Archive for the ‘creative thinking techniques’ Category




Attribute analysis breaks our propensity to operate at the highest level of generalization. Often, if we consider the attributes of people, things, situations, etc., we come to different conclusions than if we operate within our stereotypes.

We usually describe an object by listing its function. The way we see something is not inherent in the object itself — it grows out of experience and observation. A screwdriver’s primary function is to tighten or loosen screws. To discover new applications and ideas, you need flexibility of thought. An easy way to encourage this kind of thinking is to list the attributes or components of the subject instead of concentrating on its function. For example, let’s suppose you want to improve the screwdriver.

(1) First, list the attributes of a screwdriver.
For Example:

Round steel shaft

Wooden or plastic handle

Wedge-shaped tip

Manually operated

Used for tightening or loosening screws
(2) Next, focus on each specific attribute and ask “How else can this be accomplished?” or “Why does this have to be this way?”
Ask yourself:

What can I substitute for this attribute?

What can be combined with it?

Can I adapt something to it?

Can I add or magnify it?

Can I modify it in some fashion?

Can I put it to some other use?

What can I eliminate?

Can the parts be rearranged?

What is the reverse of this?
(3) Following are a few recent patented screwdriver innovations. The innovations were created by creative thinkers focusing on separate attributes of the screwdriver such as the handle, power source, and the shaft.

Focusing on the handle, a Swedish company created a handle with space for both hands. It was so successful, they later developed a full range of tools with a long handles.

In the Third World, an aspiring inventor added a battery to provide power. This power source proved to be more reliable than electricity.

An entrepreneur came up with a better arrangement. He created shafts that were made interchangeable to fit various size screws, which obviated the need to have several screwdrivers.

A Japanese engineer invented a bendable electric screwdriver with a super-flexible shaft to reach out of the way places.
Considering the attributes of something rather than its function, provides you with a different perspective. Different perspectives create different questions which place your subject into different contexts. Years back, the Jacuzzi brothers designed a special whirlpool bath to give one of their cousins hydrotherapy treatment for arthritis. This was a new product for the Jacuzzi brothers who were in the farm pump business. They marketed the tub to other victims of arthritis but sold very few. Years later, Roy Jacuzzi put the concept into a different context (the luxury bath market) by asking, “Can I put this particular hydrotherapy treatment to some other use?” and bathrooms were never the same.

Michael Michalko



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:


  • They have a fixed mindset about their abilities and the abilities of others. E.g., all talent is innate and static. You are either born intelligent or you are not. They do not believe people can change and grow.
  • They enjoy being the center of attention and adapt their actions to suit the situation. Ability is something inherent that needs to be demonstrated.
  • They are also skilled at manipulating the way others see them, which makes them good at deception and lying.
  • They offer external attributions for failures. They are never personally responsible for mistakes or failures. To them, admitting you failed is tantamount to admitting you’re worthless.
  • They are performance oriented and will only perform tasks that they are good at. For them, each task is a challenge to their self-image, and each setback becomes a personal threat. So they pursue only activities at which they’re sure to shine—and avoid the sorts of experiences necessary to grow and flourish in any endeavor.
  • From a fixed mindset perspective, if you have to work hard at something, or you learn it slowly, you aren’t good at it, and are not very smart. Performance is paramount. They want to look smart even if it means not learning a thing in the process.

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:

  • They tend to exhibit expressive controls congruent with their own internal states; i.e. beliefs, attitudes, and dispositions regardless of social circumstance.
  • They are often less observant of social context and consider expressing a self-presentation dissimilar from their internal states as a falsehood and undesirable.
  • They are generally oblivious to how others see them and hence march to their own different drum.
  • They believe the brain is dynamic and develops over time by taking advantage of learning opportunities and overcoming adversity.
  • They offer internal attributions to explain things by assigning causality to factors within the person. An internal explanation claims that the person was directly responsible for the event.
  • They take necessary risks and don’t worry about failure because each mistake becomes a chance to learn.
  • The growth mindset is associated with greater confidence, risk-taking, and higher academic and career success over time. Ability can be developed.
  • High achievement comes from hard work, dedication and persistence to meet a goal.

“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?





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.

Learn how to become creative in your business and personal lives.



Michael Michalko’s creative thinking techniques give you the extraordinary ability to focus on information in a different way and different ways to interpret what you are focusing on.

Below is an illustration of irregular black and white shapes:


Concentrate on the four small dots in the vertical row in the middle of the picture for at least 30 seconds.

Then close your eyes and tilt your head back. Keep them closed. Eventually, you will see a circle of light. 

Continue looking at the circle. What do you see? Amazing isn’t it?

By focusing your attention in a different way (focusing on the dots and closing your eyes), you changed your perception of the pattern thereby allowing yourself to see something that you could not otherwise see.

Similarly,  Michael Michalko’s creative thinking techniques change the way you think by focusing your attention in different ways and giving you different ways to interpret what you focus on. The techniques will enable you to look at the same information as everyone else and see something different.

Michael Michalko. 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.




Imagination is more important than intelligence. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is possible, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. It is arguably the most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to imagine and synthesize experiences we have never shared. Creative thinkers can imagine themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places, can even imagine forces of nature.

Think of how Albert Einstein changed our understanding of time and space by imagining people going to the center of time in order to freeze their lovers or their children in century-long embraces; this place is clearly reminiscent of a black hole, where, theoretically, gravity would stop time. Another time he imagined a woman’s heart leaping and falling in love two weeks before she has met the man she loves which lead to the understanding of acausality a feature of quantum mechanics.  And still another time he imagined a blind beetle crawling around a sphere thinking it was crawling in a straight line.

Try to solve the following thought experiment before you read the paragraph that follows it.


One morning, exactly at sunrise, a Buddhist monk began to climb a tall mountain. The narrow path no more than a foot or two wide, spiraled the mountain to a glittering temple at the summit. The monk ascended the path at varying rate of speed, stopping many times along the way to rest and to eat the dried fruit he carried with him. He reached the temple shortly before sunset. After several days of fasting and meditation he began his journey back along the same path, starting at sunrise and again walking at variable speeds with many stops along the way. His average speed descending was, of course, greater than his average climbing speed. Prove that there is a spot along the path that the monk will occupy on both trips at precisely the same time of day.

If you try to logically reason this out or use a mathematical approach you will conclude that it is unlikely for the monk to find himself at the same time of day, on the same spot on two different occasions. To solve it, visualize the monk walking up the hill, at the same time imagine the same monk walking down the hill. The two figures must meet at some point in time “regardless” at what speed they walk or how often they stop. Whether the monk descends two days or three days it makes no difference it all comes out to the same thing.

Now it is, of course, quite impossible for the monk to duplicate himself, and to be walking up the mountain and down the mountain at one and the same time. But in the visual image he does; and it is precisely this indifference to logic, this superimposing one image over the other that leads to the solution.

The imaginative conception of the monk meeting himself blends the journeys up and down the mountain and superimposes one monk on the other at the meeting place. The ancient Greeks called this kind of thinking “homoios” which means “same.” They sensed that this was really kind of a mirror image of the dream process which led to art and scientific revelations.

Whenever I think of the power of the imagination, I remember a story my grandfather Dido told me. At the time, he was thinking about the nature of time and space and wondered if time is linear or circular. The imaginary story he told was so effective that to this day I still contemplate it when I think about the nature of time.

He told me to imagine a time traveler who went back in time to shoot his younger self to see what would happen. How would this effect the future? He took a rifle with him, sought out his younger self and raised the rifle to shoot his younger self through his heart. But his aim was poor, so he hit his younger self in the shoulder instead, merely wounding him. The reason his aim wasn’t so good was because he had this shoulder wound from an earlier shooting incident!






The ancient Greek philosophers Socrates, Aristotle and Plato created the rules for thinking that were introduced into Europe during the Renaissance. These rules have evolved into logical thinking habits. Typically, we’ve learned how to analyze a situation, identify standard elements and operations and exclude everything else from our thinking. We’re taught to emphasize exclusion rather than inclusion. Then we analytically fixate on something that we have learned from someone else and apply that to the problem.

Suppose we are given a button to match, from among a box of assorted buttons. How do we proceed? We examine the buttons in the box, one at a time; but we do not look for the button that might match. What we do, actually, is to scan the buttons looking for the buttons that “are not” a match, rejecting each one in which we notice some discrepancy (this one is larger, this one darker, too many holes, etc.). Instead of looking for “what is” a match, our first mental reflex is to look for “what is not” a match. Give a young child the same exercise and the child will immediately look to find what is a match. This is because the child is thinking naturally and has not yet been educated to think exclusively.


We sometimes say adults are better at paying attention than children, but we really mean the opposite. Adults are better at not paying attention. We’re educated to screen out everything else and restrict our consciousness to a single focus. This ability, though useful for mundane tasks, is actually a liability to creative thinking, since it leads us to neglect potentially significant pieces of information and thoughts when we try to create something new. To truly experience the difference between adult and children, take a walk with a two-year old. They see things you don’t even notice. The French poet Baudelaire was right: “Genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will.”

Suppose you were given a candle, a cork board and a box of tacks. Can you fasten the candle in such a way that it does not drip on the floor? Typically, when participants are given a candle, cork board, and a box of tacks and asked to fasten the candle on the wall so that it does not drip on the floor, most have great difficulty coming up with the solution. We’ve been taught to divide a complex problem into its separate objects that can be labeled and separated into separate pre-established categories such as cork board, candle, tacks and box. This kind of thinking is again, by nature, exclusionary. We look for “What is not” instead of “What is,” and What can be.” Interpreting problems by excluding things through the prism of past experience will, by definition, lead the thinker astray. Once the box is perceived as a container for the tacks, it is not thought of as anything else.

By thinking of “What can be,” instead of “What is not,” our thinking becomes more abstract and conceptual as we dramatically increase possibilities and freedom of thought. Thinking “what the box can be” suggests using it as a platform by tacking the box to the board as a platform and placing the candle on top.

An experimental psychologist set up the task of making a pendulum. Subjects were led to a table on which had been placed a pendulum-weight with a cord attached, a nail and some other objects. All one had to do was to drive the nail into the wall using the pendulum weight and hang the cord with the pendulum on the nail. But there was no hammer. Most of the subjects were unable to accomplish the task.

Next, another series of subjects were given the same task under slightly altered conditions. The cord was placed separately from the pendulum-weight and the word pendulum-weight was not used. All the subjects accomplished the task. Their minds were not prejudiced by past experiences, labels and categories, so they simply used the pendulum-weight to hammer in the nail, then tied the cord weight and the weight to the cord.

The first group failed because the weight was firmly embedded in its role as a pendulum-weight and nothing else, because it had been verbally described as such and because visually it formed a unit with a cord attached. The visual gestalt of weight-attached-to-cord, plus the verbal suggestion from their experimenter made it impossible for them to change their perception of a pendulum-weight into a hammer. “This is not a hammer,” they thought.

In contrast, creative thinkers think productively, not reproductively. When confronted with a problem, they ask “How many different ways can I look at it?”, “How can I rethink the way I see it?” and “How many different ways can I solve it?” instead of “What have I been taught by someone else on how to solve this?” They tend to come up with many different responses, some of which are unconventional and possibly unique.

Can you move one of these cards to leave four jacks in the following thought experiment? Try to solve it before you continue reading.



To solve the experiment you have to rethink how you see the cards. How, for example, you can remove one card to leave four jacks when there are only three jacks to begin with? How can you manufacture another jack out of thin air? Can you shuffle or move the cards in such a way to create another Jack? Is there anything you can do with the cards to make another jack? The solution is to take the king and place it over the queen so that the right half on the upper-left “Q” is covered making a “C.” Now you have formed the word “jack,” and you have four jacks.


With productive thinking, one generates as many alternative approaches as one can. You consider the least obvious as well as the most likely approaches, and you look for different ways to look at the problem. 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.

We automatically accept what we are taught and exclude all other lines of thought. The same thing happens when we see something odd or unusual in our experiences. We tend to accept whatever explanation someone with experience tells us. This kind of thinking reminds me of herring gulls. Herring gulls have a drive to remove all red objects from their nest. They also have a drive to retrieve any egg that rolls away from the nest. If you place a red egg in the nest, when the gull returns she will push it out, then roll it back in, then push it out again, only to retrieve it once more.

At a seminar, I asked participants if they could give me examples of people doing something absurd because they simply reproduced what was done before. One of the participants, a quality management consultant, told us about his experience with a small English manufacturing company where he consulted to advise them on improving general operating efficiency.

He told us about a company report which dealt with various aspects of productivity. At the top-right corner of one form, there was a small box with a tiny illegible heading. The consultant noted that the figure ‘0’ had been written in every such report for the past year. On questioning the members of staff who completed the report, they told him that they always put a zero in that box, and when he asked them why they told him they were told do so by their supervisor. The supervisor told him he guessed it had to do with accidents but wasn’t sure. It had always been “0” for the twenty years he had been there, so he continued the practice.

The consultant visited the archives to see if he could discover what was originally being reported and whether it held any significance. When he found the old reports, he saw that the zero return had continued uninterrupted for as far back as the records extended – at least the past thirty years. Finally he found the box that catalogued all the forms the company had used during its history. In it, he found the original daily report, in pristine condition. In the top right corner was the mysterious box, with the heading clearly shown …… ‘Number of Air Raids Today’.



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.



A Special Operations officer, told me a story about a Special Forces soldier who was captured by the North Vietnamese during the Viet Nam war. There was a bounty for the heads of all Special Forces personnel who participated in operation Phoenix at the time and the soldier figured his life was over.

He was trussed up and tortured. He knew if he kept to the hard line of name, rank and serial number he was dead. He then did something extraordinary. He changed his mental state by repeating a general statement continuously. During special forces training, he learned to repeat the sentence “Day by day, in every way, I’m getting stronger and stronger” twenty times, three times a day. He discovered that a simple mental thought repeated continuously occupies the mind exclusively and changes your mental state and behavior. He decided to use the same exercise.

The sentence he used during his captivity was “Moment by moment, in every way, I am becoming Christ and loving and understanding my enemy more and more.” At first, he was highly conflicted and hated his enemy. This caused a great deal of cognitive dissonance. He knew he couldn’t change his circumstance, so he knew he had to change himself. And he said eventually he believed what he was saying and it showed in his eyes and body language. He became what he pretended to be. He became like Christ.

As they tortured him, he told them he loved them, that he understood why they were torturing him and why they would kill him. He told them not to feel guilty about what they were doing to him because he understood and loved them and prayed for them.

At first, his torturers were highly amused and continued to torture him. But It’s hard to hate and torture someone who seems to genuinely love and understand you, so, over time, the North Vietnamese became confused and gradually the torture stopped. Then they began to feed him and heal his wounds. They kept his connection to the Phoenix secret so he wouldn’t be executed by their superiors. They became his friend instead of his enemy. They protected him until the end of the war. Now, after he was repatriated, he visits his former captors every three years in Hanoi to laugh and joke about their wartime experiences and celebrate life.

He became what he pretended to be.



Give the Gift of Imagination