Archive for the ‘thinking’ Category

THE IMPORTANCE OF PERCEPTION AND PATTERN RECOGNITION SKILLS IN CREATIVE THINKING

NYC

Cognitive scientists understand the importance of perception and pattern recognition as a major component of creative thinking.  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.

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.

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.

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, not logic, that recognized the common factor between a burdock and a zipper that fastens, not logic.

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.

AN EXERCISE TO TEST YOUR CREATIVE PERCEPTION

Russian computer scientist, Mikhail Bongard, created a  remarkable set of visual pattern recognition problems to test one’s creative perception. 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.

.EX.BONGARD (2) (1024x1024)

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.

 

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CAN YOU THINK OUT OF THE BOX?

 cat.100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cat.solution

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

Now turn it upside down.

cat.rightsideup

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

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

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Michael Michalko is one of the most highly-acclaimed creativity experts in the world and author of the best-seller Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), ThinkPak (A Brainstorming Card Deck), Cracking Creativity (The Secrets of Creative Genius), and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.  http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs

 

 

 

 

 

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CREATIVE THINKING TECHNIQUE: ATTRIBUTE ANALYSIS

scamper

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

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

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

Round steel shaft

Wooden or plastic handle

Wedge-shaped tip

Manually operated

Used for tightening or loosening screws

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

What can I substitute for this attribute?

What can be combined with it?

Can I adapt something to it?

Can I add or magnify it?

Can I modify it in some fashion?

Can I put it to some other use?

What can I eliminate?

Can the parts be rearranged?

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

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

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

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

A Japanese engineer invented a bendable electric screwdriver with a super-flexible shaft to reach out of the way places.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A LEONARDO DA VINCI CREATIVE THINKING TECHNIQUE

davinci

Leonardo DaVinci’s grotesque heads and famous caricatures are an example of the random variations of the human face made up of different combinations of a set number of features.  He would first list facial characteristics (heads, eyes, nose, etc.) and then beneath each list variations.  Next he would mix and match the different variations to create original and grotesque caricatures.  Below is a hypothetical example of a box similar to one that DaVinci might have constructed:

While the number of items in each category is relatively small, there are literally thousands of possible combinations of the listed features. The circled features indicate only one out of thousands of different grouping of features that could be used for an original grotesque head.

grot

From his notebooks, it is clear that DaVinci used this strategy in his production of art and invention.  He advised to be on the watch to take the best parts of many beautiful faces rather than create what you consider to be a beautiful face.  It is intriguing to speculate that the Mona Lisa, probably the most admired portrait in the world, is a result of DaVinci combining the best parts of the most beautiful faces that he observed and systemized.  Perhaps this is why admirers find so many different expressions in the mix of features on the face of the woman in the painting.  It is especially interesting to consider this possibility in the light of the fact that there is so little agreement about the actual identity of the subject.

One can almost see Leonardo composing a matrix of elements (Apostles, types of reactions, conditions, facial expressions, types of situations) and experimenting with their variations and combinations until he found the right configuration to create that once in a lifetime masterpiece — the “Last Supper.”  Many other artists before him hadlast supper made their own versions of Jesus Christ having his last meal with the twelve apostles, but when Leonardo painted the picture, the scene came alive with new meaning that no one else was able to give, or has been able to give since.

DaVinci would analyze the structure of a subject and then separate the major parameters (parameter means characteristic, factor, variable, or aspect).  He would then list variations for each parameter and combine them.  By coming up with different combinations of the variations of the parameters, he created new ideas.

Think of the parameters as card suits (hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds), and the variations as the different cards within each suit.  You choose the number and nature of the parameters of your subject; what’s important is to generate parameters and then list variations for each parameter.  By experimenting with different combinations of the variations, you create new ideas.

The procedures for using DaVinci’s technique are:

1.     Specify the challenge.

2.     Separate the parameters of the challenge.  The parameters are the fundamental framework of the challenge.  You choose the nature and the number of parameters that you wish to use in your box.  A good question to ask yourself when selecting parameters is: “Would the challenge still exist without the parameter I’m considering adding to the box?”

3.     Below each parameter, list as many variations for the parameters that you wish.  The complexity of the box is determined by the number of parameters and the number of variations used.  The more variations and the more different the variations of each parameter, the more likely the box will contain a viable idea.  For instance, a box with ten parameters, each of which has ten variations, produces 10 billion combinations of the parameters and the variations.

4.     When you are finished listing variations, make random runs through the parameters and the variations for the parameters, selecting one or more from each column and assemble the combinations into entirely new forms.  During this step, all of the combinations can be examined with respect to the challenge to be solved.  If you are working with ten or more parameters, you may find it helpful to randomly examine the entire group, and then gradually restrict yourself to portions that appear to be particularly fruitful.

carwash

5.  Let’s look at an example.  A car-wash owner wanted to find an idea for a new market or new market extension.  He analyzed the activity of “product washing” and decided to work with four parameters: Method of washing, products washed, equipment used, and other products sold.

He listed the parameters and listed five variations for each parameter.  He listed four parameters on top.  Under each parameter he listed five variations for each parameter.  He randomly chose one or more items from each parameter, and connected them to form a new business.

NEW BUSINESS: The random combination of (Self + Dogs + Brushes + Dryers + Stalls + Sprayers + Related Products) inspired an idea for a new business.  The new business he created was a self-service dog wash.  The self-service dog wash has ramps leading to waist-high tubs where owners spray them, scrub them with brushes provided by the wash, shampoo them and blow dry them.  In addition to the wash, he also sells his own line of dog products such as shampoos and conditioners.  Pet owners now wash their dogs while their car is being washed in the full-service car wash.

Five alternatives for each parameter generate a possible 3,125 different combinations.  If only 10% prove useful, that would yield 312 new ideas.  In theory, if you list the appropriate parameters and variations, then you should have all of the possible combinations for a specified challenge.  In practice, your parameters may be incomplete and/or a critical variation for a parameter may not have been described.  When you feel this may be the case, you should reconsider the parameters you specified and adjust the parameters or the variations accordingly.

We tend to see the elements of our subject as one continuous “whole,” and do not see many of the relationships between the elements, even the obvious ones.  They become almost invisible because of the way we perceive things.  Yet, these relationships are often the links to new ideas.  When you break down a subject into different parts and combine and recombine the parts in various ways, you restructure your perception of the subject.  This perceptual restructuring leads to new insights, ideas, and new lines of speculation.

The Gestalt psychologist Wolfgang Kohler demonstrated perceptual restructuring with animals.  He would present an ape with a problem in which bananas were displayed out of reach and could only be obtained by using techniques new in the ape’s experience.  For example, he would give an ape boxes to play with for a few days.  Then Kohler would hang bananas from the ceiling out of the ape’s reach.  When he placed the boxes behind the ape, the ape would try all the familiar ways of reaching the fruit and fail.  When he placed the boxes in front of the ape so that they were visible, the ape would sit and think and suddenly have insight and use the boxes to stand on to reach the bananas.  What happened was that the visibility of the information restructured the ape’s perception.  It suddenly saw the boxes not as playthings but as supports with which to build a structure. It saw the relationship between the boxes and bananas.

In the same way, when you combine and recombine information in different ways, you perceptually restructure the way you see the information.  In addition, the greater the number of combinations you are able to generate, the more likely it is that some combination will serve as an associative link to ideas you could not come up with using your usual way of thinking (i.e., A, B, and D may become associated because each in some way is associated with C).  For example, the three words “surprise,” “line,” and “birthday” in combination serve as an associative link to the word “party.”  I.e., “surprise party,” “party line,” and “birthday party.”

In the car wash example, an associative link was made from the information that was listed to the idea of a bird wash.  The bird wash is a miniature clamp-like device that holds the bird securely in an upright stance so it can be gently washed and hosed (much like a car wash).  It’s designed to help workers cleanse birds who are damaged from tanker oil spills at sea.  It’s expected to save thousands of birds that now expire from the rough handling during clean-up operations.

Michael Michalko me.small Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work by Michael Michalko

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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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