Archive for the ‘innovate’ Category


Grey dots intersection

.Illusory grey spots mysteriously appear at the points of intersection in the above black and white grid. However, the spot does not occur at the specific intersection on which you concentrate your attention.

Sometimes ideas, like the gray spots, do not appear when you are concentrating your attention and mysteriously appear when you are not. Modern science recognizes this phenomenon of incubation and insight yet cannot account for why it occurs. That this is a commonplace phenomenon was shown in a survey of distinguished scientists conducted over a half-century ago. A majority of the scientists reported that they got their best ideas and insights when not thinking about the problem. Ideas came while walking, recreating, or working on some other unrelated problem. This suggests how the creative act came to be associated with “divine inspiration” for the illumination appears to be involuntary.

The more problems, ideas and thoughts that you think about from time to time, the more complex becomes the network of information in your mind. Think of thoughts as atoms hanging by hooks on the sides of your mind. When you think about a subject, some of these thoughts become loose and put into motion in your subconscious mind. The more work you put into thinking about a problem, the more thoughts and bits of information you put into random motion. Your subconscious mind never rests. When you quit thinking about the subject and decide to forget it, your subconscious mind doesn’t quit working. Your thoughts keep colliding, combining and making associations. This is why you’ve experienced suddenly remembering names, getting solutions to problems you’ve forgotten about, and ideas out of the blue when you are relaxing and not thinking about any particular thing.

There’s a thing in mathematics called “factorial”, which calculates how many ways you can combine things. If you have three objects, then there are one times two times three, which leaves six combinations. The factorial of ten is over three million. Ten bits of information will combine and recombine in three million different ways in your mind. So you can imagine the cloud of thoughts combining and making associations when you incubate problems when you stop working.

Cognitive scientists have observed that people that after a period of incubation from a problem people are 39 percent more likely to infer connections among distantly related ideas. Yet this enhancement of creative thinking exists completely beneath the radar screen. In other words, people are more creative after they forget about the problem for a period of time, but they don’t know it. It’s as if a period of incubation resets your mind. You’re taking a walk or taking a shower and realize “Wait a minute, there’s another way to do this.”

The famous philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russell was quoted in The Conquest of Happiness as having said: “I have found, for example, that if I have to write upon some rather difficult topic, the best plan is think about it with very great intensity—the greatest intensity with which I am capable—for a few hours or days, and at the end of that time give orders, so to speak, that the work is to proceed underground. After some months, I return consciously to the topic and find the work has been done. Before I discovered this technique, I used to spend time worrying because I was making no progress; I arrived at the solution none the faster for this worry and the worrying time was wasted.” When author Norman Mailer had writer’s block, he would instruct his subconscious mind to work on the problem and to notify him when it was resolved. Then he would leave the problem until the “insight” arrived in his consciousness.

Incubation usually involves setting a problem aside for a few hours, days, or weeks and moving on to other projects. The creative act owes little to logic or reason. In their accounts of the circumstances under which big ideas occurred to them, scientists have often mentioned that the inspiration had no relation to the work they happened to be doing. Sometimes it came while they were traveling, shaving or thinking about other matters. The creative process cannot be summoned at will or even cajoled by sacrificial offering. Indeed, it seems to occur most readily when the mind is relaxed and the imagination roaming freely.

Ideas are free to combine with other ideas in novel patterns and new associations in your subconscious mind. It is also the storehouse of all your experience, including things you can’t easily call into awareness.

When I am stonewalled this is one of the most useful techniques I use to tap into my subconscious mind. I write a letter to my subconscious mind.


  • Work on a problem until you have mulled over all the relevant pieces of information. Talk with others about the problem, ask questions, and do as much research as you can until you are satisfied that you have pushed your conscious mind to its limit.
  • Write a letter to your subconscious mind about the problem. Make it a more personal experience by giving your subconscious a name. I named mine simply “Brain.”
  • Dear Brain…………Make the letter as detailed and specific as possible. Describe the problem definition, the attributes, what steps you have taken, the problems, the gaps, what is needed, what you want, what the obstacles are, and so on. Just writing the letter will help better define a problem, clarify issues, point out where more information is needed, and prepare your unconscious to work on a solution. The letter should read just like a letter you would send to a real person. Imagine that your unconscious is all-knowing and can solve any problem that is properly stated.
  • Instruct your unconscious to find the solution. Write, “Your mission is to find the solution to the problem. I would like the solution in three days.”
  • Seal the letter and put it away. You may even want to mail it to yourself.
  • Let go of the problem. Don’t work on it. Forget it. Do something else. This is the incubation stage when much of what goes on occurs outside your focused awareness, in your unconscious.
  • Open the letter in three days. If the problem still has not been solved, then write on the bottom of the letter, “Let me know the minute you solve this” and put it away again. Sooner or later, when you are most relaxed and removed from the problem, the answer will magically pop into your mind.

Here is an example of this letter technique. The marketing director for a soft drink corporation wanted to come up with a novel way to package soft drinks. He spent time listing all the ways products and liquids can be packaged. He then turned off his self-censor by giving himself an idea quota of 120 ways to package things. This forced him to list every single thought he had no matter how obvious or absurd. The first third were his usual ideas, the next third became more interesting and complex and the last third became fantastical and absurd as he stretched his imagination to meet his quota. He even recorded the fragments of his dreams that he remembered when waking even though they were unrelated to his problem. One of the dreams involved kangaroos carrying their babies in their pouches.

Finally, he wrote the following letter he addressed to MacGuyver (He calls his subconscious mind MacGuyver after the TV character who solves cases by improvisation.)

Dear MacGuyver,

How are you? I haven’t heard from you in a long time, so I thought I would write you a letter. I need some innovative ideas about packaging our soda. A package that would create a new experience for the consumer. Right now, as you now, our soft drinks are packaged in bottles and cans. I’m trying to think of ways to make our packaging innovative and fun in such a way that it will heighten consumer attention. So far, I’ve researched the methodology of packaging, brainstormed for ideas, and have asked everyone I know for their thoughts.

Reviewing my list of ideas I’ve noticed a theme of environmental concerns. Citizens have become aware and sensitive to what happens to discarded bottles and cans. So I think the package should be environmentally friendly. Another theme, I noticed, is “put to other uses.” In other words, how else can the consumer use the package? A cousin of mine told me about the time he was in the peace corps in a very poor section of Guatemala. Soft drinks in bottles were too expensive for the natives. He told me popular domestic sodas are instead poured into sandwich baggies and sold.

I need your help. Please deliver your ideas to me within three days.


The Idea he received from MacGuyver is to create a biodegradable plastic bag in the shape of a soda bottle. This bag will save buyers bottle deposit money and retains the drink’s fizz and experience, while simultaneously being more environmentally friendly. Being new and fun, it actually creates a new brand experience adapted to cultural environmental tendencies that local consumers are sure to appreciate. Additionally, the plastic bags afford greater flexibility in storage options and can also be re-used by the consumer as a storage container for other foods and liquids. Additionally, the product adapts itself to new markets in impoverished countries.


Michael Michalko is the highly-acclaimed author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses; Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.


Scratch a Genius and You Surprise a Child

By Michael Michalko


The childlike joy creative geniuses experience in life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1) Close your eyes and relax.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What word would taste like tomato soup?

What word would taste like mashed potatoes?

What would the word government taste like?

What flavor best represents your attitude toward corruption?

What occupation would taste like ear wax?

What does death taste like?

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

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

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

Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work by Michael Michalko … via @amazon




A Creative-Thinking Technique to Use When Looking for Ideas  


ferris wheel

Suppose you are elected to host a singles elimination tennis tournament. You have one hundred and seventeen entrants. What is the minimum number of tennis matches that would have to be arranged for this number of entrants?

When faced with this problem most people draw diagrams showing the actual pairings in each match and the number of byes. Others try to work it out mathematically. In fact the answer is one hundred and sixteen matches and one can work this out at once without any complicated diagrams or math. To work it out, reverse your thinking from the winners of each match to the losers. Since there can only be one winner in a singles elimination tennis tournament, there must be one hundred and sixteen losers. Each loser can only lose once so there must be one hundred and sixteen matches.

The assumption in the tennis problem is to focus on the winners and not the losers. Reversing your thinking leads us to consider the losers instead of the winners and the problem is rapidly solved. Reversing the way you look at things encourages you to consider things that may not be considered at all. During the middle Ages, a number of people in a French village were dying from the Black Plague. They discovered that they had buried some people who were still alive by mistake. Their problem as they framed it was how to make sure they did not bury people who were still alive. One imaginative soul solved the problem by reversing it. He proposed making sure people were dead before they were buried by putting a stake in the coffin lid above the heart. Reversing their problem reversed their viewpoint.

Reversals break your existing patterns of thought and provoke new ones. You take things as they are and then turn them around, inside out, upside down, and back to front to see what happens. In the illustration, Figure A shows two lines of equal length bounded by arrow-like angles. In Figure B, the arrow-like angles are reversed on one of the lines, which changes our perception and creates the illusion of the line being shorter. It’s not shorter, measure it and you will find it is still equal in length. The lines haven’t changed, your perception of them has.


                                            A                                                             B

In figure A the angles outward of the lines seem to open up a potentially limited space. Reversing the angles on the second line in B seems to close off and limit the area, which changes your perception of the length of the lines.

A simple reversal of angles dramatically changes what we see in the illustration. The lines in B are the same length as the lines in A. Prove it to yourself by measuring the lines with a ruler. By changing the angles on one line we have changed the way we perceive the length of the lines in the illustration. The same perceptual changes occur when we reverse our conventional thinking patterns about problems and situations.

When Henry Ford went into the automobile business, the conventional thinking was that you had to “bring people to the work.” He reversed this to “bring the work to the people” and accomplished this by inventing the assembly line. When Al Sloan became CEO of General Motors, the common assumption was that people had to pay for a car before they drove it. He reversed this to you can drive the car before you pay for it and, to accomplish this, he pioneered the idea of installment buying.

Years back, chemists had great difficulty putting a pleasant-tasting coating on aspirin tablets. Dipping tablets led to uneven and lumpy coats. They were stumped until they reversed their thinking. Instead of looking for ways to put something “on” the aspirin, they looked for ways to take something “off” the aspirin. This reversal led to one of the newer techniques for coating pills. The pills are immersed in a liquid which is passed onto a spinning disk. The centrifugal force on the fluid and the pills causes the two to separate, leaving a nice, even coating around the pill.

Physicist and philosopher David Bohm believed geniuses were able to think different thoughts because they could tolerate ambivalence between opposites or two incompatible subjects. Thomas Edison’s breakthrough invention of a practical system of lighting involved wiring his circuits in parallel and of using high-resistance filaments in his bulbs, two things that were not considered possible by conventional thinkers, in fact were not considered at all because of an assumed incompatibility. Because Edison could tolerate the ambivalence between the two incompatible things, he could see the relationship that led to his breakthrough.

Mathematician-philosopher, Bertrand Russell, once astounded his colleagues by demonstrating that in mathematical argument, every alternative leads to its opposite. You can provoke new ideas by considering the opposite of any subject or action. When bioengineers were looking for ways to improve the tomato, they identified the gene in tomatoes that ripens tomatoes. They thought that if the gene hastens ripening (black arrowhead), maybe they could use the gene to slow down the process by reversing it (white arrowhead). They copied the gene, put it in backwards and now the gene slows down ripening, making vine ripened tomatoes possible in winter.

REVERSING ASSUMPTIONS. Suppose you want to start a new restaurant and are having difficulty coming up with ideas. To initiate ideas, try the following reversals:

  1. List all your assumptions about your subject.

EXAMPLE:  Some common assumptions about restaurants are:

Restaurants have menus, either written, verbal or implied.

Restaurants charge money for food.

Restaurants serve food.

  1. Reverse each assumption. What is its opposite?

EXAMPLE: The assumptions reversed would be:

  1. Restaurants have no menus of any kind
  2. Restaurants give food away for free.
  3. Restaurants do not serve food of any kind.
  4. Ask yourself how to accomplish each reversal. How can we start a restaurant that has no menu of any kind and still have a viable business?


  1. A restaurant with no menu. IDEA: The chef informs each customer what he bought that day at the meat market, vegetable market and fish market. He asks the customer to select items that appeal and he will create a dish with those items, specifically for that customer.
  2. A restaurant that gives away food. IDEA: An outdoor cafe that charges for time instead of food. Use a time stamp and charge so much for time (minutes) spent. Selected food items and beverages are free or sold at cost.
  3. A restaurant that does not serve food. IDEA: Create a restaurant with a unique decor in an exotic environment and rent the location. People bring their own food and beverages (picnic baskets, etc.) and pay a service charge for the location.
  4. Select one and build it into a realistic idea. In our example, we decide to work with the “restaurant with no menu” reversal. We’ll call the restaurant “The Creative Chef.” The chef will create the dish out of the selected ingredients and name the dish after the customer. Each customer will receive a computer printout of the recipe the chef named after the customer.


Reversals destabilize your conventional thinking patterns and frees information to come together in provocative new ways. In San Francisco, there was a tight-knit community of poor artists who would organize or participate in a variety of gallery shows. It was always a lot of fun, but there was a problem. No one bought their art.

It is usual for famous artists to dabble in consumer goods that are more accessible to a wider audience. One of the artists suggested they reverse that formulation to selling consumer goods to draw attention to the art of the unknown artists. They decided, in addition to paintings, their exhibition include wallets. Wallets were selected because they are carried around, not hung on a wall at home. The wallets were all the same (stitched together vinyl and plastic, folding 4 by 4 inches. Each artist printed his or her design on a set of a dozen wallets, which were priced at $20 each and each contained an artist bio card.

It was a tremendous success. They were a media hit. They created a company and expanded their line to include a canvas artist bag modeled on a messenger bag, and again imprinted with designs from the artists. In addition, they were soon approached by various bands and musical groups to create wallets for their various fans. The company is becoming a prestigious destination for nationally-recognized artists and designers who want the company to carry their designs. In line with its original goal the company has helped a variety of artists and designers receive national attention and awards for their art.  ………………………………………………………………………………………………

Read Michael Michalko’s THINKERTOYS for a variety of practical creative-thinking techniques to help you get the ideas you need to improve your business and personal lives.




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

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

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

Take the first airplane. On Dec. 8, 1903, Samuel Pierpont Langley, a leading government- funded scientist, launched with much fanfare his flying machine on the Potomac. It plummeted into the river. Nine days later, Orville and Wilbur Wright got the first plane off the ground. Why did these bicycle mechanics succeed when a famous scientist failed? It was because Langley hired experts to execute his theoretical concepts without going a series of trial and errors.

Studying the Wrights’ diaries, you see that insight and execution are inextricably woven together. Over years, as they solved problems like wing shape and wing warping, they made several mistakes which inspired several adjustments all of which involved a small spark of insight that led to other insights. Their numerous mistakes led to unexpected alternative ways which, in turn, led to the numerous discoveries that made flight possible. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………Learn more about how to get ideas by reading Michael Michalko’s book Cracking Creativity: Secrets of Creative Genius.



The following book review of CREATIVE THINKERING is from Kelvin Fung in Hong Kong and is posted on

“As an innovation consultant, I have been working closely with clients in 3 major aspects: (1) Process streamlining, (2) Strategy formulation, and (3) New product / Service development. Each project is different and requires careful analysis of the challenges and business needs, an indepth investigation of internal and external constraints, crafting of intervention strategies and last but not least the development of a thoughtful implementation plan. Having said that, the bedrock of every success is still
“IDEA”. Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple Computer (now Apple Inc.), once
said, “Innovation distinquishes between a leader and a follower.” He
is pointing us to the right direction but the question is “How can we
become the first person who comes up with that brilliant ideas”.

2 years ago, we worked with HSBC on an organisation wide CHANGE initiative aiming to increase their STAFF ENGAGEMENT LEVEL. We trained up 60+ champions, using Micheal’s techniques, to lead internal THINK TANKS to brainstorm improvement ideas. In one of the think tanks, the members used the SCAMPER technique in great details to analyze their existing operation and came up with an idea of ELIMINATING (E as in SCAMPER) the plastic label on which the customers have to sign their names for checking purposes. The end result is an annual saving of 4 Million dollars plus 3 awards and dozens of media exposure. The teller who submitted the idea received a generous reward for her contribution and the customers enjoy the ease of transaction. This is a classic illustration of INNOVATION: Creating values for all stakeholders.

Micheal Michalko practices what he teaches. In his every book, he uses
lots of business cases, puzzles and exercises to illustrate his point. I like
reading his books because it is both an intellectual and an spiritual /
emotional venture. His books are highly practical and a real joy to read and a real treasure to refer to whenever I am stuck. A gem indeed.

In his book CREATIVE THINKERING, Michael extracted the essense of business creativity and came up with a SINGLE concept (i.e., CONCEPTUAL BLENDING) to explain what can be done to think like a genius. In the introduction of the book, he writes, “In school you are taught to define, label, and segregate what you learn into separate categories…much like icecubes in a tray. Once something is learned and categorized, you thoughts become frozen…you are taught, when
confronted with a problem, to examine the icecube tray and select appropriate cube [to kickstart your problem solving process] …to come up with marginal improvements…”

The real trick to become a genius is to demolish the barriers and to
BLEND unfamiliar concepts to come up with novel ideas. This is where you
experience the magic moment of creating something groundbreaking. In this new book by Michael, he is going to show you how to do it. This is the INTELLECTUAL part. The SPIRITUAL / EMOTIONAL part is what I like most. There are a total of 60 extremely inspiring and challenging exercises (in a book with 13 chapters) to reveal weaknesses of your thinking process. No matter how smart you are, you will still learn something valuable. For those who travel a lot, these exercises are going to keep you busy (and happy!) and your long haul flights become much easier. For me, I set IDEA QUOTA for my flights. A short trip to Japan (5 hours), 5 ideas, a long haul to Paris (12 hours), 12 ideas…Of course, make sure you have Michael’s book with you, they are the recipe for imagination!






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.” Many cultural historians agree with Edison in that a whole host of new objects and ideas are based on objects and ideas already in existence. Adaptation is a common and inescapable practice in creativity. Even the “Star Spangled Banner,” which was written in defiance of England, was essentially the same as a popular tune sung in English pubs.

To become an expert at adaptation, ask:

  • What else is like this?
  • What other idea does this 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?
  • What ideas inside my field can I incorporate?

I have a friend who is a chef. One day he and I had a discussion about creative thinking and I brought up the principle of adaptation. A month or so later, I ran into him and he told me that he was getting a patent for his invention of an olive oil dispenser.

It’s easy to overdo the olive oil, both in terms of application and health implications, which is why he said he decided to look around his world for an idea he could adapt to solve his problem. One day he was thinking about his olive oil problem while he played with his ball point pen. He suddenly realized he could adapt an idea from the principle of a ball point pen.

He made an olive oil dispenser from a simple glass vessel topped with a hollow cork stopper that’s sealed with a rolling wooden ball that soaks up the oil and then dispenses it easily and evenly across breads, meats, and other foods. The device makes it easy to spread an even layer of olive oil on meat and bread without any of the mess.


Phillip Reiss, a German, invented a machine that could transmit music in 1861. He was days away from inventing the telephone. Every communication expert in Germany persuaded him there was no market for such a device as the telegraph was good enough. Fifteen years later, Alexander Graham Bell adapted Reiss’s work and invented the telephone and became a multi-millionaire with Germany as his first most enthusiastic customer.


Consider the incredible opportunity that the U.S. Postal Service and UPS both missed by failing to create an “overnight” delivery service. Their entire focus was on using established systems and theories to create the service.  If, for instance, using the established system you want to connect one hundred markets with one another, and if you do it all with direct point-to-point deliveries, it will take one hundred times ninety-nine — or 9,900 — direct deliveries. They failed to look for alternative ideas and simply concluded that the cost was prohibitive. There was no way they could make it economically feasible.

It took an individual who looked at the problem in a different way to solve the problem. After a tour of duty with the Marines in Vietnam, Fred Smith returned home in 1971 to find that computers were becoming an indispensable part of doing business and delivery systems were not keeping up with the increased demand for speed and reliability when delivering computer parts.

Fred abstracted the problem from delivery services to one of “movement.” How do things move?

He thought about how information is moved, and how banks move money around the world. Both information systems and banks, he discovered, put all points in a network and connect them through a central hub. He decided to create a delivery system — Federal Express, now known as FedEx — that operates essentially the way information and bank clearinghouses do. He realized that a hub-and-spoke network could create an enormous number of connections more efficiently than a point-to-point delivery system. The delivery system he conceived used both airplanes and trucks, which was unheard of at the time. His system was 100 times more efficient than existing systems at the time and was subsequently employed in, of course, all air cargo delivery systems in the airline industry.

GECKO GLOVES. After watching Spider-Man, researchers at the University of Manchester played with the idea of developing adhesives that would help people climb and cling to vertical surfaces. They brainstormed by considering ways that animals, reptiles, insects, and birds attach themselves to plants and trees. They were most intrigued by geckos, which have tiny hairs on the soles of their feet that allow them to climb slick surfaces. The researchers adapted this feature into an adhesive that mimics geckos’ feet, demonstrating the feasibility of self-cleaning, reattachable dry adhesives. These artificial micro-hair adhesives are being developed into gecko gloves, which will enable humans to climb vertical walls as easily as a gecko or Spider-Man.


Dr. Peter Pronovost, a critical care specialist at the Johns Hopkins medical center in Baltimore, thought he knew how to minimize human error. It was, as Dr. Atul Gawande describes it in his provocative new book, “The Checklist Manifesto,” an idea so simple that it seemed downright loopy.

In 2001 Dr. Pronovost borrowed a concept from the aviation industry: a checklist, the kind that pilots use to clear their planes for takeoff. In an experiment Dr. Pronovost used the checklist strategy to attack just one common problem in the I.C.U., infections in patients with central intravenous lines (catheters that deliver medications or fluids directly into a major vein). Central lines can be breeding grounds for pathogens; in the Hopkins I.C.U. at the time, about one line in nine became infected, increasing the likelihood of prolonged illness, further surgery or death.

Dr. Pronovost wrote down the five things that doctors needed to do when inserting central lines to avoid subsequent infection: wash hands with soap; clean the patient’s skin with chlorhexidine antiseptic; cover the patient’s entire body with sterile drapes; wear a mask, hat, sterile gown and gloves; and put a sterile dressing over the insertion site after the line was in. Many of his colleagues thought his idea was a no-brainer. It seemed silly to make a checklist for something so obvious.”

But Dr. Pronovost knew that about one-third of the time doctors were skipping at least one of these critical steps. What would happen if they never skipped any? He gave the five-point checklist to the nurses in the I.C.U. and, with the encouragement of hospital administrators, told them to check off each item when a doctor inserted a central line — and to call out any doctor who was cutting corners. The new rule made it clear: if doctors didn’t follow every step, the nurses would have backup from the administration to intervene.

The nurses were strict, the doctors toed the line, and within one year the central line infection rate in the Hopkins I.C.U. had dropped from 11 percent to zero. Two years after the checklist was introduced, Dr. Pronovost calculated, it had prevented 43 infections, avoided 8 I.C.U. deaths and saved the hospital millions of dollars.

Based on this success, Dr. Pronovost and his colleagues wrote up checklists for other situations in the I.C.U., like mechanical ventilation. (Were antacids prescribed to prevent stomach ulcers? Was the bed propped up 30 degrees to keep the windpipe clear of saliva?) The average length of stay in the I.C.U. dropped by half, and 21 fewer I.C.U. patients died than had died the previous year.


A couple of brothers named Jacuzzi, who sold water pumps for farm use, designed a special whirlpool bath as a treatment for their cousin’s arthritis. They did little with this new product until Roy Jacuzzi put the concept in a different context—the luxury bath market—and bathrooms were never the same again. The Jacuzzi sold like crazy across the country, from California to the White House.


Medical doctors working with geneticists have discovered a way to use fire-flies to fight cancer. The gene that activates a firefly’s bioluminescence is inserted into cancer cells, causing them to glow. A photosensitizing agent is added, making the cells produce toxic substances and causes them to self-destruct. This principle is already used in photodynamic therapy, which uses bursts of light to attack tumors. Inserting the light source directly into the cells makes it possible to attack tumors deep in the body without using an outside light source that could damage healthy tissue on the way.


To help his experiments, Thomas Edison designed a laboratory model of a transatlantic cable, in which cheap powdered carbon was used to simulate the electrical resistance of thousands of miles of wires. Alas, the rumble of traffic outdoors, clattering in the machine shop, or even the scientists’ footsteps shook the equipment enough to change the pressure of the connecting wires on the carbon, thus altering its resistance. Since the accuracy of the model depended upon constant resistance in the carbon, Edison finally abandoned this approach. But later, when confronted with the problem of how to improve the transmission of voices over the telephone, he adapted his failed work on variable resistance with the undersea cable to his work on a telephone transmitter. used a funnel-shaped mouthpiece to focus sound waves on a carbon button. The pressure of those vibrations altered the resistance in the circuit in synchrony with the speaker’s voice. In other words, the material that ruined Edison’s underwater-telegraphy experiments is exactly what made his telephone transmitter such a triumph. Indeed, this innovative transmitter rendered Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone practical–so much so that it became the industry standard.