"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."

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Michael Michalko, author of the two classics, 'Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Business Creativity' & 'Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Geniuses', & creator of 'ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Set', shares the following 8 thinking strategies of geniuses: [Please read my review in earlier post of this weblog.]

1. Geniuses look at problems in many different ways.

Genius often comes from finding a new perspective that no one else has taken.

Leonardo da Vinci believed that, to gain knowledge about the form of a problem, you begin by learning how to restructure it in many different ways.

He felt that 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.

Einstein's theory of relativity is, in essence, a description of the interaction between different perspectives.

Freud's analytical methods were designed to find details that did not fit with traditional perspectives in order to find a completely new point of view.

In order to solve a problem creatively, the thinker must abandon the initial approach, which stems from past experience, and reconceptualize the problem.

By not settling for one perspective, geniuses do not merely solve existing problems, such as inventing an environment-friendly fuel. They identify new ones.

2. Geniuses make their thought visible.

The explosion of creativity in the Renaissance was intimately tied to the recording and conveying of vast knowledge in drawings, graphs, and diagrams, as in the renowned diagrams of da Vinci and Galileo.

Galileo revolutionized science by making his thought graphically visible while his contemporaries used only conventional mathematical and verbal approaches.

Once geniuses obtain a certain minimal verbal facility, they seem to develop a skill in visual and spatial abilities that gives them the flexibility to display information in different ways.

When Einstein had thought through a problem, he always found it necessary to formulate his subject in as many different ways as possible, including using diagrams.

He had a very visual mind; he thought in terms of visual and spatial forms, rather than thinking along purely mathematical or verbal lines of reasoning.

In fact, Einstein believed that words and numbers, as they are written or spoken, did not play a significant role in his thinking process.

3. Geniuses produce.

A distinguishing characteristic of genius is immense productivity.

Thomas Edison held 1,093 patents, still the record. He 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.

Bach wrote a cantata every week, even when he was sick or exhausted.

Mozart produced more than 600 pieces of music.

Einstein is best known for his paper on relativity, but he published 248 other papers.

T.S. Eliot's numerous drafts of 'The Waste Land' constitute a jumble of good and bad passages that eventually was turned into a masterpiece.

In a study of 2,036 scientists throughout history, Dean Keith Simonton of the University of California at Davis found that the most respected scientists produced not only great works, but also more "bad" ones. Out of their massive quantity of work came quality.

4. Geniuses make novel combinations.

In his 1989 book 'Scientific Genius', Simonton suggests that geniuses form more novel combinations than do the merely talented.

Like the highly playful child with a bucket of building blocks, a genius is constantly combining and recombining ideas, images, and thoughts into different combinations in their conscious and subconscious minds.

Consider Einstein's equation, E = [mc.sup.2].

Einstein did not invent the concepts of energy, mass, or speed of light. Rather, by combining these concepts in a novel way, he was able to look at the same world as everyone else and see something different.

The laws of heredity on which the modern science of genetics is based came from the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel, who combined mathematics and biology to create a new science.

5. Geniuses force relationships.

If one particular style of thought stands out about creative genius, it is the ability to make juxtapositions between dissimilar subjects. This facility to connect the unconnected enables them to see things others do not.

Da Vinci forced a relationship between the sound of a bell and a stone hitting water. This enabled him to make the connection that sound travels in waves.

In 1865, EA. Kekule intuited the shape of the ringlike benzene molecule by dreaming of a snake biting its tail.

Samuel Morse was stumped trying to figure out how to produce a telegraphic signal strong enough to transmit coast to coast.

One day he saw tied horses being exchanged at a relay station and forced a connection between relay stations for horses and strong signals. The solution was to give the traveling signal periodic boosts of power.

6. Geniuses think in opposites.

Physicist and philosopher David Bohm believed geniuses were able to think different thoughts because they could tolerate ambivalence between opposites or two incompatible subjects.

Albert Rothenberg, a noted researcher on the creative process, identified this ability in a wide variety of geniuses - including Einstein, Mozart, Edison, Pasteur, Conrad, and Picasso - in his 1990 book 'The Emerging Goddess: The Creative Process in Art, Science, and Other Fields'.

Physicist Niels Bohr believed, that if you held opposites together, then you suspend your thought and your mind moves to a new level. The suspension of thought allows an intelligence beyond thought to act and create a new form.

The swirling of opposites creates the conditions for a new point of view to bubble freely from your mind.

Bohr's ability to imagine light as both a particle and a wave led to his conception of the principle of complementarity.

Thomas Edison's invention of a practical system of lighting involved combining wiring in parallel circuits with high-resistance filaments in his bulbs two things that were not considered possible by conventional thinkers (in fact, were not considered at all because of an assumed incompatibility).

Because Edison could tolerate the ambivalence between two incompatible things, he could see the relationship that led to his breakthrough.

7. Geniuses think metaphorically.

Aristotle considered metaphor a sign of genius, believing that the individual who had the capacity to perceive resemblances between two separate areas of existence and link them together was a person of special gifts.

If unlike things are really alike in some ways, perhaps they are so in others.

Alexander Graham Bell compared the inner workings of the ear to a stout piece of membrane moving steel - and conceived the telephone.

Einstein derived and explained many of his abstract principles by drawing analogies with everyday occurrences such as rowing a boat or standing on a platform while a train passed by.

8. Geniuses prepare themselves for chance.

Whenever we attempt to do something and fail, we end up doing something else. That is the first principle of creative accident. We may ask ourselves why we have failed to do what we intended, which is a reasonable question.

But the creative accident provokes a different question: What have we done? Answering that question in a novel, unexpected way is the essential creative act. It is not luck, but creative insight of the highest order.

Alexander Fleming was not the first physician studying deadly bacteria to notice that mold formed on an exposed culture. A less gifted physician would have trashed this seemingly irrelevant event, but Fleming noted it as "interesting" and wondered if it had potential. This "interesting" observation led to penicillin.

Edison, while pondering how to make a carbon filament, was mindlessly toying with a piece of putty, turning and twisting it in his fingers, when he looked down at his hands and the answer hit him between the eyes: Twist the carbon like rope.

B.F. Skinner emphasized a first principle of scientific methodologists:

When you find something interesting, drop everything else and study it. Too many fail to answer opportunity's knock at the door because they have to finish some preconceived plan.

Creative geniuses do not wait for the gifts of chance; instead, they actively seek the accidental discovery.

[Extracted from an article entitled 'Thinking like a Genius: Eight Strategies used by the Supercreative, from Aristotle and Leonardo to Einstein and Edison', which originally appeared in May 1998 issue of 'The Futurist', a journal of The World Future Society.]

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