Posts Tagged ‘creativity’

A LESSON IN CREATIVE THINKING FROM VINCENT VAN GOGH

INDIVIDUAL CREATIVITY

What would you think of someone who said, “I would like to have a cat provided it barked”?

The common desire to achieve or create great things provided it’s something that can be easily willed or wished is precisely equivalent. The principles of behavior that lead to great accomplishments are no less rigid than the biological principles that determine the characteristics of cats. Consider, for example, the life of Vincent Willem van Gogh.

He is generally considered to be one of history’s greatest artists and had a far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. His artistic accomplishments are not an accident, not a result of some easily magic trick or secret, but a consequence of his nature to work persistently on his art every day. He revered “the doing” in art. He wrote about his hard work many times to his brother Theo. In a letter he sent Theo in 1885 he stated that one can only improve by working on your art, and many people are more remarkably clever and talented than him, but what use is it if they do not work at it.

He did not begin painting until his late twenties, completing many of his best-known works during the last two years of his life. In the first years of his career, van Gogh displayed no natural talent. David Sweetman’s biography “Van Gogh: His Life and His Art” gives a detailed description of his intention to be an artist and his insatiable capacity for hard work to become one. He turned himself into an artist by acting like an artist and going through the motions by turning out mostly bad innumerable rough sketches, day and night. In Van Gogh’s own words he said, “In spite of everything I shall rise again and take up my pencil and draw and draw.”

He received mild encouragement from his cousin, Anton Mauve, who supplied him with his first set of watercolors. Mauve was a successful artist and gave Vincent some basic instructions in painting. Their relationship was short-lived, however, as Vincent was incapable of receiving criticism of his art from Mauve. Mauve even went to Vincent’s father and told him it would be better for Vincent to stop attempting to be an artist and find another occupation that better suited his talent. It was then that Vincent unveiled what art critics label as his first “masterpiece,” The Potato Eaters.

He turned himself into an artist by acting like an artist and going through the motions by turning out mostly bad innumerable rough sketches, day and night.

LESSON #1 STOP WAITING AND TAKE ACTION

The lesson about creative thinking I learned from Van Gogh is action. Just do it. Stop waiting and start working toward what you want. What we think, or what we know, or what we believe something is, in the end, of no consequence. The only consequence is what we actually do. In Van Gogh’s own words “Just slap anything on when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face like some imbecile. You don’t know how paralyzing that is, that stare of a blank canvas is, which says to the painter, “You can’t do a thing.” The canvas has an idiotic stare and mesmerizes some painters so much that they turn into idiots themselves. Many painters are afraid in front of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the real, passionate painter who dares and who has broken the spell of ‘you can’t’ once and for all by getting to work and painting.”

It was very difficult at times, but he believed nobody can do as he wishes in the beginning when you start but everything will be all right in the end. Each day he made every effort to improve because he knew making beautiful paintings meant painstaking work, disappointment and perseverance. In the end, Van Gogh produced 2000 works of art between 1880 and 1890 (1100 paintings and 900 sketches). That’s 4 works of art a week for a decade, and he didn’t start making art until his mid-twenties.

LESSON #2 COMMIT AND GO THROUGH THE MOTIONS

Van Gogh taught me to commit myself to a desire and go through the motions of working toward accomplishing it. His advice was if you do nothing, you are nothing. You must keep working and keep working come what may. Even when your final goal is not clear, the goal will become clearer and will emerge slowly but surely, much as the rough drawing turns into a sketch, and the sketch into a painting through the serious work done on it and through the elaboration of the original vague idea and through the consolidation of your fleeting and passing thoughts on it as you work.

Think of the first airplane. On December 8, 1903, Samuel Pierpont Langley, a leading government-funded scientist, launched with much fanfare his flying machine on the Potomac. It plummeted into the river. Nine days later, Orville and Wilbur got the first plane off the ground. Why did these bicycle mechanics succeed when a famous scientist failed? It was because Langley did the mental work and hired other people to build and execute his intellectual design for him.

LESSON #3 DO YOUR OWN WORK

The Wright brothers did their own work. When they were working and producing creative ideas and products they were replenishing neurotransmitters which are linked to genes that are being turned on and turned off in response to what the brain is doing, which in turn is responding to challenges. When they constantly worked on their idea and learned through trial and error, they were energizing their brains by increasing the number of contacts between neurons. The more times they act, the longer they worked the more active their brains became and the more creative they became.

Their creative brains made them aware of the range of many potentials for each adjustment they built into their design. Their personal observations of the many alternative potentials led them to constantly change and modify their ideas that created the airplane.

When they constantly worked on their idea and learned through trial and error, they were energizing their brains by increasing the number of contacts between neurons.

I like to metaphorically compare working toward a desired goal such the goals of Van Gogh and the Wright brothers to weight lifting.  If you want to build muscles you lift weights. If the weight is heavy enough it’s going to damage the muscles. That damage creates a chemical cascade and reaches into the nuclei of your muscle cells, and turns on genes that make proteins and build up muscle fibers. Those genes are only turned on in response to some environmental challenge. That’s why you’ve got to keep lifting heavier and heavier weights. The phrase, “No pain no gain,” is literally true in this case. Interaction with the environment turns on certain genes which otherwise wouldn’t be turned on; in fact, they will be turned off if certain challenges aren’t being faced.

LESSON #4 DON’T WAIT FOR PERFECT MOMENTS

Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what. Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful. We are what we repeatedly do.

START NOW

To get a feel for how powerful the simple act of just starting something creative and working on it is, try the following thought experiment.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Take out a sheet of paper and at least ten items, money, credit cards, keys, coins, etc. Your task is to create an assemblage that metaphorically represents you.

Here are the guidelines:

1.         In your mind, imagine an assemblage that metaphorically represents you. Do not think about the materials you have in hand. Instead think about the shape you would like your assemblage to have. What are the rhythms you want? The texture? Where would you want it to be active? Passive? Where do things overlap and where are they isolated? Think in general and overall pictures, and leave out the details. Do not think about great art; just think about who you are and what how you can represent yourself metaphorically.

2.         Now form a more specific idea of the final assemblage. As you look at the paper, imagine the specific assemblage you want to create. Make sure you’ve formed this image before you move to the next step.

3.         Place the items on the paper. Since the composing stage is already done, it’s time to bring your creation into physical existence. How closely did it come to your conception? Become a critic for the assemblage. Look at it for its own sake, independent of the fact that you have created it. Take the items off and go through the same procedures. Make the assemblage again.

4.         By conceptualizing and using materials you had on hand, you created an artistic assemblage from nothing.

5.         If you performed this exercise every day with different objects for five to ten straight days you will find yourself becoming an artist who specializes in rearranging unrelated objects into art. It is the activity that turns on the synaptic transmissions in your brain that turn on the genes that are linked to what you are doing, which is responding to an environmental challenge (i.e., the making of an assemblage).

Michael Michalko

HOW WOULD A CHILD SOLVE YOUR PROBLEM?

Because our perceptual positions determine how we view things, it’s important to learn how to shift our perspective to look at our subject in different ways. One way to shift perception is to try and look at the subject from someone else’s perspective. Soren Kierkegaard, the nineteenth century Danish philosopher, called this kind of thinking the “rotation” method .” He was thinking of crops while simultaneously thinking about perspective. You can’t grow corn indefinitely on the same field; at some point, to refresh the soil, you have to plant hay.  Similarly, to grow a different perspective, it’s helpful to adopt a different role to expand your creative consciousness toward your problem.

All of us with a little thought can come up with easy ways to change our perspectives by adopting a different role. My friend 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.

Peggy invited me to discuss the problem with her teachers. I talked about perception and how we see no more than what we expect to see. My message was that if you change the way you look at the problem, the nature of the problem will change. I dimmed the lights and asked them to do a little exercise. The exercise I had them perform was to think back in time to when they were the same age as their students.

They thought of their life experiences, pictured their parents, friends and relatives as they looked then. They began remembering all sorts of past friends, and, importantly, how they really felt at the time about the world. The more they remembered the more they felt like young school girls. After a few minutes, they became aware of random thoughts and images from years ago

They had a ball remembering those days. One teacher 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 having to pay for water. Once the students heard the rumor, they refused to eat the pizza.

Suddenly Peggy got an insight from the teacher’s story. She said “That’s it!” What rumor can we start that will stop the girls from kissing the mirrors? They came up with several and eventually agreed upon one. After conspiring with the janitor, Peggy invited a group of 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. The students were appalled. They immediately told all their friends that the janitor was using toilet water to clean the mirrors. Changing the teacher’s perspective of the problem from an adult to a young girl introduced a clever solution to the problem that they probably could not have discovered using their usual way of thinking. 

Michael Michalko


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THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FAILURE

There is no such thing as failure. Failure is only a word that human beings use to judge a given situation. The artificial judgments of failure only keep you from trying something and erring or making a mistake. Yet those mistakes and errors are the way we learn and the way we grow.

Whenever we attempt to do something and fail, we end up doing something else or producing something else. You have not failed; you have produced some other result. The two most important questions to ask are: “What have I learned?” and “What have I done?”

B.F. Skinner advised people that when you are working on something and find something interesting, drop everything else and study it. In fact, he emphasized this as a first principle of scientific methodology. This is what William Shockley and a multi-discipline Bell labs team did. They were formed to invent the MOS transistor and ended up instead with the junction transistor and the new science of semiconductor physics. These developments eventually led to the MOS transistor and then to the integrated circuit and to new breakthroughs in electronics and computers. William Shockley described it as a process of creative failure methodology.

Richard Feynman, a Nobel Laureate physicist, had an interesting practical test that he applied when reaching a judgment about a failed idea: for example, did it explain something unrelated to the original problem. E.g., What can you explain that you didn’t set out to explain? And, What did you discover that you didn’t set out to discover? In 1938, 27 year old Roy Plunkett set out to invent a new refrigerant. Instead, he created a glob of white waxy material that conducted heat and did not stick to surfaces. Fascinated by this unexpected material, he abandoned his original line of research and experimented with this interesting material, which eventually became known by its household name, Teflon.

Failures, mistakes and errors are the way we learn and the way we grow. Many of the world’s greatest successes have learned how to fail their way to success. Some of the more famous are:

Albert Einstein: Most of us take Einstein’s name as synonymous with genius, but he didn’t always show such promise. Einstein did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social. Eventually, he was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. He attended a trade school for one year and was finally admitted to the University. He was the only one of his graduating class unable to get a teaching position because no professor would recommend him. One professor labeled him as the laziest dog they ever had in the university. The only job he was able to get was an entry-level position in a government patent office.

Robert Goddard: Goddard today is hailed for his research and experimentation with liquid-fueled rockets, but during his lifetime his ideas were often rejected and mocked by his scientific peers who thought they were outrageous and impossible. The New York Times once reported that Goddard seemed to lack a high school student’s basic understanding of rocketry. Today rockets and space travel don’t seem far-fetched at all, due largely in part to the work of this scientist who worked against the feelings of the time.

Abraham Lincoln: While today he is remembered as one of the greatest leaders of our nation, Lincoln’s life wasn’t so easy. In his youth he went to war a captain and returned a private (if you’re not familiar with military ranks, just know that private is as low as it goes.) Lincoln didn’t stop failing there, however. He started numerous failed businesses, went bankrupt twice and was defeated in 26 campaigns he made for public office.

J. K. Rowling: Rowling may be rolling in a lot of Harry Potter dough today, but before she published the series of novels, she was nearly penniless, severely depressed, divorced, trying to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel. Rowling went from depending on welfare to survive to being one of the richest women in the world in a span of only five years through her hard work and determination.

Walt Disney: Today Disney rakes in billions from merchandise, movies and theme parks around the world, but Walt Disney had many personal failures. He was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” After that, Disney started a number of businesses that didn’t last too long and ended with bankruptcy and failure. He kept trying and learning, however, and eventually found a recipe for success that worked.

Harland David Sanders: Perhaps better known as Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, Sanders had a hard time selling his chicken at first. In fact, his famous secret chicken recipe was rejected 1,009 times before a restaurant accepted it. He learned not to fear rejection and persevered.

Thomas Edison: In his early years, teachers told Edison he was “too stupid to learn anything.” Work was no better, as he was fired from his first two jobs for not being productive enough. Even as an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. One day, an assistant asked him why he didn’t give up. After all, he failed over a thousand times. Edison replied that he had not failed once. He had discovered over 1000 things that don’t work.

Ludwig van Beethoven: In his formative years, young Beethoven was incredibly awkward on the violin and was often so busy working on his own compositions that he neglected to practice. Despite his love of composing, his teachers felt he was hopeless at it and would never succeed with the violin or in composing. In fact, his music teacher told his parents he was too stupid to be a music composer.

Stephen King: The first book by this author, the iconic thriller Carrie, received 30 rejections, finally causing King to give up and throw it in the trash. His wife fished it out and encouraged him to resubmit it, and the rest is history, with King now having hundreds of books published and the distinction of being one of the best-selling authors of all time.

Bill Gates: Gates didn’t seem destined for success after dropping out of Harvard. He started a business with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen called Traf-O-Data. While this early idea for a business failed miserably, Gates did not despair and give up. Instead he learned much from the failure and later created the global empire that is Microsoft.

Henry Ford: While Ford is today known for his innovative assembly line and American-made cars, he wasn’t an instant success. In fact, his early businesses failed and left him broke five times. He was advised by countless people not to get into the manufacturing of automobiles because he had neither the capital or know how.

F. W. Woolworth: Some may not know this name today, but Woolworth was once one of the biggest names in department stores in the U.S. Before starting his own business, young Woolworth worked at a dry goods store and was not allowed to wait on customers because his boss said he lacked the sense needed to do so. Woolworth also had many ideas of how to market dry goods – all of which were rejected by his boss. He quit and marketing ideas became the foundation of his phenomenal retail success with his own stores.

Akio Morita: You may not have heard of Morita but you’ve undoubtedly heard of his company, Sony. Sony’s first product was a rice cooker that unfortunately didn’t cook rice so much as burn it, selling less than 100 units. The rice cooker was the object of scorn and laughter by the business community. This did not discourage Morita and his partners as they pushed forward to create a multi-billion-dollar company.

Orville and Wilbur Wright: These brothers battled depression and family illness before starting the bicycle shop that would lead them to experimenting with flight. They were competing against the best engineering and scientific minds in America at the time, who were all well financed and supported by the government and capital investors to make the first airplane. After numerous attempts at creating flying machines, several years of hard work, and tons of failed prototypes, the brothers finally created a plane that could get airborne and stay there.

Vincent Van Gogh: During his lifetime, Van Gogh sold only one painting, and this was to a friend and only for a very small amount of money. While Van Gogh was never a success during his life, he plugged on with painting, sometimes starving to complete his over 800 known works. Today, they bring in hundreds of millions of dollars each.

Fred Astaire: In his first screen test, the testing director of MGM noted that Astaire “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Not handsome. Can dance a little.” Astaire went on to become an incredibly successful actor, singer and dancer and kept that note in his Beverly Hills home to remind him of where he came from.

Steven Spielberg: While today Spielberg’s name is synonymous with big budget, he was rejected from the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television three times. He eventually attended school at another location, only to drop out to become a director before finishing. Thirty-five years after starting his degree, Spielberg returned to school in 2002 to finally complete his work and earn his BA.

Charles Darwin was chastised by his father for being lazy and too dreamy. Darwin himself once wrote that his father and teachers considered him rather below the common standard of intellect. When Charles Darwin first presented his research on evolution, it was met with little enthusiasm. He continued to work on his theory of evolution when all of his colleagues called him a fool and what he was doing “a fool’s experiment.”

Jack Canfield was rejected 144 times before he found a publisher for his book, Chicken Soup for the Soul. When Jack told the publisher he wanted to sell 1.5 million books in the first 18 months, the publisher laughed and said he’d be lucky to sell 20,000. That first book sold more than 8 million copies in America and 10 million copies around the world. Canfield’s book brand is now a $1 Billion brand.

The artist genius of the ages is Michelangelo. His competitors once tried to set him up for failure or force him to forgo a commission because of the possibility of failure. Michelangelo’s competitors persuaded Junius II to assign to him a relatively obscure and difficult project. It was to fresco the ceiling of a private chapel. The chapel had already been copiously decorated with frescoes by many talented artists. Michelangelo would be commissioned to decorate the tunnel-vaulted ceiling. In this way, his rivals thought they would divert his energies from sculpture, in which they realized he was supreme. This, they argued, would make things hopeless for him, since he had no experience in fresco, he would certainly, they believed, do amateurish work as a painter. Without doubt, they thought, he would be compared unfavorably with Raphael, and even if the work were a success, being forced to do it would make him angry with the Pope, and thus one way or another they would succeed in their purpose of getting rid of him.

Michelangelo, protesting that painting was not his art, still took on the project. In every way it was a challenging task. He had never used color, nor had he painted in fresco. He executed the frescos in great discomfort, having to work with his face looking upwards, which impaired his sight so badly that he could not read or look at drawings save with his head turned backwards, and this lasted for several months. In that awkward curved space, Michelangelo managed to depict the history of the Earth from the Creation to Noah, surrounded by ancestors and prophets of Jesus and finally revealing the liberation of the soul. His enemies had stage managed the masterpiece that quickly established him as the artist genius of the age. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. . . . . .

Take one of your failed ideas and use the technique described in ThinkPak to elaborate and modify it into something new. Amaze yourself.

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HOW TO EASILY INCREASE THE NUMBER OF IDEAS YOU GET

QUOTA

Imagine a pearl diver on an island in the South Seas. He pushes his canoe off from shore, paddles out into the lagoon, dives deep into the water, picks an oyster off the bottom, surfaces, climbs into his boat, paddles to shore, and opens the shell. Finding nothing inside but an oyster, he pushes his canoe off again, and begins paddling into the lagoon.

What an incredible waste of time. The reasonable thing to do is not to paddle back to shore with one oyster, but to dive again and again, to fill up the canoe with oysters and then return to shore. Pearls are rare—a diver must open many oysters before finding one. Only a foolish person would waste time and energy making a separate trip for each oyster. It’s the same with producing ideas. Many times we’ll produce one or two ideas and proceed as if they are the answer. But creative ideas, like pearls, occur infrequently. So the sensible thing to do is to produce many ideas before we evaluate. Just as a good idea may stop you from going on to discover a great one, a great idea may stop you from discovering the right one.

Many times we work hard, but don’t work creatively. We ask the same question, we peruse the same data. Inevitably that leads to generating similar ideas. Increasing your idea production requires conscious effort.

Suppose I asked you to come up with ideas for the alternative uses for the common brick. No doubt, you would come up with some, but my hunch is not very many. The average adult comes up with three to six ideas. However, if I gave you a quota (50 ideas) and time limit your energy will be focused in a competitive way that guarantees fluency of and flexibility of thought.

To meet the quota, at first you find yourself listing all the usual uses for a brick (e.g., build a wall, fireplace, outdoor barbeque, and so on) as well as listing everything that comes to mind

(e.g., anchor, projectiles in riots, ballast, device to hold down newspaper, a tool for leveling dirt, material for sculptures, doorstop, nut cracker, sharpening stone and so on). Finally, to meet your quota you will exert extra effort which allows you to generate more imaginative alternatives than you otherwise would (e.g., use as a trivet to keep hot pots off the counter, hide a spare key in a brick in your garden, pencil holder, fish tank decoration for fish to swim around and through, paste book covers on bricks and use as bookends, a water saver by putting a brick the back of a toilet to lower the amount of water when you flush.

Initial ideas are usually poorer in quality than later ideas. Just as water must run from a faucet for a while to be crystal clear, cool and free of particles, so thought must flow before it becomes creative. Early ideas are usually not true ideas. Exactly why this is so is not known, but one hypothesis is that familiar and safe responses lie closest to the surface of our consciousness and therefore are naturally thought of first. Creative thinking depends on continuing the flow of ideas long enough to purge the common, habitual ones and produce the unusual and imaginative.

LIST YOUR IDEAS. When you give yourself a quota, you force yourself to list your ideas as well. Leonardo da Vinci had a mania for listing and cataloging his thoughts in little notebooks that he carried everywhere. The thousands of pages of lists that he made constitute the raw material for a huge encyclopedia on creativity. A habit to consciously cultivate is to always write or list your ideas when brainstorming. List-making will help you permanently capture your thoughts and ideas, speed up your thinking, will keep you focused, and will force your mind to dwell upon alternatives.

QUOTA. Thomas Edison guaranteed productivity by giving himself and his assistants idea quotas. His own personal quota was one minor invention every 10 days and a major invention every six months. A way to guarantee productivity of your creative thought is to give yourself an idea quota. For example, an idea quota of 40 ideas if you’re looking for ideas alone or a quota of 120 ideas if a group is brainstorming for ideas. By forcing yourself to come up with 40 ideas, you put your internal critic on hold and write everything down, including the obvious and weak. The first third will be the same-old, same-old ideas you always get. The second third will be more interesting and the last third will show more insight, curiosity and complexity.

Michael Michalko

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THE IMPORTANCE OF PERCEPTION AND PATTERN RECOGNITION SKILLS IN CREATIVE THINKING

NYC

Cognitive scientists understand the importance of perception and pattern recognition as a major component of creative thinking.  When you are committed and start to actively work on a problem that you are passionate about, you will start to notice more and more things that relate to what you are working on. With an infinite amount of stimuli constantly hitting our brains, we need the ability to filter that which is most relevant to us. And our mind is that filter. Often these connections can seem like coincidences, but cognitive scientists tell us it is simply that part of our brain that screens out information we are not interested in and focuses on the things that we can use. These connections give you different ways to look at information and different ways to focus on it.

George de Mestral was inspired to improve the zipper. He thought about the essence of zippers which is to fasten two separate pieces of fabric together. His question became “How do things fasten?” He became committed to the idea of inventing a better fastener and spent considerable time pondering how things fasten in other domains including nature.

One day when George was hunting birds with his Irish pointer, he traveled through some burdock thistles. The prickly seed burrs from the plants clung to his clothing and to his dog. While pulling off the burrs he noticed how they were removable yet easily reattached.

The burdock fascinated George and he imagined a fastener that mimicked a burdock. He studied the burrs under a microscope and discovered a hook system used by the burdock plant to migrate its seeds by attachment. The hooks could grab onto loops of thread or fur and migrate with the object it fastened itself to. This gave him the idea of creating a hook and loop fastener.

It was not logic that guided his thinking process but perception and pattern recognition between two totally unrelated subjects: zippers and burdocks. Logic dictates that burdocks are animate plants and zippers are inanimate manmade objects that are totally unrelated and, therefore, any relationship between the two is to be excluded. It was George’s creative perception, not logic, that recognized the common factor between a burdock and a zipper that fastens, not logic.

George envisioned two fabrics that could attach in this manner with one having a surface covered with minuscule hooks and another with hoops. Most of the experts he visited did not believe hooks could be created on the surface of fabric. However, he found a weaver at a textile plant that was willing to work with him. George discovered that a multifilament yarn weaved from velvet or cotton terry cloth created a surface of hooped threads. To create hooks, George would partially cut the hoops so they would become hooks. There was a great deal of experimentation to get the right density, thread sizes and rigidity. He eventually weaved the hook-side yarn from nylon and invented Velcro.

AN EXERCISE TO TEST YOUR CREATIVE PERCEPTION

Russian computer scientist, Mikhail Bongard, created a  remarkable set of visual pattern recognition problems to test one’s creative perception. The Bongard problems present two sets of relatively simple diagrams, say A and B. All the diagrams from set A have a common factor or attribute, which is lacking in all the diagrams of set B. The problem is to find, or to formulate, convincingly, the common   factor.

Below is an example of a Bongard problem. Test your perception and pattern recognition skills and try to solve the problem.   You have two classes of figures (A and B).  You are asked to discover some abstract connection that links all the various diagrams in A and that   distinguishes them from all the other diagrams in group B.

.EX.BONGARD (2) (1024x1024)

One has to take chances that certain aspects of a given diagram matter, and others are irrelevant.  Perhaps shapes count, but not sizes — or vice versa.  Perhaps orientations count, but not sizes — or vice versa.  Perhaps curvature or its lack counts, but not location inside the box — or vice versa.  Perhaps numbers of objects but not their types matter — or vice versa.  Which types of features will wind up mattering and which are mere distracters.  As you try to solve the problem, you will find the essence of your mental activity is a complex interweaving of acts of abstraction and comparison, all of which involve guesswork rather than certainty.  By guesswork I mean that one has to take a chance that certain aspects matter and others do not.

Logic dictates that the essence of perception is the activity of dividing a complex scene into its separate constituent objects and attaching separate labels to the now separated parts of pre-established categories, such as ovals, Xs and circles as unrelated exclusive events.  Then we’re taught to think exclusively within a closed system of hard logic.

In the above patterns, if you were able to discern the distinction between the diagrams, your perception is what found the distinction, not logic.  The distinction is the ovals are all pointing to the X in the A group, and the ovals area all pointing at the circles in the B group.

The following thought experiment is an even more difficult problem, because you are no longer dealing with recognizable shapes such as ovals, Xs, circles or other easily recognizable structures for which we have clear representations.  To solve this, you need to perceive subjectively and intuitively, make abstract connections, much like Einstein thought when he thought about the similarities and   differences between the patterns of space and time, and you need to consider the overall context of the problem.

BONGARD.DOT.NECK

A                                                        B

Again, you have two classes of figures (A and B) in the Bongard problem.  You are asked to discover some abstract connection that links all the various diagrams in A and that distinguishes them from all the other diagrams in group B.

SCROLL DOWN FOR ANSWER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANSWER: The rule is the “dots” in A are on the same side of the neck.

 

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PROVOKE NEW IDEAS BY REVERSING YOUR PERSPECTIVE AND CONSIDERING THE OPPOSITE

 

Read the following essay from the top down.LOST GENERATION

Now reverse the way you read it and read it starting at the bottom and read up. Reading the words one way and then reversing the way you read the same words produces two contradictory viewpoints. Reversals break your existing patterns of thought and provoke new ones. You take things as they are and then turn them around, inside out, upside down, and back to front to see what happens.

In the illustration, Figure A shows two lines of equal length bounded by arrow-like angles. In Figure B, the arrow-like angles are reversed on one of the lines, which changes our perception and creates the illusion of the line being shorter. It’s not shorter, measure it and you will find it is still equal in length. The lines haven’t changed, your perception of them has.

4 lines.illus.1

In figure A the angles at the end of the lines seem to open up a potentially limited space. Reversing the angle seems to close off and limit the area, which changes your perception of the length of the lines.

A simple reversal of angles dramatically changes what we see in the illustration. The same perceptual changes occur when we reverse our conventional thinking patterns about problems and situations. When Henry Ford went into the automobile business, the conventional thinking was that you had to “bring people to the work.” He reversed this to “bring the work to the people” and accomplished this by inventing the assembly line. When Al Sloan became CEO of General Motors, the common assumption was that people had to pay for a car before they drove it. He reversed this to you can drive the car before you pay for it and, to accomplish this, he pioneered the idea of installment buying.

Years back, chemists had great difficulty putting a pleasant-tasting coating on aspirin tablets. Dipping tablets led to uneven and lumpy coats. They were stumped until they reversed their thinking. Instead of looking for ways to put something “on” the aspirin, they looked for ways to take something “off” the aspirin. This reversal led to one of the newer techniques for coating pills. The pills are immersed in a liquid which is passed onto a spinning disk. The centrifugal force on the fluid and the pills causes the two to separate, leaving a nice, even coating around the pill.

Mathematician-philosopher, Bertrand Russell, once astounded his colleagues by demonstrating that in mathematical argument, every alternative leads to its opposite. You can provoke new ideas by considering the opposite of any subject or action. When bioengineers were looking for ways to improve the tomato, they identified the gene in tomatoes that ripens tomatoes. They thought that if the gene hastens ripening  maybe they could use the gene to slow down the process by reversing it. They copied the gene, put it in backwards and now the gene slows down ripening, making vine ripened tomatoes possible in winter.

Peter Juroszek at the University of Bonn in Germany discovered the opposite of daylight farming and initiated nighttime farming. He found that strips of land ploughed at night grow five times fewer weeds. Wheat fields in particular grow so few weeds when night farming that pesticides are unnecessary. The seeds of most weeds need light for germination to begin, whereas the seeds of most crops can grow in complete darkness.

Reversal is the strategy used to develop Pringles potato chips. Potato chips were packaged dry in bags with a lot of air to prevent breakage. What would happen if you packaged chips while they were wet? This inspired them to think of raking leaves in the fall. Shoving dry leaves into bags is difficult; but when the leaves are wet they are soft and formable. A wet leaf conforms to the shape of its neighbor with little air between them. This was the analogy that inspired the idea. By wetting and forming dried potato flour, the packaging problem was solved and Pringles got its start.

CAN A BOOK BECOME A TREE?

Any particular thought will arouse the notion of its opposite by simply by reversing it. Then try to work the reversal into a practical, profitable idea. A publisher mused about the impact cutting down trees has on the environment and the future of the planet. A tree is cut down and the wood is made into paper which the publisher uses to print and sell books. He thought a tree becomes a book. He reversed this thought to “A book becomes a tree.”

IDEA: The project the publisher decided to pursue is to create storybooks that can be planted, and will grow back into trees. Hand stitched copies of children’s storybooks are made from recycled acid-free paper and biodegradable inks and the cover is embedded with native tree seeds.

The books are aimed at children aged 6-12 who, after reading, can plant the book and watch and nurture the tree as it grows. Each copy comes with planting instructions. The child is also urged to form a relationship with the tree by giving it a name. The publisher is also planning to have the book displayed in bookshops, where it can be seen visibly germinating.

In this case, the impossibility of growing books as plants revealed the interesting thought of planting books as seeds for trees. Imagine the joy of children as they realize the ecological importance of contributing to the welfare of the planet by planting a book after they have finished reading it and watch it become a tree. They will nurture the tree and watch it grow over the years of their childhood.

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Reversal is one of the many creative-thinking techniques creative geniuses, throughout history, used that enabled them to change their perspective to look at the same thing as everybody else and see something different.

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An Interview with Michael Michalko about his book: Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work

Children are naturally creative. Why do so many lose that talent as they grow older?

We were all born spontaneous and creative. Every one of us. As children we accepted all things equally. We embraced all kinds of outlandish possibilities for all kinds of things. When we were children we knew a box was much more than a container. A box could be a fort, a car, a tank, a cave, a house, something to draw on, and even a space helmet. Our imaginations were not structured according to some existing concept or category. We did not strive to eliminate possibilities, we strove to expand them. We were all amazingly creative and always filled with the joy of exploring different ways of thinking.

And then something happened to us, we went to school. We were not taught how to think, we were taught to reproduce what past thinkers thought. When confronted with a problem, we were taught to analytically select the most promising approach based on past history, excluding all other approaches, and then to work logically within a carefully defined direction towards a solution. Instead of being taught to look for possibilities, we were taught to look for ways to exclude them. It’s as if we entered school as a question mark and graduated as a period.

When you have a really tough challenge and can’t see the answer, what is your favorite technique for unlocking your brain?

When I am stonewalled, I just start typing “O peaceful gloom shrouding the earth” over and over and over.  Eventually, typing this phrase over and over unlocks something in my brain and the ideas start flowing.  It’s going through the motions of writing that un-sticks my mind.

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 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 a juggling act in which whirling plates are balanced on top of long thin sticks.

Many novice monks are not very emotionally or spiritually involved at first.  It may be that the novice is thinking about his family, his doubts about a religious vocation or something else while he is going through the motions of spinning his prayer wheel.  When the novice adopts the pose of a monk, and makes it obvious to himself and to others by playing a role, the brain will soon follow the role they are playing.  It is not enough for the novice to have the intention of becoming a monk: the novice must act like a monk and rotate the prayer wheels.  If one has the intention of becoming a monk and goes through the motions of acting like a monk, one will become a monk.

If you want to be an artist, and if all you did was paint a picture every day, you will become an artist.  You may not become another Vincent van Gogh, but you will become more of an artist than someone who has never tried.

What makes a genius a genius? 

Geniuses do not get their breakthrough ideas because they are more intelligent, better educated, more experienced, or because creativity is genetically determined. University of California Professor Dean Keith Simonton  observed that creative thinking demands the ability to make novel combinations. If you examine most any idea, you will discover that the majority of ideas are created by combining two or more different elements into something different. Simonton’s conclusion about genius is “Geniuses are geniuses because they form more novel combinations than the merely talented.”

You talk about incubating thinking. What does that mean and how do we do it?

Incubation makes use of subconscious processing of information. It usually involves setting a problem aside for a few hours, days, or weeks and moving on to other projects. This allows the subconscious to continue to work on the original challenge. The more interested you are in solving the challenge, the more likely your subconscious will generate ideas.

Henri Poincare, the French genius, spoke of incredible ideas and insights that came to him with suddenness and immediate certainty out of the blue. So dramatic are the ideas that arrive that the precise moment in which the idea arrived can be remembered in unusual detail. Charles Darwin could point to the exact spot on a road where he arrived at the solution for the origin of species while riding in his carriage and not thinking about his subject. Other geniuses offer similar experiences. Like a sudden flash of lightning, ideas and solutions seemingly appear out of nowhere.

Modern science recognizes this phenomenon of incubation and insight yet cannot account for why it occurs. That this is a commonplace phenomenon was shown in a survey of distinguished scientists conducted over a half-century ago. A majority of the scientists reported that they got their best ideas and insights when not thinking about the problem.

Our conscious minds are sometimes blocked from creating new ideas because we are too fixated. When we discontinue work on the problem for a period of time, our fixation fades, allowing our subconscious minds to freely create new possibilities. This is what happened to Nobel laureate Melvin Calvin. While idly sitting in his car waiting for his wife to complete an errand, he found the answer to a puzzling inconsistency in his research on photosynthesis. It occurred just like that, quite suddenly, and suddenly in a matter of seconds the path of carbon became apparent to him.

Ideas came while walking, recreating, or working on some other unrelated problem. This suggests how the creative act came to be associated with divine inspiration—the illumination appears to be involuntary.

What do you know about creative thinking today that you wished you knew twenty years ago?

That creativity is a phenomena that results from a certain combination of relationships. This combination includes the principles of intention, belief, attitude, behavior, language, knowing how to change the way you look at things, knowing how to think in different ways and learning how to think inclusively without the prejudices of logic. We’ve been schooled to think of them all as separate and distinct entities so they can be described and explained. Despite the apparent separateness of these at this level, they are all a seamless extension of each other and ultimately blend into each other.

When you look at nature, contents aren’t contained anywhere but are revealed only by the dynamics. What matters to nature are the ways relationships interact, the way they cooperate and combine to form coherent patterns. In nature form and content are inextricably connected and can’t be separated. The healthy pattern of trees bending in concert creates harmony and beauty, whereas, an unhealthy pattern is destructive and ugly. With the trees, it is the combination of relationships between the wind, rain, roots and soil that forms the healthy or unhealthy relationships. With people, it is a common body of human behaviors and generalized principles from which patterns blend together to create the person.

Like nature, the contents of creative genius aren’t contained anywhere but also are revealed by the dynamics. When you look at the behaviors of creative geniuses throughout the history of the world, you will find that, like the patterns of nature, the form and contents of their behaviors are inextricably connected and can’t be separated. Creators have the intention to create, and act and speak in a positive and joyful manner. Creators look at what is and what can be instead of what is not. Instead of excluding possibilities, creators consider all possibilities, both real and imagined. Creators interpret experiences for themselves and disregard the interpretations of past thinkers. Creators learn how to look at things in different ways and use different ways of thinking. And most importantly, creators are creative because they believe they are creative and have the intention to create

Describe strategies you apply in your daily life to make it more creative.

THOUGHT WALKS.  I like to take walks around my home or workplace and the surrounding grounds. I look for objects, situations or events that you I can compare with whatever project II happen to be working on. For example, suppose your problem is how to improve communications in your company. You take a walk and notice potholes in the road. How are “potholes” like your corporate communication problem? For one thing, if potholes are not repaired, they get bigger and more dangerous. Usually road crews are assigned to repair the potholes. Similarly, unless something is done to improve corporate communications, it’s likely to deteriorate even further. An idea with a similar relation to “road crews” is to assign someone in the organization to fill the role of “communications coach.” The role would entail educating, encouraging, and supporting communication skills in all employees. And just as road crews are rotated, you can rotate the assignment every six months.

I also deliberately program changes into my daily life. I make a list of things I do by habit (little things that make life comfortable but also make it unnecessary to think. Then I take the habits, one by one, and consciously change them for a day or so. Examples are:

  • Take a different route to work.
    •    Watch a different news channel.
    •    Read a different newspaper. Read foreign newspapers.
    •    Listen to a different radio station. Listen to the BBC.
    •    Change recreations. Instead of golf, try boating.
    •    Spend a full day away from all communication technology (telephone, cell, computer, radio, television, and so on).
    •    Play word games. Take a short word and expand it into several sentences using each letter of the word as the first word of each letter of each sentence. Example: The word is “Damn.” Some sentences are “Do airplanes make noise?” “Dottie ate many nuts.”
    •    Another word game I play is to describe what I’m thinking or feeling in exactly six words. Examples:
    o    “Boy if I had another year.”
    o    “Never should have bought this computer.”
    o    ”I can still create novel ideas.”
    •    Change your reading habits. Instead of nonfiction. Read fiction. Tabloids, comics, poetry,
    the bible, Koran, scientology tracts.

    When choosing from an array of creative-thinking techniques, how does one know which technique is appropriate for a certain type of problem?

    All art is a reaction to the first line drawn. No art is created until the artist draws the first line. It is same with creative thinking. Nothing happens until you start thinking. Rather than waiting until you feel in the mood or you feel comfortable with a particular technique, just start working. You may end up using one technique or a combination of several or even a technique you make up. The key is that the techniques will get you thinking fluently and flexibly which will change the way you look at the problem.

    You recommend that we relentlessly keep notes about our ideas, observations, and creative attempts. And that we record information about all the ideas, concepts and problems we are working on. How does one establish the discipline of systematically keeping notes like creative geniuses, such as Edison? What is your secret to consistently doing it?

    The secret is that it is no secret. Make it a habit to keep the written record of your creativity attempts in a notebook, on file cards or in your computer. A record not only guarantees that the thoughts and ideas will last, since they are committed to paper or computer files, but will inspire you into other thoughts and ideas.

    The simple act of recording his ideas enabled Leonardo da Vinci to dwell on his ideas and improve them over time by elaborating on them. Thus, Leonardo was able to take simple concepts and work them into incredibly complex inventions that were years ahead of their time, such as the helicopter, the bicycle, and the diving suit.

    Following Leonardo’s example, Edison relentlessly recorded and illustrated every step of his voyage to discovery in his 3,500 notebooks that were discovered after his death in 1931. His notebooks got him into habits. They enabled him to cross-fertilize ideas, techniques, and conceptual models by transferring them from one problem to the next.

    •    For example, when it became clear in 1900 that an iron-ore mining venture in which Edison was financially committed was failing and on the brink of bankruptcy, he spent a weekend poring over his notebooks and came up with a detailed plan to redirect the company’s efforts toward the manufacture of Portland cement, which could capitalize on the same model of the iron ore company.

    Whenever he succeeded with a new idea, Edison would review his notebooks to rethink ideas and inventions he’d abandoned in the past in the light of what he’d recently learned. If he was mentally blocked working on a new idea, he would review his notebooks to see if there was some thought or insight that could trigger a new approach.

    •    For example, Edison took his unsuccessful work to develop an undersea telegraph cable variable resistance and incorporated it into the design of a telephone transmitter that adapted to the changing sound waves of the caller’s voice. This technique instantly became the industry standard.

    Edison would often jot down his observations of the natural world, failed patents and research papers written by other inventors, and ideas others had come up with in other fields. He would also routinely comb a wide variety of diverse publications for novel ideas that sparked his interest and record them in his notebooks. He made it a habit to keep a lookout for novel and interesting ideas that others have used successfully on other problems in other fields. To Edison, your idea needs to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you’re working on.

    Edison also studied his notebooks of past inventions and ideas to use as springboards for other inventions and ideas in their own right. To Edison, his diagrams and notes on the telephone (sounds transmitted) suggested the phonograph (sounds recorded), which notes and diagrams, in turn, suggested motion pictures (images recorded).

    Simple, in retrospect, isn’t it? Genius usually is.

THINKERING.KUDOS.abrev.

MICHAEL MICHALKO is the author of  the best-seller Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), which the Wall Street Journal reported “will change the way you think.” He is also the author of Cracking Creativity (The Secrets of Creative Geniuses) which describes the common thinking strategies creative geniuses have used in the  sciences, art, and industry throughout history and shows how we can apply them to become more creative in our business and personal lives. In addition, he created Thinkpak (A Brainstorming Card Set), which is a novel creative-thinking tool that is designed to facilitate brainstorming sessions. Michael’s most recent book Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work focuses on how creative geniuses combine and conceptually blend dissimilar subjects create original thoughts and ideas. http://www.creativethinking.net

 

 

CAN YOU THINK OUT OF THE BOX?

 cat.100

In the graphic above, 9 toothpicks are arranged to form a 100. Can you change 100 to form the word CAT by altering the position of just 2 toothpicks? Take a few moments and see if you can solve it.

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’s occurring.

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: “How can the wheels be made to secure the track more securely?” was the flanged wheel invented.

Leonardo Da Vinci believed that to gain knowledge about the form of problems, you began by learning how to restructure it to see it in many different ways. He felt the first way he looked at a problem was too biased toward his usual way of seeing things. He would restructure his problem by looking at it from one perspective and move to another perspective and still another. With each move, his understanding would deepen and he would begin to understand the essence of the problem.  Leonardo called this thinking strategy saper vedere or “knowing how to see.”

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. Using this phrase instead of simply asking “how” will psychologically influence you to look for alternative ways.

When we first look at our problem we read it the way we’re taught to read figures left to right. It can’t be solved this way moving just 2 sticks. In what ways might you look at the problem? One other way is to visualize the figure as being upside down read the figure from right to left.

cat.solution

The trick is that the word CAT will be upside down after you solve the puzzle. Simply take the toothpick that is the left side of the second zero, and place it horizontally and centered at the bottom of the 1. Then move the toothpick at the top of the first zero halfway toward the bottom.

Now turn it upside down.

cat.rightsideup

Genius often comes from finding a new perspective of a problem by restructuring it in some way. When Richard Feynman, the Nobel Laureate physicist, was “stuck” with a problem, he would look at it in a different way. If one way didn’t work, he would switch to another. Whatever came up, he would always find another way to look at it. Feynman would do something in ten minutes that would take the average physicist a year because he had a lot of ways to represent his problem.

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Best-selling creativity expert Michael Michalko shows that in every field of endeavor, from business and science to government, the arts, and even day-to-day life — natural CREATIVE THINKERINGcreativity is limited by the prejudices of logic and the structures of accepted categories and concepts. Through step-by-step exercises, illustrated strategies, and inspiring real-world examples he shows readers how to liberate their thinking and literally expand their imaginations by learning to synthesize dissimilar subjects, think paradoxically, and enlist the help of the subconscious mind. He also reveals the attitudes and approaches diverse geniuses share — and anyone can emulate.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/160868024X/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_XUhvxb0YKA63R … via @amazon

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Michael Michalko is one of the most highly-acclaimed creativity experts in the world and author of the best-seller Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), ThinkPak (A Brainstorming Card Deck), Cracking Creativity (The Secrets of Creative Genius), and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.  http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs

 

 

 

 

 

NEED IDEAS?

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THINK YOU HAVE AN ODD HABIT?  CHECK OUT THESE ECCENTRICITIES OF FAMOUS PEOPLE

'Pepper, anyone?'

 

There is much anecdotal evidence to indicate that creative people are more often eccentric or more often have odd personality features than the non-creative population. Famous visionaries often develop a reputation for having a few eccentricities. Following are a few of the strange habits from Problema de logica and Madness of Psychiatry by Saxby Pridmore:

  • Hans Christian Anderson, the Danish author of children’s stories carried a coil of rope for fear of being caught in a hotel room fire.
  • When the wife of the poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossettidied, as a token of his love, he placed his unpublished manuscripts beside her in her coffin. Seven years later he dug up the coffin, dusted off his papers and published them.
  • Sir Walter Scotthad a salt cellar which was made from the fourth cervical vertebra of Charles I.
  • James Joycekept a tiny pair of doll’s knickers in his pocket.
  • Marcel Proustwrote most of his novels lying in bed.
  • Composer Gioachino Rossiniwas completely bald and wore a wig. In exceptionally cold weather, however, he wore two or three wigs simultaneously.
  • Beethovenhad no interest in personal cleanliness and his friends had to take his dirty clothes away and wash them while he slept.
  • Many great scientists as well as writers and artists have been eccentric. Sir Francis Galton, one of the most prolific scientists of all time regularly carried a brick wrapped in brown paper and tied with a piece of rope, so that he could stand on it to see over people’s heads when he was in a crowd.
  • Alexander Graham Bellkept his windows permanently covered to keep out the harmful rays of the moon.
  • Sir Joseph Bankswas described by his biographer as “a wild and eccentric character,” who scared his neighbors.
  • Nicola Tesla, who gave his name to the unit of magnetism was celibate and said, “I don’t think that you can name many great inventions that have been made by married men”.
  • Henry Cavendish, a great chemist and physicist, was exceptionally shy and would only ever eat mutton. He communicated with his servants by letter, if he met one by accident, they were dismissed. He had a second staircase built in his house so that he could avoid them more easily.
  • Greek orator Demostheneswould force himself to stay focused on composing his orations by shaving off half of his hair, making him look so ridiculous that he wouldn’t be tempted to procrastinate by leaving his home. Victor Hugo would do something similar, forcing himself to meet his daily writing goals by having his valet hide his clothes. Yup, the guy who wrote “Les Miserables” liked to work in the nude.
  • Some writers need to go through the ritual of touching base with a favorite literary totem. For example, Somerset Maughamwould read Voltaire’s “Candide” before starting work, while Willa Cather read the Bible.
  • Author William Faulknerpreferred to type with his toes instead of his fingers. He kept his shoes on his hands while he worked.
  • Before Ernst Hemingwaysat down to write he would go over his writing goals for the day with his six-toed cats. He refused to share such things with other, normal toed cats, which he considered to be poor listeners.
  • The surrealist artist Salvador Dali had the habit of keeping the pens of fans who asked him for autographs, which just goes to show you’re never too rich and famous to not enjoy stealing from people less well off than you.
  • J B S Haldanewas one of the best known scientists of the twentieth century, at one time he did not remove his boots for three weeks. General Haig said of him that he was “the bravest and dirtiest soldier in the army.”
  • Dr Paul Erdoswas one of the most gifted mathematicians of all time, writing 1500 scientific papers. He lived as a homeless derelict, shunning material possessions because, “property is nuisance.”
  • Rudyard Kiplingdid not actually do any writing, but instead delegated the task to a team of ghostwriters. Kipling himself spent his days sitting on his front porch smoking clove cigarettes because he felt they made him look artsy.
  • English novelist Mary Shelleykept a domesticated 23-foot-long boa constrictor in her writing studio. She would wrap the snake around her shoulders while she wrote. When the snake grew restless and began to squeeze, she allowed herself to stop writing for the day.
  • Ezra Poundpreferred to breathe through his nose. But when writing, he would breathe exclusively through his mouth.
  • William Wadsworthliked to narrate his poems to his dog. If the dog got upset or barked at the sounds of his words, he would start working on the poem again.
  • Franz Kafkareally loved pineapple upside down cake. And so anytime he finished a story, he allowed himself to eat a whole pineapple upside down cake all by himself without sharing any with anyone else, not even a bite.
  • Ben Franklinknew the benefits of working long hours, as well as being known among his peers as being a person who worked long hours. This work ethic was essential for growing his printing business. He also had a routine of asking himself questions during the day. Ben Franklin asked himself each morning (at 5 am), “What good shall I do today?” every night before bed (around 10 pm), “What good have I done to-day?”
  • Playwright Henrik Ibsenwould work at a desk decorated with a portrait of arch-rival playwright August Strindberg.
  • Mathematician Paul Erdösused the last 25 years of his life to devote 19 hour days to the pursuit of higher math. To stay alert, he amped himself up with 10 to 20 milligrams of Benzedrine or Ritalin (along with strong espresso and caffeine tablets.) “A mathematician,” he said, “is a machine for turning coffee into theorems.”
  • Artist Marcel Duchampis associated with both surrealism and the dada movement. While he worked in a variety of styles, he’s most famous for his “readymade” art, which was basically a giant middle finger to the art world. Readymades are everyday objects that Duchamp came across and presented to the world as pieces of art. Duchamp made about twenty of these, but by far the most famous example is a work called “Fountain,” which is nothing more than a urinal he purchased. When it came time to display his “creation” at an art show the board in charge of the exhibit had a fierce debate and eventually chose to hide the display from view, presumably in the washroom.
  • Andy Warholwas an American painter who led the pop art movement. Much like Duchamp he challenged notions of just what art was; among his most famous paintings is that of a Campbell’s soup can (which first sold for 1500 dollars). That’s right, somebody paid 1500 dollars for a picture of a soup label (something you can get for free). He mass produced his work, and to help him do so he hired “Warhol Superstars,” which was a group of people who ranged from porno producers to drug addicts. Warhol’s Superstars tended to have drug filed orgies as they mass produced his art while he mostly sat and watched.
  • King Otto, ruler of Bavaria from 1886 to 1913, shot a peasant every morning to start his day. Thankfully, his two advisors were kind-hearted: one gave the king a rifle filled with blanks, and the other dressed as a “peasant,” acting out death throes when he was “shot.”
  • Lord Byron was probably a nympho.He kept lists of his lovers and apparently slept with more than 250 women in one year alone. Lady Caroline Lamb called him “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” He slept with her, of course, and her cousin. And supposedly his own half sister as well. And he commemorated each one in a very, um, special way: he snipped a bit of hair (not scalp hair, people) from each conquest and saved it in a little envelope marked with the appropriate name. Until 1980 or so, these locks of love were still housed at Byron’s publishing house, but they’re unaccounted for these days.
    Leo Tolstoy’s quirk was basically exhibitionism, I suppose. When he married 18-year-old Sofia Behrs, he made her spend their wedding night reading his diaries. Maybe not so bad, you say, but his diaries contained detailed accounts of all of the women he had slept with throughout his lifetime. Sofia was totally not into it – her diary account the day afterward called his writing “filth” and reflected how disgusted she was.

 

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MICHAEL MICHALKO is the author of Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), which the Wall Street Journal reported “will change the way you think.” He is also the author of Cracking Creativity (The Secrets of Creative Geniuses) which describes the common thinking strategies creative geniuses have used in the  sciences, art, and industry throughout history and shows how we can apply them to become more creative in our business and personal lives. In addition, he created Thinkpak (A Brainstorming Card Set), which is a novel creative-thinking tool that is designed to facilitate brainstorming sessions. Michael’s most recent book Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work focuses on how creative geniuses combine and conceptually blend dissimilar subjects create original thoughts and ideas.

http://creativethinking.net/#sthash.SXV5T2cu.dpbs