BRAINWRITING. Richard Feynman, while working at Los Alamos on the first atomic bomb, noted that only one problem was fed into the computer at a time. Instead of thinking of more efficient ways of solving one problem at a time, he thought of ways of processing multiple problems in parallel, spontaneous sequences. He invented a system for sending three problems through the machine simultaneously. He had his team work with colored cards with a different color for each problem. The cards circled the table in a multicolored sequence, small batches occasionally having to pass other batches like impatient golfers playing through. This simple innovation dramatically increased idea production and accelerated the work on the bomb.

Horst Geschka and his associates at the Batelle Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, developed a variety of group creative-thinking techniques called Brainwriting which, like Feynman=s innovative problem-solving approach, are designed to process ideas in parallel, spontaneous sequences. In traditional brainstorming groups, people suggest ideas one at a time. This is serial processing of information: i.e., only one idea is offered at a time in a series. Brainwriting, in contrast, allows multiple ideas to be suggested at the same time. This is parallel processing of information: i.e., many ideas produced at once in parallel. If a brainwriting group has 10 members, up to 10 ideas will be generated for every one generated in a typical brainstorming session of 10 members. Brainwriting increases idea production dramatically.

The basic guidelines are:

1. First, discuss the problem to clarify it. Write the problem in a location visible to all group members.
2. Distribute 3X5 index cards to each participant and instruct them to silently write their ideas on the cards. One idea per card. Whereas group brainstorming involves participants shouting ideas out loud, “brainwriting” has people silently writing down ideas.
3. As participants complete a card, they pass it silently to the person on the right.
4. Tell the group members to read the cards they are passed and to regard them as “stimulation” cards. Write down any new ideas inspired by the “stimulation” cards on blank cards and pass them to the person on their right. Within a few minutes, several idea cards will be rotating around the table.
5. After 20-30 minutes, collect all cards and have the group members tape them to a wall. The cards should be arranged into columns according to different categories of ideas, with a title card above each column. Eliminate the duplicates.
6. Evaluate the ideas by giving each participant a packet of self-sticking dots and have them place the dots on their preferred ideas. They can allocate the dots in any manner desired, placing them all on one idea, one each on five different ideas, or any other combination.

Only one person can offer an idea at a time during brainstorming, and despite encouragement to let loose, some people hold back out of inhibition or for fear of ridicule. Brainwriting ensures that the loudest voices don’t prevail, participants feel less pressure from managers and bosses, and ideas can’t be shot down as soon as they are offered. You can design your own “brainwriting” format based on the two principles:

(1) Idea generation is silent.
(2) Ideas are created spontaneously in parallel.

Some examples are:

IDEA POOL. Ask participants to silently generate ideas on 3X5 cards and place their cards in the center of the table instead of passing them to the person on their right. Whenever a participant wants or needs a stimulation card, they simply exchange their cards for cards from the pool.

GALLERY. This technique reverses the normal process. Instead of moving ideas around for people to examine, the gallery moves people around. Post sheets of flip-chart paper around the room, one per participant. Participants stand silently and write their ideas on the sheets (one sheet per person) for 10 to 15 minutes. Then the participants are allowed 15 minutes to walk around the “gallery” and look at the other ideas and take notes. Now, using the other ideas to stimulate further thought, participants return to their sheets and add to or refine their ideas. After about 10 minutes of additional writing, the participants examine all the ideas and select the best ones.

Another option for the gallery technique is to ask participants to draw or diagram their ideas instead of listing them. Drawing and diagraming is useful in creative thinking to recover information from memory that would otherwise be unavailable. For example, how many windows are there in your house? Diagraming your house allows you to go inspect and count the windows. Creative insights sometimes occur as a result of drawing or diagraming a problem, because they help us notice certain features that may be overlooked.

Post sheets of flip-chart paper and then ask the participants to draw a sketch or diagram of how the problem might be solved. Then the participants are again allowed to walk around the Agallery@ and take notes. Using the notes, they return and refine their own sketches. The group then examines all the sketches and constructs a final solution from parts of different sketches.

Michael Michalko


– See more at:



Most people presume that our attitudes affect our behavior, and this is true. But it’s also true that our behavior determines our attitudes. Tibetan monks say their prayers by whirling their prayer wheels on which their prayers are inscribed. The whirling wheels spin the prayers into divine space. Sometimes, a monk will keep a dozen or so prayer wheels rotating like some juggling act in which whirling plates are balanced on top of long thin sticks.

The Greek philosopher Diogenes was once noticed begging from a statue. His friends were puzzled and alarmed at this behavior. Asked the reason for this pointless behavior, Diogenes replied, AI am practicing the art of being rejected.@  By pretending to be rejected continually by the statue, Diogenes was beginning to understand the mind of a beggar. Every time we pretend to have an attitude and go through the motions of having that attitude, we trigger the emotions we create and strengthen the attitude we wish to cultivate.


Cognitive scientists have discovered that the brain is a dynamical system—an organ that evolves its patterns of activity rather than computes them like a computer. It thrives on the creative energy of feedback from experiences either real or fictional. An important point to remember is that you can synthesize experience, literally create it in your imagination. The human brain cannot tell the difference between an “actual” experience and an experience imagined vividly and in detail.

The real key to turning imagination into reality is acting as if the imagined scene were real. Instead of pretending it is a scene from the future, imagine it as though you are truly experiencing it in the present. It is a real event in the now. The great masters of antiquity have told us through the ages that whatever you believe you become. If you believe and imagine in the now that you are whatever you wish to be then reality must conform.

This is how Air Force Colonel George Hall survived his harrowing experience during the Viet Nam war. He was a POW locked in the dark box of a North Vietnamese prison for seven grueling years. Every day Hall imagined he was a golf professional and played a full game of golf in his imagination. One week after he was released from his POW camp he entered the Greater New Orleans Open and shot a 76.

The surrealist artist Salvador Dali was pathologically shy as a child. He hid in closets and avoided all human contact until his uncle counseled him on how to overcome this shyness. He advised Dali to be an actor and to pretend he was an extrovert genius. At first Dali was full of doubts as he began to act the part. When he adopted the pose of an extrovert and made it obvious to himself and others by acting the part, his brain soon adapted itself to the role he was playing. He became what he pretended to be. Dali’s acting the part changed his psychological state.

As you imagine yourself to be, so shall you be, and you are that which you imagine. Another remarkable example is Victor Frankl’s account of being in a concentration camp in his book From Death-Camp to Existentialism. While most of his fellow inmates lost hope and died, Frankl reframed his experience and pretended to be an academic lecturer and occupied his mind creating lectures he would give after he was released from camp—lectures that would draw upon his experiences in the camp. He took a hopeless situation and transformed it in his mind to a source of rich experiences that he could use to help others overcome potentially deadening and hopeless situations.

Consider what Nikola Tesla accomplished with his imagination. He is the man who invented the modern world. He was a physicist first, and electrical engineer and mechanical engineer later. Tesla invented the AC electricity, electric car, radio, the bladeless turbine, wireless communication, fluorescent lighting, the induction motor, a telephone repeater, the rotating magnetic field principle, the poly-phase alternating current system, alternating current power transmission, Tesla Coil transformer, and more than 700 other patents.

At an early age Tesla created an imaginary world where he pretended to reside. In his autobiography “My Inventions,” Tesla described: “Every night and sometimes during the day, when alone, I would start out on my journeys, see new places, cities and countries, live there, meet with people, make friendships and acquaintances and, however unbelievably it is a fact that they were just as dear to me as those in actual life and not a bit less intense in their manifestations.” He used to practice this kind of mind-journey constantly.

When he became a physicist, he would imagine himself in the future and observe what devices and machines they had. Tesla imagined himself to be a time traveler. He would note how they created energy, how they communicated, and lived.  He could picture them all as if they were real in his imaginary mind. He would conduct imaginary experiments and collect data. He described that he needed no models, drawings or experiments in a physical place.

When he attained an idea for a new machine, he would create the machine in his imagination. Instead of building a model or prototype, he would conceive a detailed mental model. Then he would leave it running in his imagination. His mental capacity was so high that after a period of time he would calculate the wear and tear of the different parts of his imaginary machine. Always his results would prove to be incredibly accurate.

The problem most of us have is that when we look at our lives we see only who we are not and dwell on that. Instead, imagine who you want to be and go through the motions of being it. You will become who you pretend to be.

Michael Michalko








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 a 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.

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 cousins 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.

Michael Michalko



First, please take a few moments to complete the following experiment before you read this article. Using the first finger of your dominant hand, please trace the capital letter “Q” on your forehead. There are only two ways of doing this experiment. You can trace the letter “Q” on your forehead with the tail of Q toward your right eye or you draw it with the tail toward your left eye. Some people draw the letter 0 in such a way that they themselves can read it; that is, they place the tail of the Q on the right-hand side of the forehead. Others draw the letter in a way that can be read by someone facing them, with the tail of the 0 on the left side of the forehead.


What an odd thing to ask someone to do. This is an exercise that was popularized by University of Hertfordshire psychologist Richard Wiseman who concentrates on discovering big truths in small things. For instance, Wiseman explains that the Q test is a quick measure of “self-monitoring” which is a theory that deals with the phenomena of expressive controls. Human beings generally differ in substantial ways in their abilities and desires to engage in expressive controls.

Fixed mindset. People who draw the letter Q with the tail slanting toward their left so that someone facing them can read it tend to focus outwardly. Wiseman describes them as high self monitors. Their primary concern is “looking good” and “looking smart.” They are concerned with how other people see them, are highly responsive to social cues and their situational context. Psychologist Carol Dweck describes such people as having a “fixed” mindset. Some of the characteristics of people with a fixed mindset are:


  • They have a fixed mindset about their abilities and the abilities of others. E.g., all talent is innate and static. You are either born intelligent or you are not. They do not believe people can change and grow.
  • They enjoy being the center of attention and adapt their actions to suit the situation. Ability is something inherent that needs to be demonstrated.
  • They are also skilled at manipulating the way others see them, which makes them good at deception and lying.
  • They offer external attributions for failures. They are never personally responsible for mistakes or failures. To them, admitting you failed is tantamount to admitting you’re worthless.
  • They are performance oriented and will only perform tasks that they are good at. For them, each task is a challenge to their self-image, and each setback becomes a personal threat. So they pursue only activities at which they’re sure to shine—and avoid the sorts of experiences necessary to grow and flourish in any endeavor.
  • From a fixed mindset perspective, if you have to work hard at something, or you learn it slowly, you aren’t good at it, and are not very smart. Performance is paramount. They want to look smart even if it means not learning a thing in the process.

Growth mindset. People who draw the letter Q with the tail slanting toward the right so they can read it tend to focus inwardly. In contrast, low self-monitors come across as being the “same person” in different situations. Their behavior is guided more by their inner feelings and values, and they are less aware of their impact on those around them. They also tend to lie less in life, and so not be so skilled at deceit.” Carol Dweck would describe such people as having a “growth” mindset.


Among the characteristics of people with a growth mindset are:

  • They tend to exhibit expressive controls congruent with their own internal states; i.e. beliefs, attitudes, and dispositions regardless of social circumstance.
  • They are often less observant of social context and consider expressing a self-presentation dissimilar from their internal states as a falsehood and undesirable.
  • They are generally oblivious to how others see them and hence march to their own different drum.
  • They believe the brain is dynamic and develops over time by taking advantage of learning opportunities and overcoming adversity.
  • They offer internal attributions to explain things by assigning causality to factors within the person. An internal explanation claims that the person was directly responsible for the event.
  • They take necessary risks and don’t worry about failure because each mistake becomes a chance to learn.
  • The growth mindset is associated with greater confidence, risk-taking, and higher academic and career success over time. Ability can be developed.
  • High achievement comes from hard work, dedication and persistence to meet a goal.

“If you want to demonstrate something over and over, it feels like something static that lives inside of you—whereas if you want to increase your ability, it feels dynamic and malleable,” Carol Dweck explains. People with fixed mindsets think intelligence is fixed from birth. People with learning goals have a growth mind-set about intelligence, believing it can be developed.

In one notable experiment, Dweck gave a class of preadolescent students a test filled with challenging problems. After they were finished, one group was praised for its effort and another group was praised for its intelligence. Those praised for their intelligence were reluctant to tackle difficult tasks, and their performance on subsequent tests soon began to suffer.

Then Dweck asked the children to write a letter to students at another school, describing their experience in the study. She discovered something remarkable: 40 percent of those students who were praised for their intelligence lied about how they had scored on the test, adjusting their grade upward. They weren’t naturally deceptive people, and they weren’t any less intelligent or self-confident than anyone else. They simply did what people do when they are immersed in an environment that celebrates them solely for their innate “talent.” They begin to define themselves by that description, and when times get tough and that self-image is threatened, they have difficulty with the consequences. Politicians and businesspeople with fixed mindsets will not stand up to investors and the public and admit that they were wrong. They’d sooner lie then confess up to problems and work to fix them.

Michelangelo’s mindset. A great example of a growth mindset is the mindset of Michelangelo. When Michelangelo turned 13-years old, he enraged his father when he told that he had agreed to apprentice in the workshop of the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. His father believed artists were menial laborers beneath their social class. Michelangelo defied his father and learned art and then went on to study at the sculpture school in the Medici gardens. During the years he spent in the Garden of San Marco, Michelangelo became interested in human anatomy. At the time, studying corpses was strictly forbidden by the church. You were threatened with damnation and excommunication. He overcame this problem by making a wooden Crucifix with a detail of Christ’s face and offered it as a bribe to Niccolò Bichiellini, the prior of the church of Santo Spirito, in exchange for permission to secretly study corpses.

Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David, revealed his ability to do what others could not: if other artists required special marble and ideal conditions, he could create a masterpiece from whatever was available, including marble already hopelessly mangled by others. Back in 1463, the authorities of the cathedral of Florence acquired a sixteen-foot-high chunk of white marble to be carved into a sculpture. Two well-known sculptors worked on the piece and gave up, and the mangled block was put in storage. They did not want to admit to failure. Forty years later, Michelangelo took what was left of the marble and sculpted David, the world’s most famous sculpture, within eighteen months.

Michelangelo’s competitors persuaded Junius II to assign to him a relatively obscure and difficult project. It was to fresco the ceiling of a private chapel. The chapel had already been copiously decorated with frescoes by many talented artists. Michelangelo would be commissioned to decorate the tunnel-vaulted ceiling. In this way, his rivals thought they would divert his energies from sculpture, in which they realized he was supreme. This, they argued, would make things hopeless for him, since he had no experience of coloring in fresco he would certainly, they believed, do less creditable work as a painter. Without doubt, they thought, he would be compared unfavorably with Raphael, and even if he refused to do it, he’d make the Pope angry and suffer the consequences. Thus, one way or another, they would succeed in their purpose of getting rid of him.

In every way it was a challenging task. He had rarely used color, nor had he painted in fresco. He worked hard and long at studying and experimenting with colors and in fresco. When ready, he executed the frescos in great discomfort, having to work with his face looking upwards, which impaired his sight so badly that he could not read or look at drawings save with his head turned backwards, and this lasted for several months. In that awkward curved space, Michelangelo managed to depict the history of the Earth from the Creation to Noah, surrounded by ancestors and prophets of Jesus and finally revealing the liberation of the soul. His enemies had stage managed the masterpiece that quickly established him as the artist genius of the age.

Michelangelo is a wonderful example of a person with a growth mindset. He ignored his father and marched to his own drum to become an artist; overcame the church’s adversity to studying corpses, took the risk of sculpting mangled marble into the world’s finest sculpture; and with hard work, dedication and persistence, painted the ceiling of the Sistine chapel.
To learn more about the creative thinking habits of Michelangelo and other creative geniuses read Michael Michalko’s Cracking Creativity (Secrets of Creative Genius).



Simply put, the key to increasing creativity in any organization is to make it start acting like a creative organization. Suppose 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 much more of an artist than someone who has never tried. Similarly, you and your organization will become more creative if you start acting the part. Following are 15 suggestions to encourage you and your colleagues to start becoming more creative today.

1.ONE-A-DAY. Ask each person to try to improve one aspect of their job each day, focusing on the areas within their control. At the end of the day, people should meet and ask each other what they did differently and better than it was the day before.

2.  BRAINSTORMING BOARD. Put up a bulletin board in a central area and encourage people to use it to brainstorm ideas. Write a theme or problem on a colored card and place it in the center of the board. Provide pieces of white paper on which people can write their ideas to post on the board. E.g. suppose you have difficulty closing a particular sale. You could describe the sale situation on a colored card, post it on the brainstorming board and ask people to post their ideas and suggestions.

3. IDEA LOTTERY. Have a monthly “idea lottery,” using a roll of numbered tickets. Each time a person comes up with a creative idea, he or she receives a ticket. At the end of each month, share the ideas with the staff and then draw a number from a bowl. If the number on anyone’s ticket corresponds to the number drawn, he or she gets a prize. If no one wins, double the prize for the next month.

4. CREATIVE CORNER. Provide a special area for people to engage in creative thinking. Stock the area with books, videos on creativity, as well as learning games and such toys as beanbags and modeling clay. You might even decorate the area with pictures of employees as infants to suggest the idea that we’re all born spontaneous and creative.

5. ICONS OF CREATIVITY. Ask people to display items on their desks that represent their own personal visions of creativity in business. For example, a crystal ball might represent a view toward future markets, a bottle of Heinz catsup might represent a personal goal of 57 new ideas on how to cut expenses, and a set of jumper cables might symbolize the act of jump-starting your creative juices to get more sales.

6. LET’S DO LUNCH. Encourage weekly lunch-time meeting of three to five employees to engage in creative thinking. Ask meeting participants to read a book on creativity; each person can read a different chapter and share ways of applying creative thinking to the organization. Invite creative business people from the community to speak to the group. You could ask them for ideas on how to become more creative in your business.

7. BRIGHT IDEAS NOTEBOOK. Present each person with a notebook. Call the notebook the “Bright Idea Notebook,” and ask everyone to write three ideas in the notebook every day for one month on how to improve your business. At the end of the month, collect all the notebooks and categorize the ideas for further discussion.

8. STUPID IDEA WEEK. Make idea generating fun. Have a “Stupid Idea” week and stage a contest for the dumbest ideas. Post entries on a bulletin board and conduct an awards ceremony with a prize. You’ll enjoy the camaraderie and may find that the stupid ideas stimulate good ones.

9. CREATIVITY BY COMMITTEE. Establish a “creative-idea” committee made up of volunteers. The goals of the committee should be to elicit, discuss, and implement employee’s ideas. The committee can record the number of ideas on a thermometer-type graph. The company should recognize and reward people according to the quantity and quality of their creative contributions.

10. HALL OF FAME. Turn an office hallway into an Employee Hall of Fame. Post photographs of those whose ideas are implemented along with a paragraph about the person, the idea, and its impact on the company.

11. LEFT AND RIGHT BRAINS. When brainstorming in a group, try dividing the group into left-brain (rational) thinkers and right-brain (intuitive) thinkers. Ask the left-brainers to come up with practical, conventional and logical ideas; ask the right-brainers to come up with far-out, unconventional and non-logical ideas. Then combine the groups and share the ideas.

12. IDEA QUOTAS. Thomas Edison guaranteed productivity by giving himself and his assistants idea quotas. His own personal quota was one minor invention every 10 days and a major invention every six months. A way to guarantee creativity is to give each employee an idea quota of, say, five new ideas a week.

13. TICKET OF ADMISSION. Require everyone to bring one new idea as their ticket of admission to any group meeting. The idea should focus on some aspect of their job and how they can improve what they do.

14. CHANGE “YES, BUT…” to “YES, AND..” Someone offers an idea in a meeting, and many of us are tempted to say “Yes, but…” To change this mind set, whenever someone says “Yes, but…” require the person to change “Yes, but…” to “Yes, and…” and continue where the last person left off.

15. THREE WAYS. Employees shouldn’t waste time thinking of reasons why something can’t work or can’t be done. Instead, they should think about ways to make something work, and then get it done. Ask employees to think of three job-related goals, targets, or tasks they think can’t be accomplished. Then ask them to figure out three ways to accomplish each of them. Then do the same thing yourself.

16. FRESH EYES. Jonas Salk, developer of the vaccine that eradicated polio, made it a standard practice to assemble men and women from different domains to his group sessions. He felt this practice helped him bring out new ideas that could not arise in the minds of individuals who were from the same domain. Invite people from other departments to your brainstorming sessions and ask them how they would solve your problems.

Lastly, don’t forget to thank people for their ideas. Design your own “Thank You for Your Great Idea” cards and distribute them freely to contributors. Ask the CEO to sign each card with a personal message. Stock up on instant lottery cards and include one or two in each card to show your appreciation.

Michael Michalko


– See more at:


 Becoming the Subject of Your Life | SuperConsciousness Magazine

Interview with Creativity Expert Michael Michalko
Author: Jair Robles
Photographer: Wikipedia & Philippe Halsman
Interview with Creativity Expert Michael Michalko
I’m always fascinated to hear stories about the lives of those men and women that I admire. Somehow hearing these stories and anecdotes makes them more human, which brings a stronger sense of hope and inspiration.

Many of them are people who have contributed to make significant changes in the areas of science, art, politics or business. Their names and deeds can be read in most history books and they are usually regarded as geniuses. But less is known about the way they came up with their ideas. What were they thinking when they came up with such insight? Are there some common traits amongst these men and women that we can learn and emulate?

Four years ago as we were creating our first issue, Redefining Genius, we came across a man who has dedicated his life to answer these questions. His name is Michael Michalko and is recognized as a creativity expert. At that time he wrote an article for us titled: How Geniuses Think.

It was a great surprise to receive and advanced copy of his latest book, Creative Thinkering, which is coming out in September. The book is filled with stories about the lives of some of the most regarded creative thinkers in history, as well as many thought experiments that help us develop our own creativity along the way.

SuperConsciousness caught up with Mr. Michalko to talk about his upcoming book and understand how we can gain greater awareness of the thought patterns that get in the way of our innate creativity and genius — and remind us to become the subjects of our lives.

Michael Michalko is the author of Creative Thinkering, Thinkertoys, Cracking Creativity, and ThinkPak. While being an army officer, he organized a team of NATO intelligence specialists and international academics to find the best inventive thinking method. He has expanded and taught these techniques to numerous Fortune 500 companies and organizations.

SuperConsciousness: What is your definition of genius?

MICHAEL MICHALKO: Geniuses are geniuses because they form more novel combinations than the merely talented. That observation comes from Dean Keith Simonton, who is a researcher in the creative process, teaches at the University of California, and has written many books on creativity and one of them was about genius. As a result of his research, he said: “Ideas can’t be created out of nothing. Ideas are created by you when you take something and combine it with something else.” Logical thinkers will exclude the things that can’t be combined and creative thinkers don’t exclude anything.

If you think about Darwin’s theory of evolution, nature creates many species through trial and error and lets natural selection decide which species survive. And out of the many species it creates, only a few survive. With evolution, if a gene pool lacks variation, over time the gene pool will convert to foolishness and will not survive. It needs variation.

In nature a gene pool gets variation by some random chance or unrelated event that ignores the parental chromosomes. And again, most of these do not survive. But the ones that survive create something new, a different species or different variation of the existing species that we have.

Now genius is tantamount to this theory of evolution, because genius requires an incredible production of many ideas. Of the many ideas only a few will survive. But then you need a way to vary the way you think about these ideas. You need variation of your thinking patterns. Like a genetic mutation, if you take something unrelated, dissimilar, a random subject, and combine it with your challenge, you force the connection between the two. The human mind is such that when we’re forced to look for connections between two dissimilar things, it will see connections.

Da Vinci discovered that and wrote about it in his notebooks as well: That it is impossible for the human to concentrate on two dissimilar subjects without a connection being formed. He talked about how he would get his ideas. He would throw a sponge full of paint against the wall and it would splatter and make all kinds of different images and patterns. He would look at the pattern and say this looks like a horse. Suppose he was trying to come up with a new mode of transportation, and he would say a horse, and the legs look like wheels. Then he might draw something that looks like a bicycle. He would make that kind of connection. It would provoke a different way for him to focus on the information and provide a new way for him to interpret what he’s focusing on.

Da Vinci called it connecting the unconnected. Genius comes from the ability to connect dissimilar things. You have to provoke different thinking patterns, and that’s what connecting the unconnected does.

SC: Based on your experience working with different groups of people, what seems to be the greatest block that prevents creative thinking?

MM: I think it’s a simple belief. Creative people believe they are creative and people who are not creative believe that they are not. And that’s because of what happens when we go to school. People tend to believe the conventional wisdom, which is that creativity is somehow an asset that only a few people have. If you’re not blessed with this ability, you’re expected to become a logical, analytical thinker. When we think we have limitations, that becomes a reality and we begin limiting ourselves.

Thomas Edison said his greatest blessing in life was the lack of a formal education. Because he said, had he gone to school, he would have realized that what he did was not possible to do.

We are taught to be reproductive thinkers. We are not taught how to think; we are taught what to think. When we are confronted with a problem, we fixate on something in our past or how someone else in the past has solved that problem and analytically select one of these past approaches that seems more suitable on a practical problem. Creative thinkers don’t think that way. They will approach every problem in as many different ways as they can and consequently they produce an incredible amount of ideas, many of which are bad, but they also include many ideas that have become breakthrough ideas in our society. So it’s a simple belief — if you believe you are creative, you will be.

Edison at the National Portrait Gallery

We are all born spontaneously creative. You give a box to a little child, and that box can be an airplane, could be a fort, a car, a school or a person. They are inclusive. They consider all possibilities. But when the child goes to school, they are taught to exclude possibilities and are taught that a box is a container and nothing else. They are taught to categorize and label things and limit possibilities. So they become exclusive thinkers.

The human mind is such that when we’re forced to look for connections between two dissimilar things, it will see connections.

SC: In your upcoming book you talk about speech and how it connects with our feelings, our thoughts and attitudes. Can you explain a little bit more about this connection?

MM: We have been taught to think in fragments, to isolate things like speech, behavior, attitude, and so on. But all these things are interrelated. And it’s the combination of all of these sorts of attributes that make up the person.

What you think becomes what you speak. Your speech determines how you act and how you act determines your habits. And what your habits are will determine your character. And your character will determine your destiny.

The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) did a lot of research. They were trying to profile people and they were trying to determine if a person’s facial expressions affects the way they feel and think.  So in one experiment, two experimenters put a pencil in their mouth and kept their smile rigid all day. They’re forcing a smile all day. The next day they came in and one said, “You know, I never felt better in my life than I did yesterday.” The other one said, “I had the same experience.” So then they positioned the pencil in a way to make them frown all day. And then they came back and said, “Man, I was depressed all day yesterday.” They realized that just the simple act of frowning or smiling determined their feeling of well-being or not feeling well. It was an incredible insight to them.

Salvador Dalí, the surrealist artist, was pathologically shy as a young boy. He used to hide in the cellar whenever they had visitors. His uncle, who became concerned about him, one day said: Salvador the way to get out in the world is to pretend you are somebody else. You love art, so pretend you are a great artist. Play the part of an actor, and act the part of a great artist, which he did. And before long, he became a great artist. Just acting the part you become what you pretend to be.

alternate text

The Dali Atomicus, photo by Philippe Halsman (1948), shown before its supporting wires were removed

You’ll notice that when you read the biographies of all these creative people, they all speak in a positive language. They are always talking about what is, not what is not. They are always talking about what they can do, not what they can’t do. They are always joyful, happy and positive, and always believe that they can do anything because they are like little children.

Many researchers have come and found childlike qualities in those creative geniuses like Einstein and Freud and so on. They are just playing and having a good time in life and they exhibit this in the way they act and speak and produce.

SC: Tied to what you just mentioned. How does intention relate to speech and attitude? What would be the most probable result if, for example, somebody would say everyday, “I am a genius”?

MM: If you say, “I am genius. I am creative. I can do whatever I wish to do” — suppose I say, I want to create a canoe and know nothing about canoes, but now I have the intention to make a canoe. Now this intention will focus my conscious and subconscious minds on what the criteria for a canoe are. A canoe is made out of wood, so I suddenly start looking at trees, but I’m looking at them now, and going, what criteria should I use? What tree would be a good tree? What kind of wood would be a good wood? And I do some research on that. I cut down the tree and my intention will lead me to get a plan for how to make a canoe. And because I’m fixated — I have this intention to make a canoe — I’ll suddenly start seeing ideas in my environment all around me.

What you think becomes what you speak. Your speech determines how you act and how you act determines your habits. And what your habits are will determine your character. And your character will determine your destiny.

I might see them at home or at work or on my way to work. I look at a refrigerator and get an idea for the canoe. It’s because my mind is now focused. We are bombarded with all kinds of stimuli every day, but you have to have the intention. And by intention I mean you have to have the willingness to act.

Intention will drive you to hold the criteria, which will help you fixate on what you can accomplish. But without the intention you have nothing.

SC: What can we do to overcome self-doubt and how are we to interpret the adversity that comes as we change?

Henry Ford, Thomas Alva Edison, and Harvey
Samuel Firestone – the fathers of modernity

MM: When you look at the life of creative geniuses, they were all the subjects of their life. They were all taught and told they couldn’t do what they did. Henry Ford was told he couldn’t get into the automobile industry because he lacked the capital, and he couldn’t compete with these companies because it cost a lot of money to bring people to do the work.

Well that didn’t bother him at all, because he took that as a challenge. How can I do this in a way that I can afford? How can I cut the cost of manufacturing? He took the assumption, which was, you have to bring people to do the work, and challenged it by reversing it to how can I bring the work to the people? He invented the assembly line, which made automobile manufacturing affordable and transformed the whole culture of America. Suddenly everybody could afford a car.

Look at Albert Einstein, whose professor at the university called him the laziest dog he had ever had. When Einstein was in elementary school, his teacher one day said, “Go to the board and divide thirteen in half.” So he went to the blackboard and he goes, half of thirteen is six point five or, you know, six and a half. But there are many different ways to express something, and there are many different ways to halve things. For example, I could express it as roman numerals, and now half of thirteen and divide it vertically with a line. Now half of thirteen becomes eleven and two. He did this eighty times. He got eighty different ways of expressing that. And the teacher took him home that night and told his parents he was mentally disturbed.

Einstein 1921

In university he never really attended classes all that much because he was bored. He had a Jewish roommate who kept good notes so he would study his roommate’s notes from the class and do well on the exams. But his professors had little regard for him and his chance of getting a teaching position was almost zero. So he becomes a patent clerk.

Imagine yourself as a patent clerk sitting next to Einstein. And Einstein turns to you and says, “I’ve got a theory about the universe that will change the way science thinks about the universe.” You look at him and say, “That guy’s a patent clerk for Christ’s sakes. He must be nuts.”

These people had to overcome all these things. They take great joy in doing it. They’ve learned that one of the ways to really live your life and be the subject of your life is to overcome adversity. And they all had adversity. No one believed them that they could do what they did.

Abraham Lincoln, his mother showed him no affection at all. His father treated him like a farm animal. He was sent to school with clothes that were much too short for him, because they wouldn’t buy clothes that fit. And the schoolmates called him gorilla, monkey boy, and all these nicknames that kids just come up with when somebody looks odd or unusual. He starts a business and goes bankrupt. Falls in love and the girl’s family will have nothing to do with him. Because in their mind he was what at that time we would consider and call “trailer trash.” Then he runs for office, and fails. Runs for office again, and fails. And he runs for office again and fails. Falls in love again, and this time marries a woman who turns out to be emotionally disturbed. Runs for office, and gets elected finally. He runs for office again, and fails and fails and fails like twenty six times. But he eventually becomes president of the United States. Toward the end of his term, shortly before he was assassinated, he was interviewed and asked: “What made you the strong person that you are, this person with character, principle and the inner strength that you have? How did you become this?” He said, “Adversity. When you overcome adversity it strengthens you. I’ve walked on adversity my whole life, because that is what makes a person strong.” And creative thinkers think that way. To them adversity is something to be overcome.

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the
United States

Unfortunately in our society, people can explain things away by saying, “It’s my parent’s fault; I don’t have the genes or I don’t have the education. I don’t have this, but it’s not my fault.” It’s giving people reasons not to succeed.

SC: I love the title of Chapter 7 in your book: “Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change”.

MM: It’s like I’m walking down the street and this lady bumps into me. Now I could say, “That’s a rude and aggressive feminist.” Or I could say, “Yeah, you know, the architect who designed these streets didn’t do a good job. He should’ve given it more room, more width.” Or I could say, “I’m getting old; I should watch where I’m walking.” Or I could say, “I think she’s flirting with me.” I give it meaning. The bump is neutral, it has no meaning. I give it the meaning and it’s the same with every thing in life. The experiences that you have are neutral whatever they are you give it the meaning.

Abraham Lincoln recalled his experiences, and interpreted all as good things that made him what he is. The creative thinkers are like that. They will look and interpret things to their benefit. And you can see, in our society, most people will interpret just about everything as the reason for their misfortune. But experiences are neutral. You give it the meaning.

It’s because my mind is now focused. We are bombarded with all kinds of stimuli every day, but you have to have the intention. And by intention I mean you have to have the willingness to act.

SC: There is another concept that some people call ideas from God and you refer to this process as incubation. It’s very common when we’re contemplating solutions to a problem and we go to bed, or we go off to do something else, and suddenly the solution pops in our mind. What is your explanation of events like this?

MM: It goes back to intention and belief. You’re working on a problem very hard, and you can’t get the idea or ideas that you want. But you’ve been working on it. So finally you say, okay, I’m going to walk away from it. Now your subconscious mind never stops working. But now it has all this information that you gave it about this problem. It keeps combining and recombining trillions of different ways in your subconscious mind. Sometimes you’ll get the right combination, which will bubble up to the surface of your consciousness. And you’ll be watching TV or something and suddenly you hit the spot, my god/God, that’s the idea. That’s what I’ve been looking for. That’s where this idea originated, that creativity came from god/God, divine inspiration. But it came from your mind because you had been working on those problems.

Years ago, they did a survey of scientists and the majority said they get their ideas when they have walked away from the problem. They might be taking a shower and suddenly they get the insight.

Charles Darwin, with the theory of evolution, could point to the rock on the road that his carriage hit, when he suddenly got his insight for the theory of biological evolution. Suddenly it was all there.

Einstein said one night he was working on the theory of relativity and was all confused. He said, “it’s like I have a thunderstorm in my head and I had to go to sleep. I couldn’t think anymore. When I woke up in the morning, suddenly everything was there.” He called it knowing the mind of god/God, that the idea came from the mind of god/God, but what he was talking about was that it came from incubating this problem.

The whole process is called incubation. It comes as a result of you working hard on a problem. You have to feed your subconscious mind with the information.

SC: Is there a process to intentionally create this space of detachment? Like meditation or some way that would allow you to access the subconscious mind?

MM: The technique that I use is the one that Norman Mailer used, to write a letter to your subconscious mind. You give your subconscious mind a name, “you, expert” or whatever you want to call it. Then write out the problem, and say, “I’d like the answer as soon as you get it, or I’d like it in three days time. You can either mail the letter or put it in a box.” But incredibly, it’s amazing how many times in workshops people come out with the answer to a problem.

I remember once I was at Xerox walking down the hall and the executive said, “What we need to do is find a Thomas Edison.” And I said, “If Edison worked for you, he wouldn’t last one day. He’d be fired.” He said, “Why?” I replied, “Edison, whenever he got tired of working on a problem, he’d lay down on the floor and take a nap.” Invariably he’d wake up refreshed with new ideas. But that was his way of incubating a problem.

They’ve learned that one of the ways to really live your life and be the subject of your life is to overcome adversity. And they all had adversity. No one believed them that they could do what they did.

I told the executive, if we walked by an office, and you saw your employee sleeping on the floor, he’d be fired. In fact, companies should actually program a way for employees to incubate the information when they are looking for ideas, they should give them a naptime. I know some companies are beginning to do this, give them nap times in the afternoon and create a place where they can get away from what they’re thinking about.

Scientists know that it works, but they can’t explain how.

SC: You have published several books and spent a lot of time with groups of people teaching them to be creative. What kind of change would you like to see as a result of all of your work?

MM: I would like to see a change in education. I would like to see education reformed. Richard Feynman, a Noble Prize winning physicist, took over a first grade class in California once and gave them a third grade problem, which was to add eight and twenty three together.

It’s a third grade problem because it involves a process of carrying. He said to the kids, you discover how to solve this. You come up with a way to solve it. And some kids would count their fingers others would use a ruler. They all had different little ways of solving the problems. One child even solved the problem algebraically. The point was they came up with an answer on their own. They discovered how to come up with the answer once they were challenged to do so. And he said, this is what education should do. It should be teaching people how to think, not what to think.

Einstein for example. You go to school and they’d say, we had this great genius, Einstein, incredible man. He had all kinds of incredible ideas that changed the way we look at the world. But at school you don’t hear about how Einstein came up with his ideas. How he didn’t think in terms of using words or numbers. Instead he thought in terms of images, and visions, and fantasies. These images would combine in his mind. He would think of things like falling in love without knowing the person you’re in love with.

You’re walking down the street, after you’ve fallen in love, and then you meet the woman you fall in love with two weeks later. From that came his theory of acausality. This is how he came up with his ideas. But the average child in school, they think he came up with it mathematically using equations and using the standard things that his assistant scientists used to come up with their ideas.

Richard Feynman again he was an incredible mind. He was going to a seminar with a PhD student, and they were on a train. He had a manuscript of Watson and Crick’s book, the double helix and DNA. He was reading this manuscript and couldn’t stop reading it. He read it all night long on the train. In the morning he woke up his traveling companion, the PhD student, and said, “Read this. Read it now.”

While he was reading it, Feynman was pacing around the railroad car. And when he finally finished it, Feynman asked, “What do you think? What did you think of that?” The student said, “This book has disregarded what everybody has done in the field. They weren’t even qualified to come up with this idea, and yet they did.” Feynman said, “Exactly this is what I had forgotten in life. Disregard what other people do.” And he wrote it out on a piece of paper. He said, “This is how I lost my creativity. I started to do what I thought I was supposed to be doing” — which was little minor incremental work and publishing peered reviewed papers and so on — “and that’s why I’ve become bored with my profession. I forgot the primary lesson, which is disregard what people have done in the past.” He placed it in his wallet and never forgot it again.

“This is how I lost my creativity. I started to do what I thought I was supposed to be doing”….“and that’s why I’ve become bored with my profession. I forgot the primary lesson, which is disregard what people have done in the past.”


To learn more about the author visit him online at



Solve the following thought experiment before you read the rest. Imagine you have a brother. Your father has passed away, and he has left you an inheritance with three assets. The assets are represented symbolically by three coins. Your instructions are that you must share the inheritance fairly but you cannot split any of the assets. Now you must try to find a creative solution that will get you the maximum possible benefit. What is your solution?





A Franciscan monk who was a speaker at an international seminar about world peace, was asked if successful negotiations between Israel and Palestine were possible. He called two young people up to the microphone: a Palestinian young man and a Jewish Israeli young man. He placed three gold coins on the podium and asked them how they would share the inheritance.

When the Palestinian said he would take two coins and give the Israeli one, everyone laughed  and the monk said, “Well, okay, you have the power to do that, but you are sowing the seeds of conflict.” The Israeli said he was actually thinking of taking one coin and giving the Palestinian two. “Evidently,” the monk guessed, “you feel it’s worth the risk of investing in your adversary in this way, and hope to somehow benefit in the future from this.” The boys sat down.

Next, the monk asked two young women (again one was Israeli, the other Palestinian) to repeat the exercise. It was fairly clear where the monk was going with this, but would the girls get it? “I would keep one coin and give her two,” said the Israeli young woman, “on condition that she donate her second one to a charity, maybe a children’s hospital.” “Good,” said the monk and asked the Palestinian woman if she agreed. She said “I would keep one for myself, and give one to her, and say that we should invest the third one together.” The entire audience stood and applauded.

Negotiating is not a game, and it’s not a war, it’s what civilized people do to iron out their differences. There is no point, the monk said, in figuring out how to get the other side to sign something they cannot live with. A negotiated settlement today is not the end of the story, because “there is always the day after,” and a good negotiator should be thinking about the day after, and the day after that.

Learn how to become creative in your business and personal lives.