Creativity special: Ten top tips

Tom Ward senior research fellow in the Center for Creative Media at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and editor of the Journal of Creative Behavior

“Merge two previously separate concepts that are in conflict with one another. For example, combinations such as ‘friendly enemy’ and ‘healthful illness’. The more discrepant the concepts, the more likely they are to result in novel properties.”

Margaret Atwood novelist, Toronto

“I have a great big cupboard stuffed with ideas and when I want one I open the door and take the first one that falls out. Alternatively, if you want an idea, do the following. Close your eyes, put your left hand on the ground, raise your right hand into the air. You are now a conductor. The ideas will pass through you. Sooner or later one will pass through your brain. It never fails, though the waiting times vary and sometimes lunch intervenes.”

Lee Smolin theoretical physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario

“The main ingredients in science are intensive immersion in a problem, fanatical desire to solve it (big problems are rarely solved by accident), familiarity with previous attempts leading to an original critique of where they went wrong, reckless disregard for what other experts think, and the courage to overcome your own doubts and hesitations, which are much scarier than anything anyone else can say because you know best how vulnerable your new idea is.”

Tracey Emin artist, London

“Get a really good part-time job, preferably to do with something you like. For example, if you like reading, work in a book shop and do lots of evening classes.”

Lisa Randall professor of physics at Harvard University

“Think about the big problems while working on the small ones and vice versa. A larger perspective can be the best guide when approaching a detailed problem. On the other hand, details can reveal profound insights about larger questions. Listen carefully and pay close attention. You might learn more than people, or the objects you’re studying, superficially reveal.”   

Dean Simonton professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis

“Know your stuff: creativity requires expertise; but don’t know it too well: overspecialisation puts blinders on. Imagine the impossible: many breakthrough ideas at first seem outright crazy; but you have to be able to impose your idea: crazy ideas remain crazy if they cannot survive critical evaluation. Finally, be persistent: big problems are seldom solved on the first try, or the second, or the third; but remember to take a break: you may be barking up the wrong tree, so incubate a bit to get a fresh start.”

Allan Snyder director of Centre for the Mind, Australian National University, Canberra, and University of Sydney

“Creativity demands that you leave your comfort zone, that you continually challenge yourself and be prepared to confront conventional wisdom. When you become an expert, move on. Especially, engage in that for which you have not been schooled.”

Robert Stickgold associate professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

“Creativity is fostered by a particular, if poorly understood, brain state. It often seems to be induced when you feel under pressure to perform and at the same time free to let your mind wander. Some authors go to the mountains or the seashore, others take a walk in a park. But this might be easiest to do by simply going to bed. As our brain cycles through REM and non-REM sleep, it appears to go in and out of this state.”

F. David Peat author and physicist, director of the Pari Centre for New Learning near Siena, Italy

“Hold the intention or the question. Trust it and it will it happen. Leave a space – daydream, relax, doze…you’ll be amazed because you are not doing it.”

Alan Lightman novelist and physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“Creativity is enhanced by having a prepared mind, and then being stuck on a problem. I also need a space of silence and calm, where I am free from distractions.”

About Michael Michalko

Michael has worked with clients in countries around the world. Some of Michael’s creative-thinking techniques that were refined by his government and corporate practice were published in his best-seller Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), which the Wall Street Journal reported “will change the way you think.” CEO-READ listed Thinkertoys as one of the 100 Best Business Books of all Time. Women In Business lauded it as “one of the most important business titles of the decade.” USA said “believe it or not, this wonderful book will have you challenging the seemingly impossible every day.” Executive Book Summaries praised it by saying, “What we need is a compendium of ways to solve problems. And that’s exactly what you get in Thinkertoys.” and Entrepreneur acclaimed it as “required reading for anyone in business.” Success Magazine awarded Thinkertoys with a Gold Medal for being “one of the best of the best business books.” The medal is awarded to books that have that made a major impact on readers who say they’ve experienced a change — an improvement in their lives and businesses.

He is also the author of ThinkPak (A Brainstorming Card Deck), a novel creative-thinking tool that is designed to facilitate brainstorming sessions; Cracking Creativity (The Secrets Of Creative Genius) which describes the common thinking strategies creative geniuses have used in the sciences, art, and industry throughout history and shows how we can apply them to become more creative in our business and personal lives. Michael’s newest book is Creative Thinkering (Putting your Imagination to Work) which demonstrates how to combine and synthesize totally dissimilar subjects into new and exciting original ideas.

Thinkertoys: The Best Creative Problem-Solving Book of all Time

Chuck Frey



During the last several decades, there have been hundreds of books published on the topic of creativity. But there’s one book I turn to again and again for creative inspiration: Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques by Michael Michalko. I can still remember the first time I paged through a copy of Thinkertoys at a local bookstore. As I skimmed the amazing ideation techniques, I found myself exclaiming, “Woah!!” multiple times. I was stunned! I had heard of a handful of the brainstorming exercises Michalko described, but most were totally new to me.

It was as if I had accidentally discovered a rich vein of gold, shimmering before me.

Here was the master key to discovering a wealth of possibilities and opportunities using clever, creative mind exercises.

I had to have this book! What riches await you within the pages of Thinkertoys?

Thinkertoys contains an amazing variety of unconventional, ingenious techniques for approaching challenges from fresh perspectives and generating valuable ideas for solving them. The techniques in this outstanding book are divided into linear techniques, which allow you to manipulate information in ways that will generate new ideas, and intuitive techniques, which show you how to find ideas by using your intuition and imagination. My favorite techniques include Tug of War, the Phoenix Checklist, Lotus Blossom and Hall of Fame.

Michalko presents these ideation exercises with engaging storytelling and whimsical illustrations that make it inviting and fun to try each technique. The book over-delivers on its essential promise: “You will find yourself looking at the same information everyone else is looking at yet seeing something different. This new and different way of seeing things will lead you to new ideas and unique insights.”

Who can benefit from Thinkertoys? Even if you don’t think you’re creative, you’re certain to get pulled into Thinkertoys’ gravitational pull of fun storytelling and clear how-to advice. Think of it as a toolkit that you — or anyone else — can use to stimulate your brain to generate novel ideas and solutions.

Its content is eminently approachable. This is not a dry treatise on the way the brain works, but rather a delightful and informative romp through the world’s best brainstorming and creative problem-solving techniques. These qualities set it apart from all other creativity books, and explain why it has remained one of the world’s most popular creativity books since it was first published.

The ultimate brainstorming guide. Thinkertoys isn’t a book you read from cover to cover and then put on your bookshelf to gather dust. This is a reference guide to creative problem solving that you’re going to want to keep handy, so you can access its treasure trove of methods and exercises whenever you’re stuck for ideas.

I practice what I preach: I’ve downloaded it into the Kindle Reader on my smartphone so I can carry its thought-provoking techniques and exercises with me wherever I go!

In short, I strongly recommend that you make Thinkertoys the centerpiece of your creative arsenal. If you’re just starting to explore the power and potential of your creative muse, you’ll find it to be an ideal entry point into a world of amazing possibilities. If you’re a seasoned creative professional like me, you’ll still find plenty to inspire you and expand your thinking in new directions!

One of the 100 Best Business Books for All Time

To Be or Not to Be…Creative

Reported by CEO READ

While readying The 100 Best Business Books for All Time for it’s updated paperback release this fall, we spent some extra time with the books we featured briefly in our Takeaway chapter of the book, expanding the reviews to include more detail. It was especially fun for us to revisit Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko not only because some of the content is reminiscent of those variety puzzle magazines found in drugstores that we all secretly and not-so-secretly love, but because of it’s applicability. Just as the subtitle–A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques–says, Thinkertoys can help those aforementioned folks who aren’t the creative type learn how to be creative. That’s the important word here: learn. No, not everyone is creative. But creativity, according to Michalko, can be self-taught, cultivated, discovered. You can choose to BE creative.

And Michalko knows a thing or two about getting creativity-resistant organizations to change. His website bio explains:

As an officer in the United States Army, Michael organized a team of NATO intelligence specialists and international academics in Frankfurt, Germany, to research, collect, and categorize all known inventive-thinking methods. His international team applied those methods to various NATO military, political, and social problems and in doing so it produced a variety of breakthrough ideas and creative solutions to new and old problems. After leaving the military, Michael facilitated CIA think tanks using his creative thinking techniques.

Just a visit to his website, which yields an absolutely stunning assortment of articles, interviews, resources: a veritable practicum. You can also follow Michalko via his blog on Psychology Today. But perhaps his work is best appreciated in book form, where you can scribble in the margins, and bend the pages, and carry it over to your coworker’s cubicle to test them on one of his thought experiments. Yes, make sure you have a pen when you are opening up one of Michalko’s books, and we are all very lucky that he has a new one available for us to learn from, titled Creative Thinkering.

In Creative Thinkering, Michalko challenges us to put our imaginations to work and believes with a great passion that everyone is creative. Or should be. Or can be. It is as though we’ve unlearned creativity. “We’ve been educated to process information based on what has happened in the past, what past thinkers thought, what exists now. Once we think we know how to get the answer, based on what we have been taught, we stop thinking,” he explains in the Introduction, and then immediately proceeds to challenge the way you think with some mind-bending games.

In this new book, Michalko wants to teach us conceptual blending, “which is the act of combining, or relating, unrelated items in order to solve problems, create new ideas, and even rework old ideas….It is no coincidence that the most creative and innovative people throughout history have been experts at forcing new mental connections via the conceptual blending of unrelated objects.” And once again, the material he presents throughout the book is entertaining but also so very do-able. Through the exercises and insights in his books, Michalko provides the material to train even the most creatively-blind how to open his or her eyes to their own and others’ creative ideas.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: