Connecting the unconnected


When I decided to publish my first book, Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques), the conventional wisdom was that you needed an agent to represent the work, as no major publisher will review unsolicited manuscripts. The problem was that no agent would represent an unpublished author. It’s the catch-22 in publishing.

I decided to see if I could come up with a creative way to get my manuscript reviewed without an agent. One day, while attending a funeral mass for a cousin, I contemplated the meaning of death. What is death? One thought I had was that the essence of death was “leaving” one’s loved ones and friends behind. I know that the human mind cannot think of two dissimilar subjects for any length of time without a connection being formed. So I then tried to force connections between the principle of “leaving” and my problem of getting publishers to look at my work without an agent.

Then the idea hit me. I went to the library and got a copy of Publisher’s Weekly, the industry’s journal. The journal had information about who was “leaving” one company and going to another. For example, “Mary Jones, editor at HarperCollins, has left and moved to Bantam to become Editor-in-Chief.” I would then write Mary Jones’s former boss at HarperCollins a letter stating: “Dear So and So: The manuscript that Mary Jones was so excited about is finally finished. However, I’ve been told that Mary is no longer at your company. Could you please tell me where she is, so that I can get my manuscript to her?”

Needless to say, human nature being what it is, Mary’s former boss called and demanded that I send the manuscript to them because Mary had worked for them. I did this with ten publishers and all ten solicited the manuscript. In the end, I received offers from seven companies. The point is that by introducing something “random” into my thinking, I disturbed my conventional thinking patterns and came up with an unconventional approach.In nature, a genetic mutation is a variation that is created by a random or chance event which ignores the conventional wisdom  contained in parental chromosomes. Nature then lets the process of natural selection decide which variations survive and thrive. An analogous process operates within geniuses. Creative geniuses produce a rich variety of original ideas and solutions because in addition to their conventional way of thinking, they will look for different ways to think about problems. They deliberately change the way they think by provoking different thinking patterns which incorporate random, chance and unrelated factors into their thinking process. These different thinking patterns enable them to look at the same information as everyone else and see something different.

Michael Michalko

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