Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category


To Be or Not to Be…Creative

Reported by CEO READ

While readying The 100 Best Business Books for All Time for it’s updated paperback release, we spent some extra time with the books we featured in our Takeaway chapter of the book, expanding the reviews to include more detail. It was especially fun for us to visit Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko because of it’s applicability. Just as the subtitle–A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques–says, Thinkertoys can help those aforementioned folks who aren’t the creative type learn how to be creative. That’s the important word here: learn. No, not everyone is creative. But creativity, according to Michalko, can be self-taught, cultivated, discovered. You can choose to BE creative.

And Michalko knows a thing or two about getting creativity-resistant organizations to change. As an officer in the United States Army, Michael organized a team of NATO intelligence specialists and international academics in Frankfurt, Germany, to research, collect, and categorize all known inventive-thinking methods. His international team applied those methods to various NATO military, political, and social problems and in doing so it produced a variety of breakthrough ideas and creative solutions to new and old problems. After leaving the military, Michael facilitated CIA think tanks using his creative thinking techniques.

His work is best appreciated in book form, where you can scribble in the margins, and bend the pages, and carry it over to your coworker’s cubicle to test them on one of his thought experiments. Yes, make sure you have a pen when you are open up one of Michalko’s books, you’ll need it to write down the ideas you will start getting.

The material he presents throughout the book is entertaining but also so very do-able. Through the exercises and insights in his books, Michalko provides the material to train even the most creatively-blind how to open his or her eyes to their own and others’ creative ideas.


Michael Michalko





Think of how Albert Einstein changed our understanding of time and space by fantasizing about people going to the center of time in order to freeze their lovers or their children in century-long embraces. This space he imagined is clearly reminiscent of a black hole, where, theoretically, gravity would stop time. Einstein also fantasized about a woman’s heart leaping and falling in love two weeks before she has met the man she loves, which lead him to the understanding of acausality, a feature of quantum mechanics. A caricature of special relativity (the relativistic idea that people in motion appear to age more slowly) is based on his fantasy of a world in which all the houses and offices are on wheels, constantly zooming around the streets (with advance collision-avoidance systems).

Einstein summarized the value of using your imagination to fantasize best when he said “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: Try to solve the following thought experiment before you read the paragraph that follows it. The thought experiment is attributed to the German Gestalt psychologist Karl Dunker.

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 around the mountain to a glittering temple at the summit. The monk ascended the path at a 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 a varying speed with many stops along the way. His average speed descending was, of course, greater than his average climbing speed. Is there 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 on the same spot at the same time of day on two different occasions. Instead, visualize the monk walking up the hill, and at the same time imagine the same monk walking down the hill. The two figures must meet at some point in time regardless of their walking speed or how often they stop. Whether the monk descends in two days or three days makes no difference; it all comes out to the same thing.

Now it is, of course, impossible for the monk to duplicate himself and walk up the mountain and down the mountain at the same time. But in the visual image he does; and it is precisely this indifference to logic, this superimposition of 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.

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 a fantasy 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.

Imagination gives us the impertinence to imagine making the impossible possible. Einstein, for example, was able to imagine alternatives to the sacred Newtonian notion of absolute time, and discovered that time is relative to your state of motion. Think of the thousands of scientists who must have come close to Einstein’s insight but lacked the imagination to see it because of the accepted dogma that time is absolute, and who must have considered it impossible to contemplate any theory.  

Einstein described his favorite creative thinking technique as “combinatory play” in a 1945 letter to his friend Jacque Hadamard as the essential feature in the way he thought. Our brains are conditioned to associate similar subjects but have great difficulty are forcing connections between two dissimilar and unrelated subjects or images that seem to have no associations. Our educated and practiced ability to associate similar concepts limits our ability to be creative (apples and oranges are fruit). We form ‘associative walls’ that makes us very efficient at finding common associations  but it discourages us from looking for connections between dissimilar subjects.

Overcoming these associative habits is probably one of the most important skills when it comes to creative and innovative thought. It is no coincidence that the most creative and innovative people through history are experts at forcing new connections between dissimilar subjects through combinatory play. I’ve traced the technique back to Leonardo da Vinci who wrote in his notebooks “It is not possible to think simultaneously of two subjects, no matter how dissimilar, without connections being formed.


Following is an example of how I used the technique with a publisher who was looking for more innovative ways to publish books.

The question I asked him to think about was “What is impossible to do in your industry, but if it were possible would change the nature of your business forever?”

The publisher kept a dream diary. He told me that when he had an interesting problem, he would write “key” words in a notebook by his bed before he went to sleep. When he awoke, the first thing he would do was to try to recall his dreams and record everything he could remember. Then he told me about a dream he had in the past that fascinated him.

He dreamed he was planting seeds in a large field. He nurtured the plants as they grew.  Each plant grew into a large cabbagelike head. When the plant ripened, the leaves unfolded revealing a book. Each plant produced a book. Excitedly, he raced from row to row opening each book. They were all different. Some were fiction, others were nonfiction, children’s books, coffee table books, dictionaries, biographies. He flipped through the books laughing and laughing. That was the answer to my question he said. It is impossible to grow books.

He and I discussed the meaning of the dream about growing books. We realized the impossibility of growing books but listed all the connections we could think of between growing plants and publishing books. One connection was that trees are planted and harvested for the manufacture of paper and paper is used to publish books.

Why not publish books that become trees? This would be a way to educate and inspire young readers about the need for ecologically responsible behavior. The idea the publisher decided to pursue is to publish storybooks for children about trees. The book can then be planted (planting instructions are included) and will grow back into a tree. The books will be handstitched, made from recycled acid-free paper and biodegradable inks and the cover is embedded with poplar tree seeds. Each copy comes with planting instructions. Readers are encouraged to plant and name their tree and to care for it as it grows. The marketing department plans to have the book displayed in bookshops, where it can be seen germinating by customers.


In another example, Toyota engineers believed that the manufacture of an automobile that is a live, breathing creature is impossible. The attributes of living creatures are, for example, breathing, growing older, reproducing, feeling emotions, and so on. They brainstormed for possible connections between attributes of living creatures and autos.

The Japanese engineers for Toyota decided to develop a car that they say can express moods ranging from angry to happy to sad. The car can raise or lower its body height and ‘‘wag’’ its antenna, and it comes equipped with illuminated hood designs, capable of changing colors, that are meant to look like eyebrows, eyes, and even tears. The car will try to approximate the feelings of its driver by drawing on data stored in an onboard computer. So, for example, if another car swerves into an expressive car’s lane, the right combination of deceleration, brake pressure, and defensive steering, when matched with previous input from the driver, will trigger an ‘‘angry’’ look.

The angry look is created as the front end lights up with glowering red U-shaped lights, the headlights become hooded at a forty-five-degree angle, and downward-sloping “eyebrow” lights glow crimson. A good-feeling look is lighting up orange, and one headlight winks at the courteous driver and wags its antennae. A sad-feeling look is blue with “tears” dripping from the headlights.

Stretching  your  imagination by trying to make impossible things possible with combinatory play between unrelated subjects makes it possible to create ideas you cannot get using your usual way of thinking.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………Michael Michalko is a renowned creativity expert whose books describe creative thinking techniques used by creative geniuses throughout history to get their breakthrough ideas. 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.





Imagine, for a moment, that thought is water. When you are born, your mind is like a glass of water. Your thinking is inclusive, clear, and fluid. All thoughts intermingle and combine with each other and make all kinds of connections and associations. This is why children are spontaneously creative.

In school you are taught to define, label, and segregate what you learn into separate categories. The various categories are kept separate and not allowed to touch each other, much like ice cubes in a tray. Once something is learned and categorized, your thoughts about it become frozen. For example, once you learn what a can opener is, whenever someone mentions “can opener” you know exactly what it is.

You are taught, when confronted with a problem, to examine the ice cube tray and select the appropriate cube. Then you take the cube and put it in a glass, where your thinking heats and melts it. For example, if the problem is to “improve the can opener,” the glass will contain all you have learned about can openers, and nothing more. You are thinking exclusively, which is to say you are thinking only about what you have learned about the can opener. No matter how many times the water is stirred, you end up creating, at best, a marginal improvement.

Now if you take another cube (for example, vegetables) and put it in the same glass with the can-opener cube, your thinking will heat and melt both together into one fluid. Now when you stir the water, more associations and connections are made and the creative possibilities become immensely greater. The vegetable cube, once blended with the can-opener cube, might inspire you to think of how vegetables open in nature. For example, when pea pods ripen, a seam weakens and opens, freeing the peas. This might inspire you to come up with novel ideas. You could, for example, manufacture cans with a weak seam that can be pulled to open the can. You cannot get this kind of novel idea using your conventional way of thinking.

What happens when you think simultaneously, in the same mental space, about a showerhead and a telescope orbiting the earth? When the Hubble telescope was first launched into space, scientists were unable to focus it. It could be salvaged only by refocusing it using small, coin-shaped mirrors. The problem was how to deliver the mirrors and insert them precisely into the right location. The right location was in a light bundle behind the main mirror. The NASA experts who worked on the problem were not able to solve it, and the multi¬million dollar Hubble seemed doomed.

Electrical engineer James Crocker was attending a seminar in Germany when he found out about the problem. He worked on it all day. Tired, he stepped into the shower in his hotel room. The European-style shower included a showerhead on an arrangement of adjustable rods. While manipulating the showerhead, Crocker suddenly realized that similar articulated arms bearing coin-shaped mirrors could be extended into the light bundle from within a replacement axial instrument by remote control. Mentally blending the Hubble telescope and the showerhead created this remarkable solution.

Crocker was startled by his sudden realization of the solution that was immensely comprehensive and at the same time immensely detailed. As Crocker later said, “I could see the Hubble’s mirrors on the shower head.” The NASA experts could not solve the problem using their conventional linear way of thinking. Crocker solved it by thinking unconventionally — by forcing connections between two remotely different subjects.

Leonardo da Vinci described how he got his ideas in his notebooks. He wrote that the human brain cannot simultaneously concentrate on two separate objects or ideas, no matter how dissimilar, no matter how remote, without eventually forming a connection between them. This conceptual combining of dissimilar subjects is what provoked him to imagine his many incredible insights, ideas and inventions during his lifetime. Crocker used the same process to solve the Hubble problem.

As another example, Leonardo combined the movement of water with the movement of human hair in open, becoming the first person to illustrate in extraordinary detail the many invisible subtleties of water in motion. His observa­tions led to the discovery of a fact of nature that came to be called the “law of continuity.’ He was the first person in history to appreciate how air and water were blended together. “In all cases of movement,’ he wrote, “water has great conformity with air.”

The same process can help you to get the ideas you need in the business world. James Lavoie and Joseph Marino, cofounders of Rite-Solutions, did just that when they needed an employee-suggestion system that could harvest ideas from everyone in the company, including engineers, accountants, salespeople, marketing people, and all administrative staff. They wanted a process that would get their employees to invest time, energy and brainpower in the company.

The word invest encouraged them to think of the various ways and methods people use to invest. One association was investing in the stock market. Then the idea of using ideas as stocks caught their interest. They decided to combine the architecture of the New York Stock Exchange with an in-house ideas suggestion system. In other words, a stock exchange of ideas.

The company’s internal exchange is called Mutual Fun. In this private exchange, any employee can offer a proposal to create a new product or spin-off, to solve a problem, to acquire new technologies or companies, and so on. These proposals become stocks and are given ticker symbols identifying the proposals.

Fifty-five stocks are listed on the company’s internal stock exchange. Each stock comes with a detailed description — called an expect-us, as opposed to a prospectus — and begins trading at a price of $10. Every employee gets $10,000 in ‘opinion money’ to allocate among the offerings, and employees signal their enthusiasm by investing in a stock or volunteering to work on the project.”

The result has been a resounding success. Among the company’s core technologies are pattern-recognition algorithms used in military applications, as well as for electronic gambling systems at casinos. An administrative employee with no technical expertise was fascinated with one of the company’s existing technologies and spent time think­ing about other ways it could be used. One pathway she explored was education. She proposed that this technology could be used in schools to create an entertaining way for students to learn history or math. She started a stock called Win/Play/Learn (symbol: WPL), which attracted a lot of attention from the company’s engineers. They enthusiasti­cally bought her stock and volunteered to work on the idea to turn it into a viable new product, which they did.

A brilliant idea from an unlikely source was made possible by the new employee-suggestion system. Just as Isaac Newton got his insight by combining images of a falling apple and the moon, this corporation created an innovative employee-suggestion system by blending the concepts of the New York Stock Exchange and employee suggestions.


If you always think the way you’ve always thought, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. The same old ideas. Learn the creative thinking techniques used by creative geniuses throughout history to get the original ideas you need that you can’t get using your usual way of thinking.








The Difference Between the Way Creative Geniuses Think and the Way the Average Person Thinks


Albert 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. With creative thinking, one generates as many alternative approaches as one can.

Creative thinking is inclusive thinking. 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.

Most of us have been educated to think exclusively which means we think in deficit by focusing our attention on specific information and excluding all else. Exclusive thinking is fine when we absolutely know which information is relevant and what is not. Many situations, in fact, most are ambiguous. In these instances, exclusive thinking leads us to neglect potentially important pieces of the puzzle. Exclusive thinking doesn’t merely inhibit irrelevant facts and perceptions it can also smother the imagination.

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. As the psychologist described the experiment, he held the pendulum and cord and let it swing back and forth demonstrating the movement of a pendulum. Then He asked the students to hang the pendulum on the wall. There was a nail among the objects on the table but there was no hammer. Most of the subjects were baffled and unable to accomplish the task. Without a hammer it couldn’t be done.

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. The psychologist did not demonstrate movement using the pendulum with the cord attached. He simply asked the participants to hang the pendulum on the wall. All the subjects accomplished the task. They simply looked at what was available, realized there was no hammer and then considered all of the available items to see what they could use to pound the nail into the wall. They used the pendulum-weight to hammer in the nail, then tied the cord the 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 categorization of the weight-attached-to-cord, plus the verbal suggestion of their experimenter made it impossible for them to change their perception of a pendulum-weight into a hammer. Thinking exclusively they concluded that they needed a hammer and since one was not available they couldn’t accomplish the task.

The second group had not been primed to think of the cord and weight as a single unit. Thinking inclusively they looked for ways to make something available work as a hammer. This is productive thinking as opposed to reproductive thinking.

blind bat

The illustration contains a collection of seemingly random irregular shapes. Can you find the hidden message these shapes convey? When most of us look at the shapes, we automatically fixate on our past experiences to see if we have encountered something similar before. If we find similar experiences, we then analytically select the most promising past approach, excluding all others, and apply it to the problem. If we find no similar experiences in our past, we mentally default to do what is easiest which is to excuse ourselves from further deliberative thinking and do nothing.

When exclusive thinkers are confronted with something unfamiliar and strange, they automatically fixate on their past experiences to see if they have been taught by someone else on how to solve it. They think reproductively. If they discover nothing from their past they conclude that it is meaningless or can’t be solved. Whereas, inclusive thinkers would be driven by their natural curiosity to find the hidden message by looking at the information in many different ways.

Experimental psychologists like to tell a story about a professor who investigated the ability of chimpanzees to solve problems. A banana was suspended from the center of the ceiling, at a height that the chimp could not reach by jumping. The room was bare of all objects except several packing crates placed around the room at random. The test was to see whether you could teach the chimp to stack the crates and make them into steps to reach the banana.

The chimp sat quietly in a corner, watching the psychologist arrange the crates into steps and then distributed them randomly again. The chimp understood and performed the task. The professor invited his associates to watch the chimp conceptualize and build the steps to the banana. The chimp waited patiently until the professor crossed the middle of the room. When he was directly below the fruit, the chimp suddenly jumped on his shoulder, then leaped into the air and grabbed the banana.

Though the chimp had learned how to build steps out of boxes, when another more direct easier alternative presented itself the chimp did not hesitate. The chimp learned how to solve the problem but instinctively kept an open mind to other more effective solutions. In other words, building steps was just one of many ways to reach the banana. Humans, on the other hand, once we learn something or are taught to do something a particular way by someone in authority (teacher, boss, etc.), seem to keep repeating the one method we know — excluding all else from our thought.


For more information about Michael Michalko and his work in the creativity field and his books on creative thinking visit




In the history of art, most people could easily argue that Salvador Dalí is the father of surrealistic art. Surrealism is the art of writing or painting unreal or unpredictable works of art using the images or words from an imaginary world. Dali’s art is the definition of surrealism. Throughout his art he clearly elaborates on juxtaposition (putting similar images near each other), the disposition (changing the shape of an object), and morphing of objects, ranging from melted objects dripping, to crutches holding distorted figures, to women with heads of bouquets of flowers.

Surrealism is the stressing of subconscious or irrational significance of imagery, or in more simplistic terms, the use of dreamlike imagery. Dalí’s absurd imagination has him painting pictures of figures no person would even dream of creating. How was Salvador Dali able to conjure up these extraordinary images from his subconscious that he used in his surrealistic paintings?

Dali was intrigued with the images which occur at the boundary between sleeping and waking. They can occur when people are falling asleep, or when they are starting to wake up, and they tend to be extremely vivid, colorful and bizarre. He experimented with various ways of generating and capturing these fantastical images.

His favorite technique is that he would put a tin plate on the floor and then sit by a chair beside it, holding a spoon over the plate. He would then totally relax his body; sometimes he would begin to fall asleep. The moment that he began to doze the spoon would slip from his fingers and clang on the plate, immediately waking him to capture the surreal images.

The extraordinary images seem to appear from nowhere, but there is a logic. The unconscious is a living, moving stream of energy from which thoughts gradually rise to the conscious level and take on a definite form. Your unconscious is like a hydrant in the yard while your consciousness is like a faucet upstairs in the house. Once you know how to turn on the hydrant, a constant supply of images can flow freely from the faucet. These forms give rise to new thoughts as you interpret the strange conjunctions and chance combinations.

Following is a blueprint for the technique.


  • Think about your challenge. Consider your progress, your obstacles, your alternatives, and so on. Then push it away and relax.
  • Totally relax your body. Sit on a chair. Hold a spoon loosely in one of your hands over a plate. Try to achieve the deepest muscle relaxation you can.
  • Quiet your mind. Do not think of what went on during the day or your challenges and problems. Clear your mind of chatter.
  • Quiet your eyes. You cannot look for these images. Be passive. You need to achieve a total absence of any kind of voluntary attention. Become helpless and involuntary and directionless. You can enter the hypnogogic state this way, and, should you begin to fall asleep, you will drop the spoon and awaken in time to capture the images.
  • Record your experiences immediately after they occur. The images will be mixed and unexpected and will recede rapidly. They could be patterns, clouds of colors, or objects.
  • Look for the associative link. Write down the first things that occur to you after your experience. Look for links and connections to your challenge. Ask questions such as:

What puzzles me?

Is there any relationship to the challenge?

Any new insights? Messages?

What’s out of place?

What disturbs me?

What do the images remind me of?

What are the similarities?

What analogies can I make?

What associations can I make?

How do the images represent the solution to the problem?

A restaurant owner used this technique to inspire new promotion ideas. When the noise awakened him, he kept seeing giant neon images of different foods: neon ice cream, neon pickles, neon chips, neon coffee, and so on. The associative link he saw between the various foods and his challenge was to somehow to use the food itself as a promotion.

The idea: He offers various free food items according to the day of week, the time of day, and the season. For instance, he might offer free pickles on Monday, free ice cream between 2 and 4 P.M. on Tuesdays, free coffee on Wednesday nights, free sweet rolls on Friday mornings, free salads between 6 and 8 P.M. on Saturdays and so on. He advertises the free food items with neon signs, but you never know what food items are being offered free until you go into the restaurant. The sheer variety of free items and the intriguing way in which they are offered has made his restaurant a popular place to eat.

Another promotion he created as a result of seeing images of different foods is a frequent-eater program. Anyone who hosts five meals in a calendar month gets $30 worth of free meals. The minimum bill is $20 but he says the average is $30 a head. These two promotions have made him a success.

The images you summon up with this technique have an individual structure that may indicate an underlying idea or theme. Your subconscious mind is trying to communicate something specific to you, though it may not be immediately comprehensible. The images can be used as armatures on which to hang new relationships and associations.

A college professor who taught a mixed-media art class was bored with the traditional first assignment of painting a self-portrait. He wanted an exercise that would explore space and perception. Using hypnogogic imagery for inspiration, he saw technicolor trees dressed up like human beings walking around and talking. He thought about this image for days, and then the idea for a new assignment struck.

The idea: He had his students personalize a two-by-four board and carry it around with them everywhere. The students shaped and designed their boards to express their experiences, personalities, and interests. The board served as a yardstick for students to relate to their environment and forced them to work with materials they wouldn’t normally use.

One student made an environmental statement by painting her board blue and black, attaching tree branches and press clippings about forest fires, and scorching parts of it. Another student made his board an extension of his Mexican heritage. He decorated it like Mexican folk art, with carvings of an eagle, snake, and cactus. He depicted his family tree and attached cloth poinsettias, a rosary, and even a piñata.


Learn the creative thinking strategies and techniques used by creative geniuses throughout history to create their breakthrough ideas.






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).





An easy way to generate a lot of ideas is to apply a checklist of nine creative-thinking principles that were first formally suggested by Alex Osborn and later arranged into the following mnemonic SCAMPER. S = Substitute? C = Combine? A = Adapt? M = Magnify? = Modify? P = Put to other uses? E = Eliminate? R = Rearrange? = Reverse?

SCAMPER is based on the notion that everything new is some addition or modification of something that already exists. You take a subject and change it into something else. (E.g., drilled petroleum becomes chemical feedstock becomes synthetic rubber becomes automobile tires. Natural gas becomes polyethylene becomes milk jugs. Mined ore becomes metal becomes wire becomes parts of a motor.)you can take anything that exists and change it into a new idea.

The blueprint for using SCAMPER is: (1) Isolate the subject you want to think about. (2) Ask the SCAMPER questions about each step of the subject and see what new ideas emerge. (3) For every new idea you discover, ask “How can…?” “What else…?” “How else…?” (4) List and evaluate the ideas.

Suppose you wanted to improve the ordinary paperclip? You would start looking for ideas by asking:

– What can be substituted in the clip? – What can I combine the clip with to make something else? – What can I adapt to the clip? – How can I modify the clip? – What can I magnify or add to the clip? – What other uses can I find for the clip? – What can be eliminated from the clip? – What is the reverse of a clip? – What other rearrangement of the clip might be better?

One manufacturer substituted plastic for metal, added color, and produced plastic clips in various colors so that clipped papers could be color-coded thereby finding another use for clips.

Think about any subject from improving your productivity to reorganizing your organization and apply the “Scamper” checklist of questions. You will find that ideas start popping up almost involuntarily, as you ask:

SUBSTITUTE SOMETHING? The principle of substitution is a sound way to develop alternative ideas to anything that exists. Think up ways of changing this for that and that for this. The scientist, Paul Ehrlich, kept substituting one color for another—well over 500 colors—until he found the right dye to color the veins of laboratory mice. You can substitute things, places, procedures, people, ideas, and even emotions. Ask:

Can you substitute something? Who else? What else? Can the rules be changed? Other ingredient? Other material? Other power? Other place? Other approach? What else instead? What other part instead of this?

COMBINE IT WITH SOMETHING ELSE? Much of creative thinking involves combining previously unrelated ideas or subjects to make something new. This process is called synthesis, and is regarded by many experts as the essence of creativity. Gregor Mendel created a whole new scientific discipline, genetics, by combining mathematics with biology. Ask:

What can be combined? Can we combine purposes? How about an assortment? A blend? An alloy? An ensemble? Combine units? Combine materials? What other article could be merged with this? How could we package a combination? What can be combined to multiply possible uses? Combine appeals?

ADAPT SOMETHING TO IT? One of the paradoxes of creativity is that in order to think originally, we must first familiarize ourselves with the ideas of others. Thomas Edison put it this way: “Make it a habit to keep on the lookout for novel and interesting ideas that others have used successfully. Your idea needs to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are working on.” Ask:

What else is like this? What other ideas does it suggest? Does the past offer a parallel? What could I copy? Whom could I emulate? What idea could I incorporate? What other process could be adapted? What else could be adapted? What different contexts can I put my concept in? What ideas outside my field can I incorporate?

MAGNIFY IT? An easy way to create a new idea is to take a subject and add something to it. Japanese engineer Yuma Shiraishi made the home VCR possible by figuring out how to lengthen videotapes so they would be long enough for feature-length movies. Ask:

What can be magnified, made larger, or extended? What can be exaggerated? Overstated? What can be added? More time? Stronger? Higher? Longer? How about greater frequency? Extra features? What can be duplicated? What can add extra value? How can I carry it to a dramatic extreme?

MODIFY IT? What can be modified? Just about any aspect of anything. The hub-and-spoke transportation system that makes Federal Express work was a feature of at least three air freight services as early as 1930. What Fred Smith did was to modify the dimensions, process and purposes of the system and turned an old idea into an elegant concept. Ask:

How can this be altered for the better? What can be modified? Is there a new twist? Change meaning, color, motion, sound, odor, form, shape? Change name? What changes can be made in the plans? In the process? In marketing? Other changes? What other form could this take? What other package? Can the package be combined with the form?

PUT IT TO SOME OTHER USE? A subject takes its meaning from the context in which you put it. Change the context, and you change the meaning. George Washington Carver, botanist and chemist, discovered over 300 different uses for the lowly peanut. Ask:

What else can this be used for? Are there new ways to use as is? Other uses if modified? What else can be made from this? Other extension? Other markets?

ELIMINATE? Sometimes subtracting something from your subject yields new ideas. Trimming down ideas, objects, and processes may gradually narrow the subject down to its truly necessary part or function–or spotlight a part that=s appropriate for some other use. Ask:

What if this were smaller? Understate? What should I omit? Delete? Subtract? What=s not necessary? Should I divide it? Split it up? Separate it into different parts? Streamline? Make miniature? Condense? Compact? Can the rules be eliminated?

REARRANGE IT INTO SOMETHING ELSE? Creativity, it could be said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know. Rearrangement usually offers countless alternatives for ideas, goods, and services. A baseball manager, for example, can shuffle his lineup 362,880 times. Ask:

What other arrangement might be better? Interchange components? Other pattern? Other layout? Other sequence? Change the order? Transpose cause and effect? Change pace? Change schedule?

REVERSE IT TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS? Reversing your perspective opens your thinking. Look at opposites and you’ll see things you normally miss. Ask “What is the opposite of this?” to find a new way of looking at things. The historical breakthroughs of Columbus and Copernicus were the polar opposites of the current beliefs of their day. Ask:

What are the opposites? What are the negatives? Can I transpose positive and negative? Should I turn it around? Up instead of down? Down instead of up? Consider it backwards? Reverse roles? Do the unexpected?

Even the hot dog, as we know it, is the result of the right idea-spurring question being asked at the right time. Antoine Feutchwanger sold sausages at the Louisiana Exposition in 1904. He first sold them on plates, but this proved too expensive. He then offered white cotton gloves along with the franks to prevent customers from burning their fingers. The gloves also were expensive, and customers walked off with them. Antoine and his brother-in-law, a baker, sat down and brainstormed. “What could be added (MAGNIFY) to the frankfurter that would be inexpensive and would prevent people from burning their fingers?” His brother-in-law said: “What if I baked a long bun and slit it to hold the frank?” “Then you can sell the franks, and I can sell you the buns. Who knows, it might catch on. …………………………………………………………………………………………………..

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.