We learn about great ideas and we learn the names of the creative geniuses who created them, but we are seldom taught about how they got the ideas. My teachers mythologized the geniuses as genetically or intellectually superior to the ordinary person. They gushed over their accomplishments and had us memorize who did what and when, who created what and when focused on their discoveries rather than on the mental processes, attitudes, work habits, behavior and beliefs that enabled creative geniuses to be capable of looking at the same things as the rest of us and seeing something different.
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. 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.
A person’s favorite words may go a long way in revealing his or her changing lifestyle, values, beliefs and changing needs. The words may also suggest how people are reacting to the challenges of the present and the future.
Before you read further, try the following thought experiment. Relax and breathe deeply, Think about your life and what is important to you. What are your values? What is your lifestyle? What are your beliefs? What are the most important things in life to you? Close your eyes and reflect on your life as you are living it at this moment.
Then as a personal exercise. Freely list 10 words that best represent your values, lifestyle, beliefs, desires and needs Prioritize the list with #1 being the most significant, #2 the next most significant, and so on. Read the list and write down your reactions. Look for particular themes or issues. Did any particular word evoke a strong emotional response? What does your list tell you about your life? How does your list compare with a list you would have written five years ago? Ten years ago? Can you identify a changing trend that’s either positive or negative?
JAPAN’S TOP TEN WORDS. A survey in Japan conducted by professor Takeshi Sato of Hitotsubashi University, which was financed by Japan’s Information and Cultural Research Society, surveyed a cross-section of Japanese society and revealed that Japan’s current top-10 words are:
The words, according to Sato, seem to reflect a changing national work-ethic. Words like freedom appeared for the first time, which may indicate that workers are starting to chafe at the structure of Japan’s corporate society. Also, differences in answers between young people and older people show a distinctive shift in values and beliefs. People in their twenties ranked “freedom” as the top word, while those who were forty or older ranked “effort” on top with “freedom” far behind. The word “health” also appeared for the first time in Sato’s research and reflects a growing concern held by the aging portion of the population.
As an experiment, I decided to mimic the Japanese survey. Over the past two years, I’ve asked friends, family, acquaintances, business associates and participants in my seminars and think tanks to feely list, in order of importance, their top 10 favorite words that in some way represented their life. All in all, 150 people participated. Here is the result which represents the average of their responses:
The surveyed people ranked security and prosperity high on the list. These most probably are primary factors because of our weakened national economic situation. Ten years ago, Americans took security and prosperity for granted and I doubt would have listed them at all. The words “peace” and “equality” in my opinion are universal values that most of us around the world would rank high. I was surprised by how low “freedom” ranked in comparison to the other words. Could this mean that “freedom” is not as highly valued as it once was in our country? Is security now more important than freedom? The Japanese, especially the young, listed it much higher than the surveyed Americans.
Interestingly, participants used words such as “compensation,” “acknowledgement,” and not words such as “effort,” “skills,” and “work.” Could this represent a disappearing work ethic in America? Or could it mean the desire to honor the individual as opposed to a group for accomplishments? Or does it mean the individual is entitled by society to compensation and acknowledgement. I was surprised at the absence of words that I had expected to be included such as honor, pride, honesty, integrity, kindness, responsible and patriotism.
Compare your list with my survey. Any commonalities? Differences? Give your list to a friend. Tell your friend that the 10 words reflect the most important 10 things in another (unnamed) friend’s life. Then ask your friend to interpret the list. Describe the person who would list these ten words as descriptive of what is important in their life. I did this with my personal list and found my friend’s interpretation of my list as most enlightening.
NURSING HOME RESPONSES. An administrator of a nursing home conducted a similar survey of 50 patients at my urging and the following list reflects the average of their top 10 word responses.
Admittedly, my survey and the one conducted in the nursing home were not scientific or rigorous as compared to the one conducted by Hitotsubashi University in Japan , but I found it fun and somewhat enlightening to compile and compare favorite words from different people. Consider what we could learn by studying the favorite words for the following groups:
Republicans and Democrats
Trump and Obama
Police and criminals
Politicians and soldiers
Scientists and artists
Professional athletes and teachers
Priests and atheists
Doctors and lawyers
Senior citizens and teenagers
Therapists and patients
Straight people and gay people
Home schooled children and publically educated children
Hospice patients and high school seniors
Michael Michalko is the author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses; Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work, and ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck. Visit Michael at www.creativethinking.net
Most people presume that our attitudes affect our behavior, and this is true. But it’s also true that our behavior determines our attitudes. Tibetan monks say their prayers by whirling their prayer wheels on which their prayers are inscribed. The whirling wheels spin the prayers into divine space. Sometimes, a monk will keep a dozen or so prayer wheels rotating like some juggling act in which whirling plates are balanced on top of long thin sticks.
The Greek philosopher Diogenes was once noticed begging from a statue. His friends were puzzled and alarmed at this behavior. Asked the reason for this pointless behavior, Diogenes replied, AI am practicing the art of being rejected.@ By pretending to be rejected continually by the statue, Diogenes was beginning to understand the mind of a beggar. Every time we pretend to have an attitude and go through the motions of having that attitude, we trigger the emotions we create and strengthen the attitude we wish to cultivate.
YOU CAN USE YOUR IMAGINATION TO SYNTHESIZE EXPERIENCE
Cognitive scientists have discovered that the brain is a dynamical system—an organ that evolves its patterns of activity rather than computes them like a computer. It thrives on the creative energy of feedback from experiences either real or fictional. An important point to remember is that you can synthesize experience, literally create it in your imagination. The human brain cannot tell the difference between an “actual” experience and an experience imagined vividly and in detail.
The real key to turning imagination into reality is acting as if the imagined scene were real. Instead of pretending it is a scene from the future, imagine it as though you are truly experiencing it in the present. It is a real event in the now. The great masters of antiquity have told us through the ages that whatever you believe you become. If you believe and imagine in the now that you are whatever you wish to be then reality must conform.
This is how Air Force Colonel George Hall survived his harrowing experience during the Viet Nam war. He was a POW locked in the dark box of a North Vietnamese prison for seven grueling years. Every day Hall imagined he was a golf professional and played a full game of golf in his imagination. One week after he was released from his POW camp he entered the Greater New Orleans Open and shot a 76.
The surrealist artist Salvador Dali was pathologically shy as a child. He hid in closets and avoided all human contact until his uncle counseled him on how to overcome this shyness. He advised Dali to be an actor and to pretend he was an extrovert genius. At first Dali was full of doubts as he began to act the part. When he adopted the pose of an extrovert and made it obvious to himself and others by acting the part, his brain soon adapted itself to the role he was playing. He became what he pretended to be. Dali’s acting the part changed his psychological state.
As you imagine yourself to be, so shall you be, and you are that which you imagine. Another remarkable example is Victor Frankl’s account of being in a concentration camp in his book From Death-Camp to Existentialism. While most of his fellow inmates lost hope and died, Frankl reframed his experience and pretended to be an academic lecturer and occupied his mind creating lectures he would give after he was released from camp—lectures that would draw upon his experiences in the camp. He took a hopeless situation and transformed it in his mind to a source of rich experiences that he could use to help others overcome potentially deadening and hopeless situations.
Consider what Nikola Tesla accomplished with his imagination. He is the man who invented the modern world. He was a physicist first, and electrical engineer and mechanical engineer later. Tesla invented the AC electricity, electric car, radio, the bladeless turbine, wireless communication, fluorescent lighting, the induction motor, a telephone repeater, the rotating magnetic field principle, the poly-phase alternating current system, alternating current power transmission, Tesla Coil transformer, and more than 700 other patents.
At an early age Tesla created an imaginary world where he pretended to reside. In his autobiography “My Inventions,” Tesla described: “Every night and sometimes during the day, when alone, I would start out on my journeys, see new places, cities and countries, live there, meet with people, make friendships and acquaintances and, however unbelievably it is a fact that they were just as dear to me as those in actual life and not a bit less intense in their manifestations.” He used to practice this kind of mind-journey constantly.
When he became a physicist, he would imagine himself in the future and observe what devices and machines they had. Tesla imagined himself to be a time traveler. He would note how they created energy, how they communicated, and lived. He could picture them all as if they were real in his imaginary mind. He would conduct imaginary experiments and collect data. He described that he needed no models, drawings or experiments in a physical place.
When he attained an idea for a new machine, he would create the machine in his imagination. Instead of building a model or prototype, he would conceive a detailed mental model. Then he would leave it running in his imagination. His mental capacity was so high that after a period of time he would calculate the wear and tear of the different parts of his imaginary machine. Always his results would prove to be incredibly accurate.
The problem most of us have is that when we look at our lives we see only who we are not and dwell on that. Instead, imagine who you want to be and go through the motions of being it. You will become who you pretend to be.
First, please take a few moments to complete the following experiment before you read this article. Using the first finger of your dominant hand, please trace the capital letter “Q” on your forehead. There are only two ways of doing this experiment. You can trace the letter “Q” on your forehead with the tail of Q toward your right eye or you draw it with the tail toward your left eye. Some people draw the letter 0 in such a way that they themselves can read it; that is, they place the tail of the Q on the right-hand side of the forehead. Others draw the letter in a way that can be read by someone facing them, with the tail of the 0 on the left side of the forehead.
What an odd thing to ask someone to do. This is an exercise that was popularized by University of Hertfordshire psychologist Richard Wiseman who concentrates on discovering big truths in small things. For instance, Wiseman explains that the Q test is a quick measure of “self-monitoring” which is a theory that deals with the phenomena of expressive controls. Human beings generally differ in substantial ways in their abilities and desires to engage in expressive controls.
Fixed mindset. People who draw the letter Q with the tail slanting toward their left so that someone facing them can read it tend to focus outwardly. Wiseman describes them as high self monitors. Their primary concern is “looking good” and “looking smart.” They are concerned with how other people see them, are highly responsive to social cues and their situational context. Psychologist Carol Dweck describes such people as having a “fixed” mindset. Some of the characteristics of people with a fixed mindset are:
Growth mindset. People who draw the letter Q with the tail slanting toward the right so they can read it tend to focus inwardly. In contrast, low self-monitors come across as being the “same person” in different situations. Their behavior is guided more by their inner feelings and values, and they are less aware of their impact on those around them. They also tend to lie less in life, and so not be so skilled at deceit.” Carol Dweck would describe such people as having a “growth” mindset.
Among the characteristics of people with a growth mindset are:
“If you want to demonstrate something over and over, it feels like something static that lives inside of you—whereas if you want to increase your ability, it feels dynamic and malleable,” Carol Dweck explains. People with fixed mindsets think intelligence is fixed from birth. People with learning goals have a growth mind-set about intelligence, believing it can be developed.
In one notable experiment, Dweck gave a class of preadolescent students a test filled with challenging problems. After they were finished, one group was praised for its effort and another group was praised for its intelligence. Those praised for their intelligence were reluctant to tackle difficult tasks, and their performance on subsequent tests soon began to suffer.
Then Dweck asked the children to write a letter to students at another school, describing their experience in the study. She discovered something remarkable: 40 percent of those students who were praised for their intelligence lied about how they had scored on the test, adjusting their grade upward. They weren’t naturally deceptive people, and they weren’t any less intelligent or self-confident than anyone else. They simply did what people do when they are immersed in an environment that celebrates them solely for their innate “talent.” They begin to define themselves by that description, and when times get tough and that self-image is threatened, they have difficulty with the consequences. Politicians and businesspeople with fixed mindsets will not stand up to investors and the public and admit that they were wrong. They’d sooner lie then confess up to problems and work to fix them.
Michelangelo’s mindset. A great example of a growth mindset is the mindset of Michelangelo. When Michelangelo turned 13-years old, he enraged his father when he told that he had agreed to apprentice in the workshop of the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. His father believed artists were menial laborers beneath their social class. Michelangelo defied his father and learned art and then went on to study at the sculpture school in the Medici gardens. During the years he spent in the Garden of San Marco, Michelangelo became interested in human anatomy. At the time, studying corpses was strictly forbidden by the church. You were threatened with damnation and excommunication. He overcame this problem by making a wooden Crucifix with a detail of Christ’s face and offered it as a bribe to Niccolò Bichiellini, the prior of the church of Santo Spirito, in exchange for permission to secretly study corpses.
Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David, revealed his ability to do what others could not: if other artists required special marble and ideal conditions, he could create a masterpiece from whatever was available, including marble already hopelessly mangled by others. Back in 1463, the authorities of the cathedral of Florence acquired a sixteen-foot-high chunk of white marble to be carved into a sculpture. Two well-known sculptors worked on the piece and gave up, and the mangled block was put in storage. They did not want to admit to failure. Forty years later, Michelangelo took what was left of the marble and sculpted David, the world’s most famous sculpture, within eighteen months.
Michelangelo’s competitors persuaded Junius II to assign to him a relatively obscure and difficult project. It was to fresco the ceiling of a private chapel. The chapel had already been copiously decorated with frescoes by many talented artists. Michelangelo would be commissioned to decorate the tunnel-vaulted ceiling. In this way, his rivals thought they would divert his energies from sculpture, in which they realized he was supreme. This, they argued, would make things hopeless for him, since he had no experience of coloring in fresco he would certainly, they believed, do less creditable work as a painter. Without doubt, they thought, he would be compared unfavorably with Raphael, and even if he refused to do it, he’d make the Pope angry and suffer the consequences. Thus, one way or another, they would succeed in their purpose of getting rid of him.
In every way it was a challenging task. He had rarely used color, nor had he painted in fresco. He worked hard and long at studying and experimenting with colors and in fresco. When ready, he executed the frescos in great discomfort, having to work with his face looking upwards, which impaired his sight so badly that he could not read or look at drawings save with his head turned backwards, and this lasted for several months. In that awkward curved space, Michelangelo managed to depict the history of the Earth from the Creation to Noah, surrounded by ancestors and prophets of Jesus and finally revealing the liberation of the soul. His enemies had stage managed the masterpiece that quickly established him as the artist genius of the age.
Michelangelo is a wonderful example of a person with a growth mindset. He ignored his father and marched to his own drum to become an artist; overcame the church’s adversity to studying corpses, took the risk of sculpting mangled marble into the world’s finest sculpture; and with hard work, dedication and persistence, painted the ceiling of the Sistine chapel.
To learn more about the creative thinking habits of Michelangelo and other creative geniuses read Michael Michalko’s Cracking Creativity (Secrets of Creative Genius).
Solve the following thought experiment before you read the rest. Imagine you have a brother. Your father has passed away, and he has left you an inheritance with three assets. The assets are represented symbolically by three coins. Your instructions are that you must share the inheritance fairly but you cannot split any of the assets. Now you must try to find a creative solution that will get you the maximum possible benefit. What is your solution?
HOW WOULD AN ISRAELI AND PALESTINIAN SHARE THE COINS?
A Franciscan monk who was a speaker at an international seminar about world peace, was asked if successful negotiations between Israel and Palestine were possible. He called two young people up to the microphone: a Palestinian young man and a Jewish Israeli young man. He placed three gold coins on the podium and asked them how they would share the inheritance.
When the Palestinian said he would take two coins and give the Israeli one, everyone laughed and the monk said, “Well, okay, you have the power to do that, but you are sowing the seeds of conflict.” The Israeli said he was actually thinking of taking one coin and giving the Palestinian two. “Evidently,” the monk guessed, “you feel it’s worth the risk of investing in your adversary in this way, and hope to somehow benefit in the future from this.” The boys sat down.
Next, the monk asked two young women (again one was Israeli, the other Palestinian) to repeat the exercise. It was fairly clear where the monk was going with this, but would the girls get it? “I would keep one coin and give her two,” said the Israeli young woman, “on condition that she donate her second one to a charity, maybe a children’s hospital.” “Good,” said the monk and asked the Palestinian woman if she agreed. She said “I would keep one for myself, and give one to her, and say that we should invest the third one together.” The entire audience stood and applauded.
Negotiating is not a game, and it’s not a war, it’s what civilized people do to iron out their differences. There is no point, the monk said, in figuring out how to get the other side to sign something they cannot live with. A negotiated settlement today is not the end of the story, because “there is always the day after,” and a good negotiator should be thinking about the day after, and the day after that.
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All art is a reaction to the first line drawn. Unless the artist sits in front of the canvas and paints, there can be no art. Unless the writer sits down and starts to type, there can be no book. Unless the musician plays their instrument, there can be no music. Unless the sculptor begins to chip away at the marble, there can be no sculpture. Unless the explorer begins the journey, there can be no discovery. It is the same with everything in life, even civilizations; unless one acts nothing is created or discovered.
Let us imagine that your intention is to make a canoe. You will have, at first, some idea of the kind of canoe you wished to make. You will visualize the kind of canoe you wish to make. You will visualize the canoe, then you will go into the woods and look at the trees. Your desired outcome will determine your criteria for the tree you need. Your criteria might involve size, usefulness, and beauty of the tree. Your criteria might involve size, seating, usefulness, and design. Criteria both filter your perceptions and invest a particular situation with meaning and thereby, informing your experience and behavior at the time. Out of the many trees in the woods, you will end up focusing on the few that meet your criteria, until you found find the perfect tree.
Nothing happens until you take action and cut the tree down. You cut the tree down; remove the branches from the trunk; take off the bark; hollow out the trunk; carve the outside shape of the hull; form the prow and the stern; and then, perhaps, carve decorations on the prow. In this way you will produce the canoe.
Action has a way of bringing to our awareness only those things which that our brains deems important. You’ll begin to see ideas for your canoe pop up everywhere in your environment. You’ll see them in tables, magazines, on television, and in other structures, while walking down the street. You’ll see them in the most unlikely things, — such as a refrigerator, — that you use every day without giving them much thought. How the brain accomplishes such miracles has long been is one of neuroscience’s great mysteries.
Years back we joined friends for dinner at a famous Toronto restaurant “Carman’s Club.” While waiting for a table I was idly looking at a wall of photographs of famous people who had dined there. When suddenly, a man behind me said “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. Don’t you agree?” “I turned and said “Yes” politely. The man then introduced himself as Arthur Carman the owner of the restaurant.
“Let me tell you about myself,” he said. “I am an immigrant from Greece. I arrived in Canada with nothing. My first job was a low level menial job of washing dishes in a diner. I lived in one tiny room in a shabby house. Every night I would unscrew my lone lightbulb to save on the electricity bill. Over time, I became a waiter, a chef’s helper and chef. I saved every penny I could and finally was able to purchase a tiny diner.
I started to make enough money to buy a bigger diner, and then more diners. Eventually, I bought a restaurant and then bought more restaurants. I became very successful and rich. So rich I decided to join a very prestigious private club whose members were the wealthiest citizens in Toronto. I applied and was summarily rejected.
The majority of the members of the club had inherited their wealth and most had high academic honors and awards. I was rejected because of my early background as an immigrant dishwasher. It made no difference to them what I had accomplished in life from nothing. They perceived themselves as the intellectual elite and I would always be a dishwasher.
So you know what I did? I made more money and bought the building that was their clubhouse. I then evicted them and transformed the building into “Carman’s Club,” the restaurant you are standing in tonight. He then joined us at our table for dinner and, delightedly, regaled us all night with his stories about his life and accomplishments.”
The man who was rejected because of his early life in poverty buys their private clubhouse and turns it into a public restaurant (even calls it Carman’s Club) where all are welcome.
Carman’s whole life was a reaction to the first line he drew when he sought and gained his first job in his adopted country. It is not what we think or believe, it is what we do that is only thing of consequence in life.
Creativity consists of seeing what no one else is seeing, to think what no one else is thinking, and doing what others had wish they had done. Become creative. http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs