Read aloud the following colors as fast as you can:


Difficult isn’t it? No matter how hard you concentrate, no matter how hard you focus, you will find that it is almost impossible to read the colors aloud without becoming confused. The word patterns have become so strong in your brain that they are activated automatically whether you want them to be or not.

Now read the following paragraph.

“Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabridge Uinvervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the litteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a ttoal mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is besauae ocne we laren how to raed we bgien to aargnre the lteerts in our mnid to see waht we epxcet to see. The huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but preecsievs the wrod as a wlohe. We do tihs ucnsoniuscoly wuithot tuhoght.”

Amazing, isn’t it? How are you able to see and understand a group of jumbled letters as words? How can you find meaning in a mass of jumbled letters? Show this paragraph to any child just learning to read and they will tell you that what you think are words is nonsense. This is because the word patterns in their brain have not yet become rigid. Our word patterns are so rigid that once we read the scrambled letters as words we no longer see them as a bunch of mixed up letters but as ordinary words.

The dominant factor in the way our minds work is the buildup of patterns that enable us to simplify and cope with a complex world. These patterns are based on our past experiences in life, education, and work that have been successful in the past. We look at 6 X 6 and 36 appears automatically without conscious thought. We brush our teeth in the morning, get dressed, and drive to work without conscious thought because our thinking patterns enable us to perform routine tasks rapidly and accurately

But this same patterning makes it hard for us to come up with new ideas and creative solutions to problems, especially when confronted with unusual data. In our paragraph, our word patterns are so hard wired that even a small bit of information (the first and last letter of a word) activates the entire word pattern.

Read the following sentence. “This sentence no verb.” Can you understand it? You can easily understand it despite the missing verb “has.” Again your sentence patterns triggers the missing verb automatically and fills in the blank.

In this instance, your brain patterns recognize the cognitive framework of words in sentences and, consequently, assumed words are not repeated in sentences and ignored the repetitions.

Think of your mind as a dish of jelly which has settled so that its surface is perfectly flat. When information enters the mind, it self-organizes. It is like pouring warm water on the dish of jelly with a teaspoon. Imagine the warm water being poured on the jelly dish and then gently tipped so that it runs off. After many repetitions of this process, the surface of the jelly would be full of ruts, indentations, and grooves.

New water (information) would start to automatically flow into the preformed grooves. After a while, it would take only a bit of information (water) to activate an entire channel. This is the pattern recognition and pattern completion process of the brain. Even if much of the information is out of the channel, the pattern will be activated. The mind automatically corrects and completes the information to select and activate a pattern.

This is why when we sit down and try to will new ideas or solutions, we tend to keep coming up with the same-old, same-old ideas. Information is flowing down the same ruts and grooves making the same-old connections producing the same old ideas over and over again.

Consider what happens when you read these words:

  • Thief…………careless……….prison

Just three words activate a thinking pattern in your brain that relates a story about a thief who is careless, gets caught and ends up in prison.  There is no story. There are only three unrelated words. Your brain simply recognized a certain pre-existing cognitive pattern and assumed the story.

The brain processes new information by immediately imposing meaning based on the dominant, associated, assumed context rather than objective inspection. Secondly, our judgments and decisions are often based on automatic, rule of thumb responses to this information rather than on thorough, logical analysis. It is this habitual use of pattern recognition that provides us with an instant interpretation of the problem. It also limits our view of the world, our access to new ideas, and our access to unique solutions. If you always think the way you’ve always thought, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

An enlightening experiment was done by gestalt psychologists with a group of dogs: The dogs were trained to approach something when shown a white square and avoid it when shown a gray square. When the dogs learned this, the experimenters switched to using a gray square and a black square. The dogs immediately shifted to approaching the object in response to the gray square (which had previously triggered avoidance), and avoiding the object when shown the black square (which had not been conditioned to anything). Rather than perceive the gray as an absolute stimulus, the dogs were responding to the deeper essence of lighter versus darker as opposed to gray, white or black as being properties.”

We have lost the sensitivity to deeper relationships, functions, and patterns because we are educated to focus on the particulars of experience as opposed to the universals. We see them as independent parts of an objective reality. For example, if the average person were trained to approach something when shown a white square and avoid it when shown a gray square. When the squares are switched to gray and black, the human will still avoid the gray square. Once gray has been defined in our minds, we see the gray as independent and entirely self-contained. This means nothing can interact with it or exert an influence on it. It, in fact, becomes an absolute.

Over time we have cultivated an attitude which puts the major emphasis on separating human experience into different domains and universes. We’ve been tacitly taught that perception is the activity of dividing a complex scene into its separate parts followed by the activity of attaching standard labels to the parts. For example, if the average person were asked to create a better zipper. The person would think in terms of pre-established categories such as “material zipper is made from, position of zipper on clothing, size of zipper, color and design of zipper, fasteners, zipper pulls to move the zipper up and down, and so on.” This kind of thinking is exclusive. Its goal is to separate and exclude elements from thought based upon what exists now. It discourages creative thought.

You cannot will yourself to look at things in a different way, no matter how inspired you are to do so. No matter how hard or how long you think about a zipper, you will continue to see a zipper as an independent part of an independent reality and will continue to focus on the particulars of a zipper

To illustrate, following are two rows of parallel dots which are equal in length. Try to will yourself to see the rows of dots as unequal in length. No matter how hard you concentrate and how long you look at the dots, the two rows remain equal.


However, if you change the way you look at the dots by combining the dots with two convergent straight lines, your perception of the dots changes. When you do that, the top row appears longer than the other one.

The rows are still equal (go ahead and measure them), yet, you are now seeing something different. Combining the dots with converging lines focused your attention in a different way and caught your brain’s processing routines by surprise. This provoked a different thinking pattern that changed your perception of the illustration. The two lines serve as a tool that enabled you to see something that you could not otherwise see.

Your perception naturally limits the imagination. This why you cannot imagine the lines of dots in A to be of unequal lengths. To see it, you have to disrupt your habitual thinking pattern by introducing something totally unrelated, the two converging lines in B. This gives you a different way to focus on the illustration and a different way to interpret what you are focusing on. The rows of dots are still equal but now you are seeing something different.


Change Your Thinking Patterns

You can change your thinking patterns by focusing on the universal instead of the particular. When you do this you will find yourself looking at the same thing as everyone else, but seeing something different. The essence of a zipper, for example, is fastening. Think of the process of fastening instead of the particular zipper. Now instead of thinking of the particular (zippers) open your mind and think of how things fasten (universal).

How does a wasp fasten to its hive?

How does a window fasten to a sill?

How does a bird fasten its nest to a branch?

How does a person fasten a shoe to his foot?

How do mountain climbers fasten themselves to the mountain?

How do burdocks fasten to passerbys?

George de Mestral, a Swiss inventor occupied his mind with the idea of creating a better zipper. A creative thinker he perceived the essence of a zipper to be “fastening.”  Thinking inclusively, he was always trying to connect all sorts of things with the essence of “fastening:”

One day he took his dog for a nature hike. They both returned covered with burrs, the plant like seed-sacs that cling to animal fur in order to travel to fertile new planting grounds. He made the “Aha” connection between a burrs and zippers when he examined the small hooks that enabled the seed-bearing burr to cling so viciously to the tiny loops in the fabric of his pants. This inspired him to invent a two-sided fastener (two-sided like a zipper), one side with stiff hooks like the burrs and the other side with soft loops like the fabric of his pants. He called his  invention “Velcro,” which is itself a combination of the word velour and crochet.

The key feature of George de Mestral’ thinking was his conceptual connection between patterns of a burr and patterns of a zipper. He bounced back and forth among ideas guessing as to what works and what doesn’t. By “guessing,” what I mean is that he had to take chances as to what aspects of a “burr” pattern matter, and what doesn’t. Perhaps shapes count, but not textures–or vice versa. Perhaps orientation count, but not sizes–or vice versa. Perhaps curvature or its lack counts and so on until he got it.

Patterns are fitted together like words in a phrase or sentence. A sentence is not the sum of its words but depends on their syntactic arrangement; “A man bites a dog” is not the same as “Dog a man a bites.” Likewise, an original idea is not the sum of combined thoughts but depends on how they are blended together. Velcro is not a burr + a zipper. It is a blend of the two.


Learn how to create original ideas. Read THINKERTOYS, CRACKING CREATIVITY, CREATIVE THINKERING AND THINKPAK by Michael Michalko. Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all other major bookstores.


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