Archive for the ‘innovate’ Category

Creative Thinking Habits that Cultivate Genius for Innovation

EDISON

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.

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Read Michael Michalko’ Cracking Creativity: Secrets of Creative Genius for more creative thinking habits of creative geniuses. http://www.creativethinking.net

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WHAT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DO, BUT IF IT WERE POSSIBLE WOULD CHANGE THE NATURE OF YOUR BUSINESS FOREVER

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Einstein once wrote “The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.” This he believed because he knew that knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.

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

Imagination gives us the impertinence to imagine making the impossible possible. Your brain is a dynamic system that evolves its patterns of activity rather than computes them like a computer. It thrives on the creative energy of feedback from experiences real or fictional. You can synthesize experience; literally create it in your own imagination. The human brain cannot tell the difference between an “actual” experience and a fantasy imagined vividly and in detail. This discovery is what enabled Albert Einstein to create his thought experiments with imaginary scenarios that led to his revolutionary ideas.

To encourage this thinking process of synthesizing fantasy with reality, I will sometime ask clients to “Think of something that is impossible to do, but if it were possible to do, would change the nature of your business forever?” Then try to come up with ideas that take you as close as possible to make that impossibility a reality.

EXAMPLE: A book publisher wanted to publish books that were unconventionally unique and that would educate and inspire young readers about the need for ecologically responsible behavior. They were asked to fantasize for ideas that were not possible to do. The group had much fun discussing their various absurd and crazy ideas.

One idea that excited the group was suppose we could scientifically determine a book’s DNA. Then suppose we could differentiate books by their DNA (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, textbook, reference book, biographies and so on. Then suppose we can create seeds for the different species of books based on their DNA and then plant them on farms. The books would grow like plants and when harvested the could be distributed to schools, libraries and bookstores. The great ecological value would be the number of trees in the world that would be saved. Instead of destroying trees to make books, books are grown and harvested on farms like plants.

Stretching your imagination by trying to make impossible things possible with concrete thoughts and actions is a mirror reversal of dreaming. Whereas a dream represents abstract ideas as concrete actions and images, this creative process works in the opposite direction, using concrete ideas (a seed that becomes a book) to gain insight on a conscious level to reveal disguised thoughts (books becoming plants) as creative imagery.

In this case, the impossibility of growing books as plants revealed the interesting thought of planting books as seeds for trees. Imagine the joy of children as they realize the ecological importance of contributing to the welfare of the planet by planting a book after they have finished reading it and watch it become a tree. They will nurture the tree and watch it grow over the years of their childhood.

IDEA: The project the publisher decided to pursue is to create storybooks that can be planted, and will grow back into trees. Hand stitched copies of children’s storybooks are made from recycled acid-free paper and biodegradable inks and the cover is embedded with native tree seeds. The books are aimed at children aged 6-12 who, after reading, can plant the book and watch and nurture the tree as it grows. Each copy comes with planting instructions. The publisher is also planning to have the book displayed in bookshops, where it can be seen germinating.

Thought is a process of fitting new situations into existing slots and pigeonholes in the mind. Just as you cannot put a physical thing into more than one physical pigeonhole at once, the processes of thought prevent you from putting a mental construct into more than one mental category at once. This is because the mind has a basic intolerance for ambiguity, and its first function is to reduce the complexity of its experiences. This is how we are taught to think and why we automatically exclude everything that is not relevant to our problem. Instead of looking for possibilities, we spend our mental energy judging and excluding possibilities as irrelevant instead of exploring them. This is why we continually come up the same old ideas time after time.

When you come up with crazy or fantastical ideas, you step outside your cone of expectations and intentions and allow yourself to think inclusively. Inclusive thinking is considering every idea no matter how irrelevant as a possibility.

A supervisor at a manufacturer of dinner plates told me a story about a problem they had at work. The problem was a packaging problem. The plates were wrapped in old newspapers and packed in boxes. Every packer would eventually slow down to read the papers and look at the pictures. Most employees would drop to about 30 percent efficiency after a few weeks on the job.

The manufacturer tried using other material for packing, but that proved too expensive; the newspapers had been free. They tried using newspapers in different languages, but these were hard to obtain. They even offered incentives to workers to increase the number of plates wrapped, but without great success. Finally, one day in a meeting an exasperated supervisor said they should tape the packer’s eyes shut when they report for work so they couldn’t read. This absurd comment created a lot of laughter as the others came up with silly ideas. One suggested having a packaging room with no windows or lights of any kind making it pitch black. Another wanted to make the room so bright you had to squint to see making it difficult to read. The CEO of the company joked along with the employees when suddenly he had an “Aha!” moment: he got the idea to hire blind people to do the packing. He contacted the Association of the Blind and worked with them to hire blind people. The company not only greatly increased its packing efficiency but also received huge tax benefits for hiring the disabled.

Learn creative thinking skills with these books: http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs

 

 

ATTENTION!

creATIVES

George de Mestral was inspired to improve the zipper. He thought about the essence of zippers which is to fasten two separate pieces of fabric together. His question became “How do things fasten?” He became committed to the idea of inventing a better fastener and spent considerable time pondering how things fasten in other domains including nature.

One day when George was hunting birds with his Irish pointer, he traveled through some burdock thistles. The prickly seed burrs from the plants clung to his clothing and to his dog. While pulling off the burrs he noticed how they were removable yet easily reattached.

When you are committed and start to actively work on a problem that you are passionate about, you will start to notice more and more things that relate to what you are working on. With an infinite amount of stimuli constantly hitting our brains, we need the ability to filter that which is most relevant to us. And our mind is that filter. Often these connections can seem like coincidences, but cognitive scientists tell us it is simply that part of our brain that screens out information we are not interested in and focuses on the things that we can use. These connections give you different ways to look at information and different ways to focus on it.

The burdock fascinated George and he imagined a fastener that mimicked a burdock. He studied the burrs under a microscope and discovered a hook system used by the burdock plant to migrate its seeds by attachment. The hooks could grab onto loops of thread or fur and migrate with the object it fastened itself to. This gave him the idea of creating a hook and loop fastener.

George envisioned two fabrics that could attach in this manner with one having a surface covered with minuscule hooks and another with hoops. Most of the experts he visited did not believe hooks could be created on the surface of fabric. However, he found a weaver at a textile plant that was willing to work with him. George discovered that a multifilament yarn weaved from velvet or cotton terry cloth created a surface of hooped threads. To create hooks, George would partially cut the hoops so they would become hooks. There was a great deal of experimentation to get the right density, thread sizes and rigidity. He eventually weaved the hook-side yarn from nylon and invented Velcro.

It was not logic that guided his thinking process but perception and pattern recognition between two totally unrelated subjects: zippers and burdocks. Logic dictates that burdocks are animate plants and zippers are inanimate manmade objects that are totally unrelated and, therefore, any relationship between the two is to be excluded. It was George’s creative perception that recognized the common factor between a burdock that fastens and a zipper that fastens, not logic.

Cognitive scientists understand the importance of perception and pattern recognition as a major component of creative  thinking. Russian computer scientist, Mikhail Bongard, created a   remarkable set of visual pattern recognition problems. The Bongard problems present two sets of relatively simple diagrams, say A and B. All the diagrams from set A have a common factor or attribute, which is lacking in all the diagrams of set B. The problem is to find, or to formulate, convincingly, the common  factor.

Below is an example of a Bongard problem. Test  your perception and pattern recognition skills and try to solve the problem.   You have two classes of figures (A and B).  You are asked to discover some abstract connection that links all the various diagrams in A and that   distinguishes them from all the other diagrams in group B.

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One has to take chances that certain aspects of a given diagram matter, and others are irrelevant.  Perhaps shapes count, but not sizes — or vice versa.  Perhaps orientations count, but not sizes — or vice versa.  Perhaps curvature or its lack counts, but not location inside the box — or vice versa.  Perhaps numbers of objects but not their types matter — or vice versa.  Which types of features will wind up mattering and which are mere distracters.  As you try to solve the problem, you will find the essence of your mental activity is a complex interweaving of acts of abstraction and comparison, all of which involve guesswork rather than certainty.  By guesswork I mean that one has to take a chance that certain aspects matter and others do not.

Logic dictates that the essence of perception is the activity of dividing a complex scene into its separate constituent objects and attaching separate labels to the now separated parts of pre-established categories, such as ovals, Xs and circles as unrelated exclusive events.  Then we’re taught to think exclusively within a closed system of hard logic.

In the above patterns, if you were able to discern the distinction between the diagrams, your perception is what found the distinction, not logic.  The distinction is the ovals are all pointing to the X in the A group, and the ovals area all pointing at the circles in the B group.

The following thought experiment is an even more difficult problem, because you are no longer dealing with recognizable shapes such as ovals, Xs, circles or other easily recognizable structures for which we have clear representations.  To solve this, you need to perceive subjectively and intuitively, make abstract connections, much like Einstein thought when he thought about the similarities and   differences between the patterns of space and time, and you need to consider the overall context of the problem.

BONGARD.DOT.NECK

                                                   A                                                          B

Again, you have two classes of figures (A and B) in the Bongard problem.  You are asked to discover some abstract connection that links all the various diagrams in A and that distinguishes them from all the other diagrams in group B.

SCROLL DOWN FOR ANSWER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER: The rule is the “dots” in A are on the same side of the neck.

How did you do?

 

Learn how to get the ideas you need to change your life.

http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs

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COMBINING THE UNRELATED INTO NEW IDEAS

combine ideas

 

Look at the figure below.combo1

When the lines at the left are combined to form the figure on the right, we can no longer perceive the original two patterns without great effort. Instead, we see a continuous wavy line running through a series of bars. Combining the lines creates a new pattern with new properties. The illustration verifies the seemingly obvious point that from a combination can emerge new properties that were not evident in either of the original lines.

It is the same with concepts and ideas. Gregory Murphy of the University of Illinois had people rate how true certain properties were of individual concepts and their combinations. One set of concepts consisted of the individual words “empty” and “store” and their combination “empty store.” Consider the property “losing money.” Like subjects in Murphy’s study, you probably recognize that losing money is typical of “empty stores,” but not of “stores” in general or of things that are “empty.”  Meaning changes when we combine concepts, and the more novel the combination, the more novel the new meaning. This is why genius is often marked by an interest in combining previously unrelated ideas, goods and services, making novel combinations more likely. Following is one technique of many that demonstrates how easy it is get ideas using combinations.

RANDOM OBJECTS. Select 20 objects at random. You can select any objects, objects at home, objects at work, or objects you might find walking down the street. Or you can imagine you are in a technologically-oriented science museum, walking through the Smithsonian Institute, or browsing in an electronic store and make a list of 20 objects that you would likely see. Make two lists of 10 objects each on the left and right sides of the paper (See example below). Pick one from the left and combine it with one on the right. When you find a promising new combination, refine and elaborate it into a new invention.combo2

In the example, the illustrated combinations yielded the following ideas:

∙         Combining bagel with slicer yields a bagel slicer with plastic sides designed to hold the bagel and prevent rotation when slicing.

∙         Bathtub and hammock combines into a baby tub with a simple hammock in the  tub with a headrest to hold the baby’s head securely, leaving the parent’s hands free to do the washing.

∙         Sunglasses and windows combine to form the idea of tinted house windows,  like tinted sunglasses,  designed to change colors with ultraviolet light to help keep the house cool.

∙         Suntan lotion and insect repellent combines to form a new product— one lotion that protects against both the sun and insects.

You can also try the inverse heuristic to generate ideas, which states that if an object performs one function, a new artifact might be realized by combining it with an object that performs the opposite function. The claw hammer is a good example. So is a pencil with an eraser. Can you create new objects from the list of random objects by combining the object with something that performs the opposite function. How about a small cap for tightly sealing a soda can that could be attached to the lever of the pop-top device?

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INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL MICHALKO

masthead

written by IMPERIVMdesign

Michael Michalko is a world reknowned  creativity expert and author of bestselling books like Thinkertoys ( A Handbook of Business Creativity),  Cracking Creativity ( The Secrets of Creative Genius) and Creative Thinkering ( Putting your Imagination to Work).  His practical approach to creativity has been of great benefit to both the public and private sector.

It’s a pleasure to have you with us today Michael. Tell us, what triggered you to delve into knowing the inner workings of the human mind?

In school, we learn about great ideas and we learn the names of the creative geniuses who created them, but we are seldom taught about how they got the ideas. My teachers mythologized the geniuses as genetically or intellectually superior to the ordinary person. They gushed over their accomplishments and had us memorize who did what and when, who created what and when and focused on their discoveries rather than on the mental processes, attitudes, work habits, behavior and beliefs that enabled creative geniuses to be capable of looking at the same things as the rest of us and seeing something different. When I asked teachers where I could learn the specific methods and techniques geniuses use, I was told it was a silly question. One said they are so mentally superior that just as we cannot understand the mind of God, we could never hope to understand how geniuses think. Another said they thought differently because they were mentally unbalanced. Their ignorance is what motivated me to study and discover the thinking strategies and habits that creative geniuses have used throughout history. 

What can you say are the major insights you’ve gathered over the course of your illustrious career regarding creativity?

Following are twelve things about creative thinking that I learned during my lifetime of work in the field of creative thinking that I wished I had been taught when I was a student but was not.

  1. YOU ARE CREATIVE. The artist is not a special person, each one of us is a special kind of artist. Every one of us is born a creative, spontaneous thinker. The only difference between people who are creative and people who are not is a simple belief. Creative people believe they are creative. People who believe they are not creative, are not. Once you have a particular identity and set of beliefs about yourself, you become interested in seeking out the skills needed to express your identity and beliefs. This is why people who believe they are creative become creative. If you believe you are not creative, then there is no need to learn how to become creative and you don’t. The reality is that believing you are not creative excuses you from trying or attempting anything new. When someone tells you that they are not creative, you are talking to someone who has no interest and will make no effort to be a creative thinker.
  2. CREATIVE THINKING IS WORK. You must have passion and the determination to immerse yourself in the process of creating new and different ideas. Then you must have patience to persevere against all adversity. All creative geniuses work passionately hard and produce incredible numbers of ideas, most of which are bad. In fact, more bad poems were written by the major poets than by minor poets. Thomas Edison created 3000 different ideas for lighting systems before he evaluated them for practicality and profitability. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart produced more than six hundred pieces of music, including forty-one symphonies and some forty-odd operas and masses, during his short creative life. Rembrandt produced around 650 paintings and 2,000 drawings and Picasso executed more than 20,000 works. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets. Some were masterpieces, while others were no better than his contemporaries could have written, and some were simply bad.
  3. YOU MUST GO THROUGH THE MOTIONS. When you are producing ideas, you are replenishing neurotransmitters linked to genes that are being turned on and off in response to what your brain is doing, which in turn is responding to challenges. When you go through the motions of trying to come up with new ideas, you are energizing your brain by increasing the number of contacts between neurons. The more times you try to get ideas, the more active your brain becomes and the more creative you become. If you want to become an artist and all you did was paint a picture every day, you will become an artist. You may not become another Vincent Van Gogh, but you will become more of an artist than someone who has never tried.
  4. YOUR BRAIN IS NOT A COMPUTER. Your brain is a dynamic system that evolves its patterns of activity rather than computes them like a computer. It thrives on the creative energy of feedback from experiences real or fictional. You can synthesize experience; literally create it in your own imagination. The human brain cannot tell the difference between an “actual” experience and an experience imagined vividly and in detail. This discovery is what enabled Albert Einstein to create his thought experiments with imaginary scenarios that led to his revolutionary ideas about space and time. One day, for example, he imagined falling in love. Then he imagined meeting the woman he fell in love with two weeks after he fell in love. This led to his theory of acausality. The same process of synthesizing experience allowed Walt Disney to bring his fantasies to life.
  5. THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT ANSWER. Reality is ambiguous. Aristotle said it is either A or not-A. It cannot be both. The sky is either blue or not blue. This is black and white thinking as the sky is a billion different shades of blue. A beam of light is either a wave or not a wave (A or not-A). Physicists discovered that light can be either a wave or particle depending on the viewpoint of the observer. The only certainty in life is uncertainty. When trying to get ideas, do not censor or evaluate them as they occur. Nothing kills creativity faster than self-censorship of ideas while generating them. Think of all your ideas as possibilities and generate as many as you can before you decide which ones to select. The world is not black or white. It is grey.
  6. NEVER STOP WITH YOUR FIRST GOOD IDEA. Always strive to find a better one and continue until you have one that is still better. In 1862, Phillip Reis demonstrated his invention which could transmit music over the wires. He was days away from improving it into a telephone that could transmit speech. Every communication expert in Germany dissuaded him from making improvements, as they said the telegraph is good enough. No one would buy or use a telephone. Ten years later, Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone. Spencer Silver developed a new adhesive for 3M that stuck to objects but could easily be lifted off. It was first marketed as a bulletin board adhesive so the boards could be moved easily from place to place. There was no market for it. Silver didn’t discard it. One day Arthur Fry, another 3M employee, was singing in the church’s choir when his page marker fell out of his hymnal. Fry coated his page markers with Silver’s adhesive and discovered the markers stayed in place yet lifted off without damaging the page. Hence the Post-it Notes were born. Thomas Edison was always trying to spring board from one idea to another in his work. He spring boarded his work from the telephone (sounds transmitted) to the phonograph (sounds recorded) and, finally, to motion pictures (images recorded).
  7. EXPECT THE EXPERTS TO BE NEGATIVE. The more expert and specialized a person becomes, the more their mindset becomes narrowed and the more fixated they become on confirming what they believe to be absolute. Consequently, when confronted with new and different ideas, their focus will be on conformity. Does it conform to what I know is right? If not, experts will spend all their time showing and explaining why it can’t be done and why it can’t work. They will not look for ways to make it work or get it done because this might demonstrate that what they regarded as absolute is not absolute at all. This is why when Fred Smith created Federal Express, every delivery expert in the U.S. predicted its certain doom. After all, they said, if this delivery concept was doable, the Post Office or UPS would have done it long ago and this is why the experts at IBM said there were no more than six people on earth who had need of a personal computer. Thomas Edison is quoted as saying “His greatest blessing in life was the lack of a formal education. Had he been educated,” he said “he would have realized that what he accomplished in life was not possible to do.”
  8. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged. Albert Einstein was expelled from school because his attitude had a negative effect on serious students; he failed his university entrance exam and had to attend a trade school for one year before finally being admitted; and was the only one in his graduating class who did not get a teaching position because no professor would recommend him. One professor said Einstein was “the laziest dog” the university ever had. Beethoven’s parents were told he was too stupid to be a music composer. Charles Darwin’s colleagues called him a fool and what he was doing “fool’s experiments” when he worked on his theory of biological evolution. Beethoven’s parents were told he was too stupid to be a music composer. Walt Disney was fired from his first job on a newspaper because “he lacked imagination.” Thomas Edison had only two years of formal schooling, was totally deaf in one ear and was hard of hearing in the other, was fired from his first job as a newsboy and later fired from his job as a telegrapher; and still he became the most famous inventor in the history of the U.S.
  9. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FAILURE. Whenever you try to do something and do not succeed, you do not fail. You have produced a result. It’s what you do with the result that’s important. You have learned something that does not work. Always ask “What have I learned about what doesn’t work?”, “Can this explain something that I didn’t set out to explain?”, and “What have I discovered that I didn’t set out to discover?” Whenever someone tells you that they have never made a mistake, you are talking to someone who has never tried anything new.Take the first airplane. On Dec. 8, 1903, Samuel Pierpont Langley, a leading government- funded scientist, launched with much fanfare his flying machine on the Potomac. It plummeted into the river. Nine days later, Orville and Wilbur Wright got the first plane off the ground. Why did these bicycle mechanics succeed when a famous scientist failed? Because Langley hired experts to execute his theoretical concepts without going a series of trials and errors. Studying the Wrights’ diaries, you see that insight and execution are inextricably woven together. Over years, as they solved problems like wing shape and wing warping, they made several mistakes which inspired several adjustments all of which involved a small spark of insight that led to other insights. Their numerous mistakes led to unexpected alternative ways which, in turn, led to the numerous
  10. YOU DO NOT SEE THINGS AS THEY ARE; YOU SEE THEM AS YOU ARE. Interpret your own experiences. All experiences are neutral. They have no meaning. You give them meaning by the way you choose to interpret them. If you are a priest, you see evidence of God everywhere. If you are an atheist, you see the absence of God everywhere. IBM observed that no one in the world had a personal computer. IBM interpreted this to mean there was no market. College dropouts, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, looked at the same absence of personal computers and saw a massive opportunity. Once Thomas Edison was approached by an assistant while working on the filament for the light bulb. The assistant asked Edison why he didn’t give up. “After all,” he said, “you have failed 5000 times.” Edison looked at him and told him that he didn’t understand what the assistant meant by failure, because, Edison said, “I have discovered 5000 things that don’t work.” You construct your own reality by how you choose to interpret your experiences.
  11. ALWAYS APPROACH A PROBLEM ON ITS OWN TERMS. Do not trust your first perspective of a problem as it will be too biased toward your usual way of thinking. Always look at your problem from multiple perspectives. Always remember that genius is finding a perspective no one else has taken. Look for different ways to look at the problem. Write the problem statement several times using different words. Take another role, for example, how would someone else see it, how would your favorite teacher, a physician, an author, a politician, and so on see it? Draw a picture of the problem, make a model, or mold a sculpture. Take a walk and look for things that metaphorically represent the problem and force connections between those things and the problem (How is a broken store window like my communications problem with my students?) Ask your friends and strangers how they see the problem. Ask a child. Ask a grandparent. Imagine you are the problem. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
  12. LEARN TO THINK UNCONVENTIONALLY. Creative geniuses do not think analytically and logically. Conventional, logical, analytical thinkers are exclusive thinkers which means they exclude all information that is not related to the problem. They look for ways to eliminate possibilities. Creative geniuses are inclusive thinkers which mean they look for ways to include everything, including things that are dissimilar and totally unrelated. Generating associations and connections between unrelated or dissimilar subjects is how they provoke different thinking patterns in their brain. These new patterns lead to new connections which give them a different way to focus on the information and different ways to interpret what they are focusing on. This is how original and truly novel ideas are created. Albert Einstein once famously remarked “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

For an organization whose niche is unrelated to the “creative” industry, what actionable steps can employees take in boosting creativity in a way that affects the bottom line positively over a short time frame?

It is the responsibility of top management to create an environment that encourage creative thinking. Managers must create fun and interesting ways to boost the creativity of their employees. Many examples can be found in any industry that one can use as examples. One is the employee suggestions system the managers created at Rite-Solutions. They needed an employee suggestion system that could harvest ideas from everyone, including engineers, accountants, sales people, marketing people, and all administrative staff.

They wanted a process to get the employees to creatively invest in the company. The word “invest” encouraged them to investigate ways to invest. One association was the New York Stock Exchange. Their idea was to create an employee suggestion system by conceptually combining employee suggestions systems with the NYSE.

First they listed all their thoughts about the NYSE. What is it? How do people invest? Why do they invest? How do they monitor their investments? What actions can they take (buy, sell, hold, etc.)? How do companies attract investors? How and why do prices change? What is the architecture of the NYSE? What parts of the stock exchange architecture can you use to make it interesting and rewarding for the company’s employees to offer ideas, make proposals for new products and services

Rite-Solutions combined the architecture of the stock exchange with the internal architecture of their company’s internal market and created a stock exchange for ideas. Their exchange is called Mutual Fun. Any employee can offer a proposal for new products, spinoffs, solve a problem, acquisition of new technologies or companies and so on, that the company acquire a new technology, enter a new business, make a new product or make an efficiency improvement. These proposals become stocks, complete with ticker symbols identifying the proposal.

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

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

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about accessing the power of the subconscious, what would you say in your experience is the most effective technique for utilizing this power with ourselves?

An easy way to communicate with your subconscious mind and get it working for you to solve a problem is to write a letter to yourself.  The guidelines are:

  1. 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 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 subconscious to work on a solution. The letter should read just like a letter you would send to a real person.   Imagine that your subconscious is all-knowing and can solve any problem that is properly stated. You might even want to give your subconscious a nick name to increase your awareness of it. I address my subconscious as “Hieronymus” after Hieronymus Bosch the artist.
  2. Instruct your subconscious to find the solution.  Write, Dear Hieronymus: “Your mission is to find the solution to the problem.  I would like the solution in two days.”
  3. Seal the letter and put it away.  You may even want to mail it to yourself.
  4. 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 subconscious.
  5. Open the letter in two 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.

This was a favorite technique Norman Mailer, the author, would use when he had writer’s block. He would write a letter to his subconscious describing his problems with the manuscript and mail to himself. Invariably, he would receive some insight that enable to continue the manuscript.

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 use this technique and don’t receive an answer within the allotted time frame, I’ll say “Oh well, let me know as soon as you think of something.” Without exception, I will get the answer sooner or later.

Here is an example of this 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.

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.

Sincerely,

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.

So many geniuses have their quirks. Do you think it is possible to separate genius from eccentricity and why do they come hand in hand?

Yes, I do. Like the rest of humanity some geniuses had quirks and others did not. Perhaps the quirkiest was Nikola Tesla.  Early on in his career, Tesla’s work started mid-morning and continued with few to no breaks until 5 a.m. the next day. The inventor and engineer also had strange aversions to pearls, overweight women, certain clothes, human hair and sex. What he did love were numbers divisible by three, to the point that he wouldn’t stay in a hotel room with a number that didn’t fit that guideline. Tesla felt driven to perform repetitive behavior in sets of three. For instance, after walking around a block once, Tesla would feel compelled to do so two more times. He also preferred to dine alone, due to his meticulous compulsion to clean his plates and silverware with 18 (divisible by 3) napkins before a meal. (Afterwards, he would calculate the cubic contents of all the food on his plate before eating.) He was strictly celibate and felt himself a better inventor for it, preferring the company of pigeons—he actually likened his love for one pigeon in particular (a white pigeon he claimed came to his hotel room every day) to the love he’d have for another person. When the pigeon died, he felt that his ability to work died with it.

More importantly than odd quirks and habits is the way geniuses view the world. I believe geniuses have an intuitive understanding that reality is paradoxical and ambiguous. The creative process itself is paradoxical. To create, a person must have knowledge but forget the knowledge, must see unexpected connections in things but not have a mental disorder, must work hard but spend time doing nothing as information incubates, must create many ideas yet most of them are useless, must look at the same thing as everyone else, yet see something different, must desire success but embrace failure, must be persistent but not stubborn, and must listen to experts but know how to disregard them

On a final note, what would you classify as the key characteristic one should develop in order to make creative thinking second nature?

Develop your capacity to think fluently.

A distinguishing characteristic of genius is immense productivity. All geniuses produce. Bach wrote a cantata every week, even when he was sick or exhausted.  Mozart produced more than six hundred pieces of music. Einstein is best known for his paper on relativity, but he published 248 other papers. Darwin is known for his theory of evolution, but he wrote 119 other publications in his lifetime. Freud published 330 papers and Maslow 165.[1] Rembrandt produced around 650 paintings and 2,000 drawings and Picasso executed more than 20,000 works. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets. Some were masterpieces, while others were no better than his contemporaries could have written, and some were simply bad. In fact, more bad poems were composed by the major poets than the minor poets. They composed more bad poems than minor poets simply because they produced more poetry.

Geniuses produce because they think fluently. Fluency of thought means generating quantities of ideas. The common misconception that somehow phenomenal creative geniuses contribute only a few selective masterworks is plain wrong. Thomas Edison may be best known for his incandescent light bulb and phonograph, but all told, he held 1,093 patents, still the record. Edison looked at creativity as simply good, honest, hard work. Genius, he once said, is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. It took him 9000 experiments to perfect the light bulb and 50,000 to invent the storage cell battery. Once, when an assistant asked why he continued to persist trying to discover a long-lasting filament for the light bulb after thousands of failures, Edison explained he didn=t understand the question. In his mind, he hadn=t failed once, instead, he discovered thousands of things that didn=t work.

Creative thinking involves a Darwinian process of the mind. In nature, 95% of new species fail and die in a short period of time. Nature creates many new possibilities and then lets the process of natural selection decide which species survive. Creative thinking is analogous to biological evolution in that it requires two mechanisms: one for producing many novel ideas and a second for determining which ideas should be retained and evaluated.

Increasing your idea production requires conscious effort. Suppose I asked you to spend three minutes thinking of alternative uses 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 in three minutes, you would have quite a few in a short period of time.

A quota and time limit focused your energy in a competitive way that guaranteed fluency of thought. It should be evident that the quota is not only more effective at focusing your energy but also a more productive method of generating alternatives. 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 device to stand on to see over a crowd, a tool for leveling dirt, material for sculptures, doorstop, bed warmer, body building weights, 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.

Michael Michalko is a creative expert and author of Thinkertoys, Cracking Creativity, Creative Thinkering and ThinkPak. You can review his books at  http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs

 

 

Why are some people creative and others not?

why.2

The key question isn’t “Why are some people creative and others not?” It is why in God’s name isn’t everyone creative? Where and how was our potential lost? How was it crippled? Why does education inhibit creativity? Why can’t educators foster more creativity instead of less? Why is it that the more expert people become in their fields, the less creative and innovative they become? Why is it that people who know more create less, and people who know less create more? Why are people amazed when someone creates something new, as if it were a miracle?

We’ve been educated to process information based on what has happened in the past, what past thinkers thought, and what exists now. Once we think we know how to get the answer, based on what we have been taught, we stop thinking. The Spanish word for an “answer” is respuesta, and it has the same etymological root as response (responsory), the song people sing to the dead. It’s about what has no life anymore. In other words, when you think you know the answers, based on what has happened in the past, your thinking dies.

This is why, when most people use their imaginations to develop new ideas, those ideas are heavily structured in predictable ways by the properties of existing categories and concepts. Creative thinking requires the ability to generate a host of associations and connections between two or more dissimilar subjects, creating new categories and concepts. We have not been taught to process information this way.

CONCEPTUAL BLENDING

The key to creatively generating associations and connections between dissimilar subjects is conceptual blending. This is a creative-thinking process that involves blending two or more concepts in the same mental space to form new ideas.

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

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

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

ice cubes

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

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

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

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

Look at the following illustration of the square and circle. Both are separate entities.

2crcles. book

Now look at the extraordinary effect they have when blended together. We now have something mysterious, and it seems to move. You can get this effect only by blending the two dissimilar objects in the same space. The power of the effect is not contained in the circle or in the square, but in the combination of the two.

1circle.book

Creativity in all domains, including science, technology, medicine, the arts, and day-to-day living, emerges from the basic mental operation of conceptually blending dissimilar subjects. When analyzed, creative ideas are always new combinations of old ideas. A poet does not generally make up new words but instead puts together old words in a new way. The French poet Paul Valéry is quoted by mathematician Jacques Hadamard in Jacques Hadamard, A Universal Mathematician, by T. O. Shaposhnikova, as saying, “It takes two to invent anything. The one makes up combinations; the other one chooses, recognizes what he wishes and what is important to him in the mass of the things which the former has imparted to him.” Valéry related that when he wrote poetry he used two thinking strategies to invent something new. With one strategy, he would make up combinations; and with the other, he would choose what was important.

Consider Einstein’s theory of relativity. He did not invent the concepts of energy, mass, or speed of light. Rather, he combined these ideas in a new and useful way.

Think for a moment about a pinecone. What relationship does a pinecone have to the processes of reading and writing? In France in 1818, a nine-year-old boy accidentally blinded himself with a hole puncher while helping his father make horse harnesses. A few years later the boy was sitting in the yard thinking about his inability to read and write when a friend handed him a pinecone. He ran his fingers over the cone and noted the tiny differences between the scales. He conceptually blended the feel of different pinecone scales with reading and writing and realized he could create an alphabet of raised dots on paper so the blind could feel and read what was written with it. In this way Louis Braille opened up a whole new world for the blind.

Braille made a creative connection between a pinecone and reading. When you make a connection between two unrelated subjects, your imagination will leap to fill the gaps and form a whole in order to make sense of it. Suppose you are watching a mime impersonating a man taking his dog out for a walk. The mime’s arm is outstretched as though holding the dog’s leash. As the mime’s arm is jerked back and forth, you “see” the dog straining at the leash to sniff this or that. The dog and the leash become the most real part of the scene, even though there is no dog or leash. In the same way, when you make connections between your subject and something that is totally unrelated, your imagination fills in the gaps to create new ideas. It is this willingness to use your imagination to fill in the gaps that produces the unpredictable idea. This is why Einstein claimed that imagination is more important than knowledge.

Just as conceptual blending allows information to intermingle in the mind of the individual, when people swap thoughts with others from different fields this creates new, exciting thinking patterns for both. As Brian Arthur argues in his book The Nature of Technology, nearly all technologies result from combinations of other technologies, and new ideas often come from people from different fields combining their thoughts and things. One example is the camera pill, invented after a conversation between a gastroenterologist and a guided-missile designer.

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Learn how to get the ideas that can change your life.

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7 WAYS TO WAKE UP YOUR IMAGINATION

tree

If we toss seeds on hard packed ground the chances of them taking root and producing healthy plants is minimal. However, if we plough and till the ground (that is, mix it up, break it apart, make it “less” solid and more “loose”) the chances of a variety of seeds (both those we purposely sow and those that serendipitously fall) will find a way to grow in the loose soil.

In the same way, if we start a brainstorming session cold with a serious, uptight facilitator throwing out questions and problems to a stiff, conservative group, the chances of producing healthy ideas is minimal. Following are tips on how to loosen up the group to energize their creative thinking.

SYMBOL

Ask participants to draw a personal symbol that metaphorically symbolizes their view about creativity. It can be anything……..an eagle, a compass, a paint brush, the moon, etc. Then each participant displays his or her symbol and explains how or why it represents their view.

SIX WORD BOOKS

A recent book published by Smith Magazine carried the intriguing title, Not  Quite What I was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. This book and similar collections of extremely short prose have been inspired by a six-word novel said to have been written by Ernest Hemingway on a dare. The novel read: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” A six word memoir might read “For sale. Chastity belt. Never worn.” “For sale. Wedding ring. Seldom worn.” A six word description of creative thinking could be: “Last night confused. Slept. Morning. Eureka!”, or “At night all thoughts are gray.” Ask each participant to write a six word book that describes their perspective on creativity.

DIFFERENT WORDS

 An activity to practice getting rid of preconceptions is to create different names for things. For example, “rainbow” might be named “painted rain”. Have the participants create different names for:

  • mountain
  • cloud
  • ocean
  • world
  • painting
  • creative thinking

Next have the participants rename the subject of the meeting with a different name. For example, if the meeting is about office morale, “morale” might be named “a spring flower”, or a “warm hug”, and so on.

As an aside, it’s always a good idea to habitually change the words in your challenge statement several times to get different perspectives. Toyota once posted a sign over their suggestion boxes that read “How can we become more productive?” They got few responses. When the sign was changed to “How can we make our jobs easier?”, they were inundated with ideas.

HEALTH AND HAPPINESS

By thinking and saying positive thoughts about and to others, you gradually can create a positive change not only in the other person, but also in yourself. Psychologists call this restructuring cognitions. An exercise to illustrate this follows.

  • Tell the participants you are going to conduct an experiment.
  • Have the participants count off by twos. Ask the One’s, “How many of you are in a positive mood today? How many of you are in a negative mood?” On the board I record these numbers. Ask the Two’s the same questions and again tally the results on the board.
  • Next, tell the One’s to follow you out of the room. In the hallway, tell them to hang out for a few minutes, to talk to each other, and that you’ll come back to get them.
  • Return to the classroom and say to the Two’s, “I wish you health and happiness”. They usually laugh. I tell them to get up and while shaking the hands of five people in the room and looking them in the eye, say, as earnestly as possible, “I wish you health and happiness.” Usually, they do this with little difficulty, although there is some awkwardness and giggling. Once they finish, have the group all says together, “I wish you health and happiness.”
  • Call the One’s back into the room and again tally the positive and negative moods for both groups. It will become clear that the group that wished others health and happiness is now a much more positive, smiling group; whereas, the group in the hall doesn’t change much if at all. The effect of this little exercise is quite remarkable.

CREATIVE COLLAGES

A collage is an assembly of various pictures, either as wholes or fragments, arranged in such a way that each element loses its separate identity as it becomes part of the collage. The collage is greater than, and often different from, the sum of it’s parts.

When two or more dissimilar images collide in a collage, the imagination transforms them into an altogether new reality transcendent over the separate elements. For example, a picture of  seals performing in a marine show next to a picture of a building may become a metaphor for salespeople performing for customers, a user-friendly computer program, or how to perform for a job interview, and so on. The imagination transforms the picture into a symbol for many different things. The guidelines are:

  • Cut out several pictures or parts of pictures from magazines, newspapers, catalogs, flyers, and so on.
  • Mix and match the pictures by moving them around into different patterns and associations. Play with the pictures until you get a feeling for possible ways to use these patterns. Form patterns and associations without forcing them. Continue until your collage feels complete. Make one large metaphorical picture by assigning a word or phrase to each picture and then completing the sentence,  “My subject is a lot like (insert a word or phrase from the montage) because it—-“.

Think metaphorically and analogically. The R&D staff for a furniture company looked for ways to develop a paint that does not fade, chip, or scratch. They made a collage that included pictures of various trees and plants. The collage triggered a discussion of how trees and plants get their color. Their subsequent research inspired the idea of “everlasting” color. They created the idea of injecting trees with dye additives that impregnates color to the plant cells which spreads the color throughout the tree. The tree is painted before it is cut down.

Another interesting way to collage your subject is to create two separate ones to represent two separate aspects of your subject.  Suppose you want to improve corporate communications. You could create one collage to represent upper management and another one to represent employees. With the two sets of visuals, compare the common points and identify the gaps between upper management and the employees.

CROSS BREEDING

Conceptual inertia is the property of your mind that allows you to resist change. Just as physical objects resist changes in state, ideas resist movement from their current state, and change in direction of their movement. Thus, when people try to create new ideas, those ideas tend to resemble old ideas and new ideas do not move much from the old.

Practice to upset conceptual inertia and get a group’s imagination moving with the “bizarre” activity “Cross Breeding”.  Encourage the group to wildly experiment by cross-breeding plants, objects, and animals. Have three boxes containing slips of paper with random names of “Plants”,  “Objects”, and  “Animals”. A variation is to use objects that are business related such as Xerox machine, product, phone, paperwork, desk, meeting room and so on; and people instead of animals. Each participant takes one of each. Then make hybrids out of two of them.

Examples:

  • bird x supervisor
  • pony x patient
  • customer x door
  • watermelon x therapist
  • key x plant
  • meeting room x ballet dancer

Consider:

  • What does each look like? Draw a picture. Label and post it on a wall.
  • Think. What does each do?
  • What sound does each make?
  • What are the unique strengths of each (at least 3)?
  • What are the unique weaknesses of each (at least 3)?

Finally create an idea about the cross breed strengths. One person cross bred a rose with a key. She thought a strength would be the availability of a key flowering in the garden. This made her think of a rose as the key which triggered the thought of “key chain plants”. A key chain plant is a clear plastic micro-mini case where plants grow in their own individual arboretum until they get too large, at which point they can be transplanted into bigger pots.

USE YOUR IMAGINATION

When we compare problems to something unusual, we tend to have a need to understand it. Consequently, we break it down and analyze the different parts to see if this will allow us to understand it or make it somehow familiar. When this happens, we form new links and relationships that may lead to breakthrough ideas. For example, years back, a group of designers were looking for ideas for a new light fixture. They compared a light fixture with a “monkey” and imagined a monkey running around a house with a light. This thought led them to conceive track lighting. Ask metaphoric questions to stimulate the group’s imagination. For example:

    • What animal is like the problem? Why?
    • A cold, half-eaten pizza is like the solution to the problem because….
    • How is your problem like a flash light battery? How can the similarities spark new ideas?
    • What famous historical figure comes closest to resembling the essence of the problem?
    • What movie comes closest to representing your life? What movie character?
    • Suppose your organization has a communications problem. Metaphoric scenario: Astronauts travel to Mars. While visiting Mars, their perception of events becomes different for each, depending on their prior history. They perceive everything differently. A sequence of events can be anything; quick or slow, orderly or random, causal or without cause, salty or sweet and so on. How can they work together in order to return to earth? What can be learned and applied to real life from the metaphoric scenario?

Suppose your company is thinking about restructuring and reorganizing itself.  Metaphoric scenario: A comet hits the earth and permanently wipes out everyone’s long-term memory, except the people in this room. How do we handle this global situation? How do you reorganize the people on earth? What can be learned and applied to real life from the scenario?

Michael Michalko is a highly-acclaimed creativity expert and author of the best-seller Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), ThinkPak (A Brainstorming Card Deck), Cracking Creativity (The Secrets of Creative Genius), and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. Michael provides keynote speeches, workshops, and seminars on fostering creative thinking for clients who range from Fortune 500 corporations to associations and governmental age.

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