Posts Tagged ‘combine’

Creative Thinking Technique: Combine Ideas from Different Domains

Many breakthroughs are based on combining information from different domains that are usually not thought of as related. Integration, synthesis both across and within domains, is the norm rather than the exception. Ravi Shankar found ways to integrate and harmonize the music of India and Europe; Paul Klee combined the influences of cubism, children’s drawings, and primitive art to fashion his own unique artistic style; Salvador Dali integrated Einstein’s theory of relativity into his masterpiece Nature Morte Vivante, which artistically depicts several different objects simultaneously in motion and rest. And almost all scientists cross and recross the boundaries of physics, chemistry, and biology in the work that turns out to be their most creative.

ASK PEOPLE IN DIFFERENT DOMAINS FOR IDEAS. Another way to combine talent is to elicit advice and information about your subject from people who work in different domains. Interestingly, Leonardo da Vinci met and worked with Niccolô Machiavelli, the Italian political theorist, in Florence in 1503. The two men worked on several projects together, including a novel weapon of war: the diversion of a river. Professor Roger Masters of Dartmouth College speculates that Leonardo introduced Machiavelli to the concept of applied science. Years later, Machiavelli combined what he learned from Leonardo with his own insights about politics into a new political and social order that some believe ultimately sparked the development of modern industrial society.

Jonas Salk, developer of the vaccine that eradicated polio, made it a standard practice to interact with men and women from very different domains. He felt this practice helped to bring out ideas that could not arise in his own mind or in the minds of people in his own restricted domain. Look for ways to elicit ideas from people in other fields. Ask three to five people who work in other departments or professions for their ideas about your problem. Ask your dentist, your accountant, your mechanic, etc. Describe the problem and ask how they would solve it.

Listen intently and write down the ideas before you forget them. Then, at a later time, try integrating all or parts of their ideas into your idea. This is what Robert Bunsen, the chemist who invented the familiar Bunsen burner, did with his problem. He used the color of a chemical sample in a gas flame for a rough determination of the elements it contained. He was puzzled by the many shortcomings of the technique that he and his colleagues were unable to overcome, despite their vast knowledge of chemistry. Finally, he casually described the problem to a friend, Kirchhoff, a physicist, who immediately suggested using a prism to display the entire spectrum and thus get detailed information. This suggestion was the breakthrough that led to the science of spectrography and later to the modern science of cosmology.

EXAMPLES. Physicists in a university assembled a huge magnet for a research project. The magnet was highly polished because of the required accuracy of the experiment. Accidentally, the magnet attracted some iron powder that the physicists were unable to remove without damaging the magnet in some way. They asked other teachers in an interdepartmental meeting for their ideas and suggestions. An art instructor came up with the solution immediately, which was to use modeling clay to remove the powder.

The CEO of a software company looked for ways to motivate employees to participate more actively in the creative side of the business. They wanted employee ideas for new processes, new products, improvements, new technologies and so on. He tried many things but nothing seemed to excite and energize employees to become more creative.

One evening at a dinner with some of his friends he mentioned his problem and asked them for ideas. After a brief discussion, a friend who was a stockbroker suggested thinking ways to parallel ideas with stocks. Look for ways for people to buy and sell ideas the same way his customers study, buy and sell stocks on the stock exchange.

The CEO was intrigued with the novelty of the idea and he and his stockbroker friend looked for patterns between the stock exchange and an internal employee program. They blended the architecture of the stock exchange with the internal architecture of their company’s internal market to create the company’s own stock exchange for ideas. Their exchange is called Mutual Fun. Any employee can propose that the company acquire a new technology, enter a new business, make a new product or make an efficiency improvement. These proposals become stocks, complete with ticker symbols, discussion lists and e-mail alerts.

 Fifty-five stocks are listed on the company’s internal stock exchange. Each stock comes with a detailed description — called an expectus, as opposed to a prospectus — and begins trading at a price of $10. Every employee gets $10,000 in “opinion money” to allocate among the offerings, and employees signal their enthusiasm by investing in a stock and, better yet, volunteering to work on the project. Employees buy or sell the stocks, and prices change to reflect the sentiments of the company’s executives, engineers, computer scientists, project managers, marketing, sales, accountants and even the receptionist.

The result has been a resounding success. Among the company’s ‘ core technologies are pattern-recognition algorithms used in military applications, as well as for electronic gambling systems at casinos. A member of the administrative staff, with no technical expertise, thought that this technology might also be used in educational settings, to create an entertaining way for students to learn history or math. She started a stock called Play and Learn (symbol: PL), which attracted a rush of investment from engineers eager to turn her idea into a product. Lots of employees got passionate about the idea and it led to a new line of business.

INVITE OTHER DEPARTMENTS TO JOIN YOUR BRAINSTORMING SESSION. If you’re brainstorming a business problem in a group, try asking another department to join yours. For example, if you are in advertising and want to create a new product advertising campaign, ask people from manufacturing to join your session. Separate the advertising and manufacturing people into two groups. Each group brainstorms for ideas separately. Then combine the groups and integrate the ideas.


cc.3For more ideas on how to combine dissimilar subjects to create new ideas read Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius by Michael Michalko



How Do You Know?


A field of grass is given its character, essentially, by those experiences which happen over and over again–millions of times.  The germination of the grass seed, the blowing wind, the flowering of the grass, the hatching of insects, being beaten down by thunderstorms, the paths made by animals and hikers, and so on.  It is a whole system of interdependent events that determine the nature of the field of grass.

It is also roughly true that the nature of our beliefs and perceptions are interpreted from our experiences.  The field of grass cannot change its character.  Grass cannot interpret and shape its experiences to create a different nature.  However, we are not a field of grass.  We can choose to interpret our experiences in any way we wish.  You know as well as I do that few of us are even aware of what this means.

(*-*)     AAA     (00)     I 000000 I     ^–^     I – – _ – – _ I

Look at the six designs above.  Assign a label to each of them by selecting one of the following words: “Indians,” “piggy nose,” “shy kitty,” “woman,” “sleeper,” and “bathroom.”

Now that you’ve assigned labels to the designs, ask yourself: “Why is this so easy to do?”  For example, if you labeled AAA as “Indians,” then how does an Indian village with its ponies, tents, campfires, etc. fit so comfortably into three letters?  The symbols have no meaning.  We give them meaning by how we choose to interpret them.  You have the freedom to select any meaning for any experience instead of being a victim who must assign one and only one meaning to each experience.

We automatically interpret all of our experiences without realizing it.  Are they good experiences, bad ones, what do they mean and so on?  We do this without much thought, if any, to what the interpretations mean.  For instance, if a woman bumps into you, you wonder why.  The event of her bumping into you is neutral in itself.  It has no meaning.  It’s your interpretation of the bumping that gives it meaning, and this meaning shapes your perception of the experience.

You may interpret the “bump” as rude or deliberately aggressive behavior.  Or you may feel you are of such little significance that you are deliberately unnoticed and bumped around by others. You may choose to use the experience as an example of feminist aggression, or you may interpret the bump as her way of flirting with you.  Your interpretation of the experience determines your perception.

Think of roses and thorns.  You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses.  You can choose to interpret experiences any way you wish.  It is not the experience that determines who you are; it is your interpretation of the experience.  You do not see things as they are; you see them as you are.

Once upon a time, two explorers came upon a spectacular, perfectly tended garden of vegetables in the middle of jungle.  One explorer says, “What a beautiful garden.  It looks so perfect.  Surely, a gardener must tend this garden.” 

The other explorer disagrees, “There is no way a gardener can tend this garden.  It is in the middle of the jungle, hundreds of miles from civilization.  There is so sign of human life anywhere.  Surely, it is some kind of natural phenomenon.”

After much arguing, they agree to set up camp and watch for someone to show up and tend the garden.  They stay for months but nobody shows up.

“See,” said the Doubter. “There is no gardener, for surely he would have appeared by now to tend the garden, which is still perfect.  It must be a random creation of nature.”

The Believer argued, “No, there must be a gardener.  He may be invisible, intangible, and eternally elusive to our understanding.  But it is not possible for such a beautiful, well tended garden to exist in the middle of the jungle without being tended.  The garden, itself, is proof of the existence of the gardener, and I have faith that the gardener will return to tend his garden.”

Both the Believer and Doubter interpreted the garden differently, and these two different interpretations led to two different beliefs.  When you believe something, you have the feeling that you chose to believe, or to not believe, based on reason and rational thinking.  But this is not so, your beliefs are shaped by the way you interpret your experiences.

How you interpret experiences also helps determine how you feel.  While researching happiness and well-being, Professor Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University discovered that when he asked college students if they were happy, most said yes.  However, if he first asked how many dates they had in the last month and then asked if they were happy, most said no.  Their interpretation of the questions determined how they felt.

Your theory about the world is deduced from your interpretations and beliefs.  That theory then determines what you observe in the world.  At one time, ancient astronomers believed that the heavens were eternal and made of ether.  Their theory made it impossible for them to observe meteors as burning stones from outer space.  Although the ancients witnessed meteor showers and found some on the ground, they couldn’t recognize them as meteors from outer space.  They only sought out and observed only those things that confirmed their theory about the heavens.

We are like the ancient astronomers and actively seek only the information that confirms our beliefs and theories about ourselves and the world.  Religious people see evidence of God’s handiwork everywhere; whereas atheists see evidence that there is no God anywhere.  Conservatives see the evils of liberalism everywhere and liberals see the evils of conservatism everywhere.  Likewise, people who believe they are creative see evidence of their creativity everywhere, and people who do not believe they are creative see evidence everywhere that confirms their negative belief.  That which does not conform to our theories makes us feel uncomfortable and confused.  I’m reminded of a story told to me by “Black Cloud,” my Lakota Sioux good friend, who heard the story from his grandfather.

An old Sioux warrior had eight magnificent horses.  One night, during a great storm, they all escaped.  The other warriors came to comfort him.  They said, “How unlucky you are.  You must be very angry to have lost your horses.”

“Why?” replied the warrior.

“Because you have lost all your wealth.  Now you have nothing,” they responded.

“How do you know?” He said.

The next day the eight horses returned bringing with them twelve new stallions.  The warriors returned and joyously announced that now the old warrior must be very happy.

“Why?”  was his response.

“Because now you are even richer than before,”  They responded.

“How do you know?”  He again responded.

The following morning, the warrior’s young son got up early to break in the new horses.  He was thrown and broke both his legs.  The warriors came once more, and talked with the old warrior about how angry he must be at his misfortune and how terrible it was for his son to break both legs.

“How do you know?”  The warrior said once more.

Two weeks passed.  Then the chief announced that all able-bodied men and boys must join a war party to fight against a neighboring tribe.  The Lakotas won but at great cost as many men and young boys were killed.  When the remaining warriors returned, they told the old warrior that it was lucky his son had two broken legs, otherwise he could have been killed or injured in the great battle.”

“How do you know?” He said.

Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.


Creative thinking expert Michael Michalko’s new book “Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work” is now available from Amazon in paperback and kindle.