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)


Here is an easy exercise that must be done in your head only. Please do the exercise before you read the article below. Do not use paper and pencil or a calculator. Try to add up the following numbers as quickly as you can. Take 1000 and add 40 to it. Now add another 1000. Now add 30. Add another1000. Now add 20. Now add another 1000. Now add 10. What is the total?







Our confidence in our ability to add according to the way we were taught in base ten encourages us to process the information this way and jump to a conclusion. If your total is 5,000, then you are wrong. 96% of people who add these simple numbers get the wrong answer. The numbers are arranged in such a way to set people up to get the wrong answer when adding using base ten. Don’t believe me. Use a calculator.

Human nature is such that when we assume we know how to do something, we perform the act without much thought about the assumptions we make. History is replete with thousands of examples of what happens when people don’t challenge assumptions.

In 1968, the Swiss dominated the watch industry. Enterprising Swiss inventors invented the electronic watch movement at their research institute in Neuchatel, Switzerland. It was rejected by every Swiss watch manufacturer. Based on their past experiences in the industry, they assumed this couldn’t possibly be a watch, because it had no gears or springs. Seiko took one look at this invention and took over the world watch market.

When Univac invented the computer, they refused to talk to business people who inquired about it, because the computer was invented for scientists they assumed it had no business applications. Then along came IBM and dominated the market. IBM, itself, once said that according to their past experiences in the computer market, they assumed that there was virtually no market for the personal computer. In fact, they said they were absolutely certain there were no more than five or six people in the entire world who had need for a personal computer. And along came Apple.

When Fred Smith started Federal Express, virtually every delivery expert in the U.S., doomed his enterprise to failure. Based on their experiences in the industry, no one, they assumed, would pay a fancy price for speed and reliability.

Chester Carlson invented xerography in 1938. Virtually every major corporation, including IBM and Kodak, scoffed at his idea and turned him down. They assumed that since carbon paper was cheap and plentiful, who in their right mind would buy an expensive copier. A group of people created a small company funded by open-minded investors that eventually became Xerox. The investors all became multi-millionaires. When was the last time you saw carbon paper?

Once we think we know how something should be done, we keep doing it, then we teach others to do it the same way, and they in turn teach others until eventually you reach a point where no one remembers why something is done a certain way but we keep doing it anyway.

At a seminar, a participant told me a humorous story of where this kind of acceptance of assumptions can lead.  A quality management consultant was hired by a small English manufacturing company to advise them on improving general operating efficiency. The company produced a report which dealt with various aspects of productivity. At the top-right corner of one form, there was a small box. The consultant noted that the figure ‘0’ had been written in every such report for the past year. On questioning the members of the staff who completed the report, they told him that they always put a zero in that box, and when he asked them why they told him they were told do so by their supervisor. The supervisor told him he guessed it had to do with accidents but wasn’t sure. It had always been “0” for the twenty-five years he had been there, so he continued the practice. It, too, was something he was told to do by his former supervisor.

The consultant could find no one in the company who could tell him what the box represented. Intrigued, he went to the warehouse where the company kept its archives to see what he could discover about the form. The company was founded in 1937 and the records were preserved all the way back to 1940. He found the old reports, he saw that the zero return had continued uninterrupted for as far back as the records extended. Eventually, he found the box that catalogued all the originals of the forms the company had used during its history dating back to 1940. In it, he found the original report which was created in 1941, in pristine condition. In the top right corner was the mysterious box, with the heading clearly shown …… ‘Number of Air Raids Today.’  Over time, the heading disappeared but the box remained.

We automatically accept what we are taught and exclude all other lines of thought. The same thing happens when we see something odd or unusual in our experiences. We tend to accept whatever explanation someone with experience tells us. This kind of thinking reminds me of herring gulls. Herring gulls have a drive to remove all red objects from their nest. They also have a drive to retrieve any egg that rolls away from the nest. If you place a red egg in the nest, when the gull returns she will push it out, then roll it back in, then push it out again, only to retrieve it once more.


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




monkey politician

You start with a cage containing four monkeys, and inside the cage you hang a banana on a string, and then you place a set of stairs under the banana.

Before long a monkey will go to the stairs and climb toward the banana.

You then spray ALL the monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt. As soon as he touches the stairs, you spray ALL the monkeys with cold water.

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new monkey. The new monkey sees the banana and attempts to climb the stairs. To his shock, ALL of the other monkeys beat the crap out of him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original four monkeys, replacing it with a new monkey. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment – with enthusiasm – because he is now part of the ‘team’.

Then, replace a third original monkey with a new monkey, followed by the fourth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.

Now, the monkeys that are beating him up have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs. Neither do they know why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. Having replaced all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeyw will have ever been sprayed with cold water.

Nevertheless, not one of the monkeys will try to climb the stairway for the Banana.

Why, you ask? Because in their minds, that is the way it has always been!

This is how today’s House and Senate operates, and this is why from time to time, ALL of the monkeys need to be REPLACED AT THE SAME TIME!


Michael Michalko www.creativethinking.net



To Be or Not to Be…Creative

Reported by CEO READ

While readying The 100 Best Business Books for All Time for it’s updated paperback release, we spent some extra time with the books we featured in our Takeaway chapter of the book, expanding the reviews to include more detail. It was especially fun for us to visit Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko because of it’s applicability. Just as the subtitle–A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques–says, Thinkertoys can help those aforementioned folks who aren’t the creative type learn how to be creative. That’s the important word here: learn. No, not everyone is creative. But creativity, according to Michalko, can be self-taught, cultivated, discovered. You can choose to BE creative.

And Michalko knows a thing or two about getting creativity-resistant organizations to change. As an officer in the United States Army, Michael organized a team of NATO intelligence specialists and international academics in Frankfurt, Germany, to research, collect, and categorize all known inventive-thinking methods. His international team applied those methods to various NATO military, political, and social problems and in doing so it produced a variety of breakthrough ideas and creative solutions to new and old problems. After leaving the military, Michael facilitated CIA think tanks using his creative thinking techniques.

His work is best appreciated in book form, where you can scribble in the margins, and bend the pages, and carry it over to your coworker’s cubicle to test them on one of his thought experiments. Yes, make sure you have a pen when you are open up one of Michalko’s books, you’ll need it to write down the ideas you will start getting.

The material he presents throughout the book is entertaining but also so very do-able. Through the exercises and insights in his books, Michalko provides the material to train even the most creatively-blind how to open his or her eyes to their own and others’ creative ideas.


Michael Michalko 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





Think of how Albert Einstein changed our understanding of time and space by fantasizing about 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 fantasized about 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. A caricature of special relativity (the relativistic idea that people in motion appear to age more slowly) is based on his fantasy of a world in which all the houses and offices are on wheels, constantly zooming around the streets (with advance collision-avoidance systems).

Einstein summarized the value of using your imagination to fantasize best when he said “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.”

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: Try to solve the following thought experiment before you read the paragraph that follows it. The thought experiment is attributed to the German Gestalt psychologist Karl Dunker.

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.

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 a fantasy 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.

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.  

Einstein described his favorite creative thinking technique as “combinatory play” in a 1945 letter to his friend Jacque Hadamard as the essential feature in the way he thought. Our brains are conditioned to associate similar subjects but have great difficulty are forcing connections between two dissimilar and unrelated subjects or images that seem to have no associations. Our educated and practiced ability to associate similar concepts limits our ability to be creative (apples and oranges are fruit). We form ‘associative walls’ that makes us very efficient at finding common associations  but it discourages us from looking for connections between dissimilar subjects.

Overcoming these associative habits is probably one of the most important skills when it comes to creative and innovative thought. It is no coincidence that the most creative and innovative people through history are experts at forcing new connections between dissimilar subjects through combinatory play. I’ve traced the technique back to Leonardo da Vinci who wrote in his notebooks “It is not possible to think simultaneously of two subjects, no matter how dissimilar, without connections being formed.


Following is an example of how I used the technique with a publisher who was looking for more innovative ways to publish books.

The question I asked him to think about was “What is impossible to do in your industry, but if it were possible would change the nature of your business forever?”

The publisher kept a dream diary. He told me that when he had an interesting problem, he would write “key” words in a notebook by his bed before he went to sleep. When he awoke, the first thing he would do was to try to recall his dreams and record everything he could remember. Then he told me about a dream he had in the past that fascinated him.

He dreamed he was planting seeds in a large field. He nurtured the plants as they grew.  Each plant grew into a large cabbagelike head. When the plant ripened, the leaves unfolded revealing a book. Each plant produced a book. Excitedly, he raced from row to row opening each book. They were all different. Some were fiction, others were nonfiction, children’s books, coffee table books, dictionaries, biographies. He flipped through the books laughing and laughing. That was the answer to my question he said. It is impossible to grow books.

He and I discussed the meaning of the dream about growing books. We realized the impossibility of growing books but listed all the connections we could think of between growing plants and publishing books. One connection was that trees are planted and harvested for the manufacture of paper and paper is used to publish books.

Why not publish books that become trees? This would be a way to educate and inspire young readers about the need for ecologically responsible behavior. The idea the publisher decided to pursue is to publish storybooks for children about trees. The book can then be planted (planting instructions are included) and will grow back into a tree. The books will be handstitched, made from recycled acid-free paper and biodegradable inks and the cover is embedded with poplar tree seeds. Each copy comes with planting instructions. Readers are encouraged to plant and name their tree and to care for it as it grows. The marketing department plans to have the book displayed in bookshops, where it can be seen germinating by customers.


In another example, Toyota engineers believed that the manufacture of an automobile that is a live, breathing creature is impossible. The attributes of living creatures are, for example, breathing, growing older, reproducing, feeling emotions, and so on. They brainstormed for possible connections between attributes of living creatures and autos.

The Japanese engineers for Toyota decided to develop a car that they say can express 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 combinatory play between unrelated subjects makes it possible to create ideas you cannot get using your usual way of thinking.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………Michael Michalko is a renowned creativity expert whose books describe creative thinking techniques used by creative geniuses throughout history to get their breakthrough ideas. 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. vwww.creativethinking.net





Imagine, for a moment, that thought is water. When you are born, your mind is like a glass of water. Your thinking is inclusive, clear, and fluid. All thoughts intermingle and combine with each other and make all kinds of connections and associations. This is why children are spontaneously creative.

In school you are taught to define, label, and segregate what you learn into separate categories. The various categories are kept separate and not allowed to touch each other, much like ice cubes in a tray. Once something is learned and categorized, your thoughts about it become frozen. For example, once you learn what a can opener is, whenever someone mentions “can opener” you know exactly what it is.

You are taught, when confronted with a problem, to examine the ice cube tray and select the appropriate cube. Then you take the cube and put it in a glass, where your thinking heats and melts it. For example, if the problem is to “improve the can opener,” the glass will contain all you have learned about can openers, and nothing more. You are thinking exclusively, which is to say you are thinking only about what you have learned about the can opener. No matter how many times the water is stirred, you end up creating, at best, a marginal improvement.

Now if you take another cube (for example, vegetables) and put it in the same glass with the can-opener cube, your thinking will heat and melt both together into one fluid. Now when you stir the water, more associations and connections are made and the creative possibilities become immensely greater. The vegetable cube, once blended with the can-opener cube, might inspire you to think of how vegetables open in nature. For example, when pea pods ripen, a seam weakens and opens, freeing the peas. This might inspire you to come up with novel ideas. You could, for example, manufacture cans with a weak seam that can be pulled to open the can. You cannot get this kind of novel idea using your conventional way of thinking.

What happens when you think simultaneously, in the same mental space, about a showerhead and a telescope orbiting the earth? When the Hubble telescope was first launched into space, scientists were unable to focus it. It could be salvaged only by refocusing it using small, coin-shaped mirrors. The problem was how to deliver the mirrors and insert them precisely into the right location. The right location was in a light bundle behind the main mirror. The NASA experts who worked on the problem were not able to solve it, and the multi¬million dollar Hubble seemed doomed.

Electrical engineer James Crocker was attending a seminar in Germany when he found out about the problem. He worked on it all day. Tired, he stepped into the shower in his hotel room. The European-style shower included a showerhead on an arrangement of adjustable rods. While manipulating the showerhead, Crocker suddenly realized that similar articulated arms bearing coin-shaped mirrors could be extended into the light bundle from within a replacement axial instrument by remote control. Mentally blending the Hubble telescope and the showerhead created this remarkable solution.

Crocker was startled by his sudden realization of the solution that was immensely comprehensive and at the same time immensely detailed. As Crocker later said, “I could see the Hubble’s mirrors on the shower head.” The NASA experts could not solve the problem using their conventional linear way of thinking. Crocker solved it by thinking unconventionally — by forcing connections between two remotely different subjects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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








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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

blind bat

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Washington’s Rules:

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

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


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