Read the following paragraph.

I cdnuolt blveiee taht ppoele cluod aulaclty raed and uesdnatnrd tihs. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mind. It deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl 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. Amzanig. I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!    

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 frozen. 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 next sentence is a combination of letters and numbers. Note how your brain assumes it is a sentence by it appearance then responds by automatically identifying the numbers as letters they resemble.(S1M1L4RLY, Y0UR M1ND 15 R34D1NG 7H15 4U70M471C4LLY W17H0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17)

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.

Suppose you were challenged with the task of finding a better way to organize the way information flows on the internet. The average person will organize and think only about those particulars that relate to the internet, the way information is digitally organized, and the way existing search engines work.

What is the essence of the problem? How are things organized so they can flock and flow? The principle is “flocking and flowing.”

  1. Think about how things flock and flow in other worlds. Examples:
    1. How do fish flock and flow?
    1. How do molecules flock and flow in liquids ?
    1. How do birds flock and flow while flying?
    1. How do sheep flock and flow in herds?
    1. How do people flock and flow in and out of football stadium?

Xiaohui Cui at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee immersed himself in the problem of a better way to organize information on the internet. He did this by abstracting the principle of the problem (flocking and flowing) and immersed himself in searching in other domains for how things flock and flow. When he made the analogical connection between how birds of the same species flock and flow together and how information flocks and flows on the internet, he was able to look at his problem with a new perspective.

The system he created mimics the ways birds of the same species congregate while flying. He created flocks of virtual “birds.” Each bird carries a document, which is assigned a string of numbers. Documents with a lot of similar words have number strings of the same length. A virtual bird will fly only with others of its own “species” or, in this case, documents with number strings of the same length. When a new article appears on the Internet, software scans it for words similar to those in existing articles and then files the document in an existing flock, or creates a new one.

Chi’s new tool will, whenever you go online, automatically update your browser with any new stories added to your favorite websites. It will also provide automatic updates from other websites, such as when new scientific papers are added to journals.

Chi discovered the abstract connection that links and does not separate parts of two complex wholes by thinking of universals and essences. He connected the flocking and flowing of information with the flocking and flowing of birds. This is the essence of creative thinking: a complex blending of elements of two or more dissimilar subjects, all of which involve guesswork rather than certainty.



Michael Michalko is a highly acclaimed creativity expert. To learn about him and his books visit:

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