Posts Tagged ‘exercises’



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.


How to Get Ideas while Dozing


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

Dali was intrigued with the images which occur at the boundary between sleeping and waking. They can occur when people are falling asleep, or when they are starting to wake up, and they tend to be extremely vivid, colorful and bizarre. His favorite technique is that he would put a tin plate on the floor and then sit by a chair beside it, holding a spoon over the plate. He would then totally relax his body; sometimes he would begin to fall asleep. The moment that he began to doze the spoon would slip from his fingers and clang on the plate, immediately waking him to capture the surreal images.

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

Surrealism is the stressing of subconscious or irrational significance of imagery, or in more simplistic terms, the use of dreamlike imagery. Dalí’s absurd imagination has him painting pictures of figures no person would even dream of creating.  Following is a blueprint Dali’s technique.


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

What puzzles me?

Is there any relationship to the challenge?

Any new insights? Messages?

What’s out of place?

What disturbs me?

What do the images remind me of?

What are the similarities?

What analogies can I make?

What associations can I make?

How do the images represent the solution to the problem?

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

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

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

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


To discover more creative-thinking techniques read CRACKING CREATIVITY (THE SECRETS OF CREATIVE GENIUS) by Michael Michalko


There is no such thing as failure

As an infant, you learned how to walk by trial and error. The first time you made the effort you fell down and returned to crawling. You ignored your fears about falling and the results you had produced. You stood up again BABY

and again and fell again and again. Eventually you stood with a wobble and then another fall. Finally, you walked upright. Suppose as infants we had learned to fear failure. Many of us would still be crawling around on all fours.

It is the same with everything in life. Our nature is to act and produce results without fear. Yet, because, we have been educated to think critically and judgmentally, we imagine strong reasons for inaction and then allow it to become our reality, even before we make an attempt. Our fear is supported by an illusion that it is possible to fail, and that failure means we are worthless.

The reality is that there is no such thing as failure. Whenever we attempt to do something and fail, we end up doing something else. You cannot fail, you can only produce results. Rather than judging some result as a failure, ask “What have I learned about what doesn’t work?”, “Can this explain something that I didn’t set out to explain?”, “What can I do with these results?”, and “What have I discovered that I didn’t set out to discover?”.

Take the first airplane. On Dec. 8, 1903, Samuel Pierpont Langley, a leading government- funded scientist, launched with much fanfare his flying machine on the Potomac. It plummeted into the river. Nine days later, Orville and Wilbur Wright got the first plane off the ground. Why did these bicycle mechanics succeed when a famous scientist failed? It was because Langley hired experts to execute his theoretical concepts without going a series of trial and errors.

Studying the Wrights’ diaries, you see that insight and execution are inextricably woven together. Over years, as they solved problems like wing shape and wing warping, they made several mistakes which inspired several adjustments all of which involved a small spark of insight that led to other insights. Their numerous mistakes led to unexpected alternative ways which, in turn, led to the numerous discoveries that made flight possible.

Learn to Fail

It is a paradox of life that you have to learn to fail in order to succeed. Henry Ford’s first two automobile companies failed. What he learned from his failures led him to be the first to apply assembly line manufacturing to the production of affordable automobiles in the world. He became one of the three most famous and richest men in the world during his time.

When Thomas Edison was seeking to invent the electric light bulb, he had thousands of failures. He would record the results, make adjustments and try again. It took him approximately 10,000 experiments to invent the perfect set-up for the electric light bulb. Once an assistant asked him why he persisted after so many failures. Edison responded by saying he had not failed once. He had learned 10,000 things that didn’t work. There was no such thing as a failure in Edison’s mind.

When you try something and produce a result that is not what you intended but that you find interesting , drop everything else and study it. B. F. Skinner emphasized this as a first principle of scientific methodology. This is what William Shockley and a multi-discipline Bell labs team did. They were formed to invent the MOS transistor and ended up instead with the junction transistor and the new science of semiconductor physics. These developments eventually led to the MOS transistor and then to the integrated circuit and to new breakthroughs in electronics and computers. William Shockley described it as a process of “creative failure methodology.”

Answering the questions about discoveries from failures in a novel, unexpected way is the essential creative act. It is not luck but creative insight of the highest order. A DuPont chemist Roy Plunkett set out to invent a new refrigerant. Instead, he created a glob of white waxy material that conducted heat and did not stick to surfaces. Fascinated by this “unexpected” material, he abandoned his original line of research and experimented with this interesting material, which eventually became known by its household name, “Teflon.”

The discovery of the electromagnetic laws was also a “failed” experiment. The relationship between electricity and magnetism was first observed in 1820 by Oersted in a public lecture at which he was demonstrating the “well known fact” that electricity and magnetism were completely independent phenomena. This time the experiment failed! – an electric current produced a magnetic effect. Oersted was observant enough to notice this effect, honest enough to admit it, and diligent enough to follow up and publish. Maxwell used these experiments to extend Isaac Newton’s methods of modeling and mathematical analysis in the mechanical and visible world to the invisible world of electricity and magnetism and derived Maxwell’s Laws which opened the doors to our modern age of electricity and electronics.


If you just look at a zero you see nothing; but if you pick it up and look through it you will see the world. It is the same with failure. If you look at something as failure, you learn nothing; but look at it as your teacher and you will learn the value of knowing what doesn’t work, learning something new, and the joy of discovering the unexpected.
Learn more about how to get ideas by reading Michael Michalko’s book Cracking Creativity: Secrets of Creative Genius.


Q factor.1

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.

Q factor.2

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).

Get New Ideas by Taking Old Things Apart


Count the “F’s” in the following sentence:


If you found less than six, you probably ignored the F’s in the word “of.” If so, you are probably thinking, “Of course, it was right before my eyes the whole time.” Ordinarily we do not make the fullest use of our ability to see. We look at a subject and do not see the details. And the details sometime contain the germ of an idea that will lead to a creative breakthrough.

George Westinghouse took the workings of a simple well in his backyard apart and examined the separate parts. Moving from one detail to another led Westinghouse to a multiplication of new perspectives about how substances can be transmitted. He then modified some of the parts and reassembled them into an efficient way to transmit clean, natural gas to homes and industry creating the natural gas industry

Try getting ideas by taking your subject apart by listing the attributes (attributes are characteristics, parts, or dimensions) of your subject. Then focus your attention on each attribute in turn. Think of ways to change or improve each attribute. Suppose you wanted to improve the common screwdriver. You would:

1. List the attributes on a sheet of paper. E.g., some of the attributes of a screwdriver are: (1) round, (2) steel shaft, (3) wooden handle, (4) wedge-shaped tip, (5) manually operated, and (6) operated by a twisting action.
2. For each attribute, ask:
SUBSTITUTE? What can you substitute?
COMBINE? Can you combine this with something?
ADAPT? Can you adapt something from somewhere else?
MAGNIFY? Can you add something?
MODIFY? Change it in some way?
PUT IT TO SOME OTHER USE? Other uses if modified?
ELIMINATE? Take something away?
REARRANGE? Rearrange the components?
REVERSE? Turn it around?

Always ask: “How else can this be accomplished?” and “Why does this have to be this way?”

You might end up with something like a bendable electric screwdriver with a super-flexible shaft which can reach things positioned at odd angles, or you might end up with a screwdriver with a handle with space for both hands to make it easier to power manually.

Listing attributes helps you think beyond your stereotypical notion of things. We usually describe an object by its function which grows out of our experience and observation. But the function of an object is not inherent in the object itself, instead it comes from our association with it. In the same way, listing the attributes of a subject and then focusing on one attribute at a time helps us to break our stereotypical notion of a subject as a continuous whole and to discover relationships that we likely would otherwise miss. For example, suppose we want to improve the revolving door of the kind used in office buildings and department stores. We could list the attributes of a revolving door and then focus on each attribute one at a time. The attributes might be listed as:
 has individual compartments
 pushing it manually creates the energy to move it
 made of glass to see through
 one or more people pushing it around at a time

The attribute “pushing it manually creates the energy” inspires one to think of ways to harness all that energy that is being voluntarily created by thousands of people pushing through the door each day. This triggers the idea of modifying the revolving door to make electricity from the force of people pushing it around. Separating the revolving door into attributes broke our stereotypical notion of a revolving door and inspired us to think of energy and of a creative way to use the door to harness it.

To discover more creative thinking techniques read THINKERTOYS: HANDBOOK OF CREATIVE THINKING TECHNIQUES by Michael Michalko

101 Tips on How to Become More Creative

OUTOFIDEAS1.            Take a walk and look for something interesting. Force a connection between it and your problem. E.g., you see a jar of honey in a shop’s window. What connections can you make between the honey and your problem?

2.            Open a dictionary, close your eyes, and randomly point to a word. Use the word in a sentence. Can you make any associations between the word or sentence and your problem.

3.            How is an iceberg like an idea that might help you solve your problem?

4.            Create an idea that is so dumb it will get you fired. Examine the dumb idea. Is there anything in the idea you can build on?

5.            Ask a child.

6.            Create a prayer asking for help with your problem.

7.            What does the sky taste like?

8.         What or who can you copy?

9.         Read a different newspaper every day for a week. E.g., the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, the NY Times, the NY Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, and your hometown newspaper (e.g., Elmira Star Gazette).

10.       List all the things that bug or bother you about the problem.

11.       Doodle while thinking about the problem.

12.         If you were the problem’s psychotherapist, what would the problem confide to you?

13.         Take a bath instead of a shower.

14.         What is the most bizarre idea you can come up with? Can you engineer the bizarre idea into something practical?

  1. What can you adapt to help you solve the problem? What else is like your problem?

16.         Take a different route to work every day for five days.

17.        Write the problem on a slip of paper. Place it on your bed stand. Forget it. Go to sleep. When you wake, immediately write down everything and anything that comes to mind. Can you make any connections or associations with your problem?

18.         Listen to a different radio station each day. FM. AM. NPR. Liberal talk show. Conservative talk show.

19.         Ask the most creative person you know.

20.         Compare your problem with electricity. What are the similarities? Differences? What are the parallels between the processes of electricity and problem solving?

21.         What is it about the problem that you don’t yet understand?

22.        Write down your problem in one sentence. Reduce it to one word. What other word might be used? Look for synonyms in a thesaurus. Choose one. What is the dictionary definition of the synonym? Does it give you a new way to look at the problem?

23.         What is the essence of the problem? Look subjects in other fields that have the same or similar essence. E.g., improve the can opener. The essence of a can opener is to “opening.” How do things in other fields open? E.g., a seam on peapod in nature opens when it is ripe. Can you make a metaphorical-analogical connection between this and a new way to open cans?

24.         Go for a drive with all the windows open.

25.         What is impossible to do today, but if it were possible, would change the nature of the problem forever?

26.         How can a bee help you solve the problem?

27.         Give yourself an idea quota of 20 ideas. Write the ideas on index cards. One idea per card.

28.         Do not evaluate the ideas. Place them in two piles of 10 each. Randomly shuffle and combine the ideas in pile A with the ideas in B. Do the combinations yield any useful ideas?

29.         What other ideas can you combine with yours?

30.         Can you substitute something? Eliminate? Rearrange?

31.        What is a unique feature of a submarine? Can you make any metaphorical-analogical connections between that and your problem?

32.         A comet hits the earth and permanently wipes out everyone’s long-term memory but yours. Now how would you approach the problem?

33.        Write down the assumptions you are making about the problem. Reverse the assumption and try to make the reversal into a practical idea. E.g., Henry Ford reversed “bringing people to the work,” to “bringing the work to the people” and invented the assembly line.

34.         Draw an abstract symbol or a diagram that best represents the problem.

35.         Think of a book title that best represents the problem. E.g., a two-word book title for sales target could be-Focused Desire; different level employees could be-Balanced Confusion; seasonal sales cycles could be-Connected Pauses. Then look in other fields for other examples of the title. E.g., Connected Pauses might evoke the image of a nine inning baseball game. E.g., when one team is batting, the other team examines the batters for weaknesses and makes defensive adjustments. They use the pause to examine their opponent for weaknesses. What connections can you make between pauses in baseball and seasonal sales?

36.         Write a table of contents for the book about the problem.

37.         Ask the person you like least for ideas.

38.         What is the opposite of your idea? Can you make the opposite into a practical idea?

39.         Imagine both opposites existing simultaneously. Ask yourself “What is paradoxical about the problem?” Think of other examples of the paradox. Use the examples to suggest new ideas.

40.         Get comfortable in a chair. Hold a spoon in your right hand over a pan on the floor. Relax and doze. When you fall asleep you will drop the spoon into the pan which will wake you up. Write down all the thoughts and ideas that come to mind.

41.        You meet a Martian. He does not understand any earth language. He does understand abstract symbols. Draw a description of the problem using abstract symbols and diagrams for the Martian so he can help you.

42.         Think out loud. Verbalize your thinking out loud about the problem.

43        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 of looking for ways to close sales, instead of ways to sell more bottles.

44.         How would Abraham Lincoln instruct you on how to approach the problem? What advice would he give?

45.         Write the alphabet backwards.

46.         Look at the ideas you’ve created. Are there any you can put to some other use? New ways to use as is? Other uses if modified? Other markets?

47.         How would Picasso draw it?

48.         Imagine you are at a nudist beach in Tahiti. How could talking with nudists help you with the problem?

49.         Can you find the ideas you need in the clouds?

50.         Eat spaghetti with chopsticks.

51        On a blank sheet of paper, write the word that best represents the problem and draw an oval around it. Freely associate on the word, allowing whatever ideas and impressions the word stimulates to come into your mind. Write the words on lines as branching from the oval. Any new insights?

52.         Does the past offer a parallel problem?

53.        What would you do if you had all the resources in the world (money, people, time, facilities, etc.) in the world to solve this problem?

54.         If you could have three wishes to help you with the problem, what would they be?

55.         Wear purple underwear for inspiration

56.         Write a letter about the problem to your subconscious mind. Describe it in detail. Ask your subconscious mind for ideas. Sign the letter and mail it to yourself or place it aside for three days. Let the problem incubate in your subconscious mind for three days. Open the letter and list any ideas that come to you.

57.         How could your favorite high school teacher help you solve the problem?

58.         Change the words. Making a few simple word changes may provide the stimuli for new viewpoints and ideas. The most productive word to change is usually the verb. E.g., “How to increase sales?” may become “How to renew sales?” “How to stretch sales?” “How to restore sales?” “How to plan sales?” “How to extend sales?” And so on.

59.         Write the problem statement from your point of view. Now write the statement from the perspectives of at least two other people who are close to the problem. Finally, see if you can synthesize the perspectives into one.

60.         What else is like the problem?

61.         How would the problem be solved 100 years from now.

62.        Make a collage. Browse magazines, newspapers or catalogs and cut out images that symbolize your challenge or choice. Move your pictures around, exploring different patterns and associations.  Continue until they form a collage.   Look at your collage and search for clues, insights and new ideas related to your challenge or choice.

63.         Imagine you are a guest on Sixty Minutes on national television. You are asked to explain the problem and how you intend to approach and solve it. How would you explain it?

64.         What one animal best symbolizes the problem? Why?

65.         List ten keywords that come to mind while thinking about the problem. Then free associate from each word. Look for themes and repetitive patterns in your thoughts.

66.         What can be added, made larger, or extended? Extra features? What can add extra value? Overstated? Exaggerated?

67.         Create a dance that physically represents your problem. Then dance it.

68.         Talk to a stranger about the problem.

69.         What other idea could you incorporate from your past?

70.         Remember a time when you were at your most creative. Put yourself in a creative frame of mind simply by imagining or remembering what it feels like to be creative.

71.         Open a book of poems. Randomly select and read a poem. Relate the poem to your problem. What connections and associations can you make?

72.         What associations can you make between your problem and an oil spill?

73.         If your problem were a garden, what would be the weeds? How would you remove the weeds?

74.         Change your daily routines. If you drink coffee, change to tea.

75.         Write down your dreams and relate them to the problem.

76.         Become the problem. Identify with an object or process and try to see the problem from the perspective of the object or process. Merge with the problem by asking: “How would I feel if I were……?” “What would it say to me if it were me?” “How would you feel if you were the idea you are developing?”

77.         Draw the problem with your eyes closed.

78.        Imagine you are the following roles. From the perspective of each role record your thoughts, ideas, lines of speculation, and so on that the role might provoke about the problem. Roles: judge, bartender, investigative reporter, explorer, and botanist.

79.         What ideas outside my field can I incorporate?

80.         Fantasize a fantastical idea that will solve the problem.

81.         Complete “How can I _____?” Then change the words five different ways. Each time you change the words your perspective will change.

82.         Literally, sit outside the box. Place an empty box beside your chair while brainstorming to inspire “outside the box” thinking.

83.         Learn to tolerate ambiguity. List as many alternative ideas and solutions you can. Always ask “How else…? and What…else?,

84.         Think about your failed ideas in the past. What have you learned from your failures? What did you discover that you didn’t know before? Any surprises? Is there something that can help you now?

85.         Make connections between subjects in different domains. Banking + cars = drive in banking. What connections can you make between your subject and the NFL?

86.        Pick up something with your toes.

87.         Browse through a bookstore looking for a solution.

88.         Read something unrelated. Pick up books that are not related to the topic and skim through them quickly looking only for ideas that relate to or are parallel to your subject. E.g., if dealing with a problem about business growth, skim a book about how bees build colonies.

89.         What is your favorite object (pen, photograph, ball, ring, toy, etc.)? Handle and play with the object while thinking about ideas and solutions. Make the object part of your creative thinking ritual.

90.         Make metaphorical-analogical connections between your problem and something in nature. E.g., connections with preparing for a hurricane to preparing a sales presentation. What connections can you make between a jungle and your problem?

91.         Change your sex. Imagine you are the opposite sex. You are out on a date with someone you like very much. How do you act, talk and behave? Now how do you perceive the problem? How would you discuss the problem with your date?

92.         Always defer judgment when creating ideas. Evaluate them later.

93.         Use mashed potatoes to make a sculpture of the problem.

94.         Sit outside and count the stars.

95.         Keep a container (shoe box, desk drawer, etc.) of ideas and idea starters. Collect interesting advertisements, quotes, designs, ideas, questions, cartoons, pictures, doodles, interesting words, and other intriguing items that might spark ideas by association. When you need ideas, randomly select an idea starter to see what associations you can make.

96.         Walk through a grocery store and metaphorically connect what you see with the problem.

97.         Eat a snow cone.

98.        Think about your problem as a living creature. Draw a picture of it. E.g., the problem of selling more houses might appear as a helpless, strange-looking creature.

99.         What color best represents the obstacles you have to overcome to solve the problem? Why?

100.       Write a six word story that describes your perspective on the problem. E.,g, “At night all thoughts are gray.” ‘Successful when ignoring what happened before.” “Doing more for less is creativity.” “In and out of many ideas.” “Time to start over again, again.” “I am still not seeing everything.”

101.       Still can’t find the answer? Buy a copy of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques by Michael Michalko.





If You Always Think the Way You Always Think, You’ll Always Get What You’ve Always Got

thinking the same

Here is an easy exercise that must be done in your head only. Do not use paper and pencil or a calculator. Try to add up the following numbers as quickly as you can. Take 1000 and add 40 to it. Now add another 1000. Now add 30. Add another 1000. Now add 20. Now add another 1000. Now add 10. What is the total?

Our confidence in our ability to add according to the way we were taught in base ten encourages us to process the information this way and jump to a conclusion. If your total is 5,000, then you are wrong. 96% of people who add these simple numbers get the wrong answer. The numbers are arranged in such a way to set people up to get the wrong answer when adding using base ten. The correct answer is 4,100.

Human nature is such that when we assume we know how to do something, we perform the act without much thought about the assumptions we make. History is replete with thousands of examples of what happens when people become cognitively lazy and don’t challenge assumptions.

In 1968, the Swiss dominated the watch industry. Enterprising Swiss inventors invented the electronic watch movement at their research institute in Neuchatel, Switzerland. It was rejected by every Swiss watch manufacturer. Based on their past experiences in the industry, they assumed this couldn’t possibly be a watch, because it had no gears or springs. Seiko took one look at this invention and took over the world watch market.

When Univac invented the computer, they refused to talk to business people who inquired about it, because the computer was invented for scientists they assumed it had no business applications. Then along came IBM and dominated the market. IBM, itself, once said that according to their past experiences in the computer market, they assumed that there was virtually no market for the personal computer. In fact, they said they were absolutely certain there were no more than five or six people in the entire world who had need for a personal computer. And along came Apple.

When Fred Smith started Federal Express, virtually every delivery expert in the U.S., doomed his enterprise to failure. Based on their experiences in the industry, no one, they assumed, would pay a fancy price for speed and reliability.

Chester Carlson invented xerography in 1938. Virtually every major corporation, including IBM and Kodak, scoffed at his idea and turned him down. They assumed that since carbon paper was cheap and plentiful, who in their right mind would buy an expensive copier. A group of people created a small company funded by open-minded investors that eventually became Xerox. The investors all became multi-millionaires. When was the last time you saw carbon paper?
Once we think we know how something should be done, we keep doing it, then we teach others to do it the same way, and they in turn teach others until eventually you reach a point where no one remembers why something is done a certain way but we keep doing it anyway.

This human behavior of not challenging assumptions reminds me of an experiment with monkeys that I heard about some years back. Purportedly, it was from a book “Progress in Primatology” by D. Starek, R. Schneider, and H. Kuhn which is about research on the cultural acquisition of specific learned responses among rhesus monkeys.

A Tale of Five Monkeys

They started with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, they hung a banana on a string with a set of stairs placed under it. Before long, a monkey went to the stairs and started to climb towards the banana. As soon as he started up the stairs, the psychologists sprayed all of the other monkeys with ice cold water. After a while, another monkey made an attempt to obtain the banana. As soon as his foot touched the stairs, all of the other monkeys were sprayed with ice cold water. It’s wasn’t long before all of the other monkeys would physically prevent any monkey from climbing the stairs.

Now, the psychologists shut off the cold water, removed one monkey from the cage and replaced it with a new one. The new monkey saw the banana and started to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attacked him. After another attempt and attack, he discovered that if he tried to climb the stairs, he would be assaulted.

Next they removed another of the original five monkeys and replaced it with a new one. The newcomer went to the stairs and was attacked. The previous newcomer took part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, they replaced a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey tried to climb the stairs, he was attacked.

The monkeys had no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they were beating any monkey that tried. After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys had ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approached the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been around here.

red eggWe automatically accept what we are taught and exclude all other lines of thought. The same thing happens when we see something odd or unusual in our experiences. We tend to accept whatever explanation someone with experience tells us. This kind of thinking reminds me of herring gulls. Herring gulls have a drive to remove all red objects from their nest. They also have a drive to retrieve any egg that rolls away from the nest. If you place a red egg in the nest, when the gull returns she will push it out, then roll it back in, then push it out again, only to retrieve it once more.

Discover how to change your thinking patterns and provoke creative ways of focusing on the information in different ways and different ways of interpreting what you’re focusing on by reading Michael’s new book Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.