THE IMPORTANCE OF PERCEPTION AND PATTERN RECOGNITION SKILLS IN CREATIVE THINKING

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Cognitive scientists understand the importance of perception and pattern recognition as a major component of creative thinking.  When you are committed and start to actively work on a problem that you are passionate about, you will start to notice more and more things that relate to what you are working on. With an infinite amount of stimuli constantly hitting our brains, we need the ability to filter that which is most relevant to us. And our mind is that filter. Often these connections can seem like coincidences, but cognitive scientists tell us it is simply that part of our brain that screens out information we are not interested in and focuses on the things that we can use. These connections give you different ways to look at information and different ways to focus on it.

George de Mestral was inspired to improve the zipper. He thought about the essence of zippers which is to fasten two separate pieces of fabric together. His question became “How do things fasten?” He became committed to the idea of inventing a better fastener and spent considerable time pondering how things fasten in other domains including nature.

One day when George was hunting birds with his Irish pointer, he traveled through some burdock thistles. The prickly seed burrs from the plants clung to his clothing and to his dog. While pulling off the burrs he noticed how they were removable yet easily reattached.

The burdock fascinated George and he imagined a fastener that mimicked a burdock. He studied the burrs under a microscope and discovered a hook system used by the burdock plant to migrate its seeds by attachment. The hooks could grab onto loops of thread or fur and migrate with the object it fastened itself to. This gave him the idea of creating a hook and loop fastener.

It was not logic that guided his thinking process but perception and pattern recognition between two totally unrelated subjects: zippers and burdocks. Logic dictates that burdocks are animate plants and zippers are inanimate manmade objects that are totally unrelated and, therefore, any relationship between the two is to be excluded. It was George’s creative perception, not logic, that recognized the common factor between a burdock and a zipper that fastens, not logic.

George envisioned two fabrics that could attach in this manner with one having a surface covered with minuscule hooks and another with hoops. Most of the experts he visited did not believe hooks could be created on the surface of fabric. However, he found a weaver at a textile plant that was willing to work with him. George discovered that a multifilament yarn weaved from velvet or cotton terry cloth created a surface of hooped threads. To create hooks, George would partially cut the hoops so they would become hooks. There was a great deal of experimentation to get the right density, thread sizes and rigidity. He eventually weaved the hook-side yarn from nylon and invented Velcro.

AN EXERCISE TO TEST YOUR CREATIVE PERCEPTION

Russian computer scientist, Mikhail Bongard, created a  remarkable set of visual pattern recognition problems to test one’s creative perception. The Bongard problems present two sets of relatively simple diagrams, say A and B. All the diagrams from set A have a common factor or attribute, which is lacking in all the diagrams of set B. The problem is to find, or to formulate, convincingly, the common   factor.

Below is an example of a Bongard problem. Test your perception and pattern recognition skills and try to solve the problem.   You have two classes of figures (A and B).  You are asked to discover some abstract connection that links all the various diagrams in A and that   distinguishes them from all the other diagrams in group B.

.EX.BONGARD (2) (1024x1024)

One has to take chances that certain aspects of a given diagram matter, and others are irrelevant.  Perhaps shapes count, but not sizes — or vice versa.  Perhaps orientations count, but not sizes — or vice versa.  Perhaps curvature or its lack counts, but not location inside the box — or vice versa.  Perhaps numbers of objects but not their types matter — or vice versa.  Which types of features will wind up mattering and which are mere distracters.  As you try to solve the problem, you will find the essence of your mental activity is a complex interweaving of acts of abstraction and comparison, all of which involve guesswork rather than certainty.  By guesswork I mean that one has to take a chance that certain aspects matter and others do not.

Logic dictates that the essence of perception is the activity of dividing a complex scene into its separate constituent objects and attaching separate labels to the now separated parts of pre-established categories, such as ovals, Xs and circles as unrelated exclusive events.  Then we’re taught to think exclusively within a closed system of hard logic.

In the above patterns, if you were able to discern the distinction between the diagrams, your perception is what found the distinction, not logic.  The distinction is the ovals are all pointing to the X in the A group, and the ovals area all pointing at the circles in the B group.

The following thought experiment is an even more difficult problem, because you are no longer dealing with recognizable shapes such as ovals, Xs, circles or other easily recognizable structures for which we have clear representations.  To solve this, you need to perceive subjectively and intuitively, make abstract connections, much like Einstein thought when he thought about the similarities and   differences between the patterns of space and time, and you need to consider the overall context of the problem.

BONGARD.DOT.NECK

A                                                        B

Again, you have two classes of figures (A and B) in the Bongard problem.  You are asked to discover some abstract connection that links all the various diagrams in A and that distinguishes them from all the other diagrams in group B.

SCROLL DOWN FOR ANSWER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER: The rule is the “dots” in A are on the same side of the neck.

 

Learn how to become a creative thinker. Review Michael Michalko’s books http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SBOOKS.ADS.LIST

 

DISCOVER THE IDEAS THAT ARE RIGHT BEFORE YOUR EYES

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How many “f’s” are in the following paragraph:

“The necessity of training farmhands for first class farms in the fatherly handling of farm livestock is foremost in the minds of farm owners. Since the forefathers of the farm owners trained the farmhands for first class farms in the fatherly handling of farm livestock, the farm owners feel they should carry on with the family tradition of training farmhands of first class farms in the fatherly handling of farm livestock because they believe it is the basis of good fundamental farm management. Total number of f’s is………?”  (The answer is at the end of the article.)

If you found less than the correct amount, you probably ignored the f’s in the word of. If you missed the count, you probably said, “Of course, it was right in front of my eyes the whole time”. Many times in life we see things and automatically know what we’re seeing without  any cognitive processing whatsoever. For example, who doesn’t recognize the famous coke logo? coca cola

Ordinarily we do not make the fullest use of our faculty to see.

We are aware that we move through life looking at a tremendous quantity of knowledge, objects and scenes; and yet, we look but do not see. By the way, the logo above the article reads coca-coca not coca-cola.

PAY ATTENTION. Paying attention to the world around you will help you develop the extraordinary capacity to look at mundane things and see the miraculous. Really paying attention to what you see will enable you to develop a kind of binary vision where you perceive what others see but, you will notice something different as well.

Engineers in George Westinghouse’s heyday knew more than he did about natural gas, railroads and electricity. Yet, they looked but did not see. Westinghouse paid attention. He became intrigued with the ordinary water well and took it apart. He examined the separate parts, modified some and reassembled it into a way to transmit clean natural gas thereby creating the natural gas industry.

Your mind is lying in wait for some cue or suggestion that will initiate thinking about your problem in a different way. When you use analogies between your subject and a subject in another world you produce cues and hints that will make novel combinations and connections more likely. Philo Farnsworth=s interest in farming gave him the cue that led to television. One day, while sitting on a hillside in Idaho, he observed the neat rows in a nearby farm. The neat rows inspired the idea of creating a picture on a cathode ray tube out of rows of light and dark dots. He was 14 at the time, and the next year he presented the concept at a high-school science fair, and he also demonstrated the first working model of a television set when he was 21.

Estee Lauder was an obsessed young woman desperately trying to puff out her products. She paid attention to everything going on around her searching for an answer. What could make a breakthrough? What could make the difference? Is it product, distribution, marketing? Then she hit on her “gift with purchase” strategy, which she calls the highlight of her life. From that flash of genius, she created a marketing marvel valued at nearly $2 billion. Lauder, at 81, is still paying attention by sniffing out new fragrances and new products for her company.

An idea can be found anywhere. Maybe it’s up in the hills under the leaves or hiding in a ditch somewhere. Maybe it’s never found. But what you find by paying attention, whatever you find, is always part of the missing, and that in itself will lead to something. With paying attention comes intense  interest, and after interest comes tiny truths and after tiny truths, comes passion and with passion comes a will to create.

Throughout the years mosquitoes have exhibited an odd behavior that was reported by many people from areas that were infested with this insect. Mosquitoes would somehow know when thunderstorms were being formed hours before they appeared. When mosquitoes sense a storm brewing their instinct to survive overrides their instinct to suck blood, they then stop biting and go to ground in search of lower vegetation and protection against the wind and rain.

Intrigued, Kurt Stoll, a Swiss electronic engineer went to an entomologist for an explanation of this behavior. He discovered that mosquitoes have a hair-like sensory organ known as a sensilla that detects the atmospheric electrical waves which are naturally produced by developing thunderstorms. He decided to see if he could create a mosquito repellent that would use their own genetics against them. He worked toward creating a portable device that could simulate the atmospheric waves that mosquitoes received as warning of a looming storm.

He created a wrist band that emits very weak atmospheric electrical waves that essentially convinces mosquitoes that a massive storm is coming and to immediately seek safety. The weak waves are virtually harmless to people and animals. This is a revolutionary solution to an age old problem brought about because one man paid attention to the behavior of mosquitoes.

Following is an exercise designed to help you improve your ability to pay pure attention to the world around you. This exercise was developed by Minor White who taught photography at MIT.

Select a photograph or picture that gives you pleasure. The more detailed the photo or picture the better. Get comfortable and relax. Set a timer or alarm for ten minutes. Look at the photograph or picture until the timer goes off without moving. Don’t move a muscle. Stay focused on the image. Do not allow your mind to free associate. Pay attention only to the photograph or picture in front of you. Concentrate only on the image before you. After the timer goes off, turn away from the image and recall your experience. Review the experience visually rather than with words. Accept whatever the experience is for what it is. After your review and your experience becomes kind of a flavor, go about your everyday work, trying to recall the experience whenever you can. You’ll begin to experience an intense awareness that you can find only by paying pure attention. Recall the experience frequently and recall it visually.

(The number of F’s is 37. This includes the last F in the last question at the end of the paragraph.)

For an effective brainstorming tool check out Michael Michalko’s Thinkpak.

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PROVOKE NEW IDEAS BY REVERSING YOUR PERSPECTIVE AND CONSIDERING THE OPPOSITE

 

Read the following essay from the top down.LOST GENERATION

Now reverse the way you read it and read it starting at the bottom and read up. Reading the words one way and then reversing the way you read the same words produces two contradictory viewpoints. Reversals break your existing patterns of thought and provoke new ones. You take things as they are and then turn them around, inside out, upside down, and back to front to see what happens.

In the illustration, Figure A shows two lines of equal length bounded by arrow-like angles. In Figure B, the arrow-like angles are reversed on one of the lines, which changes our perception and creates the illusion of the line being shorter. It’s not shorter, measure it and you will find it is still equal in length. The lines haven’t changed, your perception of them has.

4 lines.illus.1

In figure A the angles at the end of the lines seem to open up a potentially limited space. Reversing the angle seems to close off and limit the area, which changes your perception of the length of the lines.

A simple reversal of angles dramatically changes what we see in the illustration. The same perceptual changes occur when we reverse our conventional thinking patterns about problems and situations. When Henry Ford went into the automobile business, the conventional thinking was that you had to “bring people to the work.” He reversed this to “bring the work to the people” and accomplished this by inventing the assembly line. When Al Sloan became CEO of General Motors, the common assumption was that people had to pay for a car before they drove it. He reversed this to you can drive the car before you pay for it and, to accomplish this, he pioneered the idea of installment buying.

Years back, chemists had great difficulty putting a pleasant-tasting coating on aspirin tablets. Dipping tablets led to uneven and lumpy coats. They were stumped until they reversed their thinking. Instead of looking for ways to put something “on” the aspirin, they looked for ways to take something “off” the aspirin. This reversal led to one of the newer techniques for coating pills. The pills are immersed in a liquid which is passed onto a spinning disk. The centrifugal force on the fluid and the pills causes the two to separate, leaving a nice, even coating around the pill.

Mathematician-philosopher, Bertrand Russell, once astounded his colleagues by demonstrating that in mathematical argument, every alternative leads to its opposite. You can provoke new ideas by considering the opposite of any subject or action. When bioengineers were looking for ways to improve the tomato, they identified the gene in tomatoes that ripens tomatoes. They thought that if the gene hastens ripening  maybe they could use the gene to slow down the process by reversing it. They copied the gene, put it in backwards and now the gene slows down ripening, making vine ripened tomatoes possible in winter.

Peter Juroszek at the University of Bonn in Germany discovered the opposite of daylight farming and initiated nighttime farming. He found that strips of land ploughed at night grow five times fewer weeds. Wheat fields in particular grow so few weeds when night farming that pesticides are unnecessary. The seeds of most weeds need light for germination to begin, whereas the seeds of most crops can grow in complete darkness.

Reversal is the strategy used to develop Pringles potato chips. Potato chips were packaged dry in bags with a lot of air to prevent breakage. What would happen if you packaged chips while they were wet? This inspired them to think of raking leaves in the fall. Shoving dry leaves into bags is difficult; but when the leaves are wet they are soft and formable. A wet leaf conforms to the shape of its neighbor with little air between them. This was the analogy that inspired the idea. By wetting and forming dried potato flour, the packaging problem was solved and Pringles got its start.

CAN A BOOK BECOME A TREE?

Any particular thought will arouse the notion of its opposite by simply by reversing it. Then try to work the reversal into a practical, profitable idea. A publisher mused about the impact cutting down trees has on the environment and the future of the planet. A tree is cut down and the wood is made into paper which the publisher uses to print and sell books. He thought a tree becomes a book. He reversed this thought to “A book becomes a tree.”

IDEA: The project the publisher decided to pursue is to create storybooks that can be planted, and will grow back into trees. Hand stitched copies of children’s storybooks are made from recycled acid-free paper and biodegradable inks and the cover is embedded with native tree seeds.

The books are aimed at children aged 6-12 who, after reading, can plant the book and watch and nurture the tree as it grows. Each copy comes with planting instructions. The child is also urged to form a relationship with the tree by giving it a name. The publisher is also planning to have the book displayed in bookshops, where it can be seen visibly germinating.

In this case, the impossibility of growing books as plants revealed the interesting thought of planting books as seeds for trees. Imagine the joy of children as they realize the ecological importance of contributing to the welfare of the planet by planting a book after they have finished reading it and watch it become a tree. They will nurture the tree and watch it grow over the years of their childhood.

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Reversal is one of the many creative-thinking techniques creative geniuses, throughout history, used that enabled them to change their perspective to look at the same thing as everybody else and see something different.

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An Interview with Michael Michalko about his book: Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work

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Children are naturally creative. Why do so many lose that talent as they grow older?

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

And then something happened to us, we went to school. We were not taught how to think, we were taught to reproduce what past thinkers thought. When confronted with a problem, we were taught to analytically select the most promising approach based on past history, excluding all other approaches, and then to work logically within a carefully defined direction towards a solution. Instead of being taught to look for possibilities, we were taught to look for ways to exclude them. It’s as if we entered school as a question mark and graduated as a period.

When you have a really tough challenge and can’t see the answer, what is your favorite technique for unlocking your brain?

When I am stonewalled, I just start typing “O peaceful gloom shrouding the earth” over and over and over.  Eventually, typing this phrase over and over unlocks something in my brain and the ideas start flowing.  It’s going through the motions of writing that un-sticks my mind.

Most people presume that our attitudes affect our behavior, and this is true.  But it’s also true that our behavior determines our attitudes.  Tibetan monks say their prayers by whirling prayer wheels on which their prayers are inscribed.  The whirling wheels spin the prayers into divine space.  Sometimes, a monk will keep a dozen or so prayer wheels rotating like a juggling act in which whirling plates are balanced on top of long thin sticks.

Many novice monks are not very emotionally or spiritually involved at first.  It may be that the novice is thinking about his family, his doubts about a religious vocation or something else while he is going through the motions of spinning his prayer wheel.  When the novice adopts the pose of a monk, and makes it obvious to himself and to others by playing a role, the brain will soon follow the role they are playing.  It is not enough for the novice to have the intention of becoming a monk: the novice must act like a monk and rotate the prayer wheels.  If one has the intention of becoming a monk and goes through the motions of acting like a monk, one will become a monk.

If you want to be an artist, and if 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.

What makes a genius a genius? 

Geniuses do not get their breakthrough ideas because they are more intelligent, better educated, more experienced, or because creativity is genetically determined. University of California Professor Dean Keith Simonton  observed that creative thinking demands the ability to make novel combinations. If you examine most any idea, you will discover that the majority of ideas are created by combining two or more different elements into something different. Simonton’s conclusion about genius is “Geniuses are geniuses because they form more novel combinations than the merely talented.”

You talk about incubating thinking. What does that mean and how do we do it?

Incubation makes use of subconscious processing of information. It usually involves setting a problem aside for a few hours, days, or weeks and moving on to other projects. This allows the subconscious to continue to work on the original challenge. The more interested you are in solving the challenge, the more likely your subconscious will generate ideas.

Henri Poincare, the French genius, spoke of incredible ideas and insights that came to him with suddenness and immediate certainty out of the blue. So dramatic are the ideas that arrive that the precise moment in which the idea arrived can be remembered in unusual detail. Charles Darwin could point to the exact spot on a road where he arrived at the solution for the origin of species while riding in his carriage and not thinking about his subject. Other geniuses offer similar experiences. Like a sudden flash of lightning, ideas and solutions seemingly appear out of nowhere.

Modern science recognizes this phenomenon of incubation and insight yet cannot account for why it occurs. That this is a commonplace phenomenon was shown in a survey of distinguished scientists conducted over a half-century ago. A majority of the scientists reported that they got their best ideas and insights when not thinking about the problem.

Our conscious minds are sometimes blocked from creating new ideas because we are too fixated. When we discontinue work on the problem for a period of time, our fixation fades, allowing our subconscious minds to freely create new possibilities. This is what happened to Nobel laureate Melvin Calvin. While idly sitting in his car waiting for his wife to complete an errand, he found the answer to a puzzling inconsistency in his research on photosynthesis. It occurred just like that, quite suddenly, and suddenly in a matter of seconds the path of carbon became apparent to him.

Ideas came while walking, recreating, or working on some other unrelated problem. This suggests how the creative act came to be associated with divine inspiration—the illumination appears to be involuntary.

What do you know about creative thinking today that you wished you knew twenty years ago?

That creativity is a phenomena that results from a certain combination of relationships. This combination includes the principles of intention, belief, attitude, behavior, language, knowing how to change the way you look at things, knowing how to think in different ways and learning how to think inclusively without the prejudices of logic. We’ve been schooled to think of them all as separate and distinct entities so they can be described and explained. Despite the apparent separateness of these at this level, they are all a seamless extension of each other and ultimately blend into each other.

When you look at nature, contents aren’t contained anywhere but are revealed only by the dynamics. What matters to nature are the ways relationships interact, the way they cooperate and combine to form coherent patterns. In nature form and content are inextricably connected and can’t be separated. The healthy pattern of trees bending in concert creates harmony and beauty, whereas, an unhealthy pattern is destructive and ugly. With the trees, it is the combination of relationships between the wind, rain, roots and soil that forms the healthy or unhealthy relationships. With people, it is a common body of human behaviors and generalized principles from which patterns blend together to create the person.

Like nature, the contents of creative genius aren’t contained anywhere but also are revealed by the dynamics. When you look at the behaviors of creative geniuses throughout the history of the world, you will find that, like the patterns of nature, the form and contents of their behaviors are inextricably connected and can’t be separated. Creators have the intention to create, and act and speak in a positive and joyful manner. Creators look at what is and what can be instead of what is not. Instead of excluding possibilities, creators consider all possibilities, both real and imagined. Creators interpret experiences for themselves and disregard the interpretations of past thinkers. Creators learn how to look at things in different ways and use different ways of thinking. And most importantly, creators are creative because they believe they are creative and have the intention to create

Describe strategies you apply in your daily life to make it more creative.

THOUGHT WALKS.  I like to take walks around my home or workplace and the surrounding grounds. I look for objects, situations or events that you I can compare with whatever project II happen to be working on. For example, suppose your problem is how to improve communications in your company. You take a walk and notice potholes in the road. How are “potholes” like your corporate communication problem? For one thing, if potholes are not repaired, they get bigger and more dangerous. Usually road crews are assigned to repair the potholes. Similarly, unless something is done to improve corporate communications, it’s likely to deteriorate even further. An idea with a similar relation to “road crews” is to assign someone in the organization to fill the role of “communications coach.” The role would entail educating, encouraging, and supporting communication skills in all employees. And just as road crews are rotated, you can rotate the assignment every six months.

I also deliberately program changes into my daily life. I make a list of things I do by habit (little things that make life comfortable but also make it unnecessary to think. Then I take the habits, one by one, and consciously change them for a day or so. Examples are:

  • Take a different route to work.
    •    Watch a different news channel.
    •    Read a different newspaper. Read foreign newspapers.
    •    Listen to a different radio station. Listen to the BBC.
    •    Change recreations. Instead of golf, try boating.
    •    Spend a full day away from all communication technology (telephone, cell, computer, radio, television, and so on).
    •    Play word games. Take a short word and expand it into several sentences using each letter of the word as the first word of each letter of each sentence. Example: The word is “Damn.” Some sentences are “Do airplanes make noise?” “Dottie ate many nuts.”
    •    Another word game I play is to describe what I’m thinking or feeling in exactly six words. Examples:
    o    “Boy if I had another year.”
    o    “Never should have bought this computer.”
    o    ”I can still create novel ideas.”
    •    Change your reading habits. Instead of nonfiction. Read fiction. Tabloids, comics, poetry,
    the bible, Koran, scientology tracts.

    When choosing from an array of creative-thinking techniques, how does one know which technique is appropriate for a certain type of problem?

    All art is a reaction to the first line drawn. No art is created until the artist draws the first line. It is same with creative thinking. Nothing happens until you start thinking. Rather than waiting until you feel in the mood or you feel comfortable with a particular technique, just start working. You may end up using one technique or a combination of several or even a technique you make up. The key is that the techniques will get you thinking fluently and flexibly which will change the way you look at the problem.

    You recommend that we relentlessly keep notes about our ideas, observations, and creative attempts. And that we record information about all the ideas, concepts and problems we are working on. How does one establish the discipline of systematically keeping notes like creative geniuses, such as Edison? What is your secret to consistently doing it?

    The secret is that it is no secret. Make it a habit to keep the written record of your creativity attempts in a notebook, on file cards or in your computer. A record not only guarantees that the thoughts and ideas will last, since they are committed to paper or computer files, but will inspire you into other thoughts and ideas.

    The simple act of recording his ideas enabled Leonardo da Vinci to dwell on his ideas and improve them over time by elaborating on them. Thus, Leonardo was able to take simple concepts and work them into incredibly complex inventions that were years ahead of their time, such as the helicopter, the bicycle, and the diving suit.

    Following Leonardo’s example, Edison relentlessly recorded and illustrated every step of his voyage to discovery in his 3,500 notebooks that were discovered after his death in 1931. His notebooks got him into habits. They enabled him to cross-fertilize ideas, techniques, and conceptual models by transferring them from one problem to the next.

    •    For example, when it became clear in 1900 that an iron-ore mining venture in which Edison was financially committed was failing and on the brink of bankruptcy, he spent a weekend poring over his notebooks and came up with a detailed plan to redirect the company’s efforts toward the manufacture of Portland cement, which could capitalize on the same model of the iron ore company.

    Whenever he succeeded with a new idea, Edison would review his notebooks to rethink ideas and inventions he’d abandoned in the past in the light of what he’d recently learned. If he was mentally blocked working on a new idea, he would review his notebooks to see if there was some thought or insight that could trigger a new approach.

    •    For example, Edison took his unsuccessful work to develop an undersea telegraph cable variable resistance and incorporated it into the design of a telephone transmitter that adapted to the changing sound waves of the caller’s voice. This technique instantly became the industry standard.

    Edison would often jot down his observations of the natural world, failed patents and research papers written by other inventors, and ideas others had come up with in other fields. He would also routinely comb a wide variety of diverse publications for novel ideas that sparked his interest and record them in his notebooks. He made it a habit to keep a lookout for novel and interesting ideas that others have used successfully on other problems in other fields. To Edison, your idea needs to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you’re working on.

    Edison also studied his notebooks of past inventions and ideas to use as springboards for other inventions and ideas in their own right. To Edison, his diagrams and notes on the telephone (sounds transmitted) suggested the phonograph (sounds recorded), which notes and diagrams, in turn, suggested motion pictures (images recorded).

    Simple, in retrospect, isn’t it? Genius usually is.

THINKERING.KUDOS.abrev.

MICHAEL MICHALKO is the author of  the best-seller Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), which the Wall Street Journal reported “will change the way you think.” He is also the author of Cracking Creativity (The Secrets of Creative Geniuses) which describes the common thinking strategies creative geniuses have used in the  sciences, art, and industry throughout history and shows how we can apply them to become more creative in our business and personal lives. In addition, he created Thinkpak (A Brainstorming Card Set), which is a novel creative-thinking tool that is designed to facilitate brainstorming sessions. Michael’s most recent book Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work focuses on how creative geniuses combine and conceptually blend dissimilar subjects create original thoughts and ideas. http://www.creativethinking.net

 

 

WHAT A MOTH TAUGHT ME ABOUT LIFE

EMPEROR MOTH

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. One day 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 body 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 that what makes us significant or insignificant. No matter how indifferent the universe may be to our choices and decisions, these choices and decisions are ours to make. We decide. We choose. Regardless of the circumstances it is the individual who chooses the life they live.

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

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

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

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

………………………………………………………………………..

MICHAEL MICHALKO is the author of  the best-seller Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), which the Wall Street Journal reported “will change the way you think.” He is also the author of Cracking Creativity (The Secrets of Creative Geniuses) which describes the common thinking strategies creative geniuses have used in the  sciences, art, and industry throughout history and shows how we can apply them to become more creative in our business and personal lives. In addition, he created Thinkpak (A Brainstorming Card Set), which is a novel creative-thinking tool that is designed to facilitate brainstorming sessions. Michael’s most recent book Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work focuses on how creative geniuses combine and conceptually blend dissimilar subjects create original thoughts and ideas. http://www.creativethinking.net

THINKERTOYS.FREY

HOW YOUR MIND ACTUALLY WORKS

CREATE.PHONE

At this very moment, you are actually moving your eyes over a white page dotted with black marks. Your mind recognizes and transforms the marks into patterns which we call words and sentences. Our minds created the patterns when we first learned to talk and read. Now we no longer see the words as patterns of black marks and lose ourselves in what we are reading.

The patterns are so hard wired in our brains that we no longer can imagine the black marks being anything else but letters, words, and sentences. Look at above title and try not to see the words and letters, but only black shapes on white paper; that is, try to see the original input that you had when you were a two-year-old. You’ll find that it’s impossible because of the word patterns stored in your brain.

The dominant factor in the way our minds work is the buildup of patterns that enable us to simplify the assimilation of complex data. We look at 7 x 7 and 49 appears automatically without conscious thought. We have no memory of how we calculated the answer.

In another example that demonstrates the effectiveness of thinking patterns, add one letter at the beginning of the following letters to make a word…..(any). What is the word? Now add one letter before the next set of letters to make a word..…(eny).

Most think of the word “many” quickly for the first set. However, some people have difficulty thinking of the word deny for the second set. The sound of the first word creates a temporary mini-pattern. As a result, you search your memory for other words with similar sounds when you are trying to think of the second word. But the problem can’t be solved unless you break this pattern and shift your thinking. And this is only one word.

Can you understand the following  sentence:

“This sentence no verb.”

You can easily understand it despite the missing verb “has.” Again your sentence pattern recognizes what’s missing and automatically fills in the blank. Habitual pattern recognition provides us with instant interpretations and enables us to react quickly to our environment.

Below are two sentences:

  • Round squares steal honestly.
  • Honestly steal squares round.

Both sentences use the same words. Yet we know the first one is nonsense immediately because it fits a well established word sentence pattern (adjective…noun…verb…adverb). We know immediately that squares are not round, cannot steal and it’s not possible to steal honestly. The second one is strange and makes us hesitate and think before we dismiss it. This is because the second one does not fit any word sentence pattern in our brain and we actually have to think.

Consider what happens when you read these words:

  • Thief…………careless……….prison

Just three words activate a thinking pattern in your brain that relates a story about a thief who is careless, gets caught and ends up in prison.

It is known today that grouping and categorization are among the most primitive psychological processes. Thought is a process of fitting new situations into existing slots and pigeonholes in the mind. Just as you cannot put a physical thing into more than one physical pigeonhole at once, so, by analogy, the processes of thought prevent you from putting a mental thought  into more than one mental category at once. Consequently a structure like, thief, careless, prison will be persistently conceived as a careless thief who ends up in prison. You will note that the mind does not offer alternative explanations such as “A thief who is not careless will not go to prison,” or “A thief will learn not to be careless in prison.” The mind will not automatically consider alternatives because the mind cannot tolerate ambiguity.

Think of your mind as a block of ice which is frozen and polished so that it’s surface is perfectly flat. When information enters the mind, it self-organizes. It is like pouring warm water on the block of ice with a teaspoon. Imagine the warm water being poured on the ice and then gently tip the block of ice so that it runs off. After many repetitions of this process, the surface of the ice would be full of ruts, indentations, and grooves.

Soon you’ll observe that new water will automatically flow into the preformed grooves. This is how information self organizes as it enters the brain. After a while, it will take only a little water to active an entire channel. This is the pattern recognition and pattern completion process of the brain. Even if much of the information is out of the channel, as is the case about the careless thief, the entire pattern will be activated.

Following are three thought experiments that demonstrate how our thinking patterns can direct our thoughts. Please try and answer all three before you go to the answers which are at the end of the article.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS

Don’t scroll down too fast, do it slowly and follow the instructions below exactly, do the math in your head as fast as you can. It may help to say the answers aloud quietly.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT #1 FOLLOW these instructions one at a time and as QUICKLY as you can!

What is:

2+2?

4+4?

8+8?

16+16?

Quick! Pick a number between 12 and 5.

Got it? Write it down. Complete the next two experiments before you check your answer.

 

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT #2: Just follow these instructions, and answer the questions one at a time and as quickly as you can! Don’t advance until you’ve done each of them. Now, scroll down, but not too fast, you might miss something………

What is:

1+5

2+4

3+3

4+2

5+1

Now repeat saying the number 6 to yourself as fast as you can for 10 seconds. Then scroll down.

 

 

 

 

 

QUICK!!! THINK OF A VEGETABLE!

Check your answer when you’ve finished all three.

 

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT #3 Once more follow these instructions, and answer the questions one at a time and as quickly as you can!  Again, do this as quickly as you can but don’t advance until you’ve done each of them.

* Now, scroll down (but not too fast, you might miss something).

Think of a number from 1 to 10

Multiply that number by 9

If the number is a 2-digit number, add the digits together

Now subtract 5

Determine which letter in the alphabet corresponds to the number you ended up with (example: 1=a, 2=b, 3=c, etc.).

 

 

SCROLL DOWN

 

 

 

Think of a country that starts with that letter

SCROLL DOWN

Remember the last letter of the name of that country

SCROLL DOWN

Think of the name of an animal that starts with that letter

SCROLL DOWN

Remember the last letter in the name of that animal

SCROLL DOWN

Think of the name of a fruit that starts with that letter

Check your answer below.

 

 

 

ANSWERS TO THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS:

EXPERIMENT #1….Answer is 7

EXPERIMENT #2….Answer is “carrot.”

EXPERIMENT #3….Answer “Are you thinking of a Kangaroo in Denmark eating an orange?”

****************************************************************

MICHAEL MICHALKO is the author of  the best-seller Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), which the Wall Street Journal reported “will change the way you think.” He is also the author of Cracking Creativity (The Secrets of Creative Geniuses) which describes the common thinking strategies creative geniuses have used in the  sciences, art, and industry throughout history and shows how we can apply them to become more creative in our business and personal lives. In addition, he created Thinkpak (A Brainstorming Card Set), which is a novel creative-thinking tool that is designed to facilitate brainstorming sessions. Michael’s most recent book Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work focuses on how creative geniuses combine dissimilar subjects create original thoughts and ideas. http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs

 

 

CREATIVITY IS A VERB; NOT A NOUN

ZEBRA

Think about a swimming pool with a lot of people jumping in and out forming a great choppiness of all these waves all over the surface. Now to think that it’s possible, maybe, that in those waves there’s a clue as to what’s happening in the pool: that an insect of sufficient cleverness could sit in the corner of the pool, and just by being disturbed by the waves and the nature of the irregularities, the insect could figure out who jumped in where, why, how and when, and what’s happening all over the pool.

Imagine Einstein shuffling by in his swimming suit and laughing at the belly whopper Mozart just made diving into the pool. Nikola Tesla sitting by the side of the pool petting a pigeon while smiling at Bill Gates who is dog paddling across the pool. Leonardo da Vinci, Beethoven, Isaac Newton and David Bohm playing water polo. Pablo Picasso sitting by a table sipping a Coors light beer while sketching the scene. Aristotle and Thomas Edison wading in the shallow end engrossed in some argument. Ghandi reclining under an umbrella eyeballing Martha Graham as she strolls by. Michelangelo gracefully breast stroking past Sigmund Freud who is floating on an air cushion smoking a cigar. Socrates slapping Soren Kierkegaard with a wet towel than running away laughing. Plato, Bertrand Russell, Edith Wharton and Louis Pasteur playing shuffleboard. James Watson, Diogenes, Stravinsky and Jonas Salk sitting at the Tiki bar drinking draft beer and watching girl’s beach volleyball on television.

It seems incredible, but I feel like that insect as I look at creative thinking and the lives of creative geniuses throughout history. The waves, both large and small are going in all directions, each disturbance in the water is unique yet, at the same time, all are the same. The movement of the water in the pool is a fluid process that reminds me of the fluid movement of creative thinking as a kind of artistic process that yields ever-changing form and content. Yet many of us speak of “creativity” as a noun, as if it is some kind of physical property that you either own or not.

We hear scholars define creativity with reverent words like “bisociation,” “janusian,” “dialectical,” “synectics,” “morphological analysis,” “Triz,” “Ariz,” “Genoplore model,” “CPS” model, “cognitive integration theory,” “associative theory,” and so on and on,” whose academic tones suggest that they refer to clear and definite ideas. It’s as if they think that if they change the names of things, the things themselves will have changed from a complex process to a thing.

In fact, what the various theories best illustrate is our almost universal tendency to fragment subjects into separate parts and ignore the dynamic interconnectedness of its parts. Think of these different theories as “waves” in the pool of creativity. Scholars who believe their theory is the key try to understand what creates waves by studying one just wave and ignoring the rest. They ignore the dynamic interconnectedness of all the theories, just as the insect ignores the interconnectedness of the waves. The ongoing fragmentation of creativity and resulting chaos are not reflections of the real world of creative thinking but the artifacts of scholarship. Scholars have co-opted the subject of “creativity” as their own, to be expressed in their own language and in their own framework of formal thought. The result is confusion and paradox which places a limit on understanding what creative thinking is in terms of ordinary thought and language.

Suppose I go into the woods and see a bird. I know the bird is a brown-throated thrush, but in Germany it’s called a halsenflugel, and in China it’s called a chung ling and even if I know all the different names in different languages for it, I still know nothing about the bird. I only know something about people and what they call the bird. Now that the thrush sings, teaches its young how to fly, and flies many miles away during the summer and somehow always finds its way back and nobody knows how it does so and so forth. There is a difference between knowing the name of something and understanding something.

It is the same with creative thinking. We go to school and learn about Albert Einstein and his theories about the universe and we say he was creative. We are not taught how he thought. We’re taught he was simply more intelligent than other scientists. We’re taught nothing about his mental process of “combinatory play” of visual images or the irrationality of his way of speculative thinking about “damn fool ideas,” or the many dead ends and failures he experienced. We’re presented with his idea as a product of superior intellect and knowledge. Analogically, as if we are taught how to measure daily rainfall by the rise of water in a pail without ever realizing that the rain arrives in individual drops.

When I say something like “The cat is chasing the mouse,” we think of two distinct entities, a cat and a mouse linked together by a verb. The cat and mouse are the primary objects of our thinking. Theoretical physicists and artists, on the other hand, see “the chasing” as primary and the cat and mouse being secondary to the experience of the process of chasing.

John is falling from the roof to the pavement. Here we tend to concentrate on John and the “splat” he will make when he hits. When Albert Einstein had a thought of a man falling, he concentrated on the process of “falling.” Almost immediately, Einstein realized that as the man fell he would not feel his own weight. This essence of this insight meant free falls are equivalent in both gravitational fields and gravity free regions. This observation became the foundation of the general theory of relativity.

The Einsteins, Shakespeares, and Picassos of the world understand that all things in the universe are processes, transformations, and symmetries, that nothing is static and nothing lasts forever. Even this page is slowly dissolving into dust as you look at it. Still, scholars write of creativity as if it were a stand-alone static object. When I say something like “biosociation” generates many alternatives,” we, again think of two distinct entities, biosociation and alternatives as primary with “generates” as secondary. Yet “biosociation” is simply empty definition and tautology; whereas the verb “generates” is the dynamic process that creates ideas. Creativity is not a thing, it is a process.

Few of us understand that creativity is not a noun. It is a verb. Verbs are thinking, creating, sculpting, painting, making, dancing, singing, acting, searching, seizing, preparing, growing, reaping, seeing, knowing. Now when you take a verb that is alive and vibrant and turn it into a dead noun or principle that reeks of rules: something living dies.

To continue further, think of the sentence “The mouse is confined in a box.” A box is made by nailing six boards together. But it’s obvious that no box can hold a mouse unless it has “containment.” If you study each board, you will discover that no single board contains any containment, since the mouse can just walk away from it. And if there is no containment in one board, there can’t be any in six boards. So the box can have no containment at all. Theoretically then, the mouse should be able to escape.

What, then, keeps the mouse confined? Of course, it is the way a box prevents motion in all directions, because each board bars escape in a certain direction. The left side keeps the mouse from going left; the right from going right, the top keeps it from leaping out, and so on. The secret of a box is simply in how the boards are arranged to prevent motion in all directions! That’s what “containing: means. So it’s silly to expect any separate board by itself to contain any containment, even though each contributes to the containing. It is like the cards of a straight flush in poker: only the full hand has any value at all.

The reason box seems non-mysterious is that we understand perfectly that no single board can contain by itself. Everyone understands how the boards of a well made box interact to prevent motion in any direction. The same applies to the word “creativity.” It is foolish to use this word for describing the smallest components of a process because this word was invented to describe how larger assemblies interact. Like “containment,” the word “creativity” is used for describing phenomena that result from certain combinations of relationships. This is the difference between knowing the name of something and understanding something.

But how much more difficult it is to think of creativity as a phenomena that results from a certain combination of relationships. This combination includes the principles of intention, belief, attitude, behavior, language, , knowing how to change the way you look at things, knowing how to think in different ways and learning how to think inclusively without the prejudices of logic. We’ve been schooled to think of them all as separate and distinct entities so they can be described and explained. Despite the apparent separateness of these at this level, they are all a seamless extension of each other and ultimately blend into each other.

When you look at nature, contents aren’t contained anywhere but are revealed only by the dynamics. What matters to nature are the ways relationships interact, the way they cooperate and combine to form coherent patterns. In nature form and content are inextricably connected and can’t be separated. The healthy pattern of trees bending in concert creates harmony and beauty, whereas, an unhealthy pattern is destructive and ugly. With the trees, it is the combination of relationships between the wind, rain, roots and soil that forms the healthy or unhealthy relationships. With people, it is a common body of human behaviors and generalized principles from which patterns blend together to create the person.

Like nature, the contents of creative genius aren’t contained anywhere but also are revealed by the dynamics. When you look at the behaviors of creative geniuses such as Leonardo daVinci, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso and so on throughout the history of the world, you will find that, like the patterns of nature, the form and contents of their behaviors are inextricably connected and can’t be separated. Creators have the intention to create, and act and speak in a positive and joyful manner. Creators look at what is and what can be instead of what is not. Instead of excluding possibilities, creators consider all possibilities, both real and imagined. Creators interpret the world for themselves and disregard the interpretations of past thinkers. Creators learn how to look at things in different ways and use different ways of thinking. And most importantly, creators are creative because they believe they are creative and have the intention to create.

Can you imagine a Vincent Van Gogh bemoaning his failure to sell his paintings as evidence of his lack of talent, a Thomas Edison giving up on his idea for a light bulb when he had difficulty finding the right material for the filament, a Leonardo daVinci who is too embarrassed to attempt much of anything because of his lack of a university degree, a Charles Darwin believing the experts who called him a fool and his theory “a fool’s experiment,” an Albert Einstein who is fearful of looking stupid for presenting theories to theoretical physicists about the universe as a lowly patent clerk with no academic credentials, a Michelangelo refusing to paint the ceiling of the Sistine chapel because he had never painted fresco and feared failure and ridicule, a weeping and wailing Mozart blaming an unfair world for his poverty, a Walt Disney giving up his ambitions after being fired from his first job by a newspaper editor because he lacked imagination, a Henry Ford giving up his dreams after the experts explained that he didn’t have the capital to compete in the automobile industry, a Bill Gates taking an some ordinary job after dropping out of Harvard, a Michael Faraday defeated in his work with electricity because of a lack of knowledge of higher mathematics and going back to his regular job of being an errand boy, or a depressed Picasso shuffling down the street with his head down looking at the ground, humiliated at the way art experts labeled his first attempts with cubism as laughable cartoons, hoping no one notices him?

Use what talents you have.
The woods would be silent
if no bird sang
except those that sang best.

 

***************************************************************************

Michael Michalko is one of the most highly-acclaimed creativity experts in the world 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.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Thinkertoys-Handbook-Creative-Thinking-Techniques-2nd/dp/1580087736/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487185063&sr=8-1&keywords=thinkertoys

 THINKERTOYS.FREY