Creativity book project

This is a draft of Chapter 4

Learning objectives – to add

1: Introduction

  • A key theme in creativity studies is the need for openness, the ability to reframe, to have tolerance for ambiguity and to be mentally flexible.
  • There are growing neurological correlates for this, where different regions of the brain fire during creative processes
  • Core theme is association and the ability to make connections
  • In developing skills and competencies around creativity this is a key area and this chapter explores some of the tools for doing so. Be clear we are talking about developing skills in a targeted and measurable fashion
  • Our focus is on the bundle of competencies around creative problem solving and specifically openness within that area
  • Remind of the core process of preparation, incubation, insight and validation  (LINK back to earlier in the book)
  • Excursion – puzzles. Go online to try and solve these puzzles


2: Re-presenting the problem

  • The challenge is one of problem representation – and if we can represent the problem differently our brains will try a different search method. This operates right at the start of our creative process – the ‘preparation’ stage is essentially about representation of the problem to be solved.
  • Finding the right problem representation is crucial to solving these riddles
  • There are many different ways to represent problems – and the key skill here is to develop openness to how we frame and reframe problems

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  • The problem solver – you – sees the problem in the ‘task environment’ out there.  You then translate that into an internal representation of the problem – and begin to seek solutions.  If what you do on the left hand side of the picture doesn’t work then you move to the right hand side, change the representation and try again.  It’s an internal search process – and it works well if you have the skills to be open to many different representations.
  • Imagine we have a problem with a banging door. We can’t sleep at night because the door keeps banging and rattling in the frame. We decide we need to fix the door, maybe even replace it and so we get the carpenter in to look at it. He spends the day, shaves and planes the wood, adjusts the hinges, tinkers with the latch. That night the problem comes again, waking us up just as annoyingly. Eventually we realize that the problem is not with the door at all but with the wind which is blowing through a hole in the roof, swirling around the house. The answer lies in fixing the roof not in mending the door.That’s a trivial example of problem recognition. Creativity starts with recognizing that we have a problem or puzzle to solve and then exploring its dimensions. Working out the real problem, the underlying issue, is an important skill in arriving at a solution which works. Redefining and reframing are key skills here, being able to see the wood for the trees, the underlying pattern of the core problem.
  • A key part of this is continuing to search beyond what appears to be the problem – sometimes this is just a symptom and there is a deeper underlying problem.  If we can find that we have a better target to aim our solutions at.
  • There are several simple ways to develop skills around problem definition. There are plenty of tools to help develop this skill in exploring problems and focusing in on the core issue to be solved. Here are some examples – click on the link for a description and an activity to help you try them out:

(Note:These could be done as narrated exercises, where , for example, the fishbone is built up before their eyes.)

  •  Models of problem-solving suggest that we are good at pattern recognition and when confronted with a new problem the first thing we do is to look for a pattern which we have seen before. If we can find that then we have the basis for a solution, even if we have to adapt it. (This is what experienced people with ‘deep smarts’ often do; they bring their deep knowledge and intuition and ‘see’ a solution based on their intuitive pattern recognition).


  • So another set of useful thinking tools to help creativity is all about the patterns – the ‘morphology’ – of the problem and how to find similarities. For example, where might we have seen a similar shaped problem in a different context? Can we find similar attributes, ways in which the two problems are like each other? These points of similarity can then give us clues about ways in which we could explore solutions – what works in the one context might be usefully applied in the other.


  • This is the principle behind one of the powerful tools around creative problem solving – the TRIZ approach.  TRIZ was developed by the Russian Genrich S. Altshuller who worked on reviewing patents to derive his principles around which a wide range of apparently different problems can be solved. His approach classified solutions into five groups and suggested that many problems can be solved by applying solutions to similar problems elsewhere.  You can find out more about TRIZ here.


3. The importance of divergent thinking

  • Here’s another puzzle to try  Buddhist monk puzzle
  • The key point here is that there are many different ways in which we can approach this puzzle. It can be represented in a number of different ways, for example:
    • Oral/written
    • Mathematical
    • Visual (sketch/art)


    (maybe do visual representations of these as graphics)

  • Or try this puzzle Alphabet puzzle
  • There is more than one solution to this riddle. You will only find them, if you continue searching after you found the first solution. Taking time for divergence increases openness and in addition there are several tools which can help the process. So our model now looks like:

 Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 11.16.05

  • It’s important to remember that a key process in creativity is moving between divergent and convergent thinking:

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and there are plenty of tools to help us in this.  For example:

  • Attribute listing
  • Metaphor and analogy
  • Mind-mapping
  • Brainstorming
  • Lateral thinking


4. Avoiding perceptual blocks

  • Watch this clip of video which shows a group of students playing basketball.  Please concentrate hard on the white team and count how many time they touch the ball and how many times they pass it to others on their team.  Write down your answers to these two questions.


  • Now can you answer this third Question?




  • Humans do not perceive all available information and in particular, sensory information is filtered by attention. What we notice frames our problem-solving – and our attention is guided by explanations. We look for patterns which are familiar, something we recognize and then use that frame to shape what we see. Taking time for looking for different explanations increases openness.


  • So we need to add this skill to our model:

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  • Sometimes perceptual blocks are ‘programmed in’ at an early stage. For example, watch this video of Ken Robinson talking about the way in which school often drives out creative thinking.
  • The risk in pattern recognition is that we are sometimes too quick to categorize a problem – ‘we’ve seen it before, it’s one of those…’. For much of the time this is helpful but occasionally we might miss something, some way in which the pattern is not the same and we need to search for a different solution. Sometimes we need jolting out of pattern recognition because we are framing the problem in ways we want to see it. This challenge of ‘mindset’ is important and there are tools to help reframe, to look at the problem through new eyes.
  • Once again we have some tools and techniques available to help deal with this challenge of reframing. Essentially they are based on the idea of looking at the problem with fresh eyes; for example, asking what would this look like if you were from another planet? What if you were a 3 year old child? How would someone famous (an artist, a musician, a successful general) look at it?
  • Go online to try some activities highlighting the ‘problems of mindset’ and to explore different tools to help with reframing, from simple ‘New eyes’ lenses to more structured techniques like Soft systems analysis.


5: Memory systems

  • Humans do not use everything they have stored in their memory. Using different kind of memorized information increases openness.  It’s worth reminding ourselves of the different kinds of memory we can build – and the diagram below shows just how extensive that is.

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 12.37.27

  • Not only is there a lot of stuff going in and many places where it appears to be stored, but also there is a time dimension.  We talk of ‘short-term memory’ for example, but this is only one form.
  • Research suggests that the more we work over a memory, both when we first store it and then when we access it, the more it persists and is available to us.  That’s why cramming at the last minute for exams isn;t a good strategy but finding different ways of remembering information and revising it does help.
  • May put this stuff into a ‘deep dive’ as it is a bit theoretical?  Underlying theory – memory systems – the Atkinson Schiffrin memory model.   Important because it looks at how we create memories and build a store of possible solutions.  (Suggest this would be good to have a voice-over explanation, maybe animating different areas as we talk about them).

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  • So our model of how to build openness competency now includes a memory dimension –

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Once again we can look for useful tools and approaches to help us do this.  one example is Gardner’s coding model which suggests that we try to find different ‘codes’ for representing and exploring the problem and these codes trigger different memorized information.

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6: Working with the unconscious – the power of incubation

  • Sometimes redefining and exploring the problem is enough to lead to a solution – but very often we are left with a problem and no obvious answer. Wrestling with it, pulling it into different shapes and trying to force fit it to something we’ve seen before simply doesn’t work. This is where we need to let go with our conscious minds and allow the brain some time to play around, to incubate. It needs to allow new connections to be made, and typical ways of helping this include relaxing, doing something different, going for a walk, sleeping on the problem, etc.
  • What’s going on underneath is a fascinating process of association and connecting in ways which may appear to be illogical. Think about your dreams and the amazing and unlikely events which take place there; connections are established between random elements which simply wouldn’t normally be linked. This is an important part of the unconscious creative process and one of the powerful ways of supporting this stage is to give the brain some help in making new connections.
  • This also links with our earlier discussion of divergent and convergent thinking; divergence is very much about finding new links and connections.   To help with this we need to find ways to enable the right hemisphere of the brain to play a more active role, to shut down temporarily the left brain with its logic and systematic approach and allow for new patterns and associations to emerge.
  • One approach, associated with the work of Edward de Bono is called ‘lateral thinking’. He coined the term back in 1967 to explain a style of thinking which aimed at moving away from linear step-by-step thinking and taking a step sideways to re-examine a problem from a different viewpoint. Rather than digging a deeper hole in one place we need to move sideways and start excavating somewhere new; in the process we may enable a new insight, a new perspective on the original problem.
  • Lateral thinking tools are systematic aids to moving sideways in our approach to problems. One example is the ‘intermediate impossible’, where we come up with an idea which is itself impossible but which might provide the stepping-stone to a practical and novel answer. Just like a stepping stone the idea itself may be wobbly and poorly shaped but it helps us get to our goal.
  • For example in trying to improve the food and service in a company canteen someone might suggest providing fresh foods where possible. One intermediate impossible suggestion might be to bring cows into the workplace – not in itself very practical! But it provides the stepping stone to ideas about how to get fresh milk as opposed to using long-life packages – for example by making arrangements with a local dairy for daily deliveries.
  • Many techniques to assist incubation make use of the right brain hemisphere and its ability to make patterns and connections. One rich area lies around the use of metaphor. Metaphor is a figure of speech in which we make connections between things; for example we can talk about someone being ‘the light of my life’. We don’t mean that they are literally a light bulb but rather that they brighten everything around them in the way that a light bulb does. Other examples might be ‘drowning in a sea of troubles’, ‘swimming in dangerous waters’ or ‘trying to boil the ocean’. In none of these are we meant to take the comparison literally but rather to see a connection where the image of one thing becomes superimposed on the other. Poetry and drama is full of powerful metaphors and that’s one reason why it works so well; it creates a rich picture gallery in our minds and engages our imagination far more than direct description might.
  • Jump out to activity – Metaphor hunting. Read a short piece of Shakespeare and then try and spot the metaphors he uses to create different pictures in our minds 

    Metaphors work well in creativity because they map the properties of one thing on to another, building the kind of associations which we know are important. Famous examples of metaphors include Charles Darwin who used the idea of a branching tree to help him get to the theory of evolution and Albert Einstein imagined himself riding on a beam of light holding a mirror in front of him.

  •  We discussed the idea of pattern recognition earlier and finding examples of things which were similar to our problem. Analogies  can provide another useful technique to help stimulate our thinking towards new insights – for example if we say this organization is like a cheetah we begin to think about how that animal is fast and agile, what underpins its ability to accelerate and turn and form this set of mental pictures we can draw some inspiration for new ways of looking at our organization and how we might improve it.
  • Or if we want to explore how to make our organization more resilient we might look at the analogy of a rubber ball and explore its characteristics – it bounces back, it is elastic, it can hold and release compressed energy, etc.Jump out to activity/exercise around analogy 

    Thinking about the way in which other organizations might approach our business is also a useful technique – for example asking questions like:


    • How would Google manage our data?
    • How might Disney engage with our consumers?
    • How could Southwest Airlines cut our costs?
    • How would Zara redesign our supply chain?
    • How would Apple design and launch our product/service offering?


    Another approach is to use the fact that we store memories as patterns, whole systems of connected elements. When we hear a piece of music we can often reconstruct what was going on in our lives when we heard it in rich detail. Famously when the French author Marcel Proust took a bite of a Madeleine cake one afternoon the taste took him back to a childhood and the sensation was so rich in detail that he used it to write a twelve volume book based on his memories!


    Once again we can make us of this patterning to evoke systems of thought and explore opportunities in there. If we imagine an organization to be like an orchestra then we might enrich this picture by trying to remember when we had been moved by that kind of experience. What elements made that special and powerful for us, and can we transpose some of them to our problem of designing a new organization?


7: Using different thinking strategies

One last element in our model is to develop different strategies t bring to bear on the problem – to learn to be flexible in our approach to exploring it.

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  • Edward de Bono offers a very practical approach to help with this. His ‘Six thinking hats’ model uses the metaphor of wearing different hats when we undertake different kinds of thinking. For example a green hat is all about freewheeling, anything goes kind of thinking which is essentially opening up and allowing ideas for emerge. By contrast a black hat is about judgment, evaluating and criticizing ideas to winnow out the less valuable and focus in on the core. He suggests we need six different modes of thinking and offers helpful tools to develop the ability to recognize when they are need and the flexibility to move between them.
  • jump out to tool and activity

There are many tools to help us develop and practise a repertoire of thinking stratgeies.  For example checklists and trigger words can help by stimulating us to ask questions about the problem.  For example a checklist of trigger words could be verbs we could apply.  Given our problem and possible solutions, can we:

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Activity based on using this

Jump out to SCAMPER, Osborn’s checklist etc.


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