Posts Tagged ‘challenges’


horses or woman

  It is not possible to think unpredictably by looking harder and longer in the same direction. When your attention is focused on a subject, only a few patterns dominate your thinking. These patterns produce predictable ideas no matter how hard you try. In fact, the harder you try, the stronger the same patterns become. If, however, you change your focus and combine your subject with something that is not related, different, unusual patterns are activated. 

Try an experiment. Pick eight random words (or use the following words) and give the list to someone or to a small group (for example: flower pot, baby, glass, grasshopper, coffee pot, box, toast and garage). Ask them to divide the words into two groups without giving them any rationale for the division. You’ll discover that people will come up with some very creative classifications. They’ll group them according to “words with the letter,” “things that touch water,” “objects made in factories,” and so on. No one ever says there is no connection, they invent them. 

Though we seldom think about it, making random connections in such a manner are conceptual creative acts. Making random connections were popular techniques used by Jackson Pollock and other Surrealist artists to create conceptual combinations in art. Artists in a group would take turns, each contributing any word that occurred to them in a “sentence” without seeing what the others had written. The resulting sentence would eventually become a combination of concepts that they would study and interpret hoping to get a novel insight or a glimpse of some deeper meaning. The technique is named “The Exquisite Corpse” after a sentence which happened to contain those words. 


Have the group bounce ideas and thoughts about the subject off each other for five to ten minutes. 

  • Then, ask the participants to think about what was discussed and silently write one word that occurs to them on a card.
  • Collect the cards have the group combine the words into a sentence (words can be added by the group to help the sentence make sense).
  • Then invite the group to study the final sentence and build an idea or ideas from it. 

An Alzheimer’s organization planned to have an auction to raise money for their cause. They planned an elaborate, sophisticated evening and looked for unusual items they could auction. They tried the “exquisite corpse” technique. Some of the words they came up with were people, cruises, creative, furniture, charity, designer, custom, art, thin air, and celebrities. One of the connections was: create—-art—-thin air. 

This triggered their idea which was the sensation of the auction. They sold an idea for an artwork that doesn’t exist. They talked a well-known conceptual artist into describing an idea for an artwork. The idea was placed in an envelope and auctioned off for $5,000. Legal ownership was indicated by a typed certificate, which specified that the artwork (10, 0000 lines, each ten inches long, covering a wall) be drawn with black and red pencils. The artist and the owner will have one meeting where the artist will describe his vision for the painting with the owner. The owner has the right to reproduce this piece as many times as he likes.




What Flies and Bees Can Teach Us About Problem Solving?



If you place in a bottle half a dozen bees and the same number of flies, and lay the bottle down horizontally, with its base to the window, you will find that the bees will persist, until they die of exhaustion or hunger, in their endeavor to discover an issue through the glass; while the flies, in less than two minutes, will all have sallied forth through the neck on the opposite side.

Scientists believe that it is the bees’ knowledge of light; it is their very intelligence that is their undoing in this experiment. They evidently imagine that the escape from every prison must be there when the light shines clearest; and they act in accordance, and persist in what seems to be a logical action. To them glass is a supernatural mystery they never have met in nature; they have had no experience of this suddenly impenetrable atmosphere; and the greater their intelligence, the more inadmissible, more incomprehensible, will the strange obstacle appear and the greater will be their persistence to penetrate the bottom of the bottle.

Whereas the feather-brained flies, careless of logic, disregarding the call of the light, flutter wildly, hither and thither, hitting the bottom and walls of the glass through trial and error until they find the opening to freedom. It is by pursuing every imaginable alternative do the flies escape while the bees perish because they believe the light is the only way out because, after all, generations of bees were successful following the light. Here the good fortune that often waits on the simple, who find salvation where the wiser will perish because they feel there is only the one way they know.

The bees in the experiment remind me of the paradox of expertise. It seems that the more expert one becomes in an area of specialization, the less creative and innovative that person becomes. The paradox is that people who know more, see less; and the people who know less, see more. Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs attempted without success to get Atari and Hewlett-Packard interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer. As Steve recounts, “So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary; we’ll come work for you.’ And their experts laughed and said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. Go to college and then come back and apply for a job.”

What is it that freezes the expert’s thought and makes it difficult to consider new things that deviate from their theories? Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., thought the idea of a personal computer absurd, as he said, “there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry, was ridiculed by every scientist for his revolutionary liquid-fueled rockets. Even the New York Times chimed in with an editorial in 1921 by scientists who claimed that Goddard lacked even the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high school science classes. Pierrre Pachet a renowned physiology professor and expert declared, “Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”

It seems that if an expert experiences any strain in imagining a possibility, they quickly conclude it’s impossible. This principle also helps explain why evolutionary change often goes unnoticed by the expert. The greater the commitment of the expert to their established view, the more difficult it is for the expert to do anything more than to continue repeating their established view. It also explains the phenomenon of a beginner who comes up with the breakthrough insight or idea that was overlooked by the experts who worked on the same problem for years. Think, for a moment, about Philo Farnsworth who invented television when he was twelve years old while he was working on his father’s farm.

Imagine 12 year old Philo Farnsworth tilling a potato field back and forth with a horse-drawn harrow in Rigby, Idaho while at the same time thinking about what his chemistry teacher taught him about the electron and electricity. Philo conceptually blended tilling a potato field with the attributes of electronic beams and realized that an electron beam could scan images the same way farmers till a field, row by row or read a book, line by line. Amazingly, this was 1921 and a 12 year-old Farnsworth conceived the idea of television.

We are educated to think reproductively like the bees in the experiment. Whenever we are confronted with a problem, we fixate on something in our past that has worked before and we apply it to the problem. If it does not work, we conclude it’s not possible to solve. The flies resemble productive thinkers as they fly hither and thither exploring every possibility and through trial and error find the way to safety. The lesson to us is to always approach a problem on its own terms and to consider all alternatives including the least obvious ones.

Michael Michalko creativity expert and author of books on creative thinking.










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).



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.




A Special Operations officer, told me a story about a Special Forces soldier who was captured by the North Vietnamese during the Viet Nam war. There was a bounty for the heads of all Special Forces personnel who participated in operation Phoenix at the time and the soldier figured his life was over.

He was trussed up and tortured. He knew if he kept to the hard line of name, rank and serial number he was dead. He then did something extraordinary. He changed his mental state by repeating a general statement continuously. During special forces training, he learned to repeat the sentence “Day by day, in every way, I’m getting stronger and stronger” twenty times, three times a day. He discovered that a simple mental thought repeated continuously occupies the mind exclusively and changes your mental state and behavior. He decided to use the same exercise.

The sentence he used during his captivity was “Moment by moment, in every way, I am becoming Christ and loving and understanding my enemy more and more.” At first, he was highly conflicted and hated his enemy. This caused a great deal of cognitive dissonance. He knew he couldn’t change his circumstance, so he knew he had to change himself. And he said eventually he believed what he was saying and it showed in his eyes and body language. He became what he pretended to be. He became like Christ.

As they tortured him, he told them he loved them, that he understood why they were torturing him and why they would kill him. He told them not to feel guilty about what they were doing to him because he understood and loved them and prayed for them.

At first, his torturers were highly amused and continued to torture him. But It’s hard to hate and torture someone who seems to genuinely love and understand you, so, over time, the North Vietnamese became confused and gradually the torture stopped. Then they began to feed him and heal his wounds. They kept his connection to the Phoenix secret so he wouldn’t be executed by their superiors. They became his friend instead of his enemy. They protected him until the end of the war. Now, after he was repatriated, he visits his former captors every three years in Hanoi to laugh and joke about their wartime experiences and celebrate life.

He became what he pretended to be.



Give the Gift of Imagination



In What Ways Might We Formulate a Problem Statement?

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

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

INVITATIONAL STEM: The formulation of a problem determines the range of choices: the questions you ask determine the answers you receive. To start with, it’s helpful to coin problems in a particular way. Write the problems you want to solve as a definite question. Use the phrase “In what ways might I…?” to start a problem statement. This is sometimes known as the invitational stem and helps keep you from settling on a problem statement that may reflect only one perception of the problem.

For example, in the series of letters below, cross out six letters to make a common word.


If you state the problem as: “How to cross out six letters to form a common word?” you’ll find it difficult to solve. If, instead, you framed it: “In what ways might I cross out six letters to form a common word?” you will likely find yourself inspired to think of many alternative possible solutions, including the solution which is to literally cross out the letters “S,” “I,” “X,” “L,” “E,” “T,” “T,” “ and so on, leaving the word CREATE.

Before you brainstorm any problem, restate the problem at least five to ten times to generate multiple perspectives. The emphasis is not so much on the right problem definition but on alternative problem definitions. Sooner or later, you’ll find one that you are comfortable with. Following are some different ways to look at your problem.

GLOBAL AND SPECIFIC: One can always look at a system from different levels of abstraction. A very fine-grained description of a beach would include every position of every grain of sand. Viewed from a higher vantage point, the details become smeared together, the grains become a smooth expanse of brown. At this level of description, different qualities emerge: the shape of the coastline, the height of the dunes, and so on.

The idea is to look for the appropriate level of abstraction, the best viewpoint from which to gather ideas. In the 1950s, experts believed that the ocean-going freighter was dying. Costs were rising, and it took longer and longer to get merchandise delivered.

The shipping industry experts built faster ships that required less fuel and downsized the crew. Costs still kept going up, but the industry kept focusing its efforts on reducing specific costs related to ships while at sea and doing work.

A ship is capital equipment and the biggest cost for the capital equipment is the cost of not working, because interest has to be paid without income being generated to pay for it. Finally, an outside consultant globalized the challenge to: “In what ways might the shipping industry reduce costs?”

This allowed them to consider all aspects of shipping, including loading and stowing. The innovation that saved the industry was to separate loading from stowing, by doing the loading on land, before the ship is in port. It is much quicker to put on and take off preloaded freight. The answer was the roll-on, roll-off ship and the container ship. Port time has been reduced by three quarters, and with it, congestion and theft. Freighter traffic has increased fivefold in the last thirty years, and costs are down by 60%.

One of the keys to Freud’s genius was his ability to find the appropriate level of abstraction of his problem so that he could operate beyond the usual assumptions and interpretations. To find the appropriate level of abstraction, ask “Why?” four or five times, until you find the level where you’re comfortable.

Suppose your challenge is: “In what ways might I sell more Chevrolet Luminas?”
Step One: Why do you want to sell more Luminas? “Because my car sales are down”
Step Two: Why do you want to sell more cars? “To improve my overall sales.”
Step Three: Why do you want to improve overall sales? “To improve my business.
Step Four: Why do you want to improve your business? “To increase my personal wealth.”
Step Five: Why do you want to improve your personal wealth? “To lead the good life.”

Now you shape your challenge in a variety of ways including:
In what ways might I sell more Luminas?
In what ways might I sell more cars?
In what ways might I improve overall sales?
In what ways might I improve my business?
In what ways might I improve my personal wealth?
In what ways might I lead the good life?

You may choose to stick with the original challenge of selling more Luminas or you may choose a more global challenge of improving your personal wealth. Improving your personal wealth allows your thinking to embrace more opportunities. You could negotiate a higher commission return for each vehicle sold, go into another business, make investments, sell other products and so on.

SEPARATE THE PARTS FROM THE WHOLE. Seeing is one of the most comprehensive operations possible: your vison embraces an infinity of forms and objects, yet it fixes on but one object at a time. Similarly, when Leonardo Da Vinci embraced a subject, he would see the whole but would move from one detail to another seeking the origin or cause of each detail. He believed you gained knowledge by separating the parts from the whole and examining all the relationships and key factors that may influence a given situation.

Professor Kaoru Ishikawa of the University of Tokyo incorporated this strategy in his Ishikawa diagram, which is commonly known as the “fishbone” diagram because of its unique shape. The “fishbone” diagaram is a way to visually organize and examine all the factors that may influence a given situation by identifying all the possible causes that produce an effect. An effect is a desirable or undesirable result produced by a series of causes. In teaching this tool, the Japanese often use as an effect a “perfect plate of rice.” In a typical diagram, minor causes are clustered around four major cause categories. For example, common major cause categories in the manufacturing process might be materials, people, methods, and machinery, and major cause categories in public education might be teachers, methods, environment, students, and policies.

Suppose we want to improve creativity in our organization. Following are guidelines for fishboning the situation:

1. Our effect would be “perfect organizational creativity.”We would write this in the box on the right (the fish’s head). A straight line is drawn to the left to resemble the backbone of the fish.
2. The next step is to brainstorm the major cause categories. What are the major causes that would produce perfect organizational creativity? You can have as many major causes as are warranted. There are typically three to six. We decide that the four major categories for organizational creativity are: people, environment, materials and policies. The major cause categories become the ribs of the fish.
3. Minor causes are then grouped around the major causes as fish bones. E.g., “train to be creative” would be a bone attached to the “People” rib, and “stimulating” would be a bone attached to the “Environment” rib.
4. For each minor cause, ask “How can we make this happen?” and post the response as branches off the bones. E.g., “hire an outside expert to conduct the training” would be a branch off the “train” bone.

[NOTE: Click on diagram]

Fishboning allows you to see the relationships between causes and effects, allows you to consider all the different parts of a situation, and allows you to identify those areas where you need more data or information. It also triggers your subconscious. Ishikawa described the process as one in which you fishbone your problem and let it cook overnight. When you come back to it, you’ll be amazed at the new thoughts and ideas that your subconscious has cooked up.

REPHRASE THE PROBLEM IN YOUR OWN WORDS. Richard Feynman once reviewed his children’s school books. One book began with pictures of a mechanical wind-up dog, a real dog, and a motorcycle, and for each the same question: “What makes it move?” The proposed answer–”Energy makes it move”– enraged him.

That was tautology, he argued–empty definition. Feynman, having made a career of understanding the deep abstractions of energy, said it would be better to begin a science course by taking apart a toy dog, revealing the cleverness of the gears and ratchets. To tell a first-grader that “energy makes it move” would be no more helpful, he said, than saying “God makes it move” or “moveability” makes it move. He proposed teaching students how to rephrase what they learn in their own language without using definitions. For instance, without using the word energy, tell me what you know now about the dog’s motion.

Other standard explanations were just as hollow to Feynman. When someone told him that friction makes shoe leather wear out, his response was “Shoe leather wears out because it rubs against the sidewalk and the little notches and bumps on the sidewalk grab pieces and pull them off.” That is knowledge. To simply say, “It is because of friction,” is sad, because it is empty definition.

Always try to rephrase the problem in your words without using definitions. In another famous Feynman example, he was working with NASA engineers on a serious problem and they kept defining the problem as a “pressure-induced vorticity oscillatory wa-wa or something.” After considerable time and discussion had passed, a confused Feynman finally asked them if they were trying to describe a whistle? To his amazement they were. The problem they were trying to communicate to him exhibited the characteristics of a simple whistle. Once he understood what they were trying to do, he solved it instantly.

CHANGE THE WORDS. For every word a person uses, psychologists say there is a mediating response which provides the meaning of that concept for that individual. Just what the mediating responses are for all words is not known. Many times they may not be responses in the usual sense but all provide meaning of that concept for that individual. When you change the words in your problem statement, you initiate an unobservable process in your mind that may lead to a new thought or idea.

A few years back, Toyota asked employees for ideas on how they could become more productive. They received few suggestions. They reworded the question to: “How can you make your job easier?” They were inundated with ideas.

A simple change of words or the order of words in a problem statement will stimulate your
imagination by adding new dimensions of meaning. Consider the statement “Two hundred were killed out of six hundred,” as compared to “Four hundred were spared out of six hundred.”

Examine your problem statement, identify the key words, and change them five to ten times to see what results. One of the easiest words to change is the verb. Suppose you want to increase sales. Look at the changing perspectives as the verb is changed in the following:
In what ways might I increase sales?
In what ways might I attract sales?
In what ways might I develop sales?
In what ways might I extend sales?
In what ways might I repeat sales?
In what ways might I keep sales? Magnify sales? Restore sales? Target sales? Inspire sales? Cycle sales? Encourage sales? Grow sales? Copy sales? Complement sales? Acquire sales? Vary sales? Spotlight sales? Motivate sales? Prepare sales? Renew sales? Force sales? Organize sales? And so on.

PLAYING WITH VERBS AND NOUNS. Playing with verbs and nouns encourages you to think of perspectives that you would probably not think of spontaneously. Try changing the nouns into verbs and verbs into nouns in your problem statement. For example, a problem might be “How to sell more bottles ?” Changing the verbs into nouns and nouns into verbs makes this into “How to bottle more sales?” Bottling sales now suggests looking for ways to close sales, instead of ways to sell more bottles.

The problem “How to improve customer relations?” becomes “How to customize related improvements?” This new perspective leads one to consider customizing products and services for customers, customizing all relevant aspects of the customer relations department, and so on.

The problem “How to motivate employees?” becomes “How to employ motivated people?”

TRANSPOSE THE WORDS. One of Aristotle’s favorite ways to test a premise was what he called “convertibility.” He felt that if a premise were true than the negative premise should be convertible. For example, if every pleasure is good, some good must be pleasure. Sometimes changing the order of words in a problem statement will create a verbal-conceptual chain that may trigger a different perspective.

In the following illustration, words were arranged in two different series, “A” and “B,” and subjects were asked to solve certain situations. When “skyscraper” was listed first, subjects
tended to come up architectural concepts, and when “prayer” was transposed with “skyscraper” and listed first, it increased the likelihood of a religious direction.


To change the order, transpose the words in your problem. Following are some examples:
In what ways might I get a promotion?
To: In what ways might I promote myself?
In what ways might I advertise my T-shirts?
In what ways might I use my T-shirts to advertise?
In what ways might I learn how to use the Internet?
In what ways might I use the Internet to learn more?

A very simple change in the way something is looked at can have a profound effect. One of the most effective medical discoveries of all time came about when Edward Jenner transposed his problem from why people got small pox to why dairymaids apparently did not. From the discovery that harmless cowpox gave protection against deadly smallpox came vaccination and the end of smallpox as a scourge in the western world.

POSITIVE ACTION STATEMENTS. In the Universe Within, Morton Hunt details experiments conducted by Herbert Clark at Stanford University that demonstrate how thinking positively facilitates and speeds up thinking. In the Figure below, are the statements true or false?

The square is above the plus =

The square is above the plus =

Notice how much longer it takes to reply to the false statement than to the true one. We instinctively assume statements are true. If they are, we do no further thinking and move on. If they are not true, we have to step back and revise our assumption, thus answering more slowly. It takes approximately a half-second or longer to verify denials than affirmations. We are programmed to think more easily about what is than what is not.

Read the following sentences, pausing briefly between them.
Should we allow gays to serve in the military?
Should we not allow gays to serve in the military?

Did you feel your mind slowing down to interpret the second statement? Negatives give us pause and slow down our thinking process. Suppose you misplaced your watch somewhere in your house. If you search for it and keep searching, you will eventually find it. This is a different perspective from “Did I misplace my watch in the house or did I misplace it somewhere else?” The belief that the watch is in the house speeds up your thinking and keeps you focused on your goal. Positive, active statements speed up our thinking and keep us focused on our goal. Try framing your problem statement as a positive action statement. A positive action statement has four parts:

1. THE ACTION. The thing you want to do.
2. THE OBJECT. A thing or person you want to change.
3. THE QUALIFIER. The kind of action change you want.
4. THE END RESULT. The result you expect to follow.

EXAMPLE: In what ways might I package (ACTION) my book (OBJECT) more appealingly (QUALIFIER) so that people will buy more (END RESULT).

This is a convenient way to transform your thoughts into words that will shape the kinds of action you need to take to solve the problem.

Michael Michalko