Archive for the ‘psychology’ Category



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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










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. 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.

One of the many ways in which we have become cognitively lazy is to accept our initial impression of the problem that it encounters. Once we settle on an initial perspective we don’t seek alternative ways of looking at the problem. 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 expect to see based on our past experiences in life, education and work.

Most of us look at a scene rather than look into it. People tend to think of perception as a passive process. We see, hear, smell, taste or feel stimuli that impinge upon our senses. We think that if we are at all objective, we record what is actually there. Yet perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records “reality.” You construct how you choose to see the world.


Consider the following problem. Four cards are laid out with their faces displaying respectively, an A, a B, a 4 and a 7.

A    B    4    7

You are told that each card has a letter on one side and a number on the other. You are then given a rule, whose truth you are expected to evaluate. The rule is: “If a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an even number on the other.” You are then allowed to turn over two, but only two, cards in order to determine whether the rule is correct as stated.

If you worked this problem silently, you will almost certainly miss it, as have the large percentage of subjects to whom it has been presented. Most subjects realize that there is no need to select the card bearing the consonant, since it is irrelevant to the rule; they also appreciate that it is essential to turn over the card with the vowel, for an odd number opposite would prove the rule incorrect.

The wording of the problem determines the perspective most people mentally default to almost immediately. Most people assume that the object is to examine the cards to ascertain that if a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an even number on the other; and if a card has an even number on one side, then it has a vowel on the other side. This assumption leads them to make the fatal error of picking the card with the even number, because the even number is mentioned in the rule. But, in fact, it is irrelevant whether there is a vowel or a consonant on the other side, since the rule does not take a stand on what must be opposite to even numbers.

On the other hand, it is essential to pick the card with the odd number on it. If that card has a consonant on it, the result is irrelevant. If, however, the card has a vowel on it, the rule in question has been proved incorrect, for the card must (according to the rule) have an even (and not an odd) number on it.

The content of this specific problem influenced the way we constructed our perception of the problem. This perception created the assumption that leads to error. This should give one pause about mentally defaulting to first impressions. Leonardo Da Vinci wrote in his notebooks that one should always assume that your first impression of a problem is usually biased toward your usual way of thinking. He suggested looking at your problem in at least three different ways to get a better understanding.

“If a card has a vowel on one side, then it has an even number on the other.” Here we are working with letters and numbers. Transposing the words to read “If a card has an even number on one side, then……….” Clarifies the problem and gives us a different perspective on even numbered cards. It becomes apparent that what even numbered cards have on the other side has no significance. The rule is only concerned with cards that have vowels on one side.

Sigmund Freud would “reframe” something to transform its meaning by putting it into a different framework or context than it has previously been perceived. For example, by reframing the “unconscious” as a part of him that was “infantile,” Freud began to help his patients change the way they thought and reacted to their own behavior.

The important thing is not to persist with one way of looking at the problem. Consider the following interesting twist, again using four cards. This time, however, we reframe the problem by substituting journeys and modes of transportation for letters and numbers. Each card has a city on one side and a mode of transportation on the other.


This time, the cards have printed on them the legends, respectively, Los Angeles, New York, airplane, and car; and the rule is reframed to read: “Every time I go to Los Angeles, I travel by airplane. While this rule is identical to the number-letter version, it poses little difficulty for individuals. In fact, now 80 percent of subjects immediately realize the need to turn over the card with “car” on it.

Apparently, one realizes that if the card with “car” on it has the name “Los Angeles” on the back, the rule has been proved incorrect; whereas it is immaterial what it says on the back of the airplane since, as far as the rule is concerned, one can go to New York any way one wants.

Why is it that 80 percent of subjects get this problem right, whereas only 10 percent know which cards to turn over in the vowel-number version? By changing the content (cities and modes of transportation substituted for letters and numbers), we restructured the problem, which dramatically changed our reasoning. The structure of a problem colors our perspective and the way we think.

The above thought experiment is a variation on the Wason selection task that was devised by Peter Wason. The Wason selection task was originally developed as a test of logical reasoning, but it has increasingly been used by psychologists to analyze the structure of human reasoning mechanisms.

The significant point about this test is that we are incredibly bad at it. And it doesn’t make much difference what the level of education is of the person taking the test. Moreover, even training in formal logic seems to make little difference to a person’s performance. The mistake that we tend to make is fairly standard. People almost always recognize that they have to pick up the card with the vowel, but they fail to see that they also have to pick up the card with the odd number. They think instead that they have to pick up the card with the even number.

One of the most interesting things about this phenomenon is that even when the correct answer is pointed out, people feel resistance to it. It apparently feels “right” that the card with the even number should be picked up. It feels right because your initial perspective is biased toward the usual way of thinking. It is only when you look at it from different perspectives that you get a deeper understanding of the problem.


Michael Michalko is the author of the highly acclaimed Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.





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

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

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

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

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

Following is a blueprint for the technique.


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

What puzzles me?

Is there any relationship to the challenge?

Any new insights? Messages?

What’s out of place?

What disturbs me?

What do the images remind me of?

What are the similarities?

What analogies can I make?

What associations can I make?

How do the images represent the solution to the problem?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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






Grey dots intersection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Dear MacGuyver,

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

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

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


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


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


Scratch a Genius and You Surprise a Child

By Michael Michalko


The childlike joy creative geniuses experience in life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1) Close your eyes and relax.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What word would taste like tomato soup?

What word would taste like mashed potatoes?

What would the word government taste like?

What flavor best represents your attitude toward corruption?

What occupation would taste like ear wax?

What does death taste like?

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

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

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

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




A Creative-Thinking Technique to Use When Looking for Ideas  


ferris wheel

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

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

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

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


                                            A                                                             B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. List all your assumptions about your subject.

EXAMPLE:  Some common assumptions about restaurants are:

Restaurants have menus, either written, verbal or implied.

Restaurants charge money for food.

Restaurants serve food.

  1. Reverse each assumption. What is its opposite?

EXAMPLE: The assumptions reversed would be:

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


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


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

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

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

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




We automatically interpret all of our experiences without realizing it. Are they good experiences, bad ones, what do they mean and so on? We do this without much thought, if any, to what the interpretations mean. For instance, if someone bumps into you, you wonder why. The event of her bumping into you is neutral in itself. It has no meaning. It’s your interpretation of the bumping that gives it meaning, and this meaning shapes your perception of the experience.

You may interpret the “bump” as rude behavior. You may interpret her as being deliberately aggressive, or you may feel you are of such little consequence that you’re deliberately unnoticed and bumped around by others. Or you may choose to use the experience as an example of feminist aggression, or you may interpret the bump as her way of flirting with you. Your interpretation of the experience determines your perception.

We are each given a set of experiences in life. The experiences are neutral. They have no meaning. It is how we interpret the experiences that give them meaning. The interpretations of experiences shape your beliefs and theories about the world. Your beliefs and theories, in turn, decide what you observe in the world to confirm your beliefs which, in turn, reinforce your interpretations.

You Give Your Experiences Meaning

Think for a moment about Abraham Lincoln who is considered by many the greatest president in the history of the U.S.  He could not choose his parents, the immediate circumstances of his upbringing, or the historical epoch of his birth.

Modern day psychologists would label his parents as dysfunctional and abusive. He was mocked and ridiculed by his school classmates for the way he looked and dressed. At age 22, he failed in business, he ran for the state legislature and was defeated, and he tried to start another business and failed again. At age 26, he was rejected by a woman he loved and had a nervous breakdown. At age 33, he married a woman who was found to be mentally unstable, and once more was defeated for Congress. At age 37, he was finally elected to Congress but at age 39 he was once again defeated. He subsequently campaigned for and was defeated for the senate, vice presidency, and again for the senate. At age 51 he was elected president of the U.S.

Lincoln was not born with a positive “can do” attitude. On the contrary, his life is testimony that a positive attitude toward one’s experiences takes considerable effort and practice. Lincoln learned to expect difficulties, and, so was not traumatized and defeated when faced with problems but viewed them as part of the natural course of events. Lincoln learned the harder one works to sustain a positive interpretation, the more one appreciates life.

Lincoln did not choose his experiences of failure and defeat, but he did choose how to respond. He realized that he was not reacting to an event but to how he interpreted the event. His life is testimony to the uniquely human potential to turn defeats into triumphs and to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. For those events that were not up to him, it was his own attitude that determined their influence on him. When he was no longer able to change a situation, he changed himself.


There is an old parable about a boy who was so discouraged with failing in school he told his grandfather he wanted to quit. His grandfather filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first, he placed carrots, in the second he placed eggs and the last he placed ground coffee beans. He let them sit and boil, without saying a word. In about twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then he ladled the coffee out into a cup. Turning to the boy, he asked, “Tell me, what do you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the boy replied. Then he asked the boy to feel the carrots, which he did and noted that they were soft and mushy. His grandfather then asked him to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, the boy observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked the boy to sip the coffee. He smiled as he tasted the coffee with its rich aroma. The boy asked, “I don’t understand. What does this mean, if anything?”

His grandfather laughed and explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity–boiling water–but each had reacted differently. “Which are you?” the grandfather asked. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, becomes soft and loses strength? Are you the egg that appears not to change but whose heart is hardened? Or are you the coffee bean that changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, your very attitude will change your environment for the better, making it sweet and palatable.”

His lesson was that in life when you can’t change the circumstances, change yourself.


Michael Michalko is a creative thinking expert and author of books about the creative thinking strategies and techniques used  by creative geniuses throughout history.