Archive for the ‘attitude’ Category

HOW TO APPROACH PROBLEMS

problem

Once we have settled on a perspective, we close off but one line of thought. Certain kinds of ideas occur to us, but only those kinds and no others. Have you ever looked closely at the wheels on a railroad train? They are flanged. That is, they have a lip on the inside to prevent them from sliding off the track. Originally train wheels were not flanged–instead, the railroad tracks were. Because the problem of railroad safety had been expressed as: “How can the tracks be made safer for trains to ride on?” hundreds of thousands of miles of track were manufactured with an unnecessary steel lip. Only when the problem was redefined as: “How can the wheels be made to secure the track more securely?” was the flanged wheel invented.

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.

Most of us look at a scene rather than look into it. People tend to think of perception as a passive process. We see, hear, smell, taste or feel stimuli that impinge upon our senses. We think that if we are at all objective, we record what is actually there. Yet perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” You construct how you choose to see the world.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Consider the following problem. Four cards are laid out with their faces displaying respectively, an A, a B, a 4 and a 7.

A    B    4    7

You are told that each card has a letter on one side and a number on the other. You are then given a rule, whose truth you are expected to evaluate. The rule is: “If a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an even number on the other.” You are then allowed to turn over two, but only two, cards in order to determine whether the rule is correct as stated.

If you worked this problem silently, you will almost certainly miss it, as have the large percentage of subjects to whom it has been presented. Most subjects realize that there is no need to select the card bearing the consonant, since it is irrelevant to the rule; they also appreciate that it is essential to turn over the card with the vowel, for an odd number opposite would prove the rule incorrect.

The wording of the problem determines the perspective most people mentally default to almost immediately. Most people assume that the object is to examine the cards to ascertain that if a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an even number on the other; and if a card has an even number on one side, then it has a vowel on the other side. This assumption leads them to make the fatal error of picking the card with the even number, because the even number is mentioned in the rule. But, in fact, it is irrelevant whether there is a vowel or a consonant on the other side, since the rule does not take a stand on what must be opposite to even numbers.

On the other hand, it is essential to pick the card with the odd number on it. If that card has a consonant on it, the result is irrelevant. If, however, the card has a vowel on it, the rule in question has been proved incorrect, for the card must (according to the rule) have an even (and not an odd) number on it.

The content of this specific problem influenced the way we constructed our perception of the problem. This perception created the assumption that leads to error. This should give one pause about mentally defaulting to first impressions. Leonardo Da Vinci wrote in his notebooks that one should always assume that your first impression of a problem is usually biased toward your usual way of thinking. He suggested looking at your problem in at least three different ways to get a better understanding.

“If a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an even number on the other.” Here we are working with letters and numbers. Transposing the words to read “If a card has an even number on one side, then……….” Clarifies the problem and gives us a different perspective on even numbered cards. It becomes apparent that what even numbered cards have on the other side has no significance. The rule is only concerned with cards that have vowels on one side.

Sigmund Freud would “reframe” something to transform its meaning by putting it into a different framework or context than it has previously been perceived. For example, by reframing the “unconscious” as a part of him that was “infantile,” Freud began to help his patients change the way they thought and reacted to their own behavior.

The important thing is not to persist with one way of looking at the problem. Consider the following interesting twist, again using four cards. This time, however, we reframe the problem by substituting journeys and modes of transportation for letters and numbers. Each card has a city on one side and a mode of transportation on the other.

LOS ANGELES   NEW YORK   AIRPLANE  CAR

This time, the cards have printed on them the legends, respectively, Los Angeles, New York, airplane, and car; and the rule is reframed to read: “Every time I go to Los Angeles, I travel by airplane. While this rule is identical to the number-letter version, it poses little difficulty for individuals. In fact, now 80 percent of subjects immediately realize the need to turn over the card with “car” on it.

Apparently, one realizes that if the card with “car” on it has the name “Los Angeles” on the back, the rule has been proved incorrect; whereas it is immaterial what it says on the back of the airplane since, as far as the rule is concerned, one can go to New York any way one wants.

Why is it that 80 percent of subjects get this problem right, whereas only 10 percent know which cards to turn over in the vowel-number version? By changing the content (cities and modes of transportation substituted for letters and numbers), we restructured the problem, which dramatically changed our reasoning. The structure of a problem colors our perspective and the way we think.

The above thought experiment is a variation on the Wason selection task that was devised by Peter Wason. The Wason selection task was originally developed as a test of logical reasoning, but it has increasingly been used by psychologists to analyze the structure of human reasoning mechanisms.

The significant point about this test is that we are incredibly bad at it. And it doesn’t make much difference what the level of education is of the person taking the test. Moreover, even training in formal logic seems to make little difference to a person’s performance. The mistake that we tend to make is fairly standard. People almost always recognize that they have to pick up the card with the vowel, but they fail to see that they also have to pick up the card with the odd number. They think instead that they have to pick up the card with the even number.

One of the most interesting things about this phenomenon is that even when the correct answer is pointed out, people feel resistance to it. It apparently feels “right” that the card with the even number should be picked up. It feels right because your initial perspective is biased toward the usual way of thinking. It is only when you look at it from different perspectives that you get a deeper understanding of the problem.

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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/#sthash.wXtaPaFX.dpbs

 

 

WHAT THE WRIGHT BROTHERS TAUGHT US ABOUT FAILURE

wright brothers

 The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, battled depression and family illness before starting the bicycle shop that would lead them to experimenting with flight. They were competing against the best engineering and scientific minds in America at the time, who were all well financed and supported by the government and capital investors to make the first airplane.

Samuel Pierpont Langley, was the leading government funded scientist because of his education and engineering experience. Langley and his assistants studied the problem of flight, consulted with experts around the world, researched the field comprehensively and finally produced the blueprint of his airplane. He bought the finest material and hired the best available craftsmen to build his airplane. Finally on December 8, 1903 with much attention and fanfare from the national media and politicians he launched his flying machine on the Potomac.  It plummeted directly into the river. It was a colossal failure.

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? It was because Langley thought reproductively and only considered what great thinkers thought about how to manufacture a manmade machine that would fly. They had hired experts to execute his theoretical concepts without going a series of trial 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 that produced unintended results. They recorded and studied these unintended results 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.

The lesson the Wright brothers taught me was to create by acting, by doing, by going through the motions and discovering what doesn’t work and what does through trial and error. Langley, on the other hand, had been educated to think critically and judgmentally and to avoid failure at all cost. He imagined strong reasons for inaction until, in his mind, it was not possible to fail. Consequently, he spent a fortune on study and months of planning and designing his prototype before he made an attempt.

The Wright brothers did not believe that failure was something to be avoided at all costs. They embraced failure as a way to succeed.  Whenever they attempted to do something and failed, they ended up doing something else. They realized that you cannot fail, you can only produce results. What counted was what you did with the results. Rather than judging some result as a failure, ask “Why did it not work as I thought it should?” “What have I learned about what doesn’t work?”, “Can this explain something that I didn’t set out to explain?”, “What can I do with these results?”, and “What have I discovered that I didn’t set out to discover?” Answering these questions about their results is what gave the Wrights the creative insights they needed to succeed. It is the same with everything in life.

Before we are educated, our nature was to act spontaneously and produce results without fear.  As an infant, you learned how to walk by trial and error. The first time you made the effort you fell down and returned to crawling. You ignored your fears about falling and learned from the results you had produced. You stood up again and again and fell again and again. Eventually you stood with a wobble and then another fall. Finally, you walked upright. Suppose as infants we had learned to fear failure and avoid mistakes before attempting to walk. Many of us would still be crawling around on all fours.

Michael Michalko is a highly-acclaimed creativity expert and author of the best-seller Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), ThinkPak (A Brainstorming Card Deck),  Cracking Creativity (The Secrets of Creative Genius), and Creative Thinkering (Putting your Imagination to Work).  http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs

 

 

Scratch a Genius and You Surprise a Child

By Michael Michalko

picasso.2

The childlike joy creative geniuses experience in life.

One commonality that Pablo Picasso shares with other creative geniuses, according to biographical accounts, is that they all have a “childlike” way of seeing familiar things as if for the first time. Creative geniuses love what they do, and this love can be described as a childlike delight in painting, or composing, or searching for a grand new theory of nature. You can compare the experience of the kind of joy that geniuses and children have with that of visiting a foreign country. You experience everything globally because so much is unfamiliar and exciting. Even the most mundane details are new and exciting. For a child and creative geniuses, every day is like going to Paris for the first time.

“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again”….. Pablo Picasso

David Douglas Duncan, world famous photographer, is known for his photographs of Pablo Picasso which he eventually published in seven books. He became a close friend of Picasso and observed him at painting and larking around. Picasso, Duncan observed, was like a child — joyful to be alive. Sometimes he would wear a cowboy hat Gary Cooper gave him and pretend to be a cowboy, or would walk around scaring people wearing a grotesque mask he made. He was always having fun, but it was all for his own amusement. One day, he surprised Pablo in his studio where Picasso was square dancing in front of his painting and then pirouetting like a ballerina with a huge grin.

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”… Pablo Picasso

Picasso’s creative mindset came from exploring, seeking, discovering, questioning, changing, and the doing. He paid attention to everything. His friends tell of being a guest at his table, reporting his gregarious, outgoing personality, his vivid wit, his animated conversation, but most of all, the attention paid to everyone and everything. As he ate, he would gaze at various objects around him, in effect, devouring them along with dinner. At such times, guests were quickly aware that Picasso was not seeing things about him as they did, but “digesting” them, creating images and relationships within his mind that might later come to rest on canvas, in the form of painted sketches.

Children have the capacity for learning and transforming and changing what they think about their experiences and for imagining other ways that the world could be. A movie, “The Mystery of Picasso,” exhibited Picasso at work. He started at an arbitrary point and painted a flower, transformed it into a fish, then into a chicken, switching back and forth from black and white to color, he then refashioned the composition into a cat surrounded on the side by human beings.

“Everything you can imagine is real.”… Pablo Picasso

He was constantly “present” in his everyday life and, like a child, saw the hidden beauty of the world by not analyzing, labeling and judging the people and things in his environment. This might sound strange but in the moments when you are “present” the ordinary world becomes more interesting and wonderful. Colors can seem brighter. You see more aliveness in trees, nature and in people. You see the wonder of being alive. Things that most often seem common, routine and boring become fascinating and something you can appreciate.

Picasso would go for aimless color walks through the forest admiring the colors in nature. He would fill his mind and imagination with colors and their various relationships. Once he said he was observing the color green in all its different variations until, as he put it, got green indigestion. When that happened, he had to unload his feelings and visions into his painting. His incredible artistic production is a product of this prodigious capacity for continual refilling and emptying.

“Why do two colors, put one next to the other, sing? Can one really explain this?”…. Pablo Picasso

First get in touch with the child in you. Take a few moments, relax yourself as deeply as you can, and perform the following exercise:

(1) Close your eyes and relax.

(2) What is the youngest age you remember being? Suppose it is seven years old.

(3) Regress yourself back to that age in phases. If you are 30 years of age, go back in time, skipping some years. E. g., 29, 25, 23, 17, 15, 12, 10, 7.

(4) Allow each phase to make its impression on your mind before going further back to your selected age. Allow your memory to deepen as you go back in time. Give yourself time to allow remembrances to come forth. Relax and enjoy your trip back in time.

(5) When you arrive at your age, reconstruct the details of that age as much as possible. Experience again the Christmas, July fourth, birthdays, vacations, friends, teachers, and school terms you experienced when you were 7. Feel as if you are back in time. Deepen the experience as much as you can. Remember “being in school” instead of “remembering being in school.” Remember “playing with your best friend,” instead of “remembering playing with your best friend,” remember being in the woods on a bright day.

Put aside one hour and take a color walk. Do not bring a cell phone, journal, camera, or iPod. Do not plan your walk in advance or combine it with other activities. Avoid talking and interacting with other people during your color walk. You can begin your color walk anywhere. Let color be your guide. Allow your seven-year old self to become sensitized to the color in your surroundings. What are the colors that you become aware of first? What are the colors that reveal themselves more slowly? What colors do you observe that you did not expect? What color relationships do you notice? Do colors appear to change over time? Do the visual details and arrangements mean anything? As you walk, try to imagine what different colors mean, what can we learn from them, how can you play with colors?

Too much time and experience thinking in a certain way is uncongenial to creativity. The mind becomes so set and so organized that we seem to lose the ability to create new ideas or even to recognize ideas developed by others. This is why activities like “color walk” help us become playfully aware of our environment and the miracles of life. All you need do is suspend your ordinary way of interpreting your surroundings and temporarily discover new ways of thinking about what you perceive. It will boost your ability to come up with creative new ideas. This is one way Picasso cultivated his perceptual abilities. For example, as a school boy, he treated numbers as visual patterns rather than substitutes for quantities. For instance, he would refer to the number “2” as folded pigeon wings and an “0” as an owl’s eye.

Scratch a genius and you will surprise a child. Like children, they discover ways to make things still feel fresh. When you become playfully aware, you are observing your world with more clarity and curiousness. Following is an exercise to give a different way to think about words.

WHAT DOES YOUR COMPUTER TASTE LIKE? 2000 people have synaesthesia which is an extraordinary condition in which the five senses intermingle. Some see colors and patterns when they hear music or words. Some perceive words, letters, and numbers as distinct colors. There is even a case of one man who tastes spoken words. The flavors are very specific……orange, mince, apricots, tomato soup, turkey, muddy water and even ear wax. Creativity tastes like grilled cheese to me. Don’t know why or even if why matters….but a definite grilled cheese flavor.

What word would taste like tomato soup?

What word would taste like mashed potatoes?

What would the word government taste like?

What flavor best represents your attitude toward corruption?

What occupation would taste like ear wax?

What does death taste like?

What does an elevator taste like?  In many office buildings, most people entering an elevator hardly make eye contact with one another, so the idea of licking the elevator walls together seems completely far-fetched. A new art installation in London begs to differ. Taking inspiration from Willy Wonka, chef Heston Blumenthal, and artist Damien Hirst created Spot of Jaffa. The project took a team of food technicians and artists four weeks to develop with the hope of encouraging some much needed sweet stress relief.

The elevator wallpaper consists of 1,325 Jaffa Cake-flavored stickers which are removed and replaced once licked. Once a Jaffa Cake flavored spot is licked, the spot is removed by a lift attendant who is in the lift the whole time staff have access. From a brand perspective, Jaffa’s intentions are to bring a bit more fun and joy into the lives of overworked office workers.

“I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.”…. Pablo Picasso …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………:

Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work by Michael Michalko http://www.amazon.com/dp/160868024X/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_XUhvxb0YKA63R … via @amazon

 

 

 

WHEN CONFRONTED WITH ADVERSITY, DO YOU BECOME A CARROT, AN EGG, OR A COFFEE BEAN?

carrots

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 someone 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 behavior. You may interpret her as being deliberately aggressive, or you may feel you are of such little consequence that you’re deliberately unnoticed and bumped around by others. Or 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.

We are each given a set of experiences in life. The experiences are neutral. They have no meaning. It is how we interpret the experiences that give them meaning. The interpretations of experiences shape your beliefs and theories about the world. Your beliefs and theories, in turn, decide what you observe in the world to confirm your beliefs which, in turn, reinforce your interpretations.

You Give Your Experiences Meaning

Think for a moment about Abraham Lincoln who is considered by many the greatest president in the history of the U.S.  He could not choose his parents, the immediate circumstances of his upbringing, or the historical epoch of his birth.

Modern day psychologists would label his parents as dysfunctional and abusive. He was mocked and ridiculed by his school classmates for the way he looked and dressed. At age 22, he failed in business, he ran for the state legislature and was defeated, and he tried to start another business and failed again. At age 26, he was rejected by a woman he loved and had a nervous breakdown. At age 33, he married a woman who was found to be mentally unstable, and once more was defeated for Congress. At age 37, he was finally elected to Congress but at age 39 he was once again defeated. He subsequently campaigned for and was defeated for the senate, vice presidency, and again for the senate. At age 51 he was elected president of the U.S.

Lincoln was not born with a positive “can do” attitude. On the contrary, his life is testimony that a positive attitude toward one’s experiences takes considerable effort and practice. Lincoln learned to expect difficulties, and, so was not traumatized and defeated when faced with problems but viewed them as part of the natural course of events. Lincoln learned the harder one works to sustain a positive interpretation, the more one appreciates life.

Lincoln did not choose his experiences of failure and defeat, but he did choose how to respond. He realized that he was not reacting to an event but to how he interpreted the event. His life is testimony to the uniquely human potential to turn defeats into triumphs and to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. For those events that were not up to him, it was his own attitude that determined their influence on him. When he was no longer able to change a situation, he changed himself.

CARROTS, EGGS, AND COFFEE

There is an old parable about a boy who was so discouraged with failing in school he told his grandfather he wanted to quit. His grandfather filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first, he placed carrots, in the second he placed eggs and the last he placed ground coffee beans. He let them sit and boil, without saying a word. In about twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then he ladled the coffee out into a cup. Turning to the boy, he asked, “Tell me, what do you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the boy replied. Then he asked the boy to feel the carrots, which he did and noted that they were soft and mushy. His grandfather then asked him to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, the boy observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked the boy to sip the coffee. He smiled as he tasted the coffee with its rich aroma. The boy asked, “I don’t understand. What does this mean, if anything?”

His grandfather laughed and explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity–boiling water–but each had reacted differently. “Which are you?” the grandfather asked. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, becomes soft and loses strength? Are you the egg that appears not to change but whose heart is hardened? Or are you the coffee bean that changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, your very attitude will change your environment for the better, making it sweet and palatable.”

His lesson was that in life when you can’t change the circumstances, change yourself.

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Michael Michalko is a creative thinking expert and author of books about the creative thinking strategies and techniques used  by creative geniuses throughout history. http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs

 

 

LEARN HOW TO FAIL

baby.22

 As an infant, you learned how to walk by trial and error. The first time you made the effort you fell down and returned to crawling. You ignored your fears about falling and the results you had produced. You stood up again and again and fell again and again. Eventually you stood with a wobble and then another fall. Finally, you walked upright. Suppose as infants we had learned to fear failure. Many of us would still be crawling around on all fours.

It is the same with everything in life. Our nature is to act and produce results without fear. Yet, because, we have been educated to think critically and judgmentally, we imagine strong reasons for inaction and then allow it to become our reality, even before we make an attempt. Our fear is supported by an illusion that it is possible to fail, and that failure means we are worthless.

The reality is that there is no such thing as failure. Whenever we attempt to do something and fail, we end up doing something else. You cannot fail, you can only produce results. Rather than judging some result as a failure, ask “What have I learned about what doesn’t work?”, “Can this explain something that I didn’t set out to explain?”, “What can I do with these results?”, and “What have I discovered that I didn’t set out to discover?”

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? It was because Langley hired experts to execute his theoretical concepts without going a series of trial 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. 

It is a paradox of life that you have to learn to fail in order to succeed. Henry Ford’s first two automobile companies failed. What he learned from his failures led him to be the first to apply assembly line manufacturing to the production of affordable automobiles in the world. He became one of the three most famous and richest men in the world during his time.

When Thomas Edison was seeking to invent the electric light bulb, he had thousands of failures. He would record the results, make adjustments and try again. It took him approximately 10,000 experiments to invent the perfect set-up for the electric light bulb. Once an assistant asked him why he persisted after so many failures. Edison responded by saying he had not failed once. He had learned 10,000 things that didn’t work. There was no such thing as a failure in Edison’s mind.

When you try something and produce a result that is not what you intended but that you find interesting, drop everything else and study it. B. F. Skinner emphasized this as a first principle of scientific methodology. This is what William Shockley and a multi-discipline Bell labs team did. They were formed to invent the MOS transistor and ended up instead with the junction transistor and the new science of semiconductor physics. These developments eventually led to the MOS transistor and then to the integrated circuit and to new breakthroughs in electronics and computers. William Shockley described it as a process of “creative failure methodology.”

Answering the questions about discoveries from failures in a novel, unexpected way is the essential creative act. It is not luck but creative insight of the highest order. A DuPont chemist Roy Plunkett set out to invent a new refrigerant. Instead, he created a glob of white waxy material that conducted heat and did not stick to surfaces. Fascinated by this “unexpected” material, he abandoned his original line of research and experimented with this interesting material, which eventually became known by its household name, “Teflon.”

The discovery of the electromagnetic laws was also a “failed” experiment. The relationship between electricity and magnetism was first observed in 1820 by Oersted in a public lecture at which he was demonstrating the “well known fact” that electricity and magnetism were completely independent phenomena. This time the experiment failed! – an electric current produced a magnetic effect. Oersted was observant enough to notice this effect, honest enough to admit it, and diligent enough to follow up and publish. Maxwell used these experiments to extend Isaac Newton’s methods of modeling and mathematical analysis in the mechanical and visible world to the invisible world of electricity and magnetism and derived Maxwell’s Laws which opened the doors to our modern age of electricity and electronics.

If you just look at a zero you see nothing; but if you pick it up and look through it you will see the world. It is the same with failure. If you look at something as failure, you learn nothing; but look at it as your teacher and you will learn the value of knowing what doesn’t work, learning something new, and the joy of discovering the unexpected.

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…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………Learn more about how to get ideas by reading Michael Michalko’s book Cracking Creativity: Secrets of Creative Genius. http://www.amazon.com/Cracking-Creativity-Secrets-Creative-Genius/dp/1580083110/ref=pd_sim_b_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=16NCRBEMHRCEQ1RAZG5V

 

What Flies and Bees Can Teach Us About Problem Solving?

bees

 

If you place in a bottle half a dozen bees and the same number of flies, and lay the bottle down horizontally, with its base to the window, you will find that the bees will persist, until they die of exhaustion or hunger, in their endeavor to discover an issue through the glass; while the flies, in less than two minutes, will all have sallied forth through the neck on the opposite side.

Scientists believe that it is the bees’ knowledge of light; it is their very intelligence that is their undoing in this experiment. They evidently imagine that the escape from every prison must be there when the light shines clearest; and they act in accordance, and persist in what seems to be a logical action. To them glass is a supernatural mystery they never have met in nature; they have had no experience of this suddenly impenetrable atmosphere; and the greater their intelligence, the more inadmissible, more incomprehensible, will the strange obstacle appear and the greater will be their persistence to penetrate the bottom of the bottle.

Whereas the feather-brained flies, careless of logic, disregarding the call of the light, flutter wildly, hither and thither, hitting the bottom and walls of the glass through trial and error until they find the opening to freedom. It is by pursuing every imaginable alternative do the flies escape while the bees perish because they believe the light is the only way out because, after all, generations of bees were successful following the light. Here the good fortune that often waits on the simple, who find salvation where the wiser will perish because they feel there is only the one way they know.

The bees in the experiment remind me of the paradox of expertise. It seems that the more expert one becomes in an area of specialization, the less creative and innovative that person becomes. The paradox is that people who know more, see less; and the people who know less, see more. Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs attempted without success to get Atari and Hewlett-Packard interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer. As Steve recounts, “So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary; we’ll come work for you.’ And their experts laughed and said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. Go to college and then come back and apply for a job.”

What is it that freezes the expert’s thought and makes it difficult to consider new things that deviate from their theories? Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., thought the idea of a personal computer absurd, as he said, “there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry, was ridiculed by every scientist for his revolutionary liquid-fueled rockets. Even the New York Times chimed in with an editorial in 1921 by scientists who claimed that Goddard lacked even the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high school science classes. Pierrre Pachet a renowned physiology professor and expert declared, “Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”

It seems that if an expert experiences any strain in imagining a possibility, they quickly conclude it’s impossible. This principle also helps explain why evolutionary change often goes unnoticed by the expert. The greater the commitment of the expert to their established view, the more difficult it is for the expert to do anything more than to continue repeating their established view. It also explains the phenomenon of a beginner who comes up with the breakthrough insight or idea that was overlooked by the experts who worked on the same problem for years. Think, for a moment, about Philo Farnsworth who invented television when he was twelve years old while he was working on his father’s farm.

Imagine 12 year old Philo Farnsworth tilling a potato field back and forth with a horse-drawn harrow in Rigby, Idaho while at the same time thinking about what his chemistry teacher taught him about the electron and electricity. Philo conceptually blended tilling a potato field with the attributes of electronic beams and realized that an electron beam could scan images the same way farmers till a field, row by row or read a book, line by line. Amazingly, this was 1921 and a 12 year-old Farnsworth conceived the idea of television.

We are educated to think reproductively like the bees in the experiment. Whenever we are confronted with a problem, we fixate on something in our past that has worked before and we apply it to the problem. If it does not work, we conclude it’s not possible to solve. The flies resemble productive thinkers as they fly hither and thither exploring every possibility and through trial and error find the way to safety. The lesson to us is to always approach a problem on its own terms and to consider all alternatives including the least obvious ones.

Michael Michalko creativity expert and author of books on creative thinking. http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Find What You’re Not Looking for

Horse.Frog

Frog or horse?

Be prepared for the chance or accidental discovery when brainstorming for ideas.

Whenever we attempt to do something and fail, we end up doing something else. As simplistic as this statement may seem, it is the first principle of creative accident. We may ask ourselves why we have failed to do what we intended, and this is the reasonable, expected thing to do. But the creative accident provokes a different question: What have we done? Answering that question in a novel, unexpected way is the essential creative act. It is not luck but creative insight of the highest order.

Even when people set out to act purposefully and rationally to do something, they wind up doing things they did not intend. John Wesley Hyatt, an Albany printer and mechanic, worked long and hard trying to find a substitute for billiard-ball ivory, then coming into short supply. He invented, instead, celluloid— the first commercially successful plastic.

B.F. Skinner advised people that when you are working on something and find something interesting, drop everything else and study it. In fact, he emphasized this as a first principle of scientific methodology. This is what William Shockley and a multi-discipline Bell labs team did. They were formed to invent the MOS transistor and ended up instead with the junction transistor and the new science of semiconductor physics. These developments eventually led to the MOS transistor and then to the integrated circuit and to new breakthroughs in electronics and computers. William Shockley described it as a process of “creative failure methodology.”

Richard Feynman, a Nobel Laureate physicist, had an interesting practical test that he applied when reaching a judgment about a new idea: for example, did it explain something unrelated to the original problem. E.g., “What can you explain that you didn’t set out to explain?”and, “What did you discover that you didn’t set out to discover?” In 1938, 27 year old Roy Plunkett set out to invent a new refrigerant. Instead, he created a glob of white waxy material that conducted heat and did not stick to surfaces. Fascinated by this “unexpected” material, he abandoned his original line of research and experimented with this interesting material, which eventually became known by its household name, “Teflon.”

In principle, the unexpected event that gives rise to a creative invention is not all that different from the unexpected automobile breakdown that forces us to spend a night in a new and interesting town, the book sent to us in error that excites our imagination, or the closed restaurant that forces us to explore a different cuisine. But when looking for ideas or creative solutions, many of us ignore the unexpected and, consequently, loose the opportunity to turn chance into a creative opportunity.

Years back, 3M invented a new adhesive for industry. No industry was interested and management ordered an engineer to burn the samples. The engineer, instead, thought the adhesive had “interesting” aspects and took some samples home. He observed his teenage daughters setting their hair with it and using the adhesive in various other ways around the home. He went to management and convinced them that what they had was a consumer product, not an industrial one. 3M manufactured and marketed it as Scotch Tape.

You have to give yourself the freedom to see what you are not looking for. In 1839, Charles Goodyear was looking for a way to make rubber easier to work and accidentally spilled a mixture that hardened but was still useable. By allowing himself to go in an unanticipated direction, he invented a practical vulcanization process. By focusing on the “interesting” aspects of the idea, he discovered it’s potential.
PMI. To explore a subject with our intellect, we need to “will” ourselves to direct our attention in a different way. A tool to help you achieve this is the PMI. The PMI is an attention-directing tool that was first introduced by Edward de Bono, an international authority on thinking. It is designed to deliberately direct your attention to all the positive, negative and interesting aspects about your subject. Carrying out a PMI is simple. What is not simple is to deliberately concentrate your attention in one direction after another when your emotions and prejudices have already decided how you should feel about your subject.

You need to “will” yourself to look in different directions. Once you have the “will” to do a PMI, then the natural challenge to your intelligence is to find as many positive, negative, and interesting points as you can. Instead of using intelligence to support your emotions and prejudices, you are now using it to explore the subject matter.
The guidelines for doing a PMI are:

  1. Make three columns on a sheet of paper. Title the columns “Plus,” “Minus,” and “Interesting.”
    2. Under the “Plus” column, list all the positive aspects about the subject that you can.
    3. Under the “Minus” column, list all the negative aspects that you can.
    4. Under the “Interesting” column, list all those things that are worth noting but do not fit under either “Plus” or “Minus.” The “Interesting” items helps us to react to the interest in an idea and not just to judgment feelings and emotions about the idea. “I do not like the idea but there are interesting aspects to it….”

With the PMI, you use your intelligence to explore the subject matter. At the end of the exploration, emotions and feelings can be used to make a decision about the matter. The difference is that the emotions are now applied after the exploration instead of being applied before and so preventing exploration. With a PMI, one of three things can happen:
•             You may decide that it is a viable idea.
•             You may  reject the idea as unsound.
•             You may move from the idea to another idea. By exploring the “positive” and “interesting” aspects of an idea, you may be able to recycle it into something else.
When you put down the P, M, and I points, you react to what you put down and your feelings change. Once a point has been thought and put down under any of the headings, that point cannot be “unthought,” and it will influence the final decision.

A while back, a group of designers brainstormed for a new umbrella design. One of the participants suggested a combination umbrella with holster. The holster would be worn on a person’s belt. A trigger mechanism in the umbrella handle would release the spring-loaded umbrella when unholstered.

The group thought this was a terrible idea because everyone would looked armed and dangerous.  They decided to do a PMI on the idea, and one of the interesting aspects they focused on was the idea of using the umbrella for protection. This triggered the idea of incorporating a stun gun in the umbrella. If attacked, one touches the attacker with the tip of the umbrella, pulls a trigger and renders the attacker helpless with a nonlethal shock.

By focusing on the “interesting” aspects of the umbrella idea, they provided themselves with material to look at what they might not have looked for. Just as a carefully designed experiment is an attempt to hurry along the path of logical investigation, so focusing on “interesting” aspects of subjects is an attempt to encourage the chance appearance of phenomena which would not have been sought out.
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me.smallCreativity expert and author Michael Michalko http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs