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)

INNOVATION IS NOT ABOUT WHO GIVES THE RIGHT ANSWERS, IT’S ABOUT WHO ASKS THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

 

einstein.questions

Suppose you tagged a “rose” as a red, pink, or white flower one gives to a beautiful woman, a pleasant hostess, or to a deceased friend. The tagging of a complex flower with the single label (rose) and one description would detour your curiosity more than cultivate it. However, if you asked a series of questions about roses, you would have a better understanding. You could better describe the rose, how it is grown, its thorns, its blossoms, its fragrance, how others have used the rose, as well as how to best package and use it.

In the same way, tagging any subject with a single label and description detours curiosity and limits imagination. Consider the steel industry. The executives tagged a complex process with the single label (big steel) and one description (the integrated process) and suffered for years with an uneconomical industry. Finally, a group of young men asked a series of questions that changed the industry.

The steelmaking process had been uneconomical since it was invented in the 1870s. The integrated steel process uses ore and creates very high temperatures four times, only to be quenched and then it lifts masses of metal and transports them over great distances. The only time the industry performed well was in times of war. The industry was a lump in America’s gravy.

A group of young men assiduously framed and asked questions and sought solutions. They asked aggressive questions about every step of the steel-making process. Despite the opposition of management, through questioning, they discovered that the integrated process tried to defy the laws of physics and this means the laws of economics as well.

What they discovered was that since the early 1970s, the demand for steel was going up. However, the minimum incremental unit needed to satisfy that demand in an integrated mill is a substantial investment. Any expansion is thus likely to operate at a low utilization rate, until demand, which always rises in small steps, reaches the capacity. And not to expand when demand creeps up means to lose market share permanently. Faced with losing market share, companies expanded. Companies therefore were profitable for only those times between when everybody begins to build new capacity and the time when the new capacity comes on stream. This discovery led to the solution.

The idea: The solution the young questioners proposed was a shift from the giant, ever-expanding “integrated” plant to a “mini-mill.” The end uses are the same as the integrated mill only the costs are substantially lower. A mini-mill can be built for one-tenth the cost of an integrated plant, uses heat only once and does not quench it, starts with steel scrap instead of ore, and ends up with one final product (e.g., beams, rods, etc.). The costs are less than one-half of the integrated process. The mini-mills offer modern technology, low labor costs, and target markets.

An executive stated that if these young men had not asked the right questions, we would still go on making steel the only way we knew. Anything but “big steel” was alien and strange. The executives couldn’t have been more stupefied, when they heard the solution, had archaeologists dug up a dinosaur wearing a flea collar.

A question checklist also helps you increase your observation and association abilities.

Car alarms didn’t stop thieves from shattering the window of one entrepreneur’s Porsche and stealing his radio. Using the question checklist, he drew a diagram of a car radio and decided that the real challenge was disguising the radio and not finding a fail-proof alarm system.

The solution was to somehow disguise and hide the radio. The question: “Suppose you find a problem related to yours and solved before, can you use its methods?” led him to think of the way the military camouflages items they want to disguise and hide. This association inspired his idea.

The idea: A fake front showing splayed wires and a gashed frame. Attached with velcro over the real radio, it creates the illusion that the real radio has already been ripped off.

PHOENIX CHECKLIST

Phoenix is a checklist of questions developed by the Central Intelligence Agency. It was designed to encourage agents to look at a challenge from many different angles. It’s like holding your challenge in your hand. You can turn it, look at it from underneath, see it from one view, hold it up to another position, imagine solutions, and really be in control of it.

Use the Phoenix checklist as a base to build your own personal checklist of questions. Collect good questions when you hear them from others and keep adding them to your own checklist. With the right questions, you can solve a challenge the way Sherlock Holmes would solve a crime; i.e., ask a number of questions, then suddenly turn, touch a finger to the head and ask a question that turns everything around. When that happens, you might say you “Sherlocked the challenge.”

BLUEPRINT

The procedures are:

(1) Write your challenge. Isolate the challenge you want to think about. Write it to somebody else and commit yourself to an answer, if not the answer, by a certain date.

(2) Use the Phoenix checklist to dissect the challenge into as many different ways as you can by asking questions.

(3) Record your answers, information requests, solutions, and ideas for evaluation and analysis.

THE PHOENIX CHECKLIST

THE PROBLEM

– Why is it necessary to solve the problem?

– What benefits will you receive by solving the problem?

– What is the unknown?

– What is it you don’t yet understand?

– What is the information you have?

– What isn’t the problem?

– Is the information sufficient? Or is it insufficient? Or redundant? Or contradictory?

– Should you draw a diagram of the problem? A figure? Make a model?

– Where are the boundaries of the problem?

– Separate the various parts of the problem? Can you write them down? What are the relationships of the parts of the problem?

– What are the constants (things that can’t be changed) of the problem?

– Have you seen this problem before?

– Have you seen this problem in a slightly different form?

– Do you know a related problem?

– Try to think of a familiar problem having the same or a similar unknown? Suppose you find a problem related to yours and solved before, can you use it? Can you use its method?

– Can you restate your problem? How many different ways can you restate it? More general? More specific? Can the rules be changed?

– What are the best, worst, and most probable cases you can imagine?

THE PLAN

– Can you solve the whole problem? Part of the problem?

– What would you like the resolution to be? Can you picture it?

– How much of the unknown can you determine?

– Can you derive something useful from the information you have?

– Have you used all the information?

– Have you taken into account all essential notions in the problem?

– Can you separate the steps in the problem-solving process? Can you determine the correctness of each step?

– What creative thinking techniques can you use to generate ideas? How many different techniques?

– Can you see the result? How many different kinds of results can you see?

– How many different ways have you tried to solve the problem?

-How many alternative ideas can you generate?

– What have others done?

– Can you intuit the solution? Can you check the result?

– What should be done? How should it be done?

– Where should it be done?

– When should it be done?

– Who should do it?

– What do you need to do at this time?

– Who will be responsible for what?

– Can you use this problem to solve some other problem?

– What is the unique set of qualities that makes this problem what it is and none other?

– What milestones can best mark your progress?

– How will you know when you are successful?

 

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(Michael Michalko is the highly-acclaimed 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)

 

WHEN THE STUDENT TAUGHT THE PROFESSOR A LESSON ABOUT COMMON SENSE THINKING

barometer

“What steps would you take,” a question in a college exam read, “in determining the height of a building, using an aneroid barometer?”

One student replied, “I would lower the barometer on a string and measure the string.” The student failed immediately. The student appealed on the grounds that his answer was indisputably correct, and the university appointed an independent arbiter to decide the case.

The arbiter judged that the answer was indeed correct, but did not display any noticeable knowledge of physics. To resolve the problem, it was decided to call the student in and allow him six minutes in which to provide a verbal answer that showed at least a minimal familiarity with the basic principles of physics.

For five minutes the student sat in silence, forehead creased in thought. The arbiter reminded him that time was running out, to which the student replied that he had several extremely relevant answers, but couldn’t make up his mind which to use. On being advised to hurry up the student replied as follows:

“Firstly, you could take the barometer up to the roof of the skyscraper, drop it over the edge, and measure the time it takes to reach the ground. The height of the building can then be worked out from the formula H = 0.5g x t squared. But bad luck on the barometer.”

“Or if the sun is shining you could measure the height of the barometer, then set it on end and measure the length of its shadow. Then you measure the length of the skyscraper’s shadow, and thereafter it is a simple matter of proportional arithmetic to work out the height of the skyscraper.”

“But if you wanted to be highly scientific about it, you could tie a short piece of string to the barometer and swing it like a pendulum, first at ground level and then on the roof of the skyscraper. The height is worked out by the difference in the gravitational restoring force T =2 pi sqr root (I /9).”

“Or if the skyscraper has an outside emergency staircase, it would be easier to walk up it and mark off the height of the skyscraper in barometer lengths, then add them up.”

“If you merely wanted to be boring and orthodox about it, of course, you could use the barometer to measure the air pressure on the roof of the skyscraper and on the ground, and convert the difference in millibars into feet to give the height of the building.”

“But since we are constantly being exhorted to exercise independence of mind and apply scientific methods, undoubtedly the best way would be to knock on the janitor’s door and say to him ‘If you would like a nice new barometer, I will give you this one if you tell me the height of this skyscraper’.”

The student was Niels Bohr, the only Dane to win the Nobel Prize for physics.

Michael Michalko

http://www.creativethinking.net

 

DISCOVER IF YOU ARE THE SUBJECT OR OBJECT IN YOUR LIFE

BLANKS

I take three blank sheets of paper and put them a few inches apart, side by side.  I leave the center one blank.  On the right one, I draw a small diamond-shaped dot in the middle of the page.  On the left one I draw an irregular squiggle.

Which sheet of paper is more like your real self?  I am asking which of the three sheets seems like a better picture of all of you, with all your hopes, fears, and weaknesses, as you are at this point of time.  Which comes closest to representing the way you feel about yourself?

The majority of people choose either the squiggle or the blank sheet.  Almost none chose the diamond-shaped dot.  Yet, the sheet with the dot is the most centered and solid and has the most feeling and potential.  The blank sheet feels empty and meaningless.  The one with the squiggle creates an impression of disturbance and incoherence.

You may wonder if the descriptions are accurate.  To convince you, let me propose a thought experiment.  Suppose you are with the person you love more than any other person on the face of the earth.  And suppose you just made the three pieces of paper we have been looking at.  Imagine that you are asked to give the sheet of paper that most represents your love to the person.  Which of the three do you give?  Most likely, you will give the one on the right because it feels valuable, feels worth giving, and feels the most meaningful of the three.

The majority of us feel an emptiness and incoherence in our lives which is why we think of ourselves as blanks or squiggles instead of diamonds.  Yet we know the diamond-shaped dot was what we wanted to select but, in some way, our sense of self made us feel unworthy and so we rationalized why we selected the squiggle or the blank.  It is the same way in life.

We are tacitly taught that we exist and just are.  We have been taught that all people are true to their own genes, environment and nature.  We are conditioned to be objects.  We are taught to be “Me,” instead of “I.”  When you think of yourself as “Me,” you are limited.  The “Me” is always limited.  When you believe how others (parents, teachers, peers, colleagues, and others) describe you, you become that.  You might want to be an artist, but others might tell you that you have no talent, training, or temperament to be an artist.  The “Me” will say, “Who do you think you are?  You are just an ordinary person.”

There is a Japanese masterpiece film IKIRU about the life on an old man that captures the essence of what it means to be a “Me.”  Ikiru is a civil servant who has labored in the bureaucracy for thirty years.  He determines his self worth by how others see him.  He thinks of himself as an object and spends his life preventing things from happening.  He is a widower who never remarried, as his relatives told him he was too old and unattractive to remarry.  He is the father of an ungrateful son who despises him because he is not rich.  He does not strive to better his career as he has been told by his supervisor that he lacks the education and intelligence to be anything more than a clerk.  In his mind, he pictures himself as a worthless failure.  He walks bent over with a shuffling walk with defeated eyes.

When he is told that he has terminable cancer, he looks back over the wasteland of his life, and decides to do something of note.  For the first time in his life he became the “I,” the subject of his life.  Against all obstacles, he decided to build a park in a dirty slum of Tokyo.  He had no fear and felt no self-defeating limitations, he ignored his son when his son said he was the laughing stock of the neighborhood, he ignored his relatives and neighbors who begged him to stop.  His supervisor was embarrassed and pretended not to know him.  Because he knew he was going to die, he no longer cared what other people thought.  For the first time in his life he became free and alive.  He worked and worked, seemingly without stopping.  He was no longer afraid of anyone, or anything.  He no longer had anything to lose, and so in this short time gained everything.  Finally, he died, in the snow, swinging on a child’s swing in the park which he made, singing.

IKIRU

Ikiru became the subject of his life.  He became joyous instead of miserable; he inspired instead of being indifferent, and he laughed at himself and the world instead of feeling humiliated and defeated.  How about you? Are you the subject or the object of your life?

(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)

 

 

 

 

WAYS TO WAKE UP YOUR IMAGINATION   

EINSTEIN.IMAGES

If we toss seeds on hard packed ground the chances of them taking root and producing healthy plants is minimal. However, if we plough and till the ground (that is, mix it up, break it apart, make it “less” solid and more “loose”) the chances of a variety of seeds (both those we purposely sow and those that serendipitously fall) will find a way to grow in the loose soil.

In the same way, if we start a brainstorming session cold with a serious, uptight facilitator throwing out questions and problems to a stiff, conservative group, the chances of producing healthy ideas is minimal. Following are tips on how to loosen up the group to energize their creative thinking.

SYMBOL. Ask participants to draw a personal symbol that metaphorically symbolizes their view about creativity. It can be anything……..an eagle, a compass, a paint brush, the moon, etc. Then each participant displays his or her symbol and explains how or why it represents their view.

SIX WORD BOOKS. A recent book published by Smith Magazine carried the intriguing title, Not  Quite What I was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. This book and similar collections of extremely short prose have been inspired by a six-word novel said to have been written by Ernest Hemingway on a dare. The novel read: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” A six word memoir might read “For sale. Chastity belt. Never worn.” “For sale. Wedding ring. Seldom worn.” A six word description of creative thinking could be: “Last night confused. Slept. Morning. Eureka!”, or “At night all thoughts are gray.” Ask each participant to write a six word book that describes their perspective on creativity.

DIFFERENT WORDS. An activity to practice getting rid of preconceptions is to create different names for things. For example, “rainbow” might be named “painted rain.” Have the participants create different names for:

  • mountain
  • cloud
  • ocean
  • world
  • painting
  • creative thinking

Next have the participants rename the subject of the meeting with a different name. For example, if the meeting is about office morale, “morale” might be named “a spring flower”, or a “warm hug”, and so on.

As an aside, it’s always a good idea to habitually change the words in your challenge statement several times to get different perspectives. Toyota once posted a sign over their suggestion boxes that read “How can we become more productive?” They got few responses. When the sign was changed to “How can we make our jobs easier?”, they were inundated with ideas.

HEALTH AND HAPPINESS. By thinking and saying positive thoughts about and to others, you gradually can create a positive change not only in the other person, but also in yourself. Psychologists call this restructuring cognitions. An exercise to illustrate this follows. Tell the participants you are going to conduct an experiment.

  • Have the participants count off  by twos. Ask the One’s, “How many of you are in a positive mood today? How many of you are in a negative mood?” On the board I record these numbers. Ask the Two’s the same questions and again tally the results on the board.
  • Next, tell the One’s to follow you out of the room. In the hallway, tell them to hang out for a few minutes, to talk to each other, and that you’ll come back to get them.
  • Return to the classroom and say to the Two’s, “I wish you health and happiness”. They usually laugh. I tell them to get up and while shaking the hands of five people in the room and looking them in the eye, say, as earnestly as possible, “I wish you health and happiness.” Usually, they do this with little difficulty, although there is some awkwardness and giggling. Once they finish, have the group all says together, “I wish you health and happiness.”
  • Call the One’s back into the room and again tally the positive and negative moods for both groups. It will become clear that the group that wished others health and happiness is now a much more positive, smiling group; whereas, the group in the hall doesn’t change much if at all. The effect of this little exercise is quite remarkable.

CREATIVE COLLAGES. A collage is an assembly of various pictures, either as wholes or fragments, arranged in such a way that each element loses its separate identity as it becomes part of the collage. The collage is greater than, and often different from, the sum of its parts.

When two or more dissimilar images collide in a collage, the imagination transforms them into an altogether new reality transcendent over the separate elements. For example, a picture of seals performing in a marine show next to a picture of a building may become a metaphor for salespeople performing for customers, a user-friendly computer program, or how to perform for a job interview, and so on. The imagination transforms the picture into a symbol for many different things. The guidelines are:

  • Cut out several pictures or parts of pictures from magazines, newspapers, catalogs, flyers, and so on.
  • Mix and match the pictures by moving them around into different patterns and associations. Play with the pictures until you get a feeling for possible ways to use these patterns. Form patterns and associations without forcing them. Continue until your collage feels complete. Make one large metaphorical picture by assigning a word or phrase to each picture and then completing the sentence,  “My subject is a lot like (insert a word or phrase from the montage) because it—-“.
  • Think metaphorically and analogically. The R&D staff for a furniture company looked for ways to develop a paint that does not fade, chip, or scratch. They made a collage that included pictures of various trees and plants. The collage triggered a discussion of how trees and plants get their color. Their subsequent research inspired the idea of “everlasting” color. They created the idea of injecting trees with dye additives that impregnates color to the plant cells which spreads the color throughout the tree. The tree is painted before it is cut down.

Another interesting way to collage your subject is to create two separate ones to represent two separate aspects of your subject.  Suppose you want to improve corporate communications. You could create one collage to represent upper management and another one to represent employees. With the two sets of visuals, compare the common points and identify the gaps between upper management and the employees.

CROSS BREEDING. Conceptual inertia is the property of your mind that allows you to resist change. Just as physical objects resist changes in state, ideas resist movement from their current state, and change in direction of their movement. Thus, when people try to create new ideas, those ideas tend to resemble old ideas and new ideas do not move much from the old.

Practice to upset conceptual inertia and get a group’s imagination moving with the “bizarre” activity “Cross Breeding”.  Encourage the group to wildly experiment by cross-breeding plants, objects, and animals. Have three boxes containing slips of paper with random names of “Plants”,  “Objects”, and  “Animals”. A variation is to use objects that are business related such as Xerox machine, product, phone, paperwork, desk, meeting room and so on; and people instead of animals. Each participant takes one of each. Then make hybrids out of two of them.

Examples:

  • bird x supervisor
  • pony x patient
  • customer x door
  • watermelon x therapist
  • key x plant
  • meeting room x ballet dancer

Consider:

  • What does each look like? Draw a picture. Label and post it on a wall.
  • What does each do?
  • What sound does each make?
  • What are the unique strengths of each (at least 3)?
  • What are the unique weaknesses of each (at least 3)?

Finally create an idea about the cross breed strengths. One person cross bred a rose with a key. She thought a strength would be the availability of a key flowering in the garden. This made her think of a rose as the key which triggered the thought of “key chain plants”. A key chain plant is a clear plastic micro-mini case where plants grow in their own individual arboretum until they get too large, at which point they can be transplanted into bigger pots.

USE YOUR IMAGINATION. When we compare problems to something unusual, we tend to have a need to understand it. Consequently, we break it down and analyze the different parts to see if this will allow us to understand it or make it somehow familiar. When this happens, we form new links and relationships that may lead to breakthrough ideas. For example, years back, a group of designers were looking for ideas for a new light fixture. They compared a light fixture with a “monkey” and imagined a monkey running around a house with a light. This thought led them to conceive track lighting. Ask metaphoric questions to stimulate the group’s imagination. For example:

  • What animal is like the problem? Why?
  • A cold, half-eaten pizza is like the solution to the problem because….
  • How is your problem like a flash light battery? How can the similarities spark new ideas?
  • What famous historical figure comes closest to resembling the essence of the problem?
  • What movie comes closest to representing your life? What movie character?
  • Suppose your organization has a communications problem. Metaphoric scenario: Astronauts travel to Mars. While visiting Mars, their perception of events becomes different for each, depending on their prior history. They perceive everything differently. A sequence of events can be anything; quick or slow, orderly or random, causal or without cause, salty or sweet and so on. How can they work together in order to return to earth? What can be learned and applied to real life from the metaphoric scenario?
  • Suppose your company is thinking about restructuring and reorganizing itself.  Metaphoric scenario: A comet hits the earth and permanently wipes out everyone’s long-term memory, except the people in this room. How do we handle this global situation? How do you reorganize the people on earth? What can be learned and applied to real life from the scenario?

 

(Michael Michalko is the highly-acclaimed 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)

 

 

IMAGINE THE IMPOSSIBLE IN YOUR BUSINESS, THEN DO IT

IMPOSSIBLE

“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.” ……Albert Einstein

Think of how Einstein changed our understanding of time and space by imagining people going to the center of time in order to freeze their lovers or their children in century-long embraces. This space he imagined is clearly reminiscent of a black hole, where, theoretically, gravity would stop time. Einstein also imagined a woman’s heart leaping and falling in love two weeks before she has met the man she loves, which lead him to the understanding of acausality, a feature of quantum mechanics. And still another time he imagined a blind beetle crawling around a sphere thinking it was crawling in a straight line.

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

Thought Experiment: 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: Think of something in your business that is impossible to do, but that would, if it were possible to do, change the nature of your business forever. 

Think of an impossibility, then try to come up with ideas that take you as close as possible to that impossibility. For example, imagine an automobile that is a live, breathing creature, List attributes of living creatures. They are, for example, breathing, growing older, reproducing, feeling emotions, and so on. Then use as many of those attributes as you can while designing your automobile. For instance, can you work emotions into something that a car displays?

Japanese engineers for Toyota are working on a car that they say can xpress moods ranging from angry to happy to sad. The car can raise or lower its body height and ‘‘wag’’ its antenna, and it comes equipped with illuminated hood designs, capable of changing colors, that are meant to look like eyebrows, eyes, and even tears. The car will try to approximate the feelings of its driver by drawing on data stored in an onboard computer. So, for example, if another car swerves into an expressive car’s lane, the right combination of deceleration, brake pressure, and defensive steering, when matched with previous input from the driver, will trigger an ‘‘angry’’ look.

The angry look is created as the front end lights up with glowering red U-shaped lights, the headlights become hooded at a forty-five-degree angle, and downward-sloping “eyebrow” lights glow crimson. A good-feeling look is lighting up orange, and one headlight winks at the courteous driver and wags its antennae. A sad-feeling look is blue with “tears” dripping from the headlights.

Stretching your imagination by trying to make impossible things possible with concrete thoughts and actions is a mirror reversal of dreaming. Whereas a dream represents abstract ideas as concrete actions and images, this creative process works in the opposite direction, using concrete ideas (a car that is alive) to gain insight on a conscious level to reveal disguised thoughts (about cars showing emotion) as creative imagery.

 

Michael Michalko is a renowned creativity expert whose books include 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. www.creativethinking.net

 

 

What Nature Teaches Us About How to Deal with Adversity

 

emperormoth.2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think for a moment about Abraham Lincoln who is considered by many the greatest president in the history of the U.S. Modern day psychologists would label his parents as dysfunctional and abusive. He was mocked and ridiculed by his school classmates for the way he looked and dressed. At age 22, he failed in business, he ran for the state legislature and was defeated, he tried to start another business and failed again. At age 26, he was rejected by a woman he loved and had a nervous breakdown. At age 33, he married a woman who was found to be mentally unstable, and once more was defeated for Congress. At age 37, he was finally elected to Congress but at age 39 he was once again defeated. He subsequently campaigned for and was defeated for the senate, vice presidency, and again for the senate. At age 51 he was elected president of the U.S.

Lincoln was not born with a positive “can do” attitude. On the contrary, his life is testimony that a positive attitude toward one’s experiences takes considerable effort and practice. Lincoln learned to expect difficulties, and, so was not traumatized and defeated when faced with problems but viewed them as part of the natural course of events. Lincoln learned the harder one works to sustain a positive interpretation, the more one appreciates life.

Lincoln did not choose his experiences of failure and defeat, but he did choose how to respond. He realized that he was not reacting to an event but to how he interpreted the event. His life is testimony to the uniquely human potential to turn defeats into triumphs and to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.

A journalist once asked President Lincoln how he developed such a strong-willed and independent personality. Lincoln replied “Adversity, adversity. It is by welcoming and overcoming all the adversities in your life do you become the person you are capable of becoming.”

 

(Michael Michalko is the highly-acclaimed 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)

 

THE WORDS YOU USE SHAPE THE WAY YOU THINK

word 

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

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

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

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

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

Aristotle believed that the words and chains of words that we use in framing a problem play a significant role in the way we approach problems. Toyota once posted a notice asking employees to offer suggestions on how to increase production. They received only a few ideas. A manager reworded the request to asking employees for suggestions on how to make their work easier. They were inundated with ideas. A manager at a large computer company had a mission to put together an on-line database that would make life easier for all his telephone support people, but he couldn’t get any cooperation from them. His memo began, “As you know, we are legally obligated to provide a 4-hour response on all customer calls. Currently, we are backlogged with customer calls and making little or no progress; complaints continue to grow…” This is a negative approach. He later reworded the memo to say, “How would you like to get through your stack of backlogged customer calls quickly? How would you like to have all the researched answers to customer calls at the tips of your fingers? Help is on the way. For the next 30 days, I’ m asking you simply to record and forward to me a copy of…”. The positive approach generated a much better response. Positive framing means to say what you’re for, not what you’re against; what you’re going to do.

YOU CAN USE WORDS TO PRIME BEHAVIOR Language also influences behavior. In a pair of studies, University of British Columbia researchers had participants play “dictator game.” The game is simple: you’re offered ten one dollar coins and told to take as many as you want and leave the rest for the player in the other room (who is, unbeknown to you, a research confederate). The fair split, of course, is 50-50, but most anonymous “dictators” play selfishly, leaving little or nothing for the other player. In the control group, the vast majority of participants kept everything or nearly everything. In the experimental condition, the researchers next prompted thoughts of God using a well-established “priming” technique: participants, who again included both theists and atheists, first had to unscramble sentences containing words such as God, divine, love, and sacred. That way, going into the dictator game, players had God on their minds without being consciously aware of it. Sure enough, the “God prime” worked like a charm, leading to fairer splits. Without the God prime, only a few of the participants split the money evenly, but when primed with the religious words, 62 percent did.

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

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

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT. Language profoundly changes the way people think. Consider our relationship with animals. We typically regard ourselves as superior as we see animals as a lower form of life. We see them as “its.” In contrast to our relationship to animals, the Native American Algonquins and Lakota Sioux regard the animal as equal to humans and in many ways superior as expressed in their language. The Native Americans address all animal life as “thou,” an object of reverence. The deer, the dog, the snake, the buffalo are all “thou.” The ego that sees a “thou” is not the same ego that sees an “it.” Whenever you see an animal, silently think the words “thou dog,” “thou bird,” and so on. Try it for a few days or so to see for yourself. I guarantee you will feel a dramatic change in your psychology toward all animal life.

(Michael Michalko is the highly-acclaimed 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)

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