What I Was Not Taught In School About Creative Thinking

Following are twelve things about creative thinking that I learned during my lifetime of work in the field of creative thinking that I wished I had been taught when I was a student but was not.

1.YOU ARE CREATIVE. The artist is not a special person, each one of us is a special kind of artist. Every one of us is born a creative, spontaneous thinker. The only difference between people who are creative and people who are not is a simple belief. Creative people believe they are creative. People who believe they are not creative, are not. Once you have a particular identity and set of beliefs about yourself, you become interested in seeking out the skills needed to express your identity and beliefs. This is why people who believe they are creative become creative. If you believe you are not creative, then there is no need to learn how to become creative and you don’t. The reality is that believing you are not creative excuses you from trying or attempting anything new. When someone tells you that they are not creative, you are talking to someone who has no interest and will make no effort to be a creative thinker.

2.  CREATIVE THINKING IS WORK. You must have passion and the determination to immerse yourself in the process of creating new and different ideas. Then you must have patience to persevere against all adversity. All creative geniuses work passionately hard and produce incredible numbers of ideas, most of which are bad. In fact, more bad poems were written by the major poets than by minor poets. Thomas Edison created 3000 different ideas for lighting systems before he evaluated them for practicality and profitability. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart produced more than six hundred pieces of music, including forty-one symphonies and some forty-odd operas and masses, during his short creative life. Rembrandt produced around 650 paintings and 2,000 drawings and Picasso executed more than 20,000 works. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets. Some were masterpieces, while others were no better than his contemporaries could have written, and some were simply bad.

3. YOU MUST GO THROUGH THE MOTIONS. When you are producing ideas, you are replenishing neurotransmitters linked to genes that are being turned on and off in response to what your brain is doing, which in turn is responding to challenges. When you go through the motions of trying to come up with new ideas, you are energizing your brain by increasing the number of contacts between neurons. The more times you try to get ideas, the more active your brain becomes and the more creative you become. If you want to become an artist and all you did was paint a picture every day, you will become an artist. You may not become another Vincent Van Gogh, but you will become more of an artist than someone who has never tried.

4. YOUR BRAIN IS NOT A COMPUTER. Your brain is a dynamic system that evolves its patterns of activity rather than computes them like a computer. It thrives on the creative energy of feedback from experiences real or fictional. You can synthesize experience; literally create it in your own imagination. The human brain cannot tell the difference between an “actual” experience and an experience imagined vividly and in detail. This discovery is what enabled Albert Einstein to create his thought experiments with imaginary scenarios that led to his revolutionary ideas about space and time. One day, for example, he imagined falling in love. Then he imagined meeting the woman he fell in love with two weeks after he fell in love. This led to his theory of acausality. The same process of synthesizing experience allowed Walt Disney to bring his fantasies to life.5.

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

6. NEVER STOP WITH YOUR FIRST GOOD IDEA. Always strive to find a better one and continue until you have one that is still better. In 1862, Phillip Reis demonstrated his invention which could transmit music over the wires. He was days away from improving it into a telephone that could transmit speech. Every communication expert in Germany dissuaded him from making improvements, as they said the telegraph is good enough. No one would buy or use a telephone. Ten years later, Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone. Spencer Silver developed a new adhesive for 3M that stuck to objects but could easily be lifted off. It was first marketed as a bulletin board adhesive so the boards could be moved easily from place to place. There was no market for it. Silver didn’t discard it. One day Arthur Fry, another 3M employee, was singing in the church’s choir when his page marker fell out of his hymnal. Fry coated his page markers with Silver’s adhesive and discovered the markers stayed in place, yet lifted off without damaging the page. Hence the Post-it Notes were born. Thomas Edison was always trying to spring board from one idea to another in his work. He spring boarded his work from the telephone (sounds transmitted) to the phonograph (sounds recorded) and, finally, to motion pictures (images recorded).

7. EXPECT THE EXPERTS TO BE NEGATIVE. The more expert and specialized a person becomes, the more their mindset becomes narrowed and the more fixated they become on confirming what they believe to be absolute. Consequently, when confronted with new and different ideas, their focus will be on conformity. Does it conform to what I know is right? If not, experts will spend all their time showing and explaining why it can’t be done and why it can’t work. They will not look for ways to make it work or get it done because this might demonstrate that what they regarded as absolute is not absolute at all. This is why when Fred Smith created Federal Express, every delivery expert in the U.S. predicted its certain doom. After all, they said, if this delivery concept was doable, the Post Office or UPS would have done it long ago and this is why the experts at IBM said there were no more than six people on earth who had need of a personal computer. Thomas Edison is quoted as saying “His greatest blessing in life was the lack of a formal education. Had he been educated,” he said “he would have realized that what he accomplished in life was not possible to do.”

8. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged. 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. Beethoven’s parents were told he was too stupid to be a music composer. 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.

9. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FAILURE. Whenever you try to do something and do not succeed, you do not fail. You have produced a result. It’s what you do with the result that’s important. You have learned something that does not work. Always ask “What have I learned about what doesn’t work?”, “Can this explain something that I didn’t set out to explain?”, and “What have I discovered that I didn’t set out to discover?” Whenever someone tells you that they have never made a mistake, you are talking to someone who has never tried anything new.

Take the first airplane. On Dec. 8, 1903, Samuel Pierpont Langley, a leading government- funded scientist, launched with much fanfare his flying machine on the Potomac. It plummeted into the river. Nine days later, Orville and Wilbur Wright got the first plane off the ground. Why did these bicycle mechanics succeed when a famous scientist failed? Because Langley hired experts to execute his theoretical concepts without going a series of trials and errors.

Studying the Wrights’ diaries, you see that insight and execution are inextricably woven together. Over years, as they solved problems like wing shape and wing warping, they made several mistakes which inspired several adjustments all of which involved a small spark of insight that led to other insights. Their numerous mistakes led to unexpected alternative ways which, in turn, led to the numerous discoveries that made flight possible.

10. YOU DO NOT SEE THINGS AS THEY ARE; YOU SEE THEM AS YOU ARE. Interpret your own experiences. All experiences are neutral. They have no meaning. You give them meaning by the way you choose to interpret them. If you are a priest, you see evidence of God everywhere. If you are an atheist, you see the absence of God everywhere. IBM observed that no one in the world had a personal computer. IBM interpreted this to mean there was no market. College dropouts, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, looked at the same absence of personal computers and saw a massive opportunity. Once Thomas Edison was approached by an assistant while working on the filament for the light bulb. The assistant asked Edison why he didn’t give up. “After all,” he said, “you have failed 5000 times.” Edison looked at him and told him that he didn’t understand what the assistant meant by failure, because, Edison said, “I have discovered 5000 things that don’t work.” You construct your own reality by how you choose to interpret your experiences.

11. ALWAYS APPROACH A PROBLEM ON ITS OWN TERMS. Do not trust your first perspective of a problem as it will be too biased toward your usual way of thinking. Always look at your problem from multiple perspectives. Always remember that genius is finding a perspective no one else has taken. Look for different ways to look at the problem. Write the problem statement several times using different words. Take another role, for example, how would someone else see it, how would your favorite teacher, a physician, an author, a politician, and so on see it? Draw a picture of the problem, make a model, or mold a sculpture. Take a walk and look for things that metaphorically represent the problem and force connections between those things and the problem (How is a broken store window like my communications problem with my students?) Ask your friends and strangers how they see the problem. Ask a child. Ask a grandparent. Imagine you are the problem. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

12. LEARN TO THINK UNCONVENTIONALLY. Creative geniuses do not think analytically and logically. Conventional, logical, analytical thinkers are exclusive thinkers which means they exclude all information that is not related to the problem. They look for ways to eliminate possibilities. Creative geniuses are inclusive thinkers which mean they look for ways to include everything, including things that are dissimilar and totally unrelated. Generating associations and connections between unrelated or dissimilar subjects is how they provoke different thinking patterns in their brain. These new patterns lead to new connections which give them a different way to focus on the information and different ways to interpret what they are focusing on. This is how original and truly novel ideas are created. Albert Einstein once famously remarked “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

And, finally, Creativity is paradoxical. To create, a person must have knowledge but forget the knowledge, must see unexpected connections in things but not have a mental disorder, must work hard but spend time doing nothing as information incubates, must create many ideas yet most of them are useless, must look at the same thing as everyone else, yet see something different, must desire success but embrace failure, must be persistent but not stubborn, and must listen to experts but know how to disregard them.

(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. http://www.creativethinking.net)

LEONARDO DA VINCI’S CREATIVE THINKING TECHNIQUE

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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.

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 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 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 showerhead 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.

Leonardo da Vinci described how he got his ideas in his notebooks. He wrote that the human brain cannot simultaneously concentrate on two separate objects or ideas, no matter how dissimilar, no matter how remote, without eventually forming a connection between them. This conceptual combining of dissimilar subjects is what provoked him to imagine his many incredible insights, ideas and inventions during his lifetime. Crocker used the same process to solve the Hubble problem.

As another example, Leonardo combined the movement of water with the movement of human hair in open, becoming the first person to illustrate in extraordinary detail the many invisible subtleties of water in motion. His observa­tions led to the discovery of a fact of nature that came to be called the “law of continuity.’ He was the first person in history to appreciate how air and water were blended together. “In all cases of movement,’ he wrote, “water has great conformity with air.”

The same process can help you to get the ideas you need in the business world. James Lavoie and Joseph Marino, cofounders of Rite-Solutions, did just that when they needed an employee-suggestion system that could harvest ideas from everyone in the company, including engineers, accountants, salespeople, marketing people, and all administrative staff. They wanted a process that would get their employees to invest time, energy and brainpower in the company.

The word invest encouraged them to think of the various ways and methods people use to invest. One association was investing in the stock market. Then the idea of using ideas as stocks caught their interest. They decided to combine the architecture of the New York Stock Exchange with an in-house ideas suggestion system. In other words, a stock exchange of ideas.

The company’s internal exchange is called Mutual Fun. In this private exchange, any employee can offer a proposal to create a new product or spin-off, to solve a problem, to acquire new technologies or companies, and so on. These proposals become stocks and are given ticker symbols identifying the proposals.

Fifty-five stocks are listed on the company’s internal stock exchange. Each stock comes with a detailed description — called an expect-us, as opposed to a prospectus — and begins trading at a price of $10. Every employee gets $10,000 in ‘opinion money’ to allocate among the offerings, and employees signal their enthusiasm by investing in a stock or volunteering to work on the project.”

The result has been a resounding success. Among the company’s core technologies are pattern-recognition algorithms used in military applications, as well as for electronic gambling systems at casinos. An administrative employee with no technical expertise was fascinated with one of the company’s existing technologies and spent time think­ing about other ways it could be used. One pathway she explored was education. She proposed that this technology could be used in schools to create an entertaining way for students to learn history or math. She started a stock called Win/Play/Learn (symbol: WPL), which attracted a lot of attention from the company’s engineers. They enthusiasti­cally bought her stock and volunteered to work on the idea to turn it into a viable new product, which they did.

A brilliant idea from an unlikely source was made possible by the new employee-suggestion system. Just as Isaac Newton got his insight by combining images of a falling apple and the moon, this corporation created an innovative employee-suggestion system by blending the concepts of the New York Stock Exchange and employee suggestions.

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If you always think the way you’ve always thought, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. The same old ideas. Learn the creative thinking techniques used by creative geniuses throughout history to get the original ideas you need that you can’t get using your usual way of thinking.  http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Difference Between the Way Creative Geniuses Think and the Way the Average Person Thinks

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Albert Einstein was once asked what the difference was between him and the average person. He said that if you asked the average person to find a needle in the haystack, the person would stop when he or she found a needle. He, on the other hand, would tear through the entire haystack looking for all the possible needles. With creative thinking, one generates as many alternative approaches as one can.

Creative thinking is inclusive thinking. You consider the least obvious as well as the most likely approaches, and you look for different ways to look at the problem. It is the willingness to explore all approaches that is important, even after one has found a promising one.

Most of us have been educated to think exclusively which means we think in deficit by focusing our attention on specific information and excluding all else. Exclusive thinking is fine when we absolutely know which information is relevant and what is not. Many situations, in fact, most are ambiguous. In these instances, exclusive thinking leads us to neglect potentially important pieces of the puzzle. Exclusive thinking doesn’t merely inhibit irrelevant facts and perceptions it can also smother the imagination.

An experimental psychologist set up the task of making a pendulum. Subjects were led to a table on which had been placed a pendulum-weight with a cord attached, a nail and some other objects. As the psychologist described the experiment, he held the pendulum and cord and let it swing back and forth demonstrating the movement of a pendulum. Then He asked the students to hang the pendulum on the wall. There was a nail among the objects on the table but there was no hammer. Most of the subjects were baffled and unable to accomplish the task. Without a hammer it couldn’t be done.

Next, another series of subjects were given the same task under slightly altered conditions. The cord was placed separately from the pendulum-weight and the word pendulum-weight was not used. The psychologist did not demonstrate movement using the pendulum with the cord attached. He simply asked the participants to hang the pendulum on the wall. All the subjects accomplished the task. They simply looked at what was available, realized there was no hammer and then considered all of the available items to see what they could use to pound the nail into the wall. They used the pendulum-weight to hammer in the nail, then tied the cord the weight and the weight to the cord.

The first group failed because the weight was firmly embedded in its role as a pendulum-weight and nothing else, because it had been verbally described as such and because visually it formed a unit with a cord attached. The visual categorization of the weight-attached-to-cord, plus the verbal suggestion of their experimenter made it impossible for them to change their perception of a pendulum-weight into a hammer. Thinking exclusively they concluded that they needed a hammer and since one was not available they couldn’t accomplish the task.

The second group had not been primed to think of the cord and weight as a single unit. Thinking inclusively they looked for ways to make something available work as a hammer. This is productive thinking as opposed to reproductive thinking.

blind bat

The illustration contains a collection of seemingly random irregular shapes. Can you find the hidden message these shapes convey? When most of us look at the shapes, we automatically fixate on our past experiences to see if we have encountered something similar before. If we find similar experiences, we then analytically select the most promising past approach, excluding all others, and apply it to the problem. If we find no similar experiences in our past, we mentally default to do what is easiest which is to excuse ourselves from further deliberative thinking and do nothing.

When exclusive thinkers are confronted with something unfamiliar and strange, they automatically fixate on their past experiences to see if they have been taught by someone else on how to solve it. They think reproductively. If they discover nothing from their past they conclude that it is meaningless or can’t be solved. Whereas, inclusive thinkers would be driven by their natural curiosity to find the hidden message by looking at the information in many different ways.

Experimental psychologists like to tell a story about a professor who investigated the ability of chimpanzees to solve problems. A banana was suspended from the center of the ceiling, at a height that the chimp could not reach by jumping. The room was bare of all objects except several packing crates placed around the room at random. The test was to see whether you could teach the chimp to stack the crates and make them into steps to reach the banana.

The chimp sat quietly in a corner, watching the psychologist arrange the crates into steps and then distributed them randomly again. The chimp understood and performed the task. The professor invited his associates to watch the chimp conceptualize and build the steps to the banana. The chimp waited patiently until the professor crossed the middle of the room. When he was directly below the fruit, the chimp suddenly jumped on his shoulder, then leaped into the air and grabbed the banana.

Though the chimp had learned how to build steps out of boxes, when another more direct easier alternative presented itself the chimp did not hesitate. The chimp learned how to solve the problem but instinctively kept an open mind to other more effective solutions. In other words, building steps was just one of many ways to reach the banana. Humans, on the other hand, once we learn something or are taught to do something a particular way by someone in authority (teacher, boss, etc.), seem to keep repeating the one method we know — excluding all else from our thought.

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For more information about Michael Michalko and his work in the creativity field and his books on creative thinking visit http://www.creativethinking.net

 

George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Politics

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

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

Without realizing it, the Jesuits who wrote them, and Washington who copied and lived by them, were outlining and absorbing a system of courtesy appropriate to equals and near-equals. When the company for whom the decent behavior was to be performed expanded to the nation, Washington was ready. Parson Weems got this right, when he wrote about Washington that it was “no wonder everybody honored him who honored everybody.”

Both of our political parties have become openly uncivil toward each other and toward anyone or anything that disagrees with their programs. The televised debates focus on which candidate can hurt or dishonor the others the most. The winners are usually the most dishonest, unscrupulous and immoral of the lot and who have the most money to wage the most comprehensive “hate” campaigns.

I’ve extracted 63 of Washington’s 110 rules of decent behavior that relate to speaking, debating, or meeting with your political competitors. Read the rules and imagine, if you can, how George Washington would fare in a televised debate with contemporary politicians. Imagine the contrast between what was and what is now acceptable behavior.

Washington’s Rules:

  1. Treat everyone with respect.
  2. Every action done in company, ought to be with some sign of respect, to those that are present.
  3. Be considerate of others. Do not embarrass others.
  4. Turn not your back to others especially in speaking.
  5. Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.
  6. Reproach none for the infirmities of nature, nor delight to put them that have in mind thereof.
  7. Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.
  8. When you see a crime punished, you may be inwardly pleased; but always show pity to the suffering offender.
  9. Don’t draw attention to yourself.
  10. Do not laugh too loud or too much at any public spectacle.
  11. Superfluous complements and all affectation of ceremony are to be avoided, yet where due they are not to be neglected.
  12. When you speak, be concise.
  13. Let your discourse be short and comprehensive.
  14. In speaking to men do not lean nor look them full in the face, nor approach too near them at least keep a full pace from them.
  15. In writing or speaking, give to every person his due.
  16. Do not argue. Submit your ideas with humility.
  17. Strive not in argument, but always submit your judgment to others with modesty.
  18. Undertake not to teach your equal in the art himself professes; it savors of arrogance.
  19. Do not express joy before one sick or in pain for that contrary passion will aggravate his misery.
  20. When a person does their best and fails, do not criticize him.
  21. When a man does all he can though it does not succeed blame not him that did it.
  22. When you must give advice or criticism, consider the timing, whether it should be given in public or private, the manner and above all be gentle.
  23. Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in public or in private; presently, or at some other time in what terms to do it & in reproving show no sign of anger but do it with all sweetness and mildness.
  24. If you are corrected, take it without argument. If you were wrongly judged, correct it later.
  25. Take all admonitions thankfully in what time or place whatsoever given but afterwards not being culpable take a time & place convenient to let him know it that gave them.
  26. Do not make fun of anything important to others.
  27. Mock not nor jest at anything of Importance.
  28. If you criticize someone else of something, make sure you are not guilty of it yourself. Actions speak louder than words.
  29. Wherein you reprove another be unblameable yourself; for example is more prevalent than precepts.
  30. Use no reproachful language against any one neither curse nor revile.
  31. Do not be quick to believe bad reports about others.
  32. Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any.
  33. Always allow reason to govern your actions.
  34. Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for it is a sign of a tractable and commendable nature.
  35. In all causes of passion admit reason to govern.
  36. Never break the rules.
  37. Never express anything unbecoming, nor act immorally.
  38. Utter not base and frivolous things amongst grave and learned men.
  39. A person should not overly value their own accomplishments.
  40. A man ought not to value himself of his achievements, or rare qualities of wit; much less of his riches, virtue or kindred.
  41. Speak not injurious words neither in jest nor earnest. Scoff at none although they give occasion.
  42. Be not forward but always friendly and courteous.
  43. Do not detract from others nor be overbearing in giving orders.
  44. Detract not from others neither be excessive in commanding.
  45. Do not go where you are not wanted. Do not give unasked-for advice.
  46. If two people disagree, do not take one side or the other. Be flexible in your own opinions and when you don’t care, take the majority opinion.
  47. If two contend together, take not the part of either unconstrained; or be not obstinate in your own opinion, in things indifferent be of the major side.
  48. Do not correct others when it is not your place to do so.
  49. When another speaks, be attentive yourself and disturb not the audience if any hesitate in his words help him not nor prompt him without desired, interrupt him not, nor answer him till his speech be ended.
  50. Don’t compare yourselves amongst yourselves.
  51. Make no comparisons and if any of the company be commended for any brave act of virtue, commend not another for the same.
  52. Do not be quick to talk about something when you don’t have all the facts.
  53. Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth thereof.
  54. Do not be curious about the affairs of others.
  55. Do not start what you cannot finish. Keep your promises.
  56. Undertake not what you cannot perform but be careful to keep your promise.
  57. When you deliver a matter, do it without passion & with discretion, however mean the person be you do it too.
  58. In disputes, be not so desirous to overcome as not to give liberty to each one to deliver his opinion and submit to the judgment of the major part.
  59. Be attentive to that which is spoken. Contradict not at every turn what others say.
  60. Do not keep repeating the same discourse.
  61. Do not speak badly of those who are not present
  62. Don’t allow yourself to become jaded, cynical or calloused.
  63. Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

How do you think Washington would perform in today’s political environment?

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Michael Michalko is the author of the highly acclaimed Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. http://creativethinking.net/WP01_Home.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW TO APPROACH PROBLEMS

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Once we have settled on a perspective, we close off but one line of thought. Certain kinds of ideas occur to us, but only those kinds and no others. Have you ever looked closely at the wheels on a railroad train? They are flanged. That is, they have a lip on the inside to prevent them from sliding off the track. Originally train wheels were not flanged–instead, the railroad tracks were. Because the problem of railroad safety had been expressed as: “How can the tracks be made safer for trains to ride on?” hundreds of thousands of miles of track were manufactured with an unnecessary steel lip. Only when the problem was redefined as: “How can the wheels be made to secure the track more securely?” was the flanged wheel invented.

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

Most of us look at a scene rather than look into it. People tend to think of perception as a passive process. We see, hear, smell, taste or feel stimuli that impinge upon our senses. We think that if we are at all objective, we record what is actually there. Yet perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” You construct how you choose to see the world.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Consider the following problem. Four cards are laid out with their faces displaying respectively, an A, a B, a 4 and a 7.

A    B    4    7

You are told that each card has a letter on one side and a number on the other. You are then given a rule, whose truth you are expected to evaluate. The rule is: “If a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an even number on the other.” You are then allowed to turn over two, but only two, cards in order to determine whether the rule is correct as stated.

If you worked this problem silently, you will almost certainly miss it, as have the large percentage of subjects to whom it has been presented. Most subjects realize that there is no need to select the card bearing the consonant, since it is irrelevant to the rule; they also appreciate that it is essential to turn over the card with the vowel, for an odd number opposite would prove the rule incorrect.

The wording of the problem determines the perspective most people mentally default to almost immediately. Most people assume that the object is to examine the cards to ascertain that if a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an even number on the other; and if a card has an even number on one side, then it has a vowel on the other side. This assumption leads them to make the fatal error of picking the card with the even number, because the even number is mentioned in the rule. But, in fact, it is irrelevant whether there is a vowel or a consonant on the other side, since the rule does not take a stand on what must be opposite to even numbers.

On the other hand, it is essential to pick the card with the odd number on it. If that card has a consonant on it, the result is irrelevant. If, however, the card has a vowel on it, the rule in question has been proved incorrect, for the card must (according to the rule) have an even (and not an odd) number on it.

The content of this specific problem influenced the way we constructed our perception of the problem. This perception created the assumption that leads to error. This should give one pause about mentally defaulting to first impressions. Leonardo Da Vinci wrote in his notebooks that one should always assume that your first impression of a problem is usually biased toward your usual way of thinking. He suggested looking at your problem in at least three different ways to get a better understanding.

“If a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an even number on the other.” Here we are working with letters and numbers. Transposing the words to read “If a card has an even number on one side, then……….” Clarifies the problem and gives us a different perspective on even numbered cards. It becomes apparent that what even numbered cards have on the other side has no significance. The rule is only concerned with cards that have vowels on one side.

Sigmund Freud would “reframe” something to transform its meaning by putting it into a different framework or context than it has previously been perceived. For example, by reframing the “unconscious” as a part of him that was “infantile,” Freud began to help his patients change the way they thought and reacted to their own behavior.

The important thing is not to persist with one way of looking at the problem. Consider the following interesting twist, again using four cards. This time, however, we reframe the problem by substituting journeys and modes of transportation for letters and numbers. Each card has a city on one side and a mode of transportation on the other.

LOS ANGELES   NEW YORK   AIRPLANE  CAR

This time, the cards have printed on them the legends, respectively, Los Angeles, New York, airplane, and car; and the rule is reframed to read: “Every time I go to Los Angeles, I travel by airplane. While this rule is identical to the number-letter version, it poses little difficulty for individuals. In fact, now 80 percent of subjects immediately realize the need to turn over the card with “car” on it.

Apparently, one realizes that if the card with “car” on it has the name “Los Angeles” on the back, the rule has been proved incorrect; whereas it is immaterial what it says on the back of the airplane since, as far as the rule is concerned, one can go to New York any way one wants.

Why is it that 80 percent of subjects get this problem right, whereas only 10 percent know which cards to turn over in the vowel-number version? By changing the content (cities and modes of transportation substituted for letters and numbers), we restructured the problem, which dramatically changed our reasoning. The structure of a problem colors our perspective and the way we think.

The above thought experiment is a variation on the Wason selection task that was devised by Peter Wason. The Wason selection task was originally developed as a test of logical reasoning, but it has increasingly been used by psychologists to analyze the structure of human reasoning mechanisms.

The significant point about this test is that we are incredibly bad at it. And it doesn’t make much difference what the level of education is of the person taking the test. Moreover, even training in formal logic seems to make little difference to a person’s performance. The mistake that we tend to make is fairly standard. People almost always recognize that they have to pick up the card with the vowel, but they fail to see that they also have to pick up the card with the odd number. They think instead that they have to pick up the card with the even number.

One of the most interesting things about this phenomenon is that even when the correct answer is pointed out, people feel resistance to it. It apparently feels “right” that the card with the even number should be picked up. It feels right because your initial perspective is biased toward the usual way of thinking. It is only when you look at it from different perspectives that you get a deeper understanding of the problem.

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Michael Michalko is the author of the highly acclaimed Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.

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SALVADORE DALI’S CREATIVE THINKING TECHNIQUE

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In the history of art, most people could easily argue that Salvador Dalí is the father of surrealistic art. Surrealism is the art of writing or painting unreal or unpredictable works of art using the images or words from an imaginary world. Dali’s art is the definition of surrealism. Throughout his art he clearly elaborates on juxtaposition (putting similar images near each other), the disposition (changing the shape of an object), and morphing of objects, ranging from melted objects dripping, to crutches holding distorted figures, to women with heads of bouquets of flowers.

Surrealism is the stressing of subconscious or irrational significance of imagery, or in more simplistic terms, the use of dreamlike imagery. Dalí’s absurd imagination has him painting pictures of figures no person would even dream of creating. How was Salvador Dali able to conjure up these extraordinary images from his subconscious that he used in his surrealistic paintings?

Dali was intrigued with the images which occur at the boundary between sleeping and waking. They can occur when people are falling asleep, or when they are starting to wake up, and they tend to be extremely vivid, colorful and bizarre. He experimented with various ways of generating and capturing these fantastical images.

His favorite technique is that he would put a tin plate on the floor and then sit by a chair beside it, holding a spoon over the plate. He would then totally relax his body; sometimes he would begin to fall asleep. The moment that he began to doze the spoon would slip from his fingers and clang on the plate, immediately waking him to capture the surreal images.

The extraordinary images seem to appear from nowhere, but there is a logic. The unconscious is a living, moving stream of energy from which thoughts gradually rise to the conscious level and take on a definite form. Your unconscious is like a hydrant in the yard while your consciousness is like a faucet upstairs in the house. Once you know how to turn on the hydrant, a constant supply of images can flow freely from the faucet. These forms give rise to new thoughts as you interpret the strange conjunctions and chance combinations.

Following is a blueprint for the technique.

BLUEPRINT

  • Think about your challenge. Consider your progress, your obstacles, your alternatives, and so on. Then push it away and relax.
  • Totally relax your body. Sit on a chair. Hold a spoon loosely in one of your hands over a plate. Try to achieve the deepest muscle relaxation you can.
  • Quiet your mind. Do not think of what went on during the day or your challenges and problems. Clear your mind of chatter.
  • Quiet your eyes. You cannot look for these images. Be passive. You need to achieve a total absence of any kind of voluntary attention. Become helpless and involuntary and directionless. You can enter the hypnogogic state this way, and, should you begin to fall asleep, you will drop the spoon and awaken in time to capture the images.
  • Record your experiences immediately after they occur. The images will be mixed and unexpected and will recede rapidly. They could be patterns, clouds of colors, or objects.
  • Look for the associative link. Write down the first things that occur to you after your experience. Look for links and connections to your challenge. Ask questions such as:

What puzzles me?

Is there any relationship to the challenge?

Any new insights? Messages?

What’s out of place?

What disturbs me?

What do the images remind me of?

What are the similarities?

What analogies can I make?

What associations can I make?

How do the images represent the solution to the problem?

A restaurant owner used this technique to inspire new promotion ideas. When the noise awakened him, he kept seeing giant neon images of different foods: neon ice cream, neon pickles, neon chips, neon coffee, and so on. The associative link he saw between the various foods and his challenge was to somehow to use the food itself as a promotion.

The idea: He offers various free food items according to the day of week, the time of day, and the season. For instance, he might offer free pickles on Monday, free ice cream between 2 and 4 P.M. on Tuesdays, free coffee on Wednesday nights, free sweet rolls on Friday mornings, free salads between 6 and 8 P.M. on Saturdays and so on. He advertises the free food items with neon signs, but you never know what food items are being offered free until you go into the restaurant. The sheer variety of free items and the intriguing way in which they are offered has made his restaurant a popular place to eat.

Another promotion he created as a result of seeing images of different foods is a frequent-eater program. Anyone who hosts five meals in a calendar month gets $30 worth of free meals. The minimum bill is $20 but he says the average is $30 a head. These two promotions have made him a success.

The images you summon up with this technique have an individual structure that may indicate an underlying idea or theme. Your subconscious mind is trying to communicate something specific to you, though it may not be immediately comprehensible. The images can be used as armatures on which to hang new relationships and associations.

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A college professor who taught a mixed-media art class was bored with the traditional first assignment of painting a self-portrait. He wanted an exercise that would explore space and perception. Using hypnogogic imagery for inspiration, he saw technicolor trees dressed up like human beings walking around and talking. He thought about this image for days, and then the idea for a new assignment struck.

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The idea: He had his students personalize a two-by-four board and carry it around with them everywhere. The students shaped and designed their boards to express their experiences, personalities, and interests. The board served as a yardstick for students to relate to their environment and forced them to work with materials they wouldn’t normally use.

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One student made an environmental statement by painting her board blue and black, attaching tree branches and press clippings about forest fires, and scorching parts of it. Another student made his board an extension of his Mexican heritage. He decorated it like Mexican folk art, with carvings of an eagle, snake, and cactus. He depicted his family tree and attached cloth poinsettias, a rosary, and even a piñata.

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THINK JAR COLLECTIVE INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL MICHALKO

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We are stoked to have Michael Michalko contributing his experience and insights to Think Jar Collective. Michael is a world renowned creativity expert and has written a number of important books on the subject of enhancing creative thinking. We’re grateful he took the time to chat about his experience practicing and teaching creative problem solving over the last forty years.

Ben Weinlick of Think Jar Collective: In reading a bit about your background, it looks like in your early career you got into creative problem solving through the US military and the CIA. That seems to me like a unique entry point into creative problem solving. Can you tell us a bit about how that came about? 

Michael Michalko: I was temporarily assigned to NATO headquarters when I was a second lieutenant in the US Army. One day I was asked to facilitate a meeting of high ranking officers after the guest lecturer failed to arrive. Instead of presenting what the officers expected, I facilitated a brainstorming meeting using some basic creative thinking techniques I had self learned. It was a huge success. Some of the participants were high-ranking staff officers of the US 7th army. Consequently, I was immediately reassigned by the US 7th army to organize and facilitate think tanks designed to generate innovative and creative ideas for the US 7th Army.

At that point I organized a team of US Army, NATO intelligence specialists, and international academics in Frankfurt, Germany, to research, collect, and categorize all known inventive-thinking methods. The purpose was to research methods and strategies to generate different ways of thinking for participants in brainstorming sessions. After the research stage was completed, I organized a team of army intelligence personnel to collate the research and to create step-by-step instructions on how the average person could use them. Our team applied those methods to various military, political, and social problems and produced variety of breakthrough ideas and creative solutions to new and old problems the US Army, NATO and the CIA faced.

BW: Wow, that’s unique. You might be the new candidate for the “most interesting man in the world”… I know you can’t talk about your work with NATO and the CIA, so maybe you could say a few things about what you see businesses and organizations struggle with when trying to become more creative?

MM: One of the biggest problems in the corporate world is the myth that creative people are born creative and others are not. This is perhaps why major corporate bureaucracies do so little to encourage or inspire creativity in all of their employees instead of a select few who are labeled creative.

Every one of us is born a creative, spontaneous thinker. The only difference between people who are creative and people who are not is a simple belief. People who believe they are creative and people who believe they are not are both right.

Once you have a particular identity and set of beliefs about yourself, you become interested in seeking out the skills needed to express your identity and beliefs. This is why people who believe they are creative become creative. They study and learn how to be creative.

If you believe you are not creative, then there is no need to learn how to become creative and you don’t. The reality is that believing you are not creative excuses you from trying or attempting anything new.

When someone tells you that they are not creative, you are talking to someone who has no interest and will make no effort to be a creative thinker.

Another major problem in the business world is the fear of failure. MBAs are taught to only do what is orderly, predictable and logical. Do only what has been successful in the past and, above all, avoid surprises. It is no wonder that with all of the hundreds of thousands of MBAs that have graduated not one has started a new industry or a notable business. Instead innovation comes from college dropouts like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

We have been educated to think critically and judgmentally. Consequently, business people imagine strong reasons for inaction and then allow it to become their reality, even before they make an attempt. Our fear is supported by an illusion that it is possible to fail, and that failure means we are worthless. An example is the demise of Kodak. Kodak scientists invented digital photography and had several patents on the technology long before competitors were even aware of the possibilities. Top management at Kodak refused to even experiment with marketing what they had because they said, “We make our money with film and making film is what Kodak does and will do.” The CEO and top managers retired multi-millionaires with their golden parachutes and stock options leaving the company bankrupt and hundreds of thousands of employees around the world jobless

The reality is that there is no such thing as failure. Whenever we attempt to do something and fail, we end up doing something else. You cannot fail, you can only produce results.

 Rather than judging some result as a failure, ask “What have I learned about what doesn’t work? Can this explain something that I didn’t set out to explain?  What can I do with these results?  and What have I discovered that I didn’t set out to discover?”

When Thomas Edison was seeking to invent the electric light bulb, he had thousands of failures. He would record the results, make adjustments and try again. It took him approximately 10,000 experiments to invent the perfect set-up for the electric light bulb. Once an assistant asked him why he persisted after so many failures. Edison responded by saying he had not failed once. He had learned 10,000 things that didn’t work.

BW: There seems to be some controversy these days around brainstorming and whether it actually produces relevant results. What do you think about brainstorming? Is it still relevant? If you think it is, what should people keep in mind so that brainstorming brings about good results?

MM: The notion that the collective intelligence of a group is larger than the intelligence of an individual can be traced back to primitive times when hunter-gather bands would meet to discuss and solve common problems. It is commonly understood and an accepted practice. What’s difficult is the willingness of a group to discipline itself to brainstorm for ideas openly and productively. Alex Osborne, an advertising executive in Buffalo, New York, recognized this and formalized brainstorming in 1941 as a systematic effort and disciplined practice to produce ideas in a group.

Osborne’s idea was to create an un-inhibiting environment that would encourage imaginative ideas and thoughts. The usual method is to have a small group discuss a problem. Ideas are offered by participants one at a time. One member records ideas and suggestions on a flip chart or chalk board. All withhold judgment. After the brainstorming session, the various ideas and suggestions are reviewed and evaluated and the group agrees on a final resolution.

There are many problems with traditional brainstorming. Sessions can be undercut by group uniformity pressures and perceived threats from managers and bosses. Other sessions fail because people find it difficult to avoid judging and evaluating ideas as they are offered. Personality differences also come into play: some people are naturally willing to talk, while others tend to be silent.

Group brainstorming, if done in the right spirit, can generate a rich variety of different perspectives and ideas about any given subject. That’s because individuals are magically different and unique from each other and share few common associations.  The way people retain their individuality while combining their efforts and talents is critical to creative collaboration.

Understanding that is vital to creating a cooperative synthesis. I have found that the following techniques are some of the best from around the world that are designed to help groups create a cooperative synthesis:

BRAINWRITING 

Horst Geschka and his associates 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. 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. Brainwriting, in contrast, allows multiple ideas to be suggested at the same time. This is parallel processing of information. 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.
  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 a stimulation card. 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.

You can design your own brainwriting format based on the two principles:

(1) Idea generation is silent.

(2) Ideas are created spontaneously in parallel.

BW:  Why would you say creativity is important for people?

MM: What you think or believe is of no significance, the only thing of significance in life is what you do. Humans are blessed with a creative mind that enables them to continually improve life by overcoming adversity with creative ideas and innovative solutions. Though few of us realize it, one of the greatest ideas of all time was “hay.”

In earlier times, civilization could exist only in warm climates where horses could stay alive through the winter by grazing. Without grass in winter you could not have horses, and without horses you could not have urban civilization. Most people accepted this as a law of nature, which to them meant humans were destined to live in warm climates.

At some point, some unknown farmer took action. He invented hay which was a way to bring food to the horses instead of bringing horses to the food. Forests were turned into meadows, hay was reaped and stored, and civilization moved north over the Alps. So hay gave birth to Vienna and Paris and London and Berlin, and later to Moscow and New York. Unless this unknown genius had acted and invented hay, civilization would not have prospered.

Think of what our world would be without creativity.

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WHAT THE WRIGHT BROTHERS TAUGHT US ABOUT FAILURE

wright brothers

 The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, battled depression and family illness before starting the bicycle shop that would lead them to experimenting with flight. They were competing against the best engineering and scientific minds in America at the time, who were all well financed and supported by the government and capital investors to make the first airplane.

Samuel Pierpont Langley, was the leading government funded scientist because of his education and engineering experience. Langley and his assistants studied the problem of flight, consulted with experts around the world, researched the field comprehensively and finally produced the blueprint of his airplane. He bought the finest material and hired the best available craftsmen to build his airplane. Finally on December 8, 1903 with much attention and fanfare from the national media and politicians he launched his flying machine on the Potomac.  It plummeted directly into the river. It was a colossal failure.

Nine days later, Orville and Wilbur Wright got the first plane off the ground. Why did these bicycle mechanics succeed when a famous scientist failed? It was because Langley thought reproductively and only considered what great thinkers thought about how to manufacture a manmade machine that would fly. They had hired experts to execute his theoretical concepts without going a series of trial and errors. Studying the Wrights’ diaries, you see that insight and execution are inextricably woven together. Over years, as they solved problems like wing shape and wing warping, they made several mistakes that produced unintended results. They recorded and studied these unintended results which inspired several adjustments all of which involved a small spark of insight that led to other insights. Their numerous mistakes led to unexpected alternative ways which, in turn, led to the numerous discoveries that made flight possible.

The lesson the Wright brothers taught me was to create by acting, by doing, by going through the motions and discovering what doesn’t work and what does through trial and error. Langley, on the other hand, had been educated to think critically and judgmentally and to avoid failure at all cost. He imagined strong reasons for inaction until, in his mind, it was not possible to fail. Consequently, he spent a fortune on study and months of planning and designing his prototype before he made an attempt.

The Wright brothers did not believe that failure was something to be avoided at all costs. They embraced failure as a way to succeed.  Whenever they attempted to do something and failed, they ended up doing something else. They realized that you cannot fail, you can only produce results. What counted was what you did with the results. Rather than judging some result as a failure, ask “Why did it not work as I thought it should?” “What have I learned about what doesn’t work?”, “Can this explain something that I didn’t set out to explain?”, “What can I do with these results?”, and “What have I discovered that I didn’t set out to discover?” Answering these questions about their results is what gave the Wrights the creative insights they needed to succeed. It is the same with everything in life.

Before we are educated, our nature was to act spontaneously and produce results without fear.  As an infant, you learned how to walk by trial and error. The first time you made the effort you fell down and returned to crawling. You ignored your fears about falling and learned from the results you had produced. You stood up again and again and fell again and again. Eventually you stood with a wobble and then another fall. Finally, you walked upright. Suppose as infants we had learned to fear failure and avoid mistakes before attempting to walk. Many of us would still be crawling around on all fours.

Michael Michalko is a highly-acclaimed creativity expert and author of the best-seller Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), ThinkPak (A Brainstorming Card Deck),  Cracking Creativity (The Secrets of Creative Genius), and Creative Thinkering (Putting your Imagination to Work).  http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs