"Genius is in-born, may it never be still-born."

"Oysters, irritated by grains of sand, give birth to pearls. Brains, irritated by curiosity, give birth to ideas."

"Brainpower is the bridge to the future; it is what transports you from wishful thinking to willful doing."

"Unless you keep learning & growing, the status quo has no status."

Monday, April 13, 2009


I consider Michael Michalko's creativity stuff among the best of the genre!

The first time I had encountered 'Thinkertoys', it was actually the first edition released during the early 90's, when it was also about the time I had begun to explore the various options with regard to my mid-life transition.

In fact, I had initially spotted an interesting review in the Entrepreneur magazine. I managed to trace the publisher & had immediately ordered the first 100 copies for my debut bookstore. It became the best seller in my store for many years.

Then came 'Cracking Creativity' a few years later as well as the accompanying brainstorming card deck, 'Thinkpak', to 'Thinkertoys'.

What impressed me most is not so much the creativity tools outlined in both books. In fact, the most productive learning experiences I got out of both books are a few very important things, which I would like to share with readers.

Let's take a look at 'Thinkertoys' first.

In the Introduction, the author started off with a visual puzzle: 'Can you identify the figure below?' Only by shifting your focus, you can then see the hidden word within the figure.

In the author's own words,

" changing your perspectives, you can expand your possibilities..."

Let's now move to 'Cracking Creativity'.

In the Introduction, the author introduced a simple arithmetic equation: What is half of thirteen?

The subsequent passages as outlined in Part I: Seeing What No One else in Seeing, & Strategy I: Knowing How to See, by the author revealed the secrets to getting many possible answers (or perspectives) to the above equation.

No creativity tool outlined in the above two books (or elsewhere in the world, for that matter) can help you to become more creative until you fully understand - & appreciate - what the author is trying to drive home in his two books.

In a nut shell, it basically boils down to one important thing: Use - & enhance - your power of vision! or power of observation!

The author may not be the first person to postulate this crucial aspect of creativity.

I would consider Leonardo da Vinci to be the first person to have understood & practised it religiously more than five centuries ago. He said, among a few other things,

"All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions."

". . . if you wish to gain knowledge of the form of problems, begin to see it in many different ways."

In fact, he put a lot of emphasis on using your senses, especially your sense of sight.

Creativity guru Edward de Bono had also broached this valuable concept in his ground-breaking series of lateral thinking books, starting with his now classic, 'Mechanism of Mind', in the 70's.

I have always believed that you can't do things differently until you can see things differently.

Learning to see the world anew & from different perspectives is imperative if one wants to be more creative.

According to Edward de Bono, creativity starts at the perceptual stage of thinking. He terms it, First Order Thinking. He added very beautifully:

"This is where our perceptions & concepts are formed, & this is where they have to be changed. Most of the mistakes in thinking are inadequacies of perception rather than mistakes of logic."

The creativity tools, whether they are from the author's books or elsewhere, will then automaticlaly fall into place & make more sense when you have first exercised your power of vision or observation.

Using any tool is a piece of cake, but changing one's perception - & maintaining fluidity of perception as well as having multiple perceptions - takes concerted efforts.

It is also important to take note that when things (or tactics) don't seem to work out as planned, always remember to check out your observations of the world first. Simply ask:

- what do you CHOOSE to see?

- where do you DIRECT your attention?

The second most productive learning experience I got from the above two books is realising that all thoughts are simply feats of association &/or juxtapositions - & the crux of creativity (in fact, also learning) are making associations &/or juxtapositions.

Business change/innovation strategist Tom Peters, in his wonderful book, 'Liberation Management', drives home with this insightful nugget:

"The essence of creation - in all endeavours - is chance connections between ideas and facts that are previously segregated. Entrepreneurship is the direct by-product of chance, of convoluted connections among ideas, needs and people."

According to Leonardo da vinci, everything is connected to everything else. My question: CAN YOU SEE IT?

The creativity tools outlined by the author are specifically designed for this purpose.

The third most productive learning experience for me is understanding the differential between productive & reproductive thinking.

To paraphrase the author:

" productive thinking, one generates as many alternative approaches as one can, considering the least as well as the most likely contrast, reproductive thinking fosters rigidity of thought..."

More relevant aspects about the significance of & more specific strategies to develop productive thinking are excellently covered by the author in 'Cracking Creativity'.

To end this review, & in the light of what I have written, I would consider the author's two books as the dynamic duo . . . to be among the best in the genre!

[More information about the author & his work can be found at this link.]

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