Everybody wants to be creative.
Creativity makes life more fun, more interesting and more full of achievement, but too many people believe that creativity is something you are born with and cannot be learned.
In How to Have Creative Ideas, Edward de Bono (the inventor of lateral and parallel thinking) has created 62 different games and exercises built around random words, to help encourage creativity and lateral thinking.
For example, if the task were to come up with an idea for a new restaurant, and the random word chosen was “cloak,” ideas generated might be: a highwayman theme; a Venetian theme with gondolas; masked waiters.
Or, if asked to make a connection between the two random words “desk” and “shorts,” readers might come up with: both are functional; desks have knee spaces and shorts expose the knees.
All the exercises are simple, practical and fun, and can be performed by anyone.
Everyone wants to be creative.
Everyone should want to be creative.
Creativity makes life more fun, more interesting and more full of achievement.
Research shows that 94 percent of youngsters rate “achievement” as the most important thing in their lives.
Creativity is the key skill needed for achievement.
Without creativity there is only repetition and routine.
These are highly valuable and provide the bulk of our behavior—but creativity is needed for change, improvement and new directions.
In business, creativity has become essential.
This is because everything else has become a commodity available to everyone.
If your only hope of survival is that your organization will continue to be more competent than your competitors, that is a weak position.
There is nothing you can do to prevent your competitors also becoming competent.
Information has become a commodity available to everyone.
Current technology has become a commodity, with a few exceptions—where a 16-year patent life offers some protection.
See creativity in Management, Revised Edition
Imagine a cooking competition with several chefs at a long table.
Each chef has the same ingredients and the same cooking facility.
Who wins that competition?
At a lower level the chef with the highest quality wins.
But at the higher level all chefs have excellent quality.
So who wins?
The chef who can turn the same ingredients into superior quality.
In business, competing with India and China on a price basis is impossible.
That leaves creating new value as the basis for competition.
And that needs a more serious commitment to creativity than is the case at the moment.
CREATIVITY AS TALENT
Too many people believe that creativity is a talent with which some people are born and the rest can only envy.
This is a negative attitude that is completely mistaken.
Creativity is a skill that can be learned, developed and applied.
I have been teaching creative thinking for over 30 years to a wide variety of people:
… from four-year-olds to 90-year-olds
… from Down’s syndrome children to Nobel laureates
… from illiterate miners in Africa to top executives.
Using just one of the techniques of “lateral thinking,” a group of workshops generated 21,000 ideas for a steel company in one afternoon.
An ordinary man is walking down the road.
A group of people seize him and tie him up with a rope.
Then a violin is produced.
Obviously, the man tied up with the rope cannot play the violin.
So what do we say?
We claim that if the rope was cut the man would play the violin.
This is clearly nonsense.
Cutting the rope does not make the man a violinist.
Unfortunately we have the same attitude towards creativity.
If you are inhibited it is difficult to be creative.
Therefore if we make you uninhibited you will be creative!
This is the basis of “brainstorming” and other popular techniques.
There is some merit in these systems but the approach is a very weak one.
Drawing on historical mental patterns
The formal and deliberate “tools” of lateral thinking are much more powerful.
The brain is designed to be “non-creative.”
If the brain were creative, life would be impossible.
With 11 pieces of clothing to put on in the morning there are 39,916,800 ways of getting dressed.
If you tried one way every minute you would need to live to be 76 years old, using your entire waking life trying ways of getting dressed.
Fortunately for us, the brain is designed to form stable patterns for dealing with a stable universe.
That is the excellence of the brain and for that we should be very grateful.
So removing inhibition is of value, but only a weak way of developing creativity.
CREATIVITY AS SKILL
Creativity is a skill that everyone can learn, practice and use.
It is as much a skill as skiing, playing tennis, cooking or learning mathematics.
Everyone can learn such skills.
In the end not everyone is going to be equally good at these skills.
Some people cook better than others.
Some people play tennis better than others.
But everyone can learn the skill.
And everyone can seek to get better through practice.
CREATIVITY IS NOT A MYSTERY
For the first time in history we can now look at creativity as the “logical” behavior of a certain type of information system.
The mystery and mystique can be removed from creativity.
1. We need to look at the human brain as a “self-organizing information system.”.
2. Self-organizing information systems form patterns.
3. All pattern-making systems are “asymmetric.”
4. This is the basis of humor and of creativity.
Humor is by far the most significant behavior of the human brain because it indicates the nature of the underlying system.
Reason tells us very little because any “sorting system” run backwards is a reasoning system.
Humor indicates asymmetric patterns.
This means that the route from A to B is not the same as the route from B to A.
“Lateral thinking” is the creativity concerned with changing ideas, perceptions and concepts.
Instead of working harder with the same ideas, perceptions and concepts, we seek to change them.
This “idea creativity” is not the same as “artistic creativity,” which is why a new term was needed.
All these things are explained in my books on lateral thinking; an understanding of such systems is the logical basis for the practical tools of lateral thinking.
THE WORD “CREATIVE”
In the English language, the word “create” means to bring into being something that was not there before.
So someone can “create a mess.”
That means bringing into existence a mess that did not exist before.
Is that person “creative"?
We hasten to add that what has been brought into existence must have “value.”
So creativity is bringing into existence something that has value.
There is, of course, the element of “newness” because repetition—no matter how valuable—is not seen as creative.
The word “creative” has largely been taken over by the arts, because in the arts all the work is new and has value.
It is true that the value is not always recognized at first.
For example, the Impressionist painters were not fully appreciated in their time.
In the English language there does not exist a separate word to distinguish the creativity of new ideas from the creativity of art.
So when I claim that “creativity” can indeed be taught, I am asked if Beethoven could be produced in this way.
The answer is “no,” but “idea creativity” can be taught, learned and developed in a formal way.
The purpose of the exercises in this book is to help develop creative habits of mind.
The “creativity” of the art world includes a large element of “aesthetic judgement.”
The artist judges that something is “right.”
This is quite different from the ability to produce new ideas.
While artists may be excellent in their field, they are not especially good at changing ideas and creating new ideas.
This language problem has two very serious consequences.
The first consequence is that education authorities believe that they are “teaching creativity” by encouraging dancing and music-playing.
This is totally wrong.
These activities are of value in themselves but they are not teaching creativity.
The second consequence is that people say that if you cannot produce a Beethoven to order, then creativity cannot really be taught.
This is also garbage.
Idea creativity can be taught.
As a matter of interest, my work is used quite widely in the arts world, particularly in music.
Because music does not represent existing sounds, there is a great need for creativity rather than just expression.
HABITS OF MIND
There is no sharp distinction between a mental skill and a mental habit.
The two overlap and blend into each other.
The purpose of this book is to provide opportunity for practising the mental skill of creativity and developing the habits of mind that make creativity happen.
Suppose you developed the habit of mind of trying to find alternative meanings for well-known acronyms.
So when you looked at NASA, you did not only think of the North American Space Agency, but of other possibilities:
Not Always Same Astronaut
Not Always Same Ascent
Not Always Same Ambition
New Adventures Splendid Achievements
New Ambitions Serious Attainments
As with a joke, the new explanation is more powerful if it links in with existing knowledge, or even prejudice, about the organization.
Educational establishments totally underestimate the importance of “possibility.”
Two thousand years ago, China was far ahead of the West in science and technology.
They had rockets and gunpowder.
Had China continued at the same rate of progress, then today China would easily have been the dominant power in the world.
What brought progress to a halt?
The Chinese scholars started to believe you could move from “fact to fact.”
So they never developed the messy business of possibility (hypothesis, etc.).
As a result, progress came to a dead end.
Exactly the same sort of thing is happening in the world today.
Because of the excellence of computers, people are starting to believe that all you need to do is to collect data and analyze it.
This will give you your decisions, your policies and your strategies.
It is an extremely dangerous situation, which will bring progress to a halt.
There is a huge need for creativity to interpret data in different ways; to combine data to design value delivery; to know where to look for data; to form hypotheses and speculations, etc., etc.
I have held academic positions at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London and Harvard.
I have to say that at each of these wonderful institutions the amount of time spent on the fundamental importance of possibility was zero.
Our culture and habits of thinking insist that we always move towards certainty.
We need to pay equal attention to possibility.
Peptic ulcer (stomach or duodenal ulcer) is a serious condition that affects many people.
Sufferers used to be on antacids for 20 years or more.
There were major operations to remove part or all of the stomach.
A large number of beds were occupied by patients under treatment or diagnosis of the condition.
Hundreds of people were researching this serious condition.
Then a young doctor, Barry J. Marshall, in Perth, Western Australia, suggested that peptic ulcer might be an infection.
Everyone laughed, because the hydrochloric acid in the stomach would surely kill any bacteria.
No one took the possibility seriously.
Many, many years later it turned out that he was right.
Instead of antacids for 20 years and losing some or all of your stomach, you simply take antibiotics for one week!
Possibility is very important.
And possibility is the key to creativity.
Also see Creativity and Quality
There is no way you can learn a skill if you do not practice the skill.
There is no short cut.
There is no other way to develop skill.
This holds for the skill of creativity.
There is no magic fountain that you can drink from in order to become creative.
The nearest equivalent would be to read this book!
The use of creativity and the practice of creativity are the best ways to develop the mental skills and the mental habits of creative thinking.
If you want to become good at golf, you had better practice hitting the ball.
If you want to develop the skill of cooking, you had better get into the kitchen.
If you really want to develop the skill of creative thinking, you had better treat this book seriously and work through it diligently and systematically.
It is not much use reading the book for knowledge or to find out how the story ends.
That’s like going to the gym to watch other people exercise.
The more you practice, the better you will get—as with golf or cooking.
The book is designed to be simple, practical and usable.
The subject of creativity could be made very complicated, but then the book would have no value except to academics.
The book is, however, designed for everyone who wants to become more creative and who is willing to enjoy the process.
The book is designed around a series of exercises.
You can do the exercises on your own.
You can do the exercises with other people.
You can use the exercises to practice a little bit of creativity every day.
The purpose of the exercises in this book is to provide training in creative thinking.
The attitudes, habits and skills of creative thinking will be developed as you go through the exercises systematically and in a disciplined way.
There are those who believe that any disciplined or systematic approach is the opposite of creativity.
This view is complete garbage and shows a lack of understanding of the fundamental nature of creative thinking as the behavior of a self-organizing informational system that makes asymmetric patterns.
At the same time, the exercises are enjoyable and so can be regarded as “games.”
Generally you would play these games on your own (as with a crossword) and get a sense of achievement when you succeed.
It is also possible, occasionally, to play with others and to compare your results.
So, they are enjoyable exercises that could be called either “exercises” or “games.”
The intention is to train your creative mind.
The book is a playground.
If there were a playground with a ball in it, you would certainly kick the ball around.
That is the way you should treat this book.
But it is serious fun.
Creativity is a very serious skill.
Unlike many other skills, you can have fun while you develop this serious skill.
From this point onward, it is up to you.
What you get out of the book will be directly proportional to the effort you put into using the book.
There are 62 exercises in the book.
That means 52 + 10.
That suggests that you could, if you wished, practice one exercise one week and the next exercise the following week.
The 10 extra exercises are in case you feel extra energetic and want to do more than one exercise that week.
PROBLEMS AND SITUATIONS
Use the given problems and situations even if you find them difficult.
You may also insert problems and situations of your own.
Only do this after you have attempted to use the given problems.
Otherwise you will tend only to work on easy problems you have chosen.
The exercises may be done without any time limit at all.
You can also set a time limit.
To begin with, this could be four to five minutes per exercise.
As you get better, the time limit can be reduced to two to three minutes.
With creativity, there is no one “right answer.”
For the exercises there is no one right answer.
Any answer that fits the stated requirements of the exercise is equally right.
Players will, however, learn to recognize that some answers are indeed better than others-because they are more practical, more unusual, or offer a higher value.
NOTE: The fact that there are no right answers does NOT mean that any answer will do.
The answer must satisfy the requirements of the exercise.
If you were asked to suggest “food for breakfast,” there is no one right answer.
But if you were to suggest “the transmission of a car,” that would indeed be a wrong answer.
If you are asked for “alternative modes of transport” and you suggested “a frying pan,” that would indeed be a wrong answer.
In the course of the book you will practice both perceptual creativity and constructive creativity.
Perceptual creativity involves looking at things in different ways.
It involves extracting concepts.
It involves extracting values.
It involves opening up connections and associations.
Constructive creativity means putting things together to deliver value.
This is “design thinking.”
While education focuses a great deal on analysis, there is practically no attention at all to design thinking.
Yet life and human progress depend on design thinking.
Analysis is important, just as the rear left wheel of a car is important—but it is not enough.
Readers of this book will develop creative habits of mind and a fluency in dealing with ideas, concepts, perceptions and values.
The emphasis is on the creativity of “what can be” rather than the usual education emphasis on “what is.”
ONE A DAY
Many people do some physical exercises every day.
Some people go to the gym every day.
I would suggest that you make a habit of doing at least one of the exercises every day.
You should be able to go back to the book again and again to repeat exercises (using different problems, etc.).
The book is like a gym for creative thinking habits and skills.
And, as with physical exercise, the important thing is to be disciplined about it.
1. Choose an exercise.
2. Set a time limit.
3. Do the exercise.
HOW TO USE RANDOM WORDS
The whole book is based on Random Words.
So it is important to understand how to use these.
A Random Word is there for no reason at all—it is random.
The words are all nouns because these are easier to use.
The Tables of Random Words are given on pages 153-165.
You can get your Random Word in a number of different ways:
1. You can throw a single die four times.
… the first throw indicates which of the six tables you are going to use
… the second throw indicates which column you are going to use
… the third throw indicates which section you are going to use in the column
… the fourth throw indicates which word you are going to use in the section
You can also throw four dice all at once and then arrange them in a sequence.
You can use colored dice with a given sequence of colors.
2. You can use the Number Maps given on pages 167-169.
With your eyes closed, stab with a pencil, matchstick or toothpick at the map.
Take the number you have hit.
If you are on a dividing line or miss a number, simply try again.
Do this four times to obtain the four numbers (table number, column number, group number and word number).
3. Use the Tables of Random Numbers given on pages 171-173.
Take the numbers in order and tick off the ones you have used.
Alternatively, take a sequence from the Tables of Random Numbers and just change one number in the given sequence.
You can also create your own Table of Random Numbers in advance so that you can use it whenever you want.
4. Simply invent a sequence of numbers.
Each number must be between 1 and 6.
Use these numbers as if thrown with a die.
5. In the Pre-set Table (pages 174-175) the sequences of numbers are already given.
You can insert your own number (1 to 6) in the gap to give the new sequence.
VERY IMPORTANT: Do not keep trying different Random Words until you get one you like.
This destroys the whole point of the exercises.
You must seek to use the first word you obtain.
If, however, you do not understand the meaning of a Random Word, ignore that word and try again, or else take the next word down.
The Random Word process on which the book is built is just one of the powerful tools of lateral thinking which is a process I invented in 1967.
The process is now widely used and the phrase has an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.
There are other powerful tools of lateral thinking such as: challenge; concept extraction; concept fan; provocation and movement, etc.
Lateral thinking is serious and systematic creativity.
It is not being different for the sake of being different.
It is not based on sitting on a river bank and playing Baroque music.
It is not a matter of messing around in a brainstorming session.
There are formal tools and processes that can be used deliberately and with discipline.
These tools are based on the understanding of self-organizing information systems, as described in my book The Mechanism of Mind (1969).
For the first time in human history we can treat creativity as a mental skill, not just a matter of talent or inspiration.
In a way the Random Word process is an example of provocation.
In normal thinking there needs to be a reason for saying something before it is said.
Otherwise the result is nonsense.
With provocation, there may not be a reason for saying something until after it is said.
Develop your creative thinking skills.
It’s up to you!
“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic”. — Peter Drucker
The shift from manual workers who do as they are being told — either by the task or by the boss — to knowledge workers who have to manage themselves ↓ profoundly challenges social structure …
“Managing Oneself is a REVOLUTION in human affairs.” … “It also requires an almost 180-degree change in the knowledge workers’ thoughts and actions from what most of us—even of the younger generation—still take for granted as the way to think and the way to act.” …
These pages are attention directing tools for navigating a world moving toward unimagined futures.
It may be a step forward to actively reject something (rather than just passively ignoring) and then figure out a coping plan for what you’ve rejected.
Your future is between your ears and our future is between our collective ears — it can’t be otherwise. A site exploration starting point
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