Many of us have the illusion that we think comprehensively, but we don’t. We cannot take in multitudes of information, assimilate it, and make it valuable in any meaningful way; we take in information in sequence. It isn’t possible to simultaneously process in parallel multiple potent stimuli and do it effectively. You can demonstrate this to yourself by performing the following thought experiment.

Thought Experiment      

               Visualize the alphabet in capital letters.              


               How many letters have “curved” lines in them

Notice how you think. You see the letters flash before you “one by one,” sequentially, not spontaneously. It’s like watching a slide show. We think no faster than the speed of life. If you are still uncertain, try counting forward to100 to one hundred by threes, and backwards by seven simultaneously.

Because we think sequentially and no faster than the speed of life, we cannot pay attention to everything effectively. Our attention becomes too scattered to be of any use. You’ll find that your intention will create criteria, which will determine what—out of the vast range of possible experiences—you are attending to at the time, will help you reach your goal. In short, what you intend determines what you perceive in your world. Intention is the seed you need to plant to grow your creativity.

Let us imagine that your intention is to make a canoe. You will have, at first, some idea of the kind of canoe you wished to make. You will visualize the kind of canoe you wish to make. You will visualize the canoe, then you will go into the woods and look at the trees. Your desired outcome will determine your criteria for the tree you need. Your criteria might involve size, usefulness, and beauty of the tree. Your criteria might involve size, seating, usefulness, and design. Criteria both filter your perceptions and invest a particular situation with meaning and thereby, informing your experience and behavior at the time. Out of the many trees in the woods, you will end up focusing on the few that meet your criteria, until you found find the perfect tree.

You will cut the tree down; remove the branches from the trunk; take off the bark; hollow out the trunk; carve the outside shape of the hull; form the prow and the stern; and then, perhaps, carve decorations on the prow. In this way you will produce the canoe.

The process is so ordinary, so simple, so direct that we fail to see the beauty and simplicity of it. You have the intention to make a canoe, visualize an outcome, and give birth to something whole, a canoe. Your intention to make a canoe gives you direction and also imposes criteria on your choices, consciously and unconsciously.

Intention has a way of bringing to our awareness only those things our brains deem important. You’ll begin to see ideas for your canoe pop up everywhere in your environment. You’ll see them in tables, magazines, on television, and in other structures, while walking down the street. You’ll see them in the most unlikely things, — such as a refrigerator, — that you use every day without giving them much thought. How the brain accomplishes such miracles has long been is one of neuroscience’s great mysteries.

Your Thoughts are Tiny Spins

We have all played with magnets when we were children. A magnetized object consists of a multitude of tiny little elements called “spins” (see the illustration). Each spin has a particular orientation corresponding to the direction of its magnetic field. In general, these spins will point in different directions, so that their magnetic fields cancel each other out (disordered spins are illustrated on the left). Spins pointing in opposite directions repel each other, like the north poles of two magnets that are brought together.

However, when the temperature decreases, the spins spontaneously align themselves, so that they all point in the same direction. Instead of cancelling each other, the different magnetic fields now support each other, producing a strong overall pattern. Spins pointing in the same direction attract each other, like the north pole of one magnet attracts attracting the south pole of another magnet. Magnetization is a good example of how forces aligned in the same direction attract and reinforce each other to create a dynamic, natural pattern. In the image on the left, the pattern is inconsistent and incoherent, while in the image on the right the pattern is straight, coherent, and dynamic.

Think of your thoughts as tiny spins in your brain. If you have no intention to be or to do something, your thoughts are disordered, with no direction, much like the tiny spins on the left. When you have a real intention to be or to do something, your thoughts now have purpose and automatically align with each other to form a dynamic mental state of awareness aimed in the direction of the intention.

This mental state is evident in the work of Hashem Akbari, an environmentalist activist and a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who is always thinking of ways to offset carbon dioxide emissions. His intention to offset carbon dioxide guides his observations in daily life. One day he noticed a house with a white roof that reminded him of the large white structures in the Iranian desert that he saw as a child. The white structures captured the night wind to cool the building, keeping the people inside comfortable.

This observation startled him because he realized that “dark” materials absorb heat; and whereas if roofs were “white” they would reflect the heat. Musing, he wondered about what the effect would be if all roofs were white. After making a study of the matter, he concluded that, if the 100 hundred largest cities in the world replaced their dark roofs with white surfaces, and their asphalt-based roads with concrete or other light-colored materials, it could offset 44 billion tons of carbon dioxide. According to Akbari’s Island Group, this is equivalent to taking the world’s approximately 600 million cars off the road for 18 years. That amounts to more greenhouse gas than the entire human population emits in one year.

Akbari’s intention tuned his brain to a higher level, which substantially increased the likelihood of him his noticing opportunities in his environment. Your brain processes only a tiny portion of your environment at a time. It risks being overwhelmed by the volume of information that bombards you every waking moment. Your brain compensates by filtering out the 99.9 percent of your environment that doesn’t matter to you.

“Intention” works. Try another simple experiment: focus on a penny. Visualize it. Now say to yourself silently that you are going to find a penny on the ground. Then, look for the penny every time you take a walk. Concentrate on finding a penny. After you find a penny, go looking for a second one. How long did it take to find the first penny? Compare the time it takes to find the second penny with the time it took to find the first? Now look for a third, fourth, and fifth, and so on. You will amaze yourself at with the number of lost pennies on the ground that, you previously, you did not see.

Now look at the illustration with blobs. Before you read further, think for a moment and imagine what it could represent. No doubt you can imagine a variety of things.

The blobs could represent a map of part of the world, the state of Alaska jutting out, a child’s face, a view of earth from a satellite, white paint splattered on a black wall, a view of the sky through jungle foliage, an alien life form, energy forces caused by oppositional political views,  hidden faces, — in fact, anything at all.

What you think about, you bring about. Now suppose I tell you that there is a cow hidden in the illustration, and I ask you to find it. If you take the attitude that there cannot be a cow in the illustration or, perhaps, there may or may not be a cow in the drawing, it will be difficult to find the cow. You’ll spend your time and energy imagining all the reasons why there is no cow. But if you believe there is a cow and intend to find the cow, you will find it. Think: “I must find the cow.” It may take minutes, but it will emerge. You will see the face of a cow staring back at you.

How is this possible? How can you see a cow simply by looking for a cow in a sketch of meaningless blobs? The drawing does not change. Your eyes do not change or improve. The only change is your intention. Your intention to find a cow generates your mental awareness of the cow. This awareness organizes the blobs in various ways in your mind until you see a cow.


We read ’em, so you don’t have to! As the nuns used to say, put on your thinking caps. Remember that, when you’d have to fake-tie on your cap? (No, well this would be a good time to make fun of me, now wouldn’t it?) This month’s selection, Creative Thinkering by Michael Michalko, is like one long session with Sister Helen Margaret and the thinking cap. Michalko takes the reader through numerous thought experiments and exercises centered on the random approach to thinking and problem solving. Like last month’s recommended book, Tribal Leadership, this one is perfect for the business leader who is stuck and in need of new approaches to day-in-and-day-out challenges. With a cup of da Vinci here, a dose of van Gogh there, and a pinch of Picasso for good measure, this book reads like a Renaissance recipe for those in need of more creativity.

One of the key takeaways here comes toward the end, when the author challenges the reader with something he calls “the word pattern of impossibility.” Let’s say you don’t consider yourself to be the creative type; Michalko would say that you’ve likely stopped striving to become so. To address this malaise, he takes the reader through new ways of thinking to get from “I can’t be creative” to “I will be creative.” If you’re hearing a big of Stuart Smalley here, you’re not far off. (Let’s face it, you’re not going to tackle self-limiting thinking without it coming off as, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”) But if you can get beyond that, you’ll find value in the author’s recommendations to go from impossibility, to possibility, to necessity, to certainty, to desire. His experiments are simple yet highly effective. The stories about utterly random strategies to overcoming tough challenges are remarkable, notably how one would-be author overcame the classic Catch-22 struggle of you can’t be published without an agent/you can’t get an agent if you’re not published that has to read twice to be believed.

The recurring theme in Creative Thinkering is that there are ways to return to our formative years, when spontaneity and creativity came naturally. Michalko claims that our schools ruined us for thinking, that it’s as if “we entered school as a question mark and graduated as a period.” And he hammers the point that “we see no more than we expect to see.” Retold here is the wonderful social experiment conducted by The Washington Post years ago, through which a world-class violinist, playing intricate material on a $3.5 million instrument in a Metro station was virtually ignored by everyone save for children who tried to stop and listen. Adults assumed a bum was playing for tips; children heard what was real – a rare talent who had sold out a concert hall two days before. If you’re up for starting 2013 by taking a different tack to your average day’s occurrences, this book will surely help you get there.


Kudos from abroad from Aibek Ahmedov Legal Counsel at Europe Marine Group Ltd5h There are three persons in the world that I find motivating in my path to professional heights. It is Neil Patel, Michael Michalko and Mark Forsyth. However, one of them is a genius of creative thinking that made me change all my approaches to historical research, legal casuistry and content marketing.

I believe that the years will pass and after many years or maybe centuries, people will put Michael Michalko after Leonardo da Vinci in terms of creative thinking. My words are not an exaggeration and I recommend to all my colleagues and friends to read Michalko’s Creative Thinkering in order to understand what I was talking about. … via @amazon

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