Posts Tagged ‘creative thinking’

What Have You Learned About the Meaning of Life?

LIFE

After a seminar about creative thinking I gave, I found that someone had slipped a sheet of paper into my pile of notes. I was never able to identify the author or find out why he or she slipped it to me. The sheet was titled “What I have learned about life” and listed several thoughts, some of which I found fascinating. Following is the list:

  • This is it!
  • There are no hidden meanings.
  • You can’t get there from here, and besides, there is nowhere else to go.
  • We are all already dying, and we will be dead for a very long time.
  • Nothing lasts.
  • There is no way of getting all you want.
  • You can’t have anything unless you let go of it.
  • You only get to keep what you give away.
  • There is no particular reason why you lost out on some things.
  • The world is not necessarily just. Being good does not pay off and there is no compensation for misfortune.
  • You have a responsibility to do your best none-the-less.
  • It is a random universe to which we bring order.
  • You don’t really control anything.
  • You can’t make anyone love you.
  • No one is any stronger or any weaker than anyone else.
  • Everyone is, in their own way, vulnerable.
  • There are no great men.
  • If you have a hero, look again, you’ve diminished yourself in some way.
  • Everyone lies, cheats, and pretends. –
  • All evil is potential vitality in need of transformation
  • All of you is worth something if only you will own it.
  • Progress is an illusion.
  • Evil can be displaced, but never eradicated, and all solutions breed new problems.
  • Yet, it is necessary to keep on struggling towards solutions.
  • Childhood is a nightmare.
  • Each of us is, ultimately, alone.
  • The most important things, each man must do for himself.
  • Love is not enough, but it sure helps things.
  • We have only ourselves and one another. That may not be much’ but that is all there is.
  • How strange, that every so often, it all seems worth it.
  • We must live with the ambiguity of partial freedom, partial powers, and partial knowledge.
  • All important decisions must be made on the basis of insufficient data.
  • Yet we are responsible for everything we do.
  • No excuses will be accepted.
  • You can run, but you cannot hide.
  • It is most important to run out of scapegoats.
  • We must learn the power of living with our helplessness.
  • The only victory lies in surrender to oneself.
  • All of the significant battles are waged within the self.
  • You are free to do whatever you like, you need only face the consequences.
  • What do you know, for sure, anyway?
  • Learn to forgive yourself, again, and again and again, and again and again and again and again and again.

What is your list of things you have learned about life during your lifetime?

………………

(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. http://www.creativethinking.net)

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. http://www.creativethinking.net)

A SURREAL IDEA

surreal

André Breton was a French writer and poet. He is known best as the founder of surrealism. The surrealists sought to overthrow the oppressive rules of society by demolishing its backbone of rational thought. To do so, they attempted to tap into the “superior reality” of the subconscious mind. “Completely against the tide,” said Breton, “in a violent reaction against the impoverishment and sterility of thought processes that resulted from centuries of rationalism, we turned toward the marvelous and advocated it unconditionally.” 

Many of the tenets of surrealism included an emphasis on the actual functioning of thought…in the absence of any control exercised by reason. They created many exercises designed to probe the subconscious by getting the minds to be as passive and receptive as possible. 

One day I had a long discussion with a friend about the Japanese whaling industry and their illegal poaching practices. After the discussion, I decided to experiment with one of Andre Breton’s surrealist exercises. The exercise has 3 small, grid like areas and one large grid on a sheet of paper.  

DOT_0001

The first rule of the exercise was to always forget your genius, talents, as well as the genius and talents of others. Try not to think about what you are doing—just let your automatic functions take over, letting them proceed as they wish. Your final solution will not come from your normal way of solving problems, but from a deeper, more intuitive impulse. So whatever happens, let it happen. The guidelines are:

  • Think of a problem. Don’t dwell on it and dismiss it from your thoughts. Look at the design below with the grids.
  • Use the 3 small grids at the top to create an image in the spirit of your unconscious. Try not to think of what you’re doing…just let your automatic functions take over, letting them proceed as they wish.
  • Then with the large grid on the bottom revert to your usual way of thinking and impose your will to create whatever imagery, abstract or literal you wish.

My problem was how to control the illegal whale harvesting by the Japanese whalers. In the small grids I drew one squiggle that looked like a human skull, one that looked like quotation markets and one that looked like a rose. In the large grid I drew a stick figure of a man with two profiles: one looking left and one looking right.

I pondered over my drawings for a long time. The skull reminded me of a pirate’s black flag; the quotation marks reminded me of a quote “The opposite of a profound truth is another truth; and the rose reminded me of the roses I give my wife to celebrate our union as husband and wife. The stick figure in the large grid reminded me of the ambiguity in all aspects of life e.g., no one is all good or all evil.

These images combined and recombined in my imagination and inspired the thought of one way of fighting an illegal activity is to use an illegal enforcement activity. The pirate’s flag reminded me of the Somalian pirate ships off the coast of Africa. The rose got me thinking of combining two illegal activities. The stick figure made me think of looking the other way when something illegal is accomplishing something good.

My final idea all this inspired is to make it legal for the Somali pirates to hijack illegal Japanese Whalers and hold them for ransom.

Now it’s your turn to give it a try.
……………..

Michael Michalko www.creativethinking.net

Test Your Flexible Thinking Skills

Associating seemingly disparate elements in new ways by finding a novel connection between them is the backbone of creativity. It is also the backbone of this book. To associate elements in new ways, you must think flexibly. Flexibility of thought is the ability to produce a large number of original ideas.

For a quick test of your mental flexibility, try the Remote Associates Test developed by Martha Mednick. For each set of three words, the goal is to find an associated word that all three have in common. For example, the words “wheel,” “electric,” and “high” can all be paired with “chair.”

  1. piggy               green               lash               __________
  2. surprise           line                   birthday       __________
  3. mark                shelf                 telephone    __________
  4. stick                 maker              tennis           __________
  5. blue                  cottage             cloth             __________
  6. motion            poke                 down            __________
  7. gem                  wall                  stepping       __________
  8. chorus             bee                   side               __________
  9. lunch               car                    gift                __________
  10. foul                  ground            pen                __________

How did you do? If you are like most people, you probably did not make all the associations.

In addition to thinking flexibly, one needs to use a variety of creative thinking techniques to keep your creative fire stoked, you need variety. Variety is the essence of all sensation; our senses are designed to respond to change and contrast. When a stimulus is unchanging or repetitious, sensation disappears.

Hold your hand over one eye and stare at the dot in the middle of the circle. After a few moments, the circle will fade and disappear. It will only reappear if you blink or shift your gaze to the X.

Disappearing dot

 X

 

What happens is that the receptors in your eye get “tired” and stop responding, and nerve cells higher up in your sensory system switch off. This process is called sensory adaptation. You become blind to what is right before your eyes. The same phenomenon explains what is going on when you can no longer smell a gas leak that you noticed when you first entered the kitchen.

When your method for getting ideas is routine and unchanging, your imagination gets bored and switches off. One might term it “imagination adaptation.” You become blind to the opportunities right before your eyes, but do not realize it until someone else points out your blindness. Then, and only then, can you see what you had been looking at all along. If you can no longer recall your last original idea, you are suffering from this condition.

(The answers to the remote associates are: back, party, book, match, cheese, slow, stone, line, box, and play.)

 

For a variety of creative thinking techniques read Michael Michalko’s Thinkertoys. COVER.Thinkertoys

Art without Bias

MOTIVELESS ART

The Boyle family is a famous family of collaborative artists based in London. The family creates paintings by reproducing small patches of the world in meticulous detail. They select their sites at random in the following manner.

  • A blindfolded person throws a dart into a large map of the world.
  • Then they call someone who lives near where the dart pinpointed — perhaps the curator of a nearby gallery — and asks them to throw a dart blindfolded at the local map.
  • Then they travel to the exact spot pinpointed on the local map.
  • Then one of them takes a right angle and hurls it into the air. The place it lands becomes the first corner of the new work.
  • The random selection serves several purposes: nothing is excluded as a potential subject; the particular is chosen as a representative of the whole and it reduces their subjective role as artists and creators to that of “presenters”. The Boyles call this a “motiveless technical” to present a slice of reality as objectively and truthfully as possible.

Their incorporation of randomness into art removes the prejudices that the conditioning of our upbringing and culture impose. It makes it possible for us to look at the world or a small part of it, without being reminded consciously or unconsciously of myths and legends, art out of the past or present, art and myths of other cultures. We see without motive and without reminiscence.

MOTIVELESS POETRY

To get a feel for this philosophy, create a motiveless poem using the following guidelines.

MOTIVELESS POETRY

 

Read THINKERTOYS: A HANDBOOK OF CREATIVE THINKING TECHNIQUES by creativity expert Michael Michalko

http://www.amazon.com/Thinkertoys-Handbook-Creative-Thinking-Techniques-Edition/dp/1580087736/ref=pd_sim_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=0T6TTX3RDA7VQ9NEJR5C

 

 

 

 

How Do You Know?

God

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.

http://www.amazon.com/Creative-Thinkering-Putting-Your-Imagination/dp/160868024X/ref=pd_sim_b_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=0AZ4HDTTG40XHBRPX22Q

 

Are You Following the Calf’s Trail Imbedded in Your Mind?

Newborn Hereford Calf

One day thru the primeval wood
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail, all bent askew,
A crooked trail, as all calves do.
Since then 300 years have fled,
And I infer the calf is dead.
But still, he left behind his trail
And thereby hangs my mortal tale.

The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way.
And then, a wise bellwether sheep
Pursued the trail, o’er vale and steep,
And drew the flocks behind him too
As good bellwethers always do.
And from that day, o’er hill and glade
Thru those old woods, a path was made.

And many men would in and out
And dodged, and turned, and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath
Because ‘twas such a crooked path
But still they followed; do not laugh
The first migrations of the calf.
And thru the winding woods they stalked
Because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane
That bent, and turned, and turned again.
This crooked lane became a road
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled beneath the burning sun
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street.
And thus, before men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon the central street was this
Of a renown metropolis.
And men, two centuries and a half
Trod the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a 100 thousand route
Followed the zigzag calf about.
And o’er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A 100 thousand men were led
By one calf, near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way
And lost 100 years per day.
For thus such reverence is lent
To well established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained, and called to preach.
For men are proud to go it blind
Along the calf paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out, and in, and forth, and back,
And still their devious course pursue
To keep the paths that others do.

They keep the paths a sacred groove
Along which all their lives they move.
But now the wise old wood gods laugh
Who saw that first primeval calf.
Ah, many things this tale might teach,
But I am not ordained to preach.

http://www.creativethinking.net

25 SURE-FIRE WAYS TO KILL CREATIVITY IN YOUR EMPLOYEES

 

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).
http://www.amazon.com/Thinkertoys-Handbook-Creative-Thinking-Techniques-Edition/dp/1580087736/ref=pd_sim_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=0T6TTX3RDA7VQ9NEJR5C 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
http://www.creativethinking.net

Describe your Life in Six Words

ImageErnst Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in six words. He wrote “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Legend has it that Hemingway called it his best work. Hemingway’s story spawned the six word story popularized by Smith Magazine which celebrates personal storytelling. Editors asked their readers to submit six word memoirs of their life and were mesmerized with the offerings, some of which follow:

“Cursed with cancer, blessed with friends.”

“Love me or leave me alone.”

“I still make coffee for two.”

“Hockey is not just for boys.”

“I like big butts, can’t lie.”

“Should never have bought that ring.”

“Ex-wife and contractor now have house.”

 

Steven Pinker’s six word memoir published in Smith Magazine’s book “Not Quite What I Was Planning” reads: “Struggled with how the mind works.” His memoir inspired me to request my seminar and Think Tank participant’s to voluntarily write six word stories on certain subjects. The results have been humorous and edifying. Following are some of the six word responses describing being involved with innovation.

 

They asked. I thought. I created.

Ideas; I get them in excess.

Look at it from different perspectives.

How would a child do this?

Successful when ignoring what happened before

Made many mistakes before I succeeded

Followed logic, not intuition, never again

I’m enjoying even this horrific problem

Doing more for less is creativity

In and out of many ideas

Others quit early. I continue looking.

Time to start over again, again

To succeed, learn how to fail.

Work but spend time doing nothing.

I am still not seeing everything.

Approach problems on their own terms.

Many bad before one good idea.

Think about it in a different way.

Always work on the next idea.

Left brain job, work right brain.

The proof is in the pudding.

 

Here are some six word responses describing creative inspiration.

 

Last night confused. Slept. Morning. Eureka!

Dancing with ideas of infinite possibilities.

Think, dream, persevere, gain new perspectives.

Ideas have sex in my imagination

Took rocks, pounded them into sculptures.

Find great ideas in what’s discarded.

Connect the unconnected to create ideas.

I am trying in every way.

Waiting quietly for that special thought.

Bring it to a boil, often.

Tombstone won’t say, did not try.

I learned to expect the unexpected.

Learn to color outside the lines.

I’m not afraid of problems anymore.

Learn to be tolerant of ambiguity.

Learn to make the familiar unfamiliar.

 

What six-word memoir represents your life?

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

For more information about creative thinking visit Michael Michalko at creativethinking.net

 

 

In What Ways Might We Formulate a Problem Statement?

questionmark.The initial statement of a problem often reflects a preconceived solution. Once we have settled on a perspective, we close off but one line of thought. Certain kinds of ideas occur to us, but only those kinds and no others. What if the crippled man who invented the motorized cart had defined his problem as: “How to occupy my time while lying in bed?” rather than “How to get out of bed and move around the house?”

Have you ever looked closely at the wheels on a railroad train? They are flanged. That is, they have a lip on the inside to prevent them from sliding off the track. Originally train wheels were not flanged–instead, the railroad tracks were. Because the problem of railroad safety had been expressed as: “How can the tracks be made safer for trains to ride on?” hundreds of thousands of miles of track were manufactured with an unnecessary steel lip. Only when the problem was redefined as: “In what ways might we make railroad traffic safer? was the flanged wheel invented.

INVITATIONAL STEM: The formulation of a problem determines the range of choices: the questions you ask determine the answers you receive. To start with, it’s helpful to coin problems in a particular way. Write the problems you want to solve as a definite question. Use the phrase “In what ways might I…?” to start a problem statement. This is sometimes known as the invitational stem and helps keep you from settling on a problem statement that may reflect only one perception of the problem.

For example, in the series of letters below, cross out six letters to make a common word.

C S R I E X L E A T T T E R E S

If you state the problem as: “How to cross out six letters to form a common word?” you’ll find it difficult to solve. If, instead, you framed it: “In what ways might I cross out six letters to form a common word?” you will likely find yourself inspired to think of many alternative possible solutions, including the solution which is to literally cross out the letters “S,” “I,” “X,” “L,” “E,” “T,” “T,” “ and so on, leaving the word CREATE.

Before you brainstorm any problem, restate the problem at least five to ten times to generate multiple perspectives. The emphasis is not so much on the right problem definition but on alternative problem definitions. Sooner or later, you’ll find one that you are comfortable with. Following are some different ways to look at your problem.

GLOBAL AND SPECIFIC: One can always look at a system from different levels of abstraction. A very fine-grained description of a beach would include every position of every grain of sand. Viewed from a higher vantage point, the details become smeared together, the grains become a smooth expanse of brown. At this level of description, different qualities emerge: the shape of the coastline, the height of the dunes, and so on.

The idea is to look for the appropriate level of abstraction, the best viewpoint from which to gather ideas. In the 1950s, experts believed that the ocean-going freighter was dying. Costs were rising, and it took longer and longer to get merchandise delivered.

The shipping industry experts built faster ships that required less fuel and downsized the crew. Costs still kept going up, but the industry kept focusing its efforts on reducing specific costs related to ships while at sea and doing work.

A ship is capital equipment and the biggest cost for the capital equipment is the cost of not working, because interest has to be paid without income being generated to pay for it. Finally, an outside consultant globalized the challenge to: “In what ways might the shipping industry reduce costs?”

This allowed them to consider all aspects of shipping, including loading and stowing. The innovation that saved the industry was to separate loading from stowing, by doing the loading on land, before the ship is in port. It is much quicker to put on and take off preloaded freight. The answer was the roll-on, roll-off ship and the container ship. Port time has been reduced by three quarters, and with it, congestion and theft. Freighter traffic has increased fivefold in the last thirty years, and costs are down by 60%.

One of the keys to Freud’s genius was his ability to find the appropriate level of abstraction of his problem so that he could operate beyond the usual assumptions and interpretations. To find the appropriate level of abstraction, ask “Why?” four or five times, until you find the level where you’re comfortable.

Suppose your challenge is: “In what ways might I sell more Chevrolet Luminas?”
Step One: Why do you want to sell more Luminas? “Because my car sales are down”
Step Two: Why do you want to sell more cars? “To improve my overall sales.”
Step Three: Why do you want to improve overall sales? “To improve my business.
Step Four: Why do you want to improve your business? “To increase my personal wealth.”
Step Five: Why do you want to improve your personal wealth? “To lead the good life.”

Now you shape your challenge in a variety of ways including:
In what ways might I sell more Luminas?
In what ways might I sell more cars?
In what ways might I improve overall sales?
In what ways might I improve my business?
In what ways might I improve my personal wealth?
In what ways might I lead the good life?

You may choose to stick with the original challenge of selling more Luminas or you may choose a more global challenge of improving your personal wealth. Improving your personal wealth allows your thinking to embrace more opportunities. You could negotiate a higher commission return for each vehicle sold, go into another business, make investments, sell other products and so on.

SEPARATE THE PARTS FROM THE WHOLE. Seeing is one of the most comprehensive operations possible: your vison embraces an infinity of forms and objects, yet it fixes on but one object at a time. Similarly, when Leonardo Da Vinci embraced a subject, he would see the whole but would move from one detail to another seeking the origin or cause of each detail. He believed you gained knowledge by separating the parts from the whole and examining all the relationships and key factors that may influence a given situation.

Professor Kaoru Ishikawa of the University of Tokyo incorporated this strategy in his Ishikawa diagram, which is commonly known as the “fishbone” diagram because of its unique shape. The “fishbone” diagaram is a way to visually organize and examine all the factors that may influence a given situation by identifying all the possible causes that produce an effect. An effect is a desirable or undesirable result produced by a series of causes. In teaching this tool, the Japanese often use as an effect a “perfect plate of rice.” In a typical diagram, minor causes are clustered around four major cause categories. For example, common major cause categories in the manufacturing process might be materials, people, methods, and machinery, and major cause categories in public education might be teachers, methods, environment, students, and policies.

Suppose we want to improve creativity in our organization. Following are guidelines for fishboning the situation:

1. Our effect would be “perfect organizational creativity.”We would write this in the box on the right (the fish’s head). A straight line is drawn to the left to resemble the backbone of the fish.
2. The next step is to brainstorm the major cause categories. What are the major causes that would produce perfect organizational creativity? You can have as many major causes as are warranted. There are typically three to six. We decide that the four major categories for organizational creativity are: people, environment, materials and policies. The major cause categories become the ribs of the fish.
3. Minor causes are then grouped around the major causes as fish bones. E.g., “train to be creative” would be a bone attached to the “People” rib, and “stimulating” would be a bone attached to the “Environment” rib.
4. For each minor cause, ask “How can we make this happen?” and post the response as branches off the bones. E.g., “hire an outside expert to conduct the training” would be a branch off the “train” bone.

FISHBONE
[NOTE: Click on diagram]

Fishboning allows you to see the relationships between causes and effects, allows you to consider all the different parts of a situation, and allows you to identify those areas where you need more data or information. It also triggers your subconscious. Ishikawa described the process as one in which you fishbone your problem and let it cook overnight. When you come back to it, you’ll be amazed at the new thoughts and ideas that your subconscious has cooked up.

REPHRASE THE PROBLEM IN YOUR OWN WORDS. Richard Feynman once reviewed his children’s school books. One book began with pictures of a mechanical wind-up dog, a real dog, and a motorcycle, and for each the same question: “What makes it move?” The proposed answer–”Energy makes it move”– enraged him.

That was tautology, he argued–empty definition. Feynman, having made a career of understanding the deep abstractions of energy, said it would be better to begin a science course by taking apart a toy dog, revealing the cleverness of the gears and ratchets. To tell a first-grader that “energy makes it move” would be no more helpful, he said, than saying “God makes it move” or “moveability” makes it move. He proposed teaching students how to rephrase what they learn in their own language without using definitions. For instance, without using the word energy, tell me what you know now about the dog’s motion.

Other standard explanations were just as hollow to Feynman. When someone told him that friction makes shoe leather wear out, his response was “Shoe leather wears out because it rubs against the sidewalk and the little notches and bumps on the sidewalk grab pieces and pull them off.” That is knowledge. To simply say, “It is because of friction,” is sad, because it is empty definition.

Always try to rephrase the problem in your words without using definitions. In another famous Feynman example, he was working with NASA engineers on a serious problem and they kept defining the problem as a “pressure-induced vorticity oscillatory wa-wa or something.” After considerable time and discussion had passed, a confused Feynman finally asked them if they were trying to describe a whistle? To his amazement they were. The problem they were trying to communicate to him exhibited the characteristics of a simple whistle. Once he understood what they were trying to do, he solved it instantly.

CHANGE THE WORDS. For every word a person uses, psychologists say there is a mediating response which provides the meaning of that concept for that individual. Just what the mediating responses are for all words is not known. Many times they may not be responses in the usual sense but all provide meaning of that concept for that individual. When you change the words in your problem statement, you initiate an unobservable process in your mind that may lead to a new thought or idea.

A few years back, Toyota asked employees for ideas on how they could become more productive. They received few suggestions. They reworded the question to: “How can you make your job easier?” They were inundated with ideas.

A simple change of words or the order of words in a problem statement will stimulate your
imagination by adding new dimensions of meaning. Consider the statement “Two hundred were killed out of six hundred,” as compared to “Four hundred were spared out of six hundred.”

Examine your problem statement, identify the key words, and change them five to ten times to see what results. One of the easiest words to change is the verb. Suppose you want to increase sales. Look at the changing perspectives as the verb is changed in the following:
In what ways might I increase sales?
In what ways might I attract sales?
In what ways might I develop sales?
In what ways might I extend sales?
In what ways might I repeat sales?
In what ways might I keep sales? Magnify sales? Restore sales? Target sales? Inspire sales? Cycle sales? Encourage sales? Grow sales? Copy sales? Complement sales? Acquire sales? Vary sales? Spotlight sales? Motivate sales? Prepare sales? Renew sales? Force sales? Organize sales? And so on.

PLAYING WITH VERBS AND NOUNS. Playing with verbs and nouns encourages you to think of perspectives that you would probably not think of spontaneously. Try changing the nouns into verbs and verbs into nouns in your problem statement. For example, a problem might be “How to sell more bottles ?” Changing the verbs into nouns and nouns into verbs makes this into “How to bottle more sales?” Bottling sales now suggests looking for ways to close sales, instead of ways to sell more bottles.

The problem “How to improve customer relations?” becomes “How to customize related improvements?” This new perspective leads one to consider customizing products and services for customers, customizing all relevant aspects of the customer relations department, and so on.

The problem “How to motivate employees?” becomes “How to employ motivated people?”

TRANSPOSE THE WORDS. One of Aristotle’s favorite ways to test a premise was what he called “convertibility.” He felt that if a premise were true than the negative premise should be convertible. For example, if every pleasure is good, some good must be pleasure. Sometimes changing the order of words in a problem statement will create a verbal-conceptual chain that may trigger a different perspective.

In the following illustration, words were arranged in two different series, “A” and “B,” and subjects were asked to solve certain situations. When “skyscraper” was listed first, subjects
tended to come up architectural concepts, and when “prayer” was transposed with “skyscraper” and listed first, it increased the likelihood of a religious direction.

SERIES A SERIES B
SKYSCRAPER PRAYER
PRAYER SKYSCRAPER
TEMPLE TEMPLE
CATHEDRAL CATHEDRAL

To change the order, transpose the words in your problem. Following are some examples:
In what ways might I get a promotion?
To: In what ways might I promote myself?
In what ways might I advertise my T-shirts?
In what ways might I use my T-shirts to advertise?
In what ways might I learn how to use the Internet?
In what ways might I use the Internet to learn more?

A very simple change in the way something is looked at can have a profound effect. One of the most effective medical discoveries of all time came about when Edward Jenner transposed his problem from why people got small pox to why dairymaids apparently did not. From the discovery that harmless cowpox gave protection against deadly smallpox came vaccination and the end of smallpox as a scourge in the western world.

POSITIVE ACTION STATEMENTS. In the Universe Within, Morton Hunt details experiments conducted by Herbert Clark at Stanford University that demonstrate how thinking positively facilitates and speeds up thinking. In the Figure below, are the statements true or false?


The square is above the plus =
+

+
The square is above the plus =

Notice how much longer it takes to reply to the false statement than to the true one. We instinctively assume statements are true. If they are, we do no further thinking and move on. If they are not true, we have to step back and revise our assumption, thus answering more slowly. It takes approximately a half-second or longer to verify denials than affirmations. We are programmed to think more easily about what is than what is not.

Read the following sentences, pausing briefly between them.
Should we allow gays to serve in the military?
Should we not allow gays to serve in the military?

Did you feel your mind slowing down to interpret the second statement? Negatives give us pause and slow down our thinking process. Suppose you misplaced your watch somewhere in your house. If you search for it and keep searching, you will eventually find it. This is a different perspective from “Did I misplace my watch in the house or did I misplace it somewhere else?” The belief that the watch is in the house speeds up your thinking and keeps you focused on your goal. Positive, active statements speed up our thinking and keep us focused on our goal. Try framing your problem statement as a positive action statement. A positive action statement has four parts:

1. THE ACTION. The thing you want to do.
2. THE OBJECT. A thing or person you want to change.
3. THE QUALIFIER. The kind of action change you want.
4. THE END RESULT. The result you expect to follow.

EXAMPLE: In what ways might I package (ACTION) my book (OBJECT) more appealingly (QUALIFIER) so that people will buy more (END RESULT).

This is a convenient way to transform your thoughts into words that will shape the kinds of action you need to take to solve the problem.

Michael Michalko
Email: mmichal1@rochester.rr.com
Website: http://www.creativethinking.net