Archive for the ‘innovation’ Category



Think about a swimming pool with a lot of people jumping in and out forming a great choppiness of all these waves all over the surface. Now to think that it’s possible, maybe, that in those waves there’s a clue as to what’s happening in the pool: that an insect of sufficient cleverness could sit in the corner of the pool, and just by being disturbed by the waves and the nature of the irregularities, the insect could figure out who jumped in where, why, how and when, and what’s happening all over the pool.

Imagine Einstein shuffling by in his swimming suit and laughing at the belly whopper Mozart just made diving into the pool. Nikola Tesla sitting by the side of the pool petting a pigeon while smiling at Bill Gates who is dog paddling across the pool. Leonardo da Vinci, Beethoven, Isaac Newton and David Bohm playing water polo. Pablo Picasso sitting by a table sipping a Coors light beer while sketching the scene. Aristotle and Thomas Edison wading in the shallow end engrossed in some argument. Ghandi reclining under an umbrella eyeballing Martha Graham as she strolls by. Michelangelo gracefully breast stroking past Sigmund Freud who is floating on an air cushion smoking a cigar. Socrates slapping Soren Kierkegaard with a wet towel than running away laughing. Plato, Bertrand Russell, Edith Wharton and Louis Pasteur playing shuffleboard. James Watson, Diogenes, Stravinsky and Jonas Salk sitting at the Tiki bar drinking draft beer and watching girl’s beach volleyball on television.

It seems incredible, but I feel like that insect as I look at creative thinking and the lives of creative geniuses throughout history. The waves, both large and small are going in all directions, each disturbance in the water is unique yet, at the same time, all are the same. The movement of the water in the pool is a fluid process that reminds me of the fluid movement of creative thinking as a kind of artistic process that yields ever-changing form and content. Yet many of us speak of “creativity” as a noun, as if it is some kind of physical property that you either own or not.

We hear scholars define creativity with reverent words like “bisociation,” “janusian,” “dialectical,” “synectics,” “morphological analysis,” “Triz,” “Ariz,” “Genoplore model,” “CPS” model, “cognitive integration theory,” “associative theory,” and so on and on,” whose academic tones suggest that they refer to clear and definite ideas. It’s as if they think that if they change the names of things, the things themselves will have changed from a complex process to a thing.

In fact, what the various theories best illustrate is our almost universal tendency to fragment subjects into separate parts and ignore the dynamic interconnectedness of its parts. Think of these different theories as “waves” in the pool of creativity. Scholars who believe their theory is the key try to understand what creates waves by studying one just wave and ignoring the rest. They ignore the dynamic interconnectedness of all the theories, just as the insect ignores the interconnectedness of the waves. The ongoing fragmentation of creativity and resulting chaos are not reflections of the real world of creative thinking but the artifacts of scholarship. Scholars have co-opted the subject of “creativity” as their own, to be expressed in their own language and in their own framework of formal thought. The result is confusion and paradox which places a limit on understanding what creative thinking is in terms of ordinary thought and language.

Suppose I go into the woods and see a bird. I know the bird is a brown-throated thrush, but in Germany it’s called a halsenflugel, and in China it’s called a chung ling and even if I know all the different names in different languages for it, I still know nothing about the bird. I only know something about people and what they call the bird. Now that the thrush sings, teaches its young how to fly, and flies many miles away during the summer and somehow always finds its way back and nobody knows how it does so and so forth. There is a difference between knowing the name of something and understanding something.

It is the same with creative thinking. We go to school and learn about Albert Einstein and his theories about the universe and we say he was creative. We are not taught how he thought. We’re taught he was simply more intelligent than other scientists. We’re taught nothing about his mental process of “combinatory play” of visual images or the irrationality of his way of speculative thinking about “damn fool ideas,” or the many dead ends and failures he experienced. We’re presented with his idea as a product of superior intellect and knowledge. Analogically, as if we are taught how to measure daily rainfall by the rise of water in a pail without ever realizing that the rain arrives in individual drops.

When I say something like “The cat is chasing the mouse,” we think of two distinct entities, a cat and a mouse linked together by a verb. The cat and mouse are the primary objects of our thinking. Theoretical physicists and artists, on the other hand, see “the chasing” as primary and the cat and mouse being secondary to the experience of the process of chasing.

John is falling from the roof to the pavement. Here we tend to concentrate on John and the “splat” he will make when he hits. When Albert Einstein had a thought of a man falling, he concentrated on the process of “falling.” Almost immediately, Einstein realized that as the man fell he would not feel his own weight. This essence of this insight meant free falls are equivalent in both gravitational fields and gravity free regions. This observation became the foundation of the general theory of relativity.

The Einsteins, Shakespeares, and Picassos of the world understand that all things in the universe are processes, transformations, and symmetries, that nothing is static and nothing lasts forever. Even this page is slowly dissolving into dust as you look at it. Still, scholars write of creativity as if it were a stand-alone static object. When I say something like “biosociation” generates many alternatives,” we, again think of two distinct entities, biosociation and alternatives as primary with “generates” as secondary. Yet “biosociation” is simply empty definition and tautology; whereas the verb “generates” is the dynamic process that creates ideas. Creativity is not a thing, it is a process.

Few of us understand that creativity is not a noun. It is a verb. Verbs are thinking, creating, sculpting, painting, making, dancing, singing, acting, searching, seizing, preparing, growing, reaping, seeing, knowing. Now when you take a verb that is alive and vibrant and turn it into a dead noun or principle that reeks of rules: something living dies.

To continue further, think of the sentence “The mouse is confined in a box.” A box is made by nailing six boards together. But it’s obvious that no box can hold a mouse unless it has “containment.” If you study each board, you will discover that no single board contains any containment, since the mouse can just walk away from it. And if there is no containment in one board, there can’t be any in six boards. So the box can have no containment at all. Theoretically then, the mouse should be able to escape.

What, then, keeps the mouse confined? Of course, it is the way a box prevents motion in all directions, because each board bars escape in a certain direction. The left side keeps the mouse from going left; the right from going right, the top keeps it from leaping out, and so on. The secret of a box is simply in how the boards are arranged to prevent motion in all directions! That’s what “containing: means. So it’s silly to expect any separate board by itself to contain any containment, even though each contributes to the containing. It is like the cards of a straight flush in poker: only the full hand has any value at all.

The reason box seems non-mysterious is that we understand perfectly that no single board can contain by itself. Everyone understands how the boards of a well made box interact to prevent motion in any direction. The same applies to the word “creativity.” It is foolish to use this word for describing the smallest components of a process because this word was invented to describe how larger assemblies interact. Like “containment,” the word “creativity” is used for describing phenomena that result from certain combinations of relationships. This is the difference between knowing the name of something and understanding something.

But how much more difficult it is to think of creativity as a phenomena that results from a certain combination of relationships. This combination includes the principles of intention, belief, attitude, behavior, language, , knowing how to change the way you look at things, knowing how to think in different ways and learning how to think inclusively without the prejudices of logic. We’ve been schooled to think of them all as separate and distinct entities so they can be described and explained. Despite the apparent separateness of these at this level, they are all a seamless extension of each other and ultimately blend into each other.

When you look at nature, contents aren’t contained anywhere but are revealed only by the dynamics. What matters to nature are the ways relationships interact, the way they cooperate and combine to form coherent patterns. In nature form and content are inextricably connected and can’t be separated. The healthy pattern of trees bending in concert creates harmony and beauty, whereas, an unhealthy pattern is destructive and ugly. With the trees, it is the combination of relationships between the wind, rain, roots and soil that forms the healthy or unhealthy relationships. With people, it is a common body of human behaviors and generalized principles from which patterns blend together to create the person.

Like nature, the contents of creative genius aren’t contained anywhere but also are revealed by the dynamics. When you look at the behaviors of creative geniuses such as Leonardo daVinci, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso and so on throughout the history of the world, you will find that, like the patterns of nature, the form and contents of their behaviors are inextricably connected and can’t be separated. Creators have the intention to create, and act and speak in a positive and joyful manner. Creators look at what is and what can be instead of what is not. Instead of excluding possibilities, creators consider all possibilities, both real and imagined. Creators interpret the world for themselves and disregard the interpretations of past thinkers. Creators learn how to look at things in different ways and use different ways of thinking. And most importantly, creators are creative because they believe they are creative and have the intention to create.

Can you imagine a Vincent Van Gogh bemoaning his failure to sell his paintings as evidence of his lack of talent, a Thomas Edison giving up on his idea for a light bulb when he had difficulty finding the right material for the filament, a Leonardo daVinci who is too embarrassed to attempt much of anything because of his lack of a university degree, a Charles Darwin believing the experts who called him a fool and his theory “a fool’s experiment,” an Albert Einstein who is fearful of looking stupid for presenting theories to theoretical physicists about the universe as a lowly patent clerk with no academic credentials, a Michelangelo refusing to paint the ceiling of the Sistine chapel because he had never painted fresco and feared failure and ridicule, a weeping and wailing Mozart blaming an unfair world for his poverty, a Walt Disney giving up his ambitions after being fired from his first job by a newspaper editor because he lacked imagination, a Henry Ford giving up his dreams after the experts explained that he didn’t have the capital to compete in the automobile industry, a Bill Gates taking an some ordinary job after dropping out of Harvard, a Michael Faraday defeated in his work with electricity because of a lack of knowledge of higher mathematics and going back to his regular job of being an errand boy, or a depressed Picasso shuffling down the street with his head down looking at the ground, humiliated at the way art experts labeled his first attempts with cubism as laughable cartoons, hoping no one notices him?

Use what talents you have.
The woods would be silent
if no bird sang
except those that sang best.



Michael Michalko is one of the most highly-acclaimed creativity experts in the world 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.







In the graphic above, 9 toothpicks are arranged to form a 100. Can you change 100 to form the word CAT by altering the position of just 2 toothpicks? Take a few moments and see if you can solve it.

One of the many ways in which our mind attempts to make life easier is to solve the first impression of the problem that it encounters. Like our first impressions of people, our initial perspective on problems and situations are apt to be narrow and superficial. We see no more than we’ve been conditioned to see–and stereotyped notions block clear vision and crowd out imagination. This happens without any alarms sounding, so we never realize it’s occurring.

Once we have settled on a perspective, we close off but one line of thought. Certain kinds of ideas occur to us, but only those kinds and no others. What if the crippled man who invented the motorized cart had defined his problem as: “How to occupy my time while lying in bed?” rather than “How to get out of bed and move around the house?”

Have you ever looked closely at the wheels on a railroad train? They are flanged. That is, they have a lip on the inside to prevent them from sliding off the track. Originally train wheels were not flanged–instead, the railroad tracks were. Because the problem of railroad safety had been expressed as: “How can the tracks be made safer for trains to ride on?” hundreds of thousands of miles of track were manufactured with an unnecessary steel lip. Only when the problem was redefined as: “How can the wheels be made to secure the track more securely?” was the flanged wheel invented.

Leonardo Da Vinci believed that to gain knowledge about the form of problems, you began by learning how to restructure it to see it in many different ways. He felt the first way he looked at a problem was too biased toward his usual way of seeing things. He would restructure his problem by looking at it from one perspective and move to another perspective and still another. With each move, his understanding would deepen and he would begin to understand the essence of the problem.  Leonardo called this thinking strategy saper vedere or “knowing how to see.”

To start with, it’s helpful to coin problems in a particular way. Write the problems you want to solve as a definite question. Use the phrase “In what ways might I…?” to start a problem statement. Using this phrase instead of simply asking “how” will psychologically influence you to look for alternative ways.

When we first look at our problem we read it the way we’re taught to read figures left to right. It can’t be solved this way moving just 2 sticks. In what ways might you look at the problem? One other way is to visualize the figure as being upside down read the figure from right to left.


The trick is that the word CAT will be upside down after you solve the puzzle. Simply take the toothpick that is the left side of the second zero, and place it horizontally and centered at the bottom of the 1. Then move the toothpick at the top of the first zero halfway toward the bottom.

Now turn it upside down.


Genius often comes from finding a new perspective of a problem by restructuring it in some way. When Richard Feynman, the Nobel Laureate physicist, was “stuck” with a problem, he would look at it in a different way. If one way didn’t work, he would switch to another. Whatever came up, he would always find another way to look at it. Feynman would do something in ten minutes that would take the average physicist a year because he had a lot of ways to represent his problem.


Best-selling creativity expert Michael Michalko shows that in every field of endeavor, from business and science to government, the arts, and even day-to-day life — natural CREATIVE THINKERINGcreativity is limited by the prejudices of logic and the structures of accepted categories and concepts. Through step-by-step exercises, illustrated strategies, and inspiring real-world examples he shows readers how to liberate their thinking and literally expand their imaginations by learning to synthesize dissimilar subjects, think paradoxically, and enlist the help of the subconscious mind. He also reveals the attitudes and approaches diverse geniuses share — and anyone can emulate. … via @amazon


Michael Michalko is one of the most highly-acclaimed creativity experts in the world 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.







Creative Thinking Habits that Cultivate Genius for Innovation


Thomas Edison was granted 1,093 patents for inventions that ranged from the lightbulb,  typewriter, electric pen, phonograph, motion picture camera and alkaline storage battery—to the talking doll and a concrete house that could be built in one day from a cast-iron mold. When he died in 1931, he left 3500 notebooks which are preserved today in the temperature-controlled vaults of the West Orange Laboratory Archives at the Edison National Historic Site in New Jersey.

The notebooks read like a turbulent brainstorm and present a verbal and visual biography of Edison’s mind at work. Spanning most of his six-decade career, the notebooks are yielding fresh clues as to how Edison, who had virtually no formal education, could achieve such an astounding inventive record that is still unrivaled. The notebooks illustrate how Edison conceived his ideas from their earliest inceptions and show in great detail how he developed and implemented them. Following are some of Edison’s creative-thinking strategies:

QUANTITY. For starters, Edison believed to discover a good idea you had to generate many ideas. Out of quantity comes quality. He set idea quotas for all his workers. His own quota was one minor invention every 10 days and a major invention every six months. It took over 50,000 experiments to invent the alkaline storage cell battery and 9000 to perfect the light bulb. Edison looked at creativity as simply good, honest, hard work. Genius, he once said, is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. For every brilliant idea he had there was a dud like the horse-drawn contraption that would collect snow and ice in the winter and compress it into blocks that families could use in the summer as a refrigerant.

1. QUANTITY. Increasing your idea production requires conscious effort. Suppose I asked you to spend three minutes thinking of alternative uses of for the common brick. No doubt, you would come up with some, but my hunch is not very many. The average adult comes up with three to six ideas. However, if I asked you to list 40 uses for the brick as fast as you can you would have quite a few in a short period of time.

A specific quota focuses your energy in a competitive way that guarantees fluency and flexibility of thought. To meet the quota, you find yourself listing all the usual uses for a brick (build a wall, fireplace, outdoor barbeque, and so on) as well as listing everything that comes to mind (anchor, projectiles in riots, ballast, device to hold down newspaper, a tool for leveling dirt, material for sculptures, doorstop and so on) as we stretch our imagination to meet the quota. By causing us to exert effort, it allows us to generate more imaginative alternatives than we otherwise would.

Initial ideas are usually poorer in quality than later ideas. Just as water must run from a faucet for a while to be crystal- clear, cool and free of particles, so thought must flow before it becomes creative. Early ideas are usually not true ideas. Exactly why this is so is not known, but one hypothesis is that familiar and safe responses lie closest to the surface of our consciousness and therefore are naturally thought of first. Creative thinking depends on continuing the flow of ideas long enough to purge the common, habitual ones and produce the unusual and imaginative.

A way to guarantee productivity of your creative thought is to give yourself an idea quota. For example, an idea quota of 40 ideas if you’re looking for ideas alone or a quota 120 ideas if a group is brainstorming for ideas. By forcing yourself to come up with 40 ideas, you put your internal critic on hold and write everything down, including the obvious and weak. The first third will be the same-old, same-old ideas you always get. The second third will be more interesting and the last third will show more insight, curiosity and complexity.

2. CHALLENGE ALL ASSUMPTIONS. Edison felt his lack of formal education was, in fact, “his blessing.”  This enabled him to approach his work of invention with far fewer assumptions than his more educated competitors, which included many theoretical scientists, renowned Ph.D.s, and engineers. He approached any idea or experience with wild enthusiasm and would try anything out of the ordinary, including even making phonograph needles out of compressed rainforest nuts and clamping his teeth onto a phonograph horn to use as a hearing aid, feeling the sound vibrate through his jaw. This wild enthusiasm inspired him to consistently challenge assumptions.

He felt that in some ways too much education corrupted people by prompting them to make so many assumptions that they were unable to see many of nature’s great possibilities. When Edison created a “system” of practical lighting, he conceived of wiring his circuits in parallel and of using high-resistance filaments in his bulbs, two things that were not considered possible by scientific experts, in fact, were not considered at all because they were assumed to be totally incompatible until Edison put them together.

Before Edison hired a research assistant, he would invite the candidate over for a bowl of soup. If the person seasoned the soup before tasting it, Edison would not hire the candidate. He did not want people who had so many built-in assumptions into their everyday life, that they would even assume the soup is not properly seasoned. He wanted people who consistently challenged assumptions and tried different things.

An easy way to challenge assumptions is to simply reverse them and try to make the reversal work. The guidelines are:

∙           List your assumptions about a subject.

∙           Challenge your fundamental assumptions by reversing them. Write down the opposite of each assumption.

∙           Ask yourself  how to accomplish each reversal.  List as many useful viewpoints as you can.

Suppose, for example, you want to start a novel restaurant.

  1. You would begin by listing the assumptions you make about restaurants. One assumption might be: All restaurants have menus, either written, verbal or implied.
  2. Next, you would reverse this to: I will start a restaurant that does not have a menu of any kind.
  3. Now, look for ways to make the “reversal” work and list every idea you can. “How can I operate a viable restaurant that does not have a menu?”
  4. One idea would be to have the chef come to the table and display what the chef bought that day at the meat market, fish market and vegetable market. The customer checks off the ingredients he or she likes and the chef prepares a special dish based on the “selected” ingredients. The chef also names the dish after the customer and prints out the recipe for the customer to take home. You might call the restaurant “The Creative Chef.

3. NOTHING IS WASTED.  He had an enormous talent for appropriating ideas that may have failed in one instance and using them for something else. For example, when it became clear in 1900 that an iron-ore mining venture in which Edison was financially committed was failing and on the brink of bankruptcy, he spent a weekend studying the company’s resources and came up with a detailed plan to redirect the company’s efforts toward the manufacture of Portland cement, which could capitalize on the same equipment, materials and distribution systems of the iron-ore company.

Edison relentlessly recorded and illustrated every problem worked on in his notebooks. Whenever he succeeded with a new idea, Edison would review his notebooks to rethink ideas and inventions he’s abandoned in the past in the light of what he’d recently learned. If he was mentally blocked working on a new idea, he would review his notebooks to see if there was some thought or insight that could trigger a new approach. For example, Edison’s unsuccessful work to develop an undersea telegraph cable ultimately led to a breakthrough on a telephone transmitter. He took the principle for the unsuccessful undersea telegraph cable— variable resistence— and incorporated it into the design of a telephone transmitter that adapted to the changing sound waves of the caller’s voice. This technique instantly became the industry standard.

Edison would often jot down his observations of the natural world, failed patents and research papers written by other inventors, and ideas others had come up with in other fields. He would also routinely comb a wide variety of diverse publications for novel ideas that sparked his interest and record them in his notebooks. He advised his assistants to make it a habit to keep on the lookout for novel and interesting ideas that others have used successfully on other problems in other fields. To Edison, your idea needs to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are working on.

Edison’s lesson is to record your ideas and other novel ideas in a notebook— call it “The Bright Ideas Notebook.”  When confronted with a problem, review your notebook and look for ways to cross-fertilize ideas, techniques and conceptual models by transferring them from one problem to the next.

4. CONSTANTLY IMPROVE YOUR IDEAS AND PRODUCTS AND THE IDEAS AND PRODUCTS OF OTHERS.Contrary to popular belief, Edison did not invent the light bulb: his genius, rather, was to perfect the bulb as a consumer item. Edison also studied all his inventions and ideas as springboards for other inventions and ideas in their own right. To Edison, the telephone (sounds transmitted) suggested the phonograph (sounds recorded), which suggested motion pictures (images recorded). Simple, in retrospect, isn’t it? Genius usually is.

Einstein believed that every new idea is some addition or modification to something that already exists. You take a subject and manipulate or change it into something else. There are nine principle ways you can manipulate a subject. These ways were first formally suggested by Alex Osborn, the father of brainstorming, and later arranged by Bob Eberle into the mnemonic SCAMPER.

S = Substitute?

C = Combine?

A = Adapt?

M = Magnify? = Modify?

P = Put to other uses?

E = Eliminate?

R = Rearrange? = Reverse?

You isolate the subject you want to think about and ask the checklist of SCAMPER questions to see what new ideas and thoughts emerge. Think about any subject from improving the ordinary paperclip to reorganizing your corporation and apply the “Scamper” checklist of questions. You’ll find that ideas start popping up almost involuntarily, as you ask:

Can you substitute something?

Can you combine your subject with something else?

Can you adapt something to your subject?

Can you magnify or add to it?

Can you modify or change it in some fashion?

Can you put it to some other use?

Can you eliminate something from it?

Can you rearrange it?

What happens when you reverse it?

Edison was tireless in his persistence to change a subject into something else through “trial and error” until he found the idea that worked. In Edison’s laboratory there is a staggering display of hundreds of phonograph horns of every shape, size and material. Some are round, square, angular, thin, short, squat while others are curved and as long as six feet tall. This collection of rejected ideas is a visual testament to Edison’s approach to creativity— which was, in essence, to try out every possible design he could possibly conceive of. Once asked to describe the key to creativity, he reportedly said to never quit working on your subject until you get what you’re after.

Finally, if you want to become more creative, start acting like you are creative. Suppose that you wanted to be an artist: You would begin behaving like an artist by painting every day. You may not become another Vincent Van Gogh, but you’ll become more of an artist than someone who has never tried. Similarly, to increase your creativity start acting like Thomas Edison. Cultivate the following creative-thinking habits:

  • When looking for ideas, create lots of ideas.
  • Consistently challenge assumptions.
  • Record your ideas and the ideas of others in a notebook.
  • Learn from your failures and the failures of others.
  • Constantly look for ways to improve your ideas and products and the ideas and products of others.

You may not become the next Thomas Edison but you’ll become much more creative than someone who has never tried.


Read Michael Michalko’ Cracking Creativity: Secrets of Creative Genius for more creative thinking habits of creative geniuses.





A Major Contribution to the Creative Literature by One of the Greats.

Sorry for the gushing title, but this book really hit the creativity spot. Michael Michalko is one of the big minds in the teaching of creative thinking and this book demonstrates why. Beginning from the principle that new ideas are the combination of existing things in new ways, Michalko describes the mindset and perspectives that are required to promote personal creativity – looking at things differently, combining random items with existing inputs, running thought experiments, for example. Michalko also provides an incredible list of positive affirmations with which to start the day to ensure a creative, positive and open attitude. It’s not your typical list of standard one-liners, but a list of affirmations that connect and build on each other. This is a segment of the lesson on playing the part of the creative person to become creative. The book also includes many powerful visuals and exercises that reinforce the lessons and points. Michalko does a masterful job of pointing out exactly how we are defective in our thinking and how we can get out of those mental ruts to revive the creative spirit we had in childhood. A must book for anyone seeking to become more creative.   – Vine Voice Amazon … via @amazon



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 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.screwdriver

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 cousin’s 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.

Listing the attributes of a subject and then focusing on one attribute at a time helps us to break our stereotypical notion of a subject as a continuous whole and to discover relationships that we likely would otherwise miss. This happened to a group of designers who, by chance, happened upon unusable medical incubators in the third world.

Hospitals and charities had donated expensive medical incubators to third world countries to help preterm babies survive and thrive in hospitals. Spare parts for the incubators were expensive and difficult to locate in rural settings, forcing medical staff to forego regular maintenance. Additionally, they discovered that intermittent power left the devices unusable during parts of the day and voltage spikes destroyed sensitive equipment. The majority of the donated equipment were unusable after a few years.

An organization Design That Matters discovered that an abundant local resource in developing countries are car parts and the technical understanding of local car mechanics. Their designers decided to see if they could manufacture an incubator using car parts. They listed the attributes of the medical incubator and then leveraging the existing supply chain of used auto parts, they used the creative technique SCAMPER. They SUBSTITUTED car parts for medical parts; they MODIFIED and PUT TO OTHER USES sealed-beam headlights to serve as the heating element, they ADAPTED a dashboard fan for convective heat circulation, COMBINED signal lights and door chimes to serve as alarms and REARRANGED a process for emergency backup power during power outages using a motorcycle battery and a car cigarette lighter.

The remarkable incubator made out of car parts was doubly efficient, because it tapped both the local supply of parts and the local knowledge of automobile repair. You didn’t have to be a trained medical technician to fix the NeoNurture; you just needed to know how to replace a broken headlight.

These newly-designed incubators will help provide millions of at-risk infants with shorter hospital stays and can enable infants who might otherwise have faced a lifetime of severe disability to experience full and active lives. 

Often great ideas like this one are works of bricolage. They are, almost inevitably, old parts strung together to form something radically new. We take something we stumbled across, and we jigger them together into some new shape. The NeoNuture is an incubator that has been cobbled together with spare auto parts that happened to be sitting in junkyards.









seven (1)


People do not believe they are creative. We have been taught that we are the product of our genes, our parents, our family history, our personal history, our I.Q., and our education. Consequently, we have been conditioned to have a fixed mindset about creativity and believe only a select few are born creative and the rest not. Because we believe we are not creative, we spend our lives observing only those things in our experiences that confirm this belief. We spend our lives knowing and living within the limitations we believe we have. We listen to our “inner” voice that keeps telling us not to pretend to be something we’re not. Believing we are not creative makes us comfortable to be cognitively lazy.


We believe many of the myths about creativity that have been promulgated over the years. We’re told creativity is rare, mysterious, and magical and comes from a universal unconsciousness, a sudden spark of “Aha!” or the divine. We believe only special people are genetically endowed to be creative and that normal educated people cannot be creative and should not embarrass themselves by trying. Additionally, we also believe creative types are depressed, crazy, freaky, unbalanced, disruptive, different, argumentative, abnormal, flaky, and trouble makers.  We should be thankful we are normal and think the way we were taught to think. 


The most important thing for many people is to never make a mistake or fail. The fixed mind-set regards failure as a personal insult, and when they fail they withdraw, lie and try to avoid future challenges or risks.

At one time in America people believed that all a person was entitled to was a natural birth. Everything else was up to the person, and a person’s pride and passion came from overcoming the adversities in life. Failure was seen as an opportunity rather than insult. Once Thomas Edison’s assistant asked him why he didn’t give up on the light bulb. After all, he failed 5,000 times. Edison’s responded by saying he didn’t know what his assistant meant by the word “failed,” because Edison believed he discovered 5000 things that don’t work. This was the era when creative thinking flourished in America. People like Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse did not know they could not think unconventionally and so they did.

After World War II, psychologists promulgated “Inevitability theories” about how everyone’s life was shaped by genetic or environmental factors that were beyond their control. There began a promiscuity of the teaching of helplessness that has dimmed the human spirit and has created a “culture of helplessness.” It is this culture of helplessness that has cultivated the mindset that fears failure.

This fixed mindset of fear is grounded in the belief that talent is genetic—you’re born an artist, writer, or entrepreneur. Consequently, many of us never try anything we haven’t tried before. We attempt only those things where we have the past experience and knowledge and know we can succeed. This culture of helplessness cultivated by educators encourages us to look for reasons why we cannot succeed.  


Because we fear failure we not act. We avoid taking action. If we don’t act, we can’t fail. If we are forced to take action, we do not do anything until we have a perfect plan which will take into account any and everything that can happen. We make sure the plan details all the human and material resources you need. We will seek the guidance and direction of every expert and authority we are able to approach. If any authority figure or expert expresses even the slightest doubt, we will not take the risk of failure and abandon the plan.

All art is a reaction the first line drawn. If no line is drawn there will be no art. Similarly, if you don’t take action when you need new ideas in your personal and business lives and do nothing, nothing bad can happen and nothing is the result. In our culture of helplessness, nothing is better than even the slightest chance of failure, because failure means we are worthless.


We are taught to be critical, judgmental, negative and reproductive thinkers. In our “culture of helplessness,” we take pride in dissecting ideas and thoughts of others and demonstrating their flaws. The more negative we can be, the more intelligent we appear to others. In meetings, the person who is master of destroying ideas becomes the most dominant one. The first thought we have when confronted with a new idea is “Okay, now what’s wrong with it?”

When forced to come up with ideas, we come up with only a few. These are the ideas we always come up with because these are the same old safe ideas that are closest to our consciousness. Our judgmental mind will censor anything that is new, ambiguous or novel. We respond to new ideas the way our immune system responds to a deadly virus. Our inner voice will advise us to “Not look stupid,” “Give up. You don’t have the background or expertise,” “It’s not relevant,” “If it was any good, it would already have been done before” “This will never be approved,” “where’s the proof? “This is not logical,” “Don’t be silly,” “You’ll look stupid,” and so on. Anything that is not verifiable by our past experiences and beliefs is not possible.

Instead of looking for ways to make things work and get things done, we spend our time looking for reasons why things can’t work or get done.


square-and-circlesMost people see the pattern in the illustration above as a square composed of smaller squares or circles or as alternate rows of squares and circles

It cannot be easily seen as columns of alternate squares and circles. Once it’s pointed out that it can also be viewed as columns of alternate squares and circles, we, of course, see it. This is because we have become habituated to passively organize similar items together in our minds. Geniuses, on the other hand, subvert habituation by actively looking for alternative ways to look at things and alternative ways to think about them.

One of the many ways in which people attempt to make thinking easier is to solve the first impression of the problem that they encounter. This enables them to approach the problem with predetermined concepts and they end up seeing what they expect to see based on their past experiences. Once you accept the initial perspective, you close off all other lines of thought. Certain kinds of ideas will occur to you, but only those kind and no others. Settling with the first perspective keeps things simple and helps you avoid ambiguity.

With creative thinking, one generates as many alternative approaches as one can. You consider the least obvious as well as the most likely approaches. It is the willingness to explore all approaches that is important, even after one has found a promising one. Einstein was once asked what the difference was between him and the average person. He said that if you asked the average person to find a needle in the haystack, the person would stop when he or she found a needle. He, on the other hand, would tear through the entire haystack looking for all the possible needles.

We are taught to follow a certain thinking process and must never entertain alternative ways of looking at the problem or different ways of thinking about it. Keep doing what you are doing. The more times you think the same way, the better you become at producing orderly and predictable ideas. Always think the way you’ve always thought to always get what you’ve always got.


It is not our fault we are not creative. It’s the teachers who are responsible and our parents, the churches, our genetics, the government, lack of time, lack of resources, lack of an inspiring environment, lack of suitable technology, lack of encouragement, too much sugar, lack of financial rewards, the organization, the bosses, lack of entitlements, lack of any guarantee of success, and, after all, most of us are born left-brained not right-brained. You can’t expect people to be something they’re not. In our “culture of helplessness,” we have learned that we cannot change our attitude, behavior, beliefs or the way we think.

SUMMARY. 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. They work hard at learning how to think creatively and produce great quantities of ideas. 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.


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.