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)

7 Ways to Wake Up your Imagination

7 Ways to Wake up Your Imagination

imagine2If we toss seeds on hard packed ground the chances of them taking root and producing healthy plants is minimal. However, if we plough and till the ground (that is, mix it up, break it apart, make it “less” solid and more “loose”) the chances of a variety of seeds (both those we purposely sow and those that serendipitously fall) will find a way to grow in the loose soil.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Cut out several pictures or parts of pictures from magazines, newspapers, catalogs, flyers, and so on.
  • Mix and match the pictures by moving them around into different patterns and associations. Play with the pictures until you get a feeling for possible ways to use these patterns. Form patterns and associations without forcing them. Continue until your collage feels complete. Make one large metaphorical picture by assigning a word or phrase to each picture and then completing the sentence,  “My subject is a lot like (insert a word or phrase from the montage) because it—-“.

Think metaphorically and analogically. The R&D staff for a furniture company looked for ways to develop a paint that does not fade, chip, or scratch. They made a collage that included pictures of various trees and plants. The collage triggered a discussion of how trees and plants get their color. Their subsequent research inspired the idea of “everlasting” color. They created the idea of injecting trees with dye additives that impregnates color to the plant cells which spreads the color throughout the tree. The tree is painted before it is cut down.

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

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

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

Examples:

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

Consider:

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

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

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

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

(Michael Michalko is the 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)

Why Politicians are Three Steps Removed from Truth

vangoghbedFirst there is God’s bed or the idea of a bed, and then the carpenter’s bed, made by someone who believes and pays attention to the idea, and then the artist’s bed, say Vincent Van Gogh’s.  The artist’s bed is just one way a bed might appear, depending on where and how you place the mirror of your imagination, and probably how clear or muddled your imagination is.  But even at its best and clearest, say the bed of Andrew Wyeth’s imagination, the bed of the painter is mirroring only one view — partial and incomplete and useless for design or sleeping — of the sturdy, useful, pleasant real bed made by the carpenter.

The artist’s imagination is three steps removed from the truth: God’s idea.  It is the person who uses the bed who knows what the thing is and what it is supposed to do.  So you have the knower of the truth (the user) of the bed; the maker, the carpenter who has the true opinion about it which he gets by listening to and believing in the one who knows, so making the thing correctly; and the artist is third, without any necessary connection to the truth of beds at all: the perspective of the artist may even be perverted or obscured.

This is the way I think about democracy.  First you have God’s idea or the idea of democracy and then the products of democracy (freedom, faith, personal responsibility, duty) made by the founders of democracy who have the true opinion about it which they get by believing and paying attention to God’s idea.  Then you have the citizen, the user of the products, the knower of truth, who knows what they are and what they’re supposed to do.  Finally, there is the politician who mirrors only his or her perspective on democracy based on their intuition and speculation.  Their theory of democracy determines what they observe, and they only observe those things that reinforce their theory and confirm it in their mind.  Eventually the politicians begin publicizing their theory as truth. Always forgotten is that fact that the politician’s theory is based on their intuitive and speculative interpretations of personal experiences without any necessary connection to the nature of democracy at all. 

The politician’s theory is three steps removed from the truth: God’s idea of democracy.  It is the citizen who uses democracy who knows what the thing is and what it is supposed to do.  So you have the knower of the truth (the citizen) of democracy; the makers, the founders of democracy who have the true opinion about it which they get by listening to and believing in the one who knows, so making the thing correctly; and the politician is third, without any necessary connection to the truth of democracy at all: the perspective of the politician may even be perverted or obscured.

Michael Michalko

 

How Do You Know?

How Do You Know?

(*-*)     AAA     (00)     I 000000 I     ^–^     I – – _ – – _ I

Look at the six designs above.  Assign a label to each of them by selecting one of the following words: “Indians,” “piggy nose,” “shy kitty,” “woman,” “sleeper,” and “bathroom.”

Now that you’ve assigned labels to the designs, ask yourself: “Why is this so easy to do?”  For example, if you labeled AAA as “Indians,” then how does an Indian village with its ponies, tents, campfires, etc. fit so comfortably into three letters?  The symbols have no meaning.  We give them meaning by how we choose to interpret them.  You have the freedom to select any meaning for any experience instead of being a victim who must assign one and only one meaning to each experience.

We automatically interpret all of our experiences without realizing it.  Are they good experiences, bad ones, what do they mean and so on?  We do this without much thought, if any, to what the interpretations mean.  For instance, if a woman bumps into you, you wonder why.  The event of her bumping into you is neutral in itself.  It has no meaning.  It’s your interpretation of the bumping that gives it meaning, and this meaning shapes your perception of the experience.

You may interpret the “bump” as rude or deliberately aggressive behavior.  Or you may feel you are of such little significance that you are deliberately unnoticed and bumped around by others. You may choose to use the experience as an example of feminist aggression, or you may interpret the bump as her way of flirting with you.  Your interpretation of the experience determines your perception.

Think of roses and thorns.  You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses.  You can choose to interpret experiences any way you wish.  It is not the experience that determines who you are; it is your interpretation of the experience.  You do not see things as they are; you see them as you are.

Once upon a time, two explorers came upon a spectacular, perfectly tended garden of vegetables in the middle of jungle.  One explorer says, “What a beautiful garden.  It looks so perfect.  Surely, a gardener must tend this garden.” 

The other explorer disagrees, “There is no way a gardener can tend this garden.  It is in the middle of the jungle, hundreds of miles from civilization.  There is so sign of human life anywhere.  Surely, it is some kind of natural phenomenon.”

After much arguing, they agree to set up camp and watch for someone to show up and tend the garden.  They stay for months but nobody shows up.

“See,” said the Doubter. “There is no gardener, for surely he would have appeared by now to tend the garden, which is still perfect.  It must be a random creation of nature.”

The Believer argued, “No, there must be a gardener.  He may be invisible, intangible, and eternally elusive to our understanding.  But it is not possible for such a beautiful, well tended garden to exist in the middle of the jungle without being tended.  The garden, itself, is proof of the existence of the gardener, and I have faith that the gardener will return to tend his garden.”

Both the Believer and Doubter interpreted the garden differently, and these two different interpretations led to two different beliefs.  When you believe something, you have the feeling that you chose to believe, or to not believe, based on reason and rational thinking.  But this is not so, your beliefs are shaped by the way you interpret your experiences.

How you interpret experiences also helps determine how you feel.  While researching happiness and well-being, Professor Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University discovered that when he asked college students if they were happy, most said yes.  However, if he first asked how many dates they had in the last month and then asked if they were happy, most said no.  Their interpretation of the questions determined how they felt.

Your theory about the world is deduced from your interpretations and beliefs.  That theory then determines what you observe in the world.  At one time, ancient astronomers believed that the heavens were eternal and made of ether.  Their theory made it impossible for them to observe meteors as burning stones from outer space.  Although the ancients witnessed meteor showers and found some on the ground, they couldn’t recognize them as meteors from outer space.  They only sought out and observed only those things that confirmed their theory about the heavens.

We are like the ancient astronomers and actively seek only the information that confirms our beliefs and theories about ourselves and the world.  Religious people see evidence of God’s handiwork everywhere; whereas atheists see evidence that there is no God anywhere.  Conservatives see the evils of liberalism everywhere and liberals see the evils of conservatism everywhere.  Likewise, people who believe they are creative see evidence of their creativity everywhere, and people who do not believe they are creative see evidence everywhere that confirms their negative belief.  That which does not conform to our theories makes us feel uncomfortable and confused.  I’m reminded of a story told to me by “Black Cloud,” my Lakota Sioux good friend, who heard the story from his grandfather.An old Sioux warrior had eight magnificent horses.  One night, during a great storm, they all escaped.  The other warriors came to comfort him.  They said, “How unlucky you are.  You must be very angry to have lost your horses.”

“Why?” replied the warrior.

“Because you have lost all your wealth.  Now you have nothing,” they responded.

“How do you know?” He said.

The next day the eight horses returned bringing with them twelve new stallions.  The warriors returned and joyously announced that now the old warrior must be very happy.

“Why?”  was his response.

“Because now you are even richer than before,”  They responded.

“How do you know?”  He again responded.

The following morning, the warrior’s young son got up early to break in the new horses.  He was thrown and broke both his legs.  The warriors came once more, and talked with the old warrior about how angry he must be at his misfortune and how terrible it was for his son to break both legs.

“How do you know?”  The warrior said once more.

Two weeks passed.  Then the chief announced that all able-bodied men and boys must join a war party to fight against a neighboring tribe.  The Lakotas won but at great cost as many men and young boys were killed.  When the remaining warriors returned, they told the old warrior that it was lucky his son had two broken legs, otherwise he could have been killed or injured in the great battle.”

“How do you know?” He said.

Approach problems on their own terms

We are not taught how to approach problems on their own terms. One of the many ways in which we have become cognitively lazy is to accept our initial impression of the problem that it encounters. Once we settle on an initial perspective we don’t seek alternative ways of looking at the problem. Like our first impressions of people, our initial perspective on problems and situations are apt to be narrow and superficial. We see no more than we expect to see based on our past experiences in life, education and work.

With productive thinking, one generates as many alternative approaches as one can. You consider the least obvious as well as the most likely approaches. It is the willingness to explore all approaches that is important, even after one has found a promising one. 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.

Once we have settled on a perspective, we close off but one line of thought. Years ago at St. Bonaventure University, Father Tom, a Franciscan monk, nonchalantly laid five pencils out on a table and asked “what’s this?” I had no idea what he meant, so he said “well, this is a five.” Then he picked up one of the pencils and laid it across the other four, and asked “what’s this?” I still didn’t know, so he said “this is a four.” I started to get the idea, and began making my own tentative guesses as he set up different configurations: “Is that a three?” “No, that’s actually a two.” The numbers were always between zero and five, which suggested that the answer was always equal to the number of pencils which were doing… something. (Touching the table? Pointing at another pencil? Touching another pencil?) But the longer the game went on, the more random the answers seemed.

All my answers failed to support my theories. Then the monk randomly tossed the pencils down onto the table and let them lie wherever they fell, asking “what’s this?” Again, I was wrong. I made him set up some of the configurations I had already seen, but, now the answers were different. Finally, the monk told me the secret. The answer didn’t have anything to do with the pencils at all. The answer to each configuration was simply equal to whatever number of fingers my friend the monk was quietly displaying with his left hand!

The lesson Father Tom taught me was always to approach a problem on its own terms. When he said “What’s this?” I should have looked to include everything he was doing, instead of excluding everything except the five pencils. Most of us look at a scene rather than look into it.

To test your ability to approach problems on their own terms read the following article at the link below and see how successful you are in solving the nine-not puzzle. Go to:

http://wp.me/p6Hcy5-fF

Change Your Words and You Can Change Your Life

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Language affects our perception, attitude, behavior, and how we live our lives.

Language profoundly shapes the way we think. Benjamin Lee Whorf, a renowned linguist, used the Hopi Indian language as an example. Whorf believed the Hopi had no grammatical forms, constructions or expressions that refer directly to what we call “time.” Consequently, Hopi speakers think about time in a way that is very different from the way most of the rest of us — with our obsession with past, present, and future — think about it. To the Hopi, said Whorf, all time is “now.” There is no past or future, only “now.”

All this new linguist research shows us that the languages we speak not only reflect or express our thoughts, but also shape the very thoughts we wish to express. The structures that exist in our languages profoundly shape how we construct reality, and help make us as smart and sophisticated as we are.

Joseph Campbell wrote that there is a “curious, extremely interesting term in Japanese that refers to a very special manner of polite, aristocratic speech known as “play language,” (asobase kotoba), whereby, instead of saying to a person, for example, “I see that you have come to Tokyo,” one would express the observation by saying, “I see that you are playing at being in Tokyo” — the idea being that the person addressed is in such control of his life and his powers that for him everything is a play, a game. He is able to enter into life as one would enter into a game, freely and with ease.” What a glorious way to approach life. What has to be done is attacked with such a will that in the performance one is literally “in play.” “I am playing at being fired from my job.” “My wife is playing being mad at me for not helping her paint the room.” This attitude that “play” language cultivates is the attitude described by Nietzsche as love of one’s fate.

Ralph Summy, who directs the Matsunaga Institute for Peace, is well aware of the influence of language and encourages students to replace violent emotions by replacing violent expressions with nonviolent language. Instead of describing someone as “shooting a hole in an argument,” he suggests, that this person could be described as “unraveling a ball of yarn.” Summy also recommends that the expression “to kill two birds with one stone” be replaced by “to stroke two birds with one hand.” “Dressed to kill,” he adds, might become “dressed to thrill.” Substituting new language, Summy concludes, “arrests people’s attention and paves the way for discussion on a range of peace topics.” His work with language suggests that by paying attention and substituting nonviolent for violent words can change attitudes and make for a kinder dialogue..

You can also use language to prime how an individual thinks. In a pair of studies about the influence of language, researchers at the University of British Columbia had participants play a “dictator game.” The game is simple: you’re offered ten one one-dollar coins and told to take as many as you want and leave the rest for the player in the other room (who is, unbeknown to you, a research confederate). The fair split, of course, is fifth-fifty, but most anonymous “dictators” play selfishly, leaving little or nothing for the other player.  In the control group the vast majority of participants kept everything or nearly everything.

In the experimental condition, the researchers next prompted thoughts of God by using a well-established “priming” technique: participants, who again included both theists and atheists, first had to unscramble sentences containing words such as God, divine, love, and sacred. That way, going into the dictator game again, players had God on their minds without being consciously aware of it. Sure enough, the “God prime” worked like a charm leading to fairer splits. Without the God prime, only a few of the participants split the money evenly, but when primed with the religious words, 62 percent did.

The language you use can even change your relationship with animals. We typically regard ourselves as superior to other animals, which we see as lower forms of life. We see them as “its.” “Look a bear. It is looking for food.” In contrast to our relationship to animals, the Native American Algonquin and Lakota Sioux regarded the animals as equal to humans, and in many ways superior, as expressed in their language. They addressed all animal life—“thou,” as objects of reverence: the dog, the crow, the buffalo, the snake were all “thou.” The ego that perceives “thou” is not the same ego that perceives “it.” Whenever you see a dog, cat or bird, silently think the word “Thou.” Try it for a day and discover for yourself how a simple word change can make a dramatic change in your perception of all life.

Language patterns affect our perception, attitude, behavior and how we live our lives. Words convey certain qualities of subjective experience that makes them unique and indispensable in understanding the current psychodynamics out of which an individual is operating. These subtle, yet utterly compelling differences are immediately evident when you apply different verbs to the same content. For example, following are some typical statements made by people who desire to become more creative in their personal and business lives.

  • I wish to be creative.
  •  I can be creative.
  • I’m able to be creative.
  • I should be creative.
  • I need to be creative.
  • I will be creative.

Which of the statements has the best chance of becoming a creative thinker? I think you will agree with me that it is the one who said, “I will be creative.”

………………………………..

This One has a Story to Tell

Try another exercise that demonstrates the power of words. Write a long story about something that has happened to you. Do not write “I” or “me,” but instead write “this one” or “this body” to represent you, and “that body” or “that person,” to represent other people in the story. For example, “This one remembers a Christmas with other bodies when this one was young that was the most disappointing Christmas of this one’s life.” “This body received no gifts from the other bodies which made this one sad and depressed.”

The words you use will have let you feel you are writing a story about someone else, even though it’s about you. You will feel strange and start thinking thoughts about yourself that you have never thought before.

Review Michael Michalko’s works and books about creative thinking at http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.aHSitVxE.dpbs

 

What I Learned from Charles Darwin about Creative Thinking

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I became interested in Darwin in college when I read about Darwin’s experience with John Gould. When Darwin returned to England after he visited the Galapagos, he distributed his finch specimens to professional zoologists to be properly identified. One of the most distinguished experts was John Gould. What was the most revealing was not what happened to Darwin, but what had not happened to Gould.

Darwin’s notes show Gould taking him through all the birds he has named. Gould kept flip-flopping back and forth about the number of different species of finches: the information was there, but he didn’t quite know what to make of it. He assumed that since God made one set of birds when he created the world, the specimens from different locations would be identical. It didn’t occur to him to look for differences by location. Gould thought that the birds were so different that they might be distinct species.

What was remarkable to me about the encounter is the completely different impact it had on the two men. Gould thought the way he had been taught to think, like an expert taxonomist, and didn’t see, in the finches, the textbook example of evolution unfolding right before him. Darwin didn’t even know they were finches. So the guy who had the intelligence, knowledge and the expertise didn’t see it, and the guy with far less knowledge and expertise comes up with an idea that shaped the way we think about the world.

Darwin came up with the idea because he was a productive thinker. He generated a multiplicity of perspectives and theories. Gould would compare new ideas and theories with his existing patterns of experience. He thought reproductively. If the ideas didn’t fit with what he had been taught, he rejected them as worthless. On the other hand, Darwin was willing to disregard what past thinkers thought and was willing to entertain different perspectives and different theories to see where they would lead to.

Most us are educated to think like John Gould. We were all born as spontaneous, creative thinkers. Yet a great deal of our education may be regarded as the inculcation of mindsets. We were taught how to handle problems and new phenomena with fixed mental attitudes (based on what past thinkers thought) that predetermine our response to problems or situations. In short, we were taught more “what” to think instead of “how” to think. We entered school as a question mark and graduated as a period.

Consequently, we tend to process information the same way over and over again instead of searching for alternatives ways. Once we think we know what works or can be done, it becomes hard for us to consider alternative ideas. We tend to develop narrow ideas and stick with them until proven wrong. Let’s say to advertise our product, we use television commercials during a popular prime time sitcom. We are fairly happy with the results and the television campaign seems to work. Are we going to check out other ideas that we don’t think will be as good or better? Are we likely to explore alternative ways to advertise our product? Probably not.

Even when we actively seek information to test our ideas to see if we are right, we usually ignore paths that might lead us to discover alternatives. Following is an interesting experiment, which was originally conducted by the British psychologist Peter Watson that demonstrates this attitude. Watson would present subjects with the following three numbers in sequence.

2          4        6  

He would then ask subjects to explain the number rule for the sequence and to give other examples of the rule. The subjects could ask as many questions as they wished without penalty.

He found that almost invariably most people will initially say, “4, 6, 8” or some similar sequence. And Watson would say, yes, that is an example of a number rule. Then they will say, “20, 22, 24″ or “50, 52, 54″ and so on– all numbers increasing by two. After a few tries, and getting affirmative answers each time, they are confident that the rule is numbers increasing by two without exploring alternative possibilities.

Actually, the rule Watson was looking for is much simpler– it’s simply numbers increasing. They could be 1, 2, 3 or 10, 20, 40 or 400, 678, 10,944. And testing such an alternative would be easy. All the subjects had to say was 1, 2, 3 to Watson to test it and it would be affirmed. Or, for example, a subject could throw out any series of numbers, for example, 5, 4, 3 to see if they got a positive or negative answer. And that information would tell them a lot about whether their guess about the rule is true.

The profound discovery Watson made was that most people process the same information over and over until proven wrong, without searching for alternatives, even when there is no penalty for asking questions that give them a negative answer. In his hundreds of experiments, he, incredibly, never had an instance in which someone spontaneously offered an alternative hypotheses to find out if it were true. In short, his subjects didn’t even try to find out if there is a simpler or even, another, rule.

Creative geniuses don’t think this way. The creative genius will always look for alternative ways to think about a subject. Even when the old ways are well established, the genius will invent new ways of thinking. If something doesn’t work, they look at it several different ways until they find a new line of thought. It is this willingness to entertain different perspectives and alternative ideas that broadens their thinking and opens them up to new information and the new possibilities that the rest of us don’t see.

In summary, creative geniuses are productive thinkers. To change the way you think and become a more productive thinker, you need to learn how to think like a genius. When you need original ideas or creative solutions for your business and personal problems, you need to:

  • Generate a multiplicity of different perspectives about your subject until you find the perspective you want. Genius often comes from finding a new perspective that no one else has taken.
  • Generate a large quantity of alternatives and conjectures. From this quantity, retain the best ideas for further development and elaboration.
  • Produce variation in your ideas by incorporating random, chance or unrelated factors.

As I wrote these final words, I was reminded of an ancient Chinese story about a rainmaker who was hired to bring rain to a parched part of China. The rainmaker came in a covered cart, a small, wizened, old man who sniffed the air with obvious disgust as he got out of his cart, and asked to be left alone in a cottage outside the village; even his meals were to be left outside the door.

Nothing was heard from him for three days, then it not only rained, but there was also a big downfall of snow, unknown at that time of the year. Very much impressed, the villagers sought him out and asked him how he could make it rain, and even snow. The rainmaker replied, “I have not made the rain or the snow; I am not responsible for it.” The villagers insisted that they had been in the midst of a terrible drought until he came, and then after three days they even had quantities of snow.

“Oh, I can explain that. You see, the rain and snow were always here. But as soon as I got here, I saw that your minds were out of order and that you had forgotten how to see. So I remained here until once more you could see what was always right before your eyes.”

Learn more about Michael Michalko and his books about creative thinking by visiting: http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.MDsGewWA.dpbs

 

 

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