Posts Tagged ‘create creative thinking techniques’



Problems frequently give a vague sense of disquiet, a sense of things not going in quite the direction you had planned however, you have no clear thoughts of what the ‘right’ direction might be. This exercise that follows was suggested by St Ignatius Loyola (some 500 years ago).

It allows you to explore problems at a ‘deeper’ subconscious level by changing your perspective from the external to the personal. He suggested imaging yourself at different ages while experimenting with new ideas to solve problems. Begin by relaxing in a calm, quiet environment then:

  • Imagine your infancy, in your imagination think back to when you were a small, helpless, dependent, infant born into a particular environment
  • Imagine being5, imagine you are now 5, how did it feel to be 5? Can you picture images and memories from that time?
  • Imagine being 12, 25, 40, 65, after a few minutes, project your imagination to what you were like when you were 12, did you worry? What was important to you? What was your world like? Using the same method of thinking ask yourself the same questions for age 25 and 40 and 65.
  • Imagine being very, very old; imagine looking in the mirror when you are very old. What do you see? How you feel about yourself? Who are you? Take a retrospective look over your whole life – what really mattered? What would you have like to have done differently? Are you ready to die?
  • Imagine your death, what are your thoughts as you imagine yourself dying? Imagine your closest friends and relatives, what would they be thinking about you?
  • Imagine being reborn, after a few, or when you feel ready, imagine you are going to be reborn. You can be reborn, anywhere at any time as anything you desire. What would your choices be?
  • Return, when you feel ready to open your eyes, gradually look around you as if seeing everything for the first time.

All of us can change our perspectives by following St. Ignatius’s exercise. Peggy Dupra a middle school principal had a problem with her female pupils who were experimenting with lipstick. The girls were kissing the mirrors in the bathroom leaving their lip prints on bathroom mirrors. The maintenance department constantly asked her to have the pupils stop this practice. Peggy lectured, pleaded and threatened the girls with detention, but nothing seemed to help.

She and I discussed the situation, and I suggested the St. Ignatius technique which uses your imagination to change your age and circumstances both past and future. This exercise re-creates earlier and future selves. After a few moments, you’ll become aware of random thoughts, associations and images from past and future years. Eventually these thoughts and images will be accompanied by emotions–in some instances, very intense ones. This emotions are stimulated by the brain’s attempt to reconcile and synthesize the disparity the real “you” and the imagined “you.”

While the brain knows the imagined you isn’t really you, it will still respond from moment to moment as if it were real. You won’t just remember events; you will remember how you felt about them.

Peggy tried the exercise. She began remembering all sorts of past friends when you was twelve years old, and how she really felt at the time about the world. She more she remembered the more she felt like a young school girl. She laughed when she thought of her best friend Ellen of years ago and how they always tried to gross each other out in a game they called “Yechhhh!” She remembered one time when they spread the rumor that the cafeteria was using sewage water from a ditch to make pizzas to save water. The students refused to eat the pizza.

Suddenly thinking about how they grossed out students she got an insight on how to solve her bathroom lipstick problem. After conspiring with the janitor, she invited the girls into the bathroom saying she wanted them to witness the extra work they made for the janitor cleaning their lip prints. The janitor came in and stepped into an open toilet stall. He dipped his squeegee into a toilet, shook off the excess toilet water then used the squeegee to clean the mirrors. Changing her perspective from an adult to a young girl introduced a clever solution to her problem that she could not have discovered using her usual way of thinking.


Discover the creative thinking techniques and strategies used by creative geniuses throughout history to get their breakthrough ideas.



If You Do Nothing, You Are Nothing

i am what i do

All art is a reaction to the first line drawn. Unless the artist sits in front of the canvas and paints, there can be no art. Unless the writer sits down and starts to type, there can be no book. Unless the musician plays their instrument, there can be no music. Unless the sculptor begins to chip away at the marble, there can be no sculpture. Unless the explorer begins the journey, there can be no discovery. It is the same with everything in life, even civilizations; unless one acts, nothing is created or discovered.

What you think or believe is of no consequence. The only thing of consequence is what you do. Read Michael Michalko’s article about taking action at:


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

One of the many ways in which our mind attempts to make life easier is to solve the first impression of the problem that it encounters.  Like our first impressions of people, our initial perspective on problems and situations are apt to be narrow and superficial.  We see no more than we’ve been conditioned to see — and stereotyped notions block clear vision and crowd out imagination.  This happens without any alarms sounding, so we never realize it is occurring. The illustration below appears to have no meaning.  If you continue looking at it from your initial perspective, you will see nothing.  If, however, you step back from your computer and view the illustration from a distance or from an angle, you will see a message.

bad eyes

When Leonardo daVinci finished a painting, he would always look at it from a far distance to get a different perspective.  By distancing yourself from the pattern, you changed your perception of it, thereby allowing yourself to see something that you could not otherwise see. 

Our perceptual positions determine how we view things.  In the illustration below, if you sit still and focus on the dot in the center, you see two broken line circles.  However, if you change your perspective by moving your head backwards and forward, something strange will happen.

moving circles


Michael Michalko



Dancing in the Rain

Below is a drawing.  What does it look like to you?Horse.Frog

If you said frog, you were right.  However, if you said horse, you were also right.  Can you see the horse?  (Hint: Tilt your head to the right.)

We see different things in the lines and shapes of the drawing depending on how we look at the drawing.  In a way, it is the same in the real world where we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.  If you are a happy person, the world is a joyful place.  If you are a sad person, the world is a place of despair.

A few years back, two men, a paralytic and a man with a terrible lung disease, were confined to a hospital room.  Each day, the medical staff would help the man with the lung disease sit up for an hour and, during that time, he would gaze out the window and describe what he saw to his paralyzed roommate whose bed was on the side of the room away from the window.

He’d describe children running and playing, a father walking with his child, a bluebird in a tree across the way, how the wind moved the clouds, how the rain washed the sidewalks and roads clean, and two little boys playing catch.  His descriptions gave the paralyzed man a sense of hope, a will to live.

One day, the man with the lung disease died.  The paralyzed man asked to be moved close to the window and, when the nurses obliged, asked them to help him sit up so he could see out.  Again the nurses obliged, but all that could be seen from the window was a wall.

Shocked, the paralyzed man told the nurses about the wonderful things his former roommate had described and about how those descriptions had given him hope.  The nurses were a little shook up by this and told the paralyzed man something he didn’t know about his roommate.

“He was blind,” they said.

The point is, the world is largely in your mind.  It’s how you think, how you dream, that determines how you see and perceive things.  Life is not about waiting for storms to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.


Michael Michalko


What Would You Have Done?

report carda

The above is a copy of a school report for Nobel prize winner, Dr John Gurdon, from his days studying Biology at Eton College. His professor a Mister Gaddum noted that for Gurdon to study science would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part, and on the part of those teachers who have to teach him.

My question is: If you were John’s parent, would you have discouraged his interest in science and directed his attention to another field of study?

Dr. Gurdon said that this was the only item about him that he ever framed. It hangs on a wall behind his desk as a reminder to trust your own instincts. It was at Oxford as a postgraduate student that he published his groundbreaking research on genetics and proved for the first time that every cell in the body contains the same genes. He did so by taking a cell from an adult frog’s intestine, removing its genes and implanting them into an egg cell, which grew into a clone of the adult frog.  The idea was controversial at the time because it contradicted previous studies by much more senior scientists, and it was a decade before the then-graduate student’s work became widely accepted.

But it later led directly to the subsequent discovery by Prof Yamanaka that adult cells can be “reprogrammed” into stem cells for use in medicine. This means that cells from someone’s skin can be made into stem cells which, in turn, can turn into any type of tissue in the body, meaning they can replace diseased or damaged tissue in patients.

Not allowing yourself to get discouraged by others is the most important lesson Dr. Gurdon learned in his life. Trust your own instincts. Albert Einstein was expelled from school because his attitude had a negative effect on serious students; he failed his university entrance exam and had to attend a trade school for one year before finally being admitted; and was the only one in his graduating class who did not get a teaching position because no professor would recommend him. One professor said Einstein was “the laziest dog” the university ever had. Beethoven’s parents were told he was too stupid to be a music composer. Charles Darwin’s colleagues called him a fool and what he was doing “fool’s experiments” when he worked on his theory of biological evolution.  Walt Disney was fired from his first job on a newspaper because “he lacked imagination.” Thomas Edison had only two years of formal schooling, was totally deaf in one ear and was hard of hearing in the other, was fired from his first job as a newsboy and later fired from his job as a telegrapher; and still he became the most famous inventor in the history of the U.S.


(Michael Michalko is the author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses; Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck, and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.

Creative Geniuses Are Geniuses Because They Know How To Form Novel Combinations Between Dissimilar Subjects


Creative geniuses do not get their breakthrough ideas because they are more intelligent, better educated, or more experienced, or because creativity is genetically determined. Psychologist Dr. Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California researches a diversity of topics having to do with genius and creativity. One of his major conclusions is that geniuses are geniuses because they form more novel combinations than the merely talented. Creative thinkers form more novel combinations because they routinely conceptually blend objects, concepts, and ideas from two different contexts or categories that logical thinkers conventionally consider separate.

It is the conceptual blending of dissimilar concepts that leads to original ideas and insights.
In nature, a rich mixture of any two forces will produce patterns. For example, pour water on a flat, polished surface. The water will spread out in a unique pattern of drops. The pattern is created by two forces: gravity and surface tension. Gravity spreads the water, and surface tension causes the water molecules to join together in drops. It is the combination of the two different forces that creates the unique, complex pattern of drops.

Similarly, when two dissimilar or two totally unrelated subjects are conceptually blended together in the imagination, new complex patterns are formed that create new ideas. The two subjects cross-catalyze each other like two chemicals that both must be present in order for a new concept, product, or idea to form. This strongly resembles the creative process of genetic recombination in nature. Chromosomes exchange genes to create emergent new beings. Think of elements and patterns of ideas as genes that combine and recombine to create new patterns that lead to new ideas.

Educators could better help students understand the nature of creative thinking by offering examples of how creative thinkers actually created their ideas. Take, for example, Jake Ritty’s invention of the simple cash register we all take for granted. Jake Ritty’s invention is an example of combining two elements from two totally unrelated fields into an insightful solution. In 1879, Jake, a restaurant owner, was traveling by ship to Europe. During the voyage, the passengers took a tour of the ship. In the engine room, Jake was captivated by the machine that recorded the number of times the ship’s propeller rotated. What he saw in this machine was the idea of “a machine that counts.”

Ritty was thinking inclusively. His goal was to make his work as a restaurant owner easier and more profitable. Looking at his world, he examined it for patterns and for analogies to what he already knew. When he saw in the engine room the machine that counted the number of times a ship’s propeller rotated, he asked, “How would the process of mechanically counting something make my restaurant more profitable?” A mental spark jumped from his thinking about the ship to his thinking about his restaurant business when he conceptually combined a machine that counts propeller rotations with counting money.

He was so excited by his insight that he caught the next ship home to work on his invention. Back in Ohio, using the same principles that went into the design of the ship’s machine, he made a machine that could add items and record the amounts. This hand-operated machine, which he started using in his restaurant, was the first cash register. Understanding how Jake got his idea is understanding the process of creative thinking.

To say that the lawn mower was invented in the cloth-making industry may sound absurd, but that is precisely where it was invented. Edwin Budding worked in a cloth factory in England in the early part of the nineteenth century. During those days, the surface of the cloth produced by the factory was fuzzy and had to be trimmed smooth. This was done by a machine with revolving blades fixed between rollers.

Budding loved the outdoors and maintained a lawn on his property. What he found tiresome was trimming the grass, which had to be done with a long, heavy handheld tool called a scythe. Making a analogical connection between trimming the cloth and trimming the lawn, he built a machine with long blades and two wheels. He also attached a shaft to this machine so that one could push it without bending down. And so, in 1831, the first lawn mower was built.

Mixing ideas from unrelated domains energizes your imagination and lets you think of possibilities you would otherwise ignore. How are industrial management techniques related to heart by-pass surgery? Heart surgeons in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont reduced the death rate among their heart bypass patients by one-fourth by incorporating the business management techniques of W. Edwards Deming, a leading industrial consultant. His techniques emphasized teamwork and cooperation over competition. Doctors usually function as individual craftspeople without sharing information. Following Deming’s industrial model, they began to operate as teams, visiting and observing each other and sharing information about how they practiced.

Combining the patterns of two dissimilar concepts in your imagination transcends logical thinking and makes the creation of novel combinations possible. This is creative thinking.

Read Michael Michalko’s Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work to learn more about how creative geniuses get their ideas.



kill creativity

1) Never, ever examine yourself or your company.

2) Whatever it is you do, do it over and over and over and over again.

3) Never look at what your business, market, or competition is doing.

4) Never tolerate any suggestion that implies that you or your management system may contribute to a problem.

5) Never change your plans.

6) Keep company goals vague.

7) Do not be accessible to your employees. Always keep your door closed. Use body language to show that you’re not to be disturbed.

8) Never wander around the company to see how people are doing.

9) Never hire smart people. Turn down all applicants who are curious or who are looking for challenges. Instead look for applicants who are good-looking, make good impressions, and are looking for a steady paycheck.
10) Discourage all questions.

11) Have lots of structured meetings. Kill ideas immediately as they are offered with comments like: “It’ll never work,” “It cost too much,” “It’s been tried before,” “If it was any good, someone else would have done it, “Get a committee to look into it,” I’ll get back to you,” “Yes, but…,” or try giving dirty looks or silence. If a meeting should produce an idea that you can’t kill, demand instant documentation and cost estimates. Require prior assurance that the idea will succeed and let everyone know that their career is “on the line.”

12) Never offer meaningful incentives or rewards for new ideas.

13) Never allow people to loosen up. Something happens when people arouse their playful sides, they start coming up with ideas. Keep things solemn.

14) Discourage all initiative. Tell people exactly how to do their jobs. If you hire the right people, you won’t have this problem. The right applicant is one who is most comfortable working within the “box.”

15) Put up a “suggestion” box, and then do not provide any feedback whatsoever.

16) Cultivate blandness. Discourage anything that might excite employees about their work.

17) Promote your most obedient company men and women as high and as fast as you can. Make them highly visible by awarding them company cars, titles, parking spaces, special bonuses, and other perks.

18) If someone offers an idea, tell them it’s irrelevant.
If they prove it’s relevant, tell them it can’t work.
If they prove it can work, tell them it’s dangerous.
If they prove it’s safe, tell them it’s unsellable.
If they prove it’s sellable, tell them you’ll create a committee to study it. Make sure no one with real power is on the committee. This way no one with real clout will push it.

19) If someone wants to try something new, remind them of all their past failures and mistakes.

20) If you notice someone becoming preoccupied with a problem, tell them to think about it on their own time, but not yours.

21) Laugh at anyone who says they have a gut feeling, intuitive sense, or hunch about something.

22) Send lots of memos and copies to everyone about the importance of playing it safe. When you play not to lose, you don’t have to worry about taking risks, innovating or confronting challenges.

23) Attend outside seminars that are designed to change the way you think. Then hold a meeting with your employees, and make noises about the need for innovation, creative-thinking, and risk-taking. Praise these as abstract “notions,” and, then don’t change a thing about the way you manage or reward people.

24) Do not buy or read my book Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques). If an employee mentions it, walk away, without comment, as fast as possible.

25) When your company is no longer competitive, make sure your employees realize that the collapse of the company was beyond your control. Blame it on the recession, the global economy, the government, unfair practices of suppliers, unethical customers or global warming.
Michael Michalko

Creative Thinking Expert

If You Always Think the Way You Always Think, You’ll Always Get What You’ve Always Got

thinking the same

Here is an easy exercise that must be done in your head only. Do not use paper and pencil or a calculator. Try to add up the following numbers as quickly as you can. Take 1000 and add 40 to it. Now add another 1000. Now add 30. Add another 1000. Now add 20. Now add another 1000. Now add 10. What is the total?

Our confidence in our ability to add according to the way we were taught in base ten encourages us to process the information this way and jump to a conclusion. If your total is 5,000, then you are wrong. 96% of people who add these simple numbers get the wrong answer. The numbers are arranged in such a way to set people up to get the wrong answer when adding using base ten. The correct answer is 4,100.

Human nature is such that when we assume we know how to do something, we perform the act without much thought about the assumptions we make. History is replete with thousands of examples of what happens when people become cognitively lazy and don’t challenge assumptions.

In 1968, the Swiss dominated the watch industry. Enterprising Swiss inventors invented the electronic watch movement at their research institute in Neuchatel, Switzerland. It was rejected by every Swiss watch manufacturer. Based on their past experiences in the industry, they assumed this couldn’t possibly be a watch, because it had no gears or springs. Seiko took one look at this invention and took over the world watch market.

When Univac invented the computer, they refused to talk to business people who inquired about it, because the computer was invented for scientists they assumed it had no business applications. Then along came IBM and dominated the market. IBM, itself, once said that according to their past experiences in the computer market, they assumed that there was virtually no market for the personal computer. In fact, they said they were absolutely certain there were no more than five or six people in the entire world who had need for a personal computer. And along came Apple.

When Fred Smith started Federal Express, virtually every delivery expert in the U.S., doomed his enterprise to failure. Based on their experiences in the industry, no one, they assumed, would pay a fancy price for speed and reliability.

Chester Carlson invented xerography in 1938. Virtually every major corporation, including IBM and Kodak, scoffed at his idea and turned him down. They assumed that since carbon paper was cheap and plentiful, who in their right mind would buy an expensive copier. A group of people created a small company funded by open-minded investors that eventually became Xerox. The investors all became multi-millionaires. When was the last time you saw carbon paper?
Once we think we know how something should be done, we keep doing it, then we teach others to do it the same way, and they in turn teach others until eventually you reach a point where no one remembers why something is done a certain way but we keep doing it anyway.

This human behavior of not challenging assumptions reminds me of an experiment with monkeys that I heard about some years back. Purportedly, it was from a book “Progress in Primatology” by D. Starek, R. Schneider, and H. Kuhn which is about research on the cultural acquisition of specific learned responses among rhesus monkeys.

A Tale of Five Monkeys

They started with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, they hung a banana on a string with a set of stairs placed under it. Before long, a monkey went to the stairs and started to climb towards the banana. As soon as he started up the stairs, the psychologists sprayed all of the other monkeys with ice cold water. After a while, another monkey made an attempt to obtain the banana. As soon as his foot touched the stairs, all of the other monkeys were sprayed with ice cold water. It’s wasn’t long before all of the other monkeys would physically prevent any monkey from climbing the stairs.

Now, the psychologists shut off the cold water, removed one monkey from the cage and replaced it with a new one. The new monkey saw the banana and started to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attacked him. After another attempt and attack, he discovered that if he tried to climb the stairs, he would be assaulted.

Next they removed another of the original five monkeys and replaced it with a new one. The newcomer went to the stairs and was attacked. The previous newcomer took part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, they replaced a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey tried to climb the stairs, he was attacked.

The monkeys had no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they were beating any monkey that tried. After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys had ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approached the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been around here.

red eggWe automatically accept what we are taught and exclude all other lines of thought. The same thing happens when we see something odd or unusual in our experiences. We tend to accept whatever explanation someone with experience tells us. This kind of thinking reminds me of herring gulls. Herring gulls have a drive to remove all red objects from their nest. They also have a drive to retrieve any egg that rolls away from the nest. If you place a red egg in the nest, when the gull returns she will push it out, then roll it back in, then push it out again, only to retrieve it once more.

Discover how to change your thinking patterns and provoke creative ways of focusing on the information in different ways and different ways of interpreting what you’re focusing on by reading Michael’s new book Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.