inclusive thinking.2Suppose 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.

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 the way the boards are combined that creates a relationship that prevents motion in all directions. The secret of a box is simply in a certain combination of relationships. 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.

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 phenomenon that results from a certain combination of relationships. This combination includes the principles of intention, belief, attitude, behavior, language, the willingness to work harder than anyone else, knowing there is no such thing as failure, 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. Creators understand that when you attempt to do something and don’t get the result you want, you haven’t failed. You’ve produced a result. It’s what you do with the result that counts. Have you learned something you didn’t know before? Have you discovered something new? Can you explain something you couldn’t explain before? And most importantly, creators are creative because they believe they are creative, have the intention to create, and work harder and more passionately than the merely talented to create.


Michael Michalko is the author of the highly-acclaimed Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques.


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