Posts Tagged ‘creative thinking techniqes’

Combine What Exists Into Something That Has Never Existed Before


In his book Scientific Genius, psychologist Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California at Davis suggests that geniuses are geniuses because they form more novel combinations than the merely talented. He suggests that, in a loose sense, genius and chance are syn­onymous. His theory has etymology behind it: cogito—”I think”—originally connoted “shake together”; intelligo, the root of intelligence, means to “select among.” This is a clear, early intuition about the utility of permitting ideas and thoughts to randomly combine with each other and the utility of selecting from the many the few to retain.

Because geniuses are willing to entertain novel combinations, they are able to discard accepted ideas of what is possible and imagine what is actually possible. In 1448 Johannes Gutenberg combined the mecha­nisms for pressing wine and punching coins to produce movable type, which made printing practical. His method of producing movable type endured almost unchanged for five centuries. The laws of heredity on which the modern science of genetics is based are the result of the work of Gregor Mendel, who combined mathematics and biology to create this new science. Thomas Edison’s invention of a practical system of lighting involved combining wiring in parallel circuits with high-resis­tance filaments in his bulbs, two things that were not considered possi­ble.

Imagine, for a moment, that thought is water. When you are born, your mind is like a glass of water. Your thinking is inclusive, clear, and fluid. All thoughts intermingle and combine with each other and make all kinds of connections and associations. This is why children are spontaneously creative.


In school you are taught to define, label, and segregate what you learn into separate categories. The various categories are kept separate and not allowed to touch each other, much like ice cubes in a tray. Once something is learned and categorized, your thoughts about it become frozen. For example, once you learn what a can opener is, whenever someone mentions “can opener” you know exactly what it is.

You are taught, when confronted with a problem, to examine the ice cube tray and select the appropriate cube. Then you take the cube and put it in a glass, where your thinking heats and melts it. For example, if the problem is to “improve the can opener,” the glass will contain all you have learned about can openers, and nothing more. You are thinking exclusively, which is to say you are thinking only about what you have learned about the can opener. No matter how many times the water is stirred, you end up creating, at best, a marginal improvement.

Now if you take another cube (e.g., vegetables) and put it in the same glass with the can-opener cube, your thinking will heat and melt both together into one fluid. Now when you stir the water, more associations and connections are made and the creative possibilities become immensely greater. The vegetable cube, once blended with the can opener cube, might inspire you to think of how vegetables open in nature. For example, when pea pods ripen, a seam weakens and opens, freeing the peas. This might inspire you to come up with novel ideas. You could, for example, manufacture cans with a weak seam that can be pulled to open the can. You cannot get this kind of novel idea using your conventional way of thinking.

What happens when you think simultaneously, in the same mental space, about a showerhead and a telescope orbiting the earth? When the Hubble telescope was first launched into space, scientists were unable to focus it. It could be salvaged only by refocusing it using small, coin-shaped mirrors.

The problem was how to deliver and insert the mirrors precisely into the right location. The right location was in a light bundle behind the main mirror. The NASA experts who worked on the problem were not able to solve it, and the multi-million dollar Hubble seemed doomed.

NASA engineer James Crocker was attending a seminar in Germany when he found out about the problem. He worked on it all day. Tired, he stepped into the shower in his hotel room. The European-style shower included a shower-head on an arrangement of adjustable rods. While manipulating the shower-head, Crocker suddenly realized that similar articulated arms bearing coin-shaped mirrors could be-extended into the light bundle from within a replacement axial instrument by remote control. Blending the Hubble telescope and the shower-head in the same mental space simultaneously created this remarkable solution.

Crocker was startled by his sudden realization of the solution that was immensely comprehensive and at the same time immensely detailed. As Crocker later said “I could see the Hubble’s mirrors on the shower head.” Crocker solved it by thinking unconventionally by forcing connections between two remotely different subjects.

Look at the following illustration A of the rectangle and circle. Both are separate entities. Now look at the extraordinary effect they have when blended together in illustration B. We now have something mysterious, and it seems to move. You can get this effect only by blending the two dissimilar objects in the same space.


Combining a rectangle with the circle changed our perception of the two figures into something extraordinary. In the same way, combining information in novel ways increases your perceptual possibilities to create something original.

Creativity in all domains, including science, technology, medicine, the arts, and day-to-day living, emerges from the basic mental operation of conceptually blending dissimilar subjects. When analyzed, creative ideas are always new combinations of old ideas. A poet does not generally make up new words but, instead, puts together old words in a new way. The French poet Paul Valery is quoted by Jacques Hadamard in Jacque Hadamard: a universal mathematician by T.O. Shaposhnikova as saying “It takes two to invent anything. The one makes up combinations; the other chooses, recognizes what he wishes and what is important to him in the mass of things which the former has imparted to him.” Valery related that when he writes poetry he used two thinking strategies to invent something new in writing poetry. With one strategy, he would make up combinations; and with the other he would choose what is important.

Think for a moment about a pinecone. What relationship does a pinecone have with the processes of reading and writing? In France, in 1818, a nine-year-old boy accidentally blinded himself with a hole puncher while helping his father make horse harnesses. A few years later the boy was sitting in the yard thinking about his inability to read and write when a friend handed him a pinecone. He ran his fingers over the cone and noted the tiny differences between the scales. He conceptually blended the feel of different pinecone scales with reading and writing, and realized he could create an alphabet of raised dots on paper so the blind could feel and read what was written with it. In this way Louis Braille opened up a whole new world for the blind. Braille made a creative connection between a pinecone and reading. When you make a connection between two unrelated subjects, your imagination will leap to fill the gaps and form a whole in order to make sense of it.

Just as conceptual blending allows information to intermingle in the mind of the individual, when people swap thoughts with others from different fields it creates new, exciting thinking patterns for both. As Brian Arthur argues in his book The Nature of Technology, nearly all technologies result from combinations of other technologies, and new ideas often come from people from different fields combining their thoughts and things. One example is the camera pill, invented after a conversation between a gastroenterologist and a guided missile designer.

Suppose you are watching a mime impersonating a man taking his dog out for a walk. The mime’s arm is outstretched as though holding the dog’s leash. As the mime’s arm is jerked back and forth, you “see” the dog straining at the leash to sniff this or that. The dog and the leash become the most real part of the scene, even though there is no dog or leash. In the same way, when you make connections between your subject and something that is totally unrelated, your imagination fills in the gaps to create new ideas. It is this willingness to use your imagination to fill in the gaps that produces the unpredictable idea. This is why Einstein claimed that imagination is more important than knowledge.

Michael Michalko is a highly acclaimed expert on creative thinking and conducts seminars and think tanks worldwide. He has published several books which contain creative thinking techniques and are available at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and major bookstores worldwide.

Our Life Is What Our Attitude Makes It


Most people presume that our attitudes affect our behavior, and this is true. But it’s also true that our behavior determines our attitudes. Tibetan monks say their prayers by whirling their prayer wheels on which their prayers are inscribed. The whirling wheels spin the prayers into divine space. Sometimes, a monk will keep a dozen or so prayer wheels rotating like some juggling act in which whirling plates are balanced on top of long thin sticks.

The Greek philosopher Diogenes was once noticed begging from a statue. His friends were puzzled and alarmed at this behavior. Asked the reason for this pointless behavior, Diogenes replied, AI am practicing the art of being rejected.@ By pretending to be rejected continually by the statue, Diogenes was beginning to understand the mind of a beggar. Every time we pretend to have an attitude and go through the motions of having that attitude, we trigger the emotions we create and strengthen the attitude we wish to cultivate.

Power of the Imagination

Cognitive scientists have discovered that the brain is a dynamical system—an organ that evolves its patterns of activity rather than computes them like a computer. It thrives on the creative energy of feedback from experiences either real or fictional. An important point to remember is that you can synthesize experience, literally create it in your imagination. The human brain cannot tell the difference between an “actual” experience and an experience imagined vividly and in detail.

The real key to turning imagination into reality is acting as if the imagined scene were real. Instead of pretending it is a scene from the future, imagine it as though you are truly experiencing it in the present. It is a real event in the now. The great masters of antiquity have told us through the ages that whatever you believe you become. If you believe and imagine in the now that you are whatever you wish to be, then reality must conform.

This is how Air Force Colonel George Hall survived his harrowing experience during the Viet Nam war. He was a POW locked in the dark box of a North Vietnamese prison for seven grueling years. Every day Hall imagined he was a golf professional and played a full game of golf in his imagination. One week after he was released from his POW camp, he entered the Greater New Orleans Open and shot a 76.

The surrealist artist, Salvador Dali, was pathologically shy as a child. He hid in closets and avoided all human contact until his uncle counseled him on how to overcome this shyness. He advised Dali to be an actor and to pretend he was an extrovert genius. At first Dali was full of doubts as he began to act the part. When he adopted the pose of an extrovert and made it obvious to himself and others by acting the part, his brain soon adapted itself to the role he was playing. He became what he pretended to be. Dali’s acting the part changed his psychological state.

As you imagine yourself to be, so shall you be, and you are that which you imagine. Another remarkable example is Victor Frankl’s account of being in a concentration camp in his book From Death-Camp to Existentialism. While most of his fellow inmates lost hope and died, Frankl reframed his experience and pretended to be an academic lecturer and occupied his mind creating lectures he would give after he was released from camp—lectures that would draw upon his experiences in the camp. He took a hopeless situation and transformed it in his mind to a source of rich experiences that he could use to help others overcome potentially deadening and hopeless situations.

Consider what Nikola Tesla accomplished with his imagination. He is the man who invented the modern world. He was a physicist first, and electrical engineer and mechanical engineer later. Tesla invented AC electricity, the electric car, radio, the bladeless turbine, wireless communication, fluorescent lighting, the induction motor, a telephone repeater, the rotating magnetic field principle, the poly-phase alternating current system, alternating current power transmission, Tesla Coil transformer, and more than 700 other patents.

At an early age Tesla created an imaginary world where he pretended to reside. In his autobiography “My Inventions,” Tesla described: “Every night and sometimes during the day, when alone, I would start out on my journeys, see new places, cities and countries, live there, meet with people, make friendships and acquaintances and, however unbelievably it is a fact that they were just as dear to me as those in actual life and not a bit less intense in their manifestations.” He used to practice this kind of mind-journey constantly.

When he became a physicist, he would imagine himself in the future and observe what devices and machines they had. Tesla imagined himself to be a time traveler. He would note how they created energy, how they communicated, and lived. He could picture them all as if they were real in his imaginary mind. He would conduct imaginary experiments and collect data. He described that he needed no models, drawings or experiments in a physical place.

When he attained an idea for a new machine, he would create the machine in his imagination. Instead of building a model or prototype, he would conceive a detailed mental model. Then he would leave it running in his imagination. His mental capacity was so high that after a period of time, he would calculate the wear and tear of the different parts of his imaginary machine. Always his results would prove to be incredibly accurate.

The problem most of us have is that when we look at our lives, we see only who we are not and dwell on that. Instead, imagine who you want to be and go through the motions of being it. You will become who you pretend to be.

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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

Why Didn’t You Think of That?

Why Didn't You Think of That?

Robert Dilts, an expert in neurolinguistic programming, has written about an enlightening experiment 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.” You can train a human 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.

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 lost a tiny object in a large room, the person would fixate on how he or she searched for objects in the past and repeat the same method (usually searching visually). That is because we are not to approach problems on their own terms, but are instead taught that when confronted with a problem to reproduce what has worked in the past.

Suppose a vacuum cleaner is prominently displayed in the room next to a table with a pair of sheer socks on it. Would you be able to perceive the value of using the cleaner with the sock to find the object?

Michael Michalko is the author of the highly acclaimed Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.