutes, collect all cards and have the group members tape them to a wall. The cards should be arranged into columns according to different categories of ideas, with a title card above each column. Eliminate the duplicates.
  6. Evaluate the ideas by giving each participant a packet of self-sticking dots and have them place the dots on their preferred ideas. They can allocate the dots in any manner desired, placing them all on one idea, one each on five different ideas, or any other combination.

Only one person can offer an idea at a time during brainstorming, and despite encouragement to let loose, some people hold back out of inhibition or for fear of ridicule. Brainwriting ensures that the loudest voices don’t prevail, participants feel less pressure from managers and bosses, and ideas can’t be shot down as soon as they are offered.

Following are some popular variations of brainwriting:

IDEA POOL. Ask participants to silently generate ideas on 3X5 cards and place their cards in the center of the table instead of passing them to the person on their right. Whenever a participant wants or needs a stimulation card, they simply exchange their cards for cards from the pool.  

GALLERY. This technique reverses the normal process. Instead of moving ideas around for people to examine, the gallery moves people around. Post sheets of flip-chart paper around the room, one per participant. Participants stand silently and write their ideas on the sheets (one sheet per person) for 10 to 15 minutes. Then the participants are allowed 15 minutes to walk around the “gallery” and look at the other ideas and take notes. Now, using the other ideas to stimulate further thought, participants return to their sheets and add to or refine their ideas. After about 10 minutes of additional writing, the participants examine all the ideas and select the best ones.

Another option for the gallery technique is to ask participants to draw or diagram their ideas instead of listing them. Drawing and diagraming is useful in creative thinking to recover information from memory that would otherwise be unavailable. For example, how many windows are there in your house? Diagraming your house allows you to go inspect and count the windows. Creative insights sometimes occur as a result of drawing or diagraming a problem, because they help us notice certain features that may be overlooked.

Post sheets of flip-chart paper and then ask the participants to draw a sketch or diagram of how the problem might be solved. Then the participants are again allowed to walk around the gallery and take notes. Using the notes, they return and refine their own sketches. The group then examines all the sketches and constructs a final solution from parts of different sketches.

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WHO WAS THIS MAN?

WHO WAS THIS MAN?

He grew up in poverty in what modern psychologists call a dysfunctional family.  His father worked him like a pack mule from sunrise to sunset.  He was tall and foolish looking.  His clothes were always too tight and small.  The other children would mock him and call him “monkey-boy” or “the gorilla.”  The following were some of his life experiences:

  • At the age of 22, he FAILED IN BUSINESS.
  • At the age of 23, he was DEFEATED IN HIS RUN FOR STATE LEGISLATURE.
  • At the age of 24, he FAILED AGAIN IN BUSINESS.
  • At the age of 25, he was ELECTED TO LEGISLATURE.
  • At the age of 26, he was REJECTED BY THE WOMAN HE LOVED.
  • At the age of 27, he had a NERVOUS BREAKDOWN.
  • At the age of 29, he was DEFEATED FOR SPEAKER.
  • At the age of 32, he was DEFEATED FOR ELECTOR.
  • At the age of 33, he MARRIED A WOMAN WHO WAS FOUND TO BE MENTALLY UNSTABLE.
  • At the age of 34, he was DEFEATED FOR CONGRESS.
  • At the age of 37, he was ELECTED TO CONGRESS.
  • At the age of 39, he was DEFEATED FOR CONGRESS.
  • At the age of 46, he was DEFEATED FOR SENATE.
  • At the age of 47, he was DEFEATED FOR VICE PRESIDENT.
  • At the age of 49, he was DEFEATED FOR SENATE.

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Abraham Lincoln

 

 

HOW TO EASILY INCREASE THE NUMBER OF IDEAS YOU GET

QUOTA

Imagine a pearl diver on an island in the South Seas. He pushes his canoe off from shore, paddles out into the lagoon, dives deep into the water, picks an oyster off the bottom, surfaces, climbs into his boat, paddles to shore, and opens the shell. Finding nothing inside but an oyster, he pushes his canoe off again, and begins paddling into the lagoon.

What an incredible waste of time. The reasonable thing to do is not to paddle back to shore with one oyster, but to dive again and again, to fill up the canoe with oysters and then return to shore. Pearls are rare—a diver must open many oysters before finding one. Only a foolish person would waste time and energy making a separate trip for each oyster. It’s the same with producing ideas. Many times we’ll produce one or two ideas and proceed as if they are the answer. But creative ideas, like pearls, occur infrequently. So the sensible thing to do is to produce many ideas before we evaluate. Just as a good idea may stop you from going on to discover a great one, a great idea may stop you from discovering the right one.

Many times we work hard, but don’t work creatively. We ask the same question, we peruse the same data. Inevitably that leads to generating similar ideas. Increasing your idea production requires conscious effort.

Suppose I asked you to come up with ideas for the alternative uses for the common brick. No doubt, you would come up with some, but my hunch is not very many. The average adult comes up with three to six ideas. However, if I gave you a quota (50 ideas) and time limit your energy will be focused in a competitive way that guarantees fluency of and flexibility of thought.

To meet the quota, at first you find yourself listing all the usual uses for a brick (e.g., build a wall, fireplace, outdoor barbeque, and so on) as well as listing everything that comes to mind

(e.g., anchor, projectiles in riots, ballast, device to hold down newspaper, a tool for leveling dirt, material for sculptures, doorstop, nut cracker, sharpening stone and so on). Finally, to meet your quota you will exert extra effort which allows you to generate more imaginative alternatives than you otherwise would (e.g., use as a trivet to keep hot pots off the counter, hide a spare key in a brick in your garden, pencil holder, fish tank decoration for fish to swim around and through, paste book covers on bricks and use as bookends, a water saver by putting a brick the back of a toilet to lower the amount of water when you flush.

Initial ideas are usually poorer in quality than later ideas. Just as water must run from a faucet for a while to be crystal clear, cool and free of particles, so thought must flow before it becomes creative. Early ideas are usually not true ideas. Exactly why this is so is not known, but one hypothesis is that familiar and safe responses lie closest to the surface of our consciousness and therefore are naturally thought of first. Creative thinking depends on continuing the flow of ideas long enough to purge the common, habitual ones and produce the unusual and imaginative.

LIST YOUR IDEAS. When you give yourself a quota, you force yourself to list your ideas as well. Leonardo da Vinci had a mania for listing and cataloging his thoughts in little notebooks that he carried everywhere. The thousands of pages of lists that he made constitute the raw material for a huge encyclopedia on creativity. A habit to consciously cultivate is to always write or list your ideas when brainstorming. List-making will help you permanently capture your thoughts and ideas, speed up your thinking, will keep you focused, and will force your mind to dwell upon alternatives.

QUOTA. Thomas Edison guaranteed productivity by giving himself and his assistants idea quotas. His own personal quota was one minor invention every 10 days and a major invention every six months. A way to guarantee productivity of your creative thought is to give yourself an idea quota. For example, an idea quota of 40 ideas if you’re looking for ideas alone or a quota of 120 ideas if a group is brainstorming for ideas. By forcing yourself to come up with 40 ideas, 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. The second third will be more interesting and the last third will show more insight, curiosity and complexity.

Michael Michalko

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