Creativity – Litemind Exploring ways to use our minds efficiently. Mon, 01 Jan 2018 20:43:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Deconstructing Creativity: The 4 Roles You Need to Play to be Fully Creative Tue, 02 Feb 2010 12:16:50 +0000 Do you want to be fully creative? To not only have wild ideas, but to actually create and bring remarkable things to life? Learn the 4 roles you need to perform, how they help unleash your creativity and how to master the skills each one requires.

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The 4 Roles You Need to Play to be Fully Creative

Do you want to be fully creative? To not only have wild ideas, but to actually create and bring remarkable things to life?

There are four distinct roles to be performed for the creative process to be as effective as possible. Each one requires that you play different characters, with different mindsets and skills.

The roles are: Explorer, Artist, Judge and Warrior.

Learn how they help unleash your creativity and how to master the skills each one requires.

1. The Explorer

Ideas do not come out of the blue. In order to build them you first need to gather the raw materials: facts, concepts, experiences, knowledge, feelings — that’s what ideas are made of. To get all of that, you need an attitude of ongoing curiosity and exploration.

The Explorer is always in search of new things. He is relentlessly curious and never limits himself to a particular area of experience and knowledge. To have ideas is to connect dots. First and foremost you need lots of dots to connect — you need fuel for the formation of new ideas.

How to Develop Your Explorer

  • Be curious and alert. Poke around in unknown areas. Be like a child, by paying attention to the world and being receptive to it. Rediscover the fun in finding things out.

  • Seek out as many inputs as possible. Do not limit yourself to the tried and true. Read different books and see different movies from the ones you like. Also, don’t mind going after information “you’ll never use”. Seek many different areas of knowledge.

  • Talk to a lot of different people. Get to know many different perspectives. Talk to strangers. Don’t limit yourself to expert advice.

2. The Artist

The artist has ideas. He takes the raw materials from the Explorer and combines them in novel ways.

When people say someone’s “creative”, they’re usually referring to the Artist. The Artist has ideas mostly by trying new things. He applies his imagination by rearranging, turning things upside down, stirring things up. He pursues different approaches and finds unexpected connections. He’s playful; he doesn’t care about what people expect from him.

How to Develop Your Artist

  • Flex your idea muscles. Write down new ideas as they come to you; it stimulates your brain to generate more and more ideas. Also, use idea-generation tools deliberately: Lists of 100, Idea Quota and SCAMPER just to name a few.

  • Play! We all know it: the most efficient way to have new ideas is by having fun. Don’t always take problems too seriously. Entertain yourself and keep your brain fresh and ready.

  • Use your imagination. Leave practicality aside; don’t be afraid to let your imagination run wild and visualize new possibilities. Dare to ask ‘what if’ and watch new realities unfold.

3. The Judge

The Judge is all about “getting real”. His job is to analyze the Artist’s wild ideas and assess if they’re practical — in the real world.

The judge questions assumptions; he compares and analyzes. He checks how feasible ideas are. No matter how much the Artist loves an idea, the Judge looks for counterarguments, checks evidence, and makes hard decisions. Combining gut feeling and analytical tools, the judge must only let through feasible ideas.

The Judge gets a bad reputation — but only because people usually invoke him too early. Killing an idea before the Artist can play with it is a pity; killing it later is oftentimes a necessity.

How to Develop Your Judge

  • Develop critical thinking. Check your assumptions, experimenting with hypotheses, analyzing results and drawing conclusions. Master decision making.

  • Be aware of thinking traps. Our minds deceive us. Be always aware and vigilant of your own biases. There are more ways than you can imagine that your thinking can go wrong. Really.

  • Be real. Will the idea give you the return you want? Do you have the resources to make it happen? Are you willing to put the effort to make it happen? Be practical and down-to-earth.

4. The Warrior

As soon as you have an idea ready to be executed you’ll realize the world isn’t set up to accommodate every new idea that comes along. The enemies can be external: competition may be fierce, or people may just don’t “get” your beautiful ideas. Even harder than those, there are more than enough enemies already within you: think resistance, excuses and fear of failure.

The Warrior’s job is to make ideas happen. For that, you’ll need not only a strategy and plan of action but to put in the hours — fight the daily fight.

That means remaining productive, developing the resilience and courage to overcome obstacles and, of course, being able to sell your ideas — whatever’s necessary to materialize them.

How to Develop Your Warrior

  • Overcome resistance. When you create something new, resistance inevitably creeps in. You need to find ways of overcoming procrastination and staying productive day in, day out.

  • Be courageous. In order to make things happen, you’ll need to let go of self-doubt and conquer fear of failure.

  • Market and sell your idea. Are you the only one who thinks your idea is great? Can you convince others of the merits of your idea? If you can’t sell your idea, it won’t get far.

Awareness and Timing are Critical Too

In reality, we all know the path to creativity is not that sequential — explorer-to-artist-to-judge-to-warrior. Usually, there’s a lot of switching back and forth between roles: The Judge may return an idea to the Artist for further development; the Artist may want more data from the Explorer to develop a certain idea, and so on.

This is fine. The main thing is to be aware of which role you’re performing at different points in time. We often get stuck in the Explorer role for too long. Or we may jump the gun and summon our Judge while our Artist is still working his magic. There are so many ways to spend too much or too little time in each role, or to overlap ineffectively.

The lesson is: make sure not only to develop the skill set for each role, but also to play each one at the appropriate time. Be aware of which phase of the creative process you’re in and what you’re trying to accomplish. All roles are equally important: make sure they’re playing well with each other.

Want to Know More? Here’s a Recommendation

A Whack on the Side of the HeadThese concepts above are not new. The idea of the four creativity roles comes from Roger Von Oech‘s classic work on creativity A Whack on the Side of the Head, as well as the Creative Whack Pack (which is a deck of cards where each of the four roles is a suit — very fun, do check it out too).

I have had this book for ages but only lately have been applying its principles and becoming more conscious of the steps of the creative process. There’s a myth that creativity needs to be wild and unplanned, that one cannot be trained to be creative. I’m increasingly convinced that that is not true and I will expand on this topic as I explore more. In the meantime, A Whack on the Side of the Head and Creative Whack Pack are two truly excellent resources I recommend for those interested in becoming more creative.

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: Deconstructing Creativity: The 4 Roles You Need to Play to be Fully Creative.

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Are you stuck in a rut? Run from the experts! Mon, 07 Dec 2009 16:20:52 +0000 When you're stuck, it's tempting to go seek help from the experts. After all, someone much more knowledgeable should be the best source of ideas, right? Well, maybe not.

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Run from the Experts!

You’re facing a big challenge at work and can’t come up with any innovative ideas. Maybe your business is flagging or a particular area in your personal life has stalled. Either way, you could really use fresh new ideas to spice things up.

In situations like these it’s tempting to go seek help from the experts. After all, someone much more knowledgeable should be the best source of ideas, right?

Well, maybe not.

The Problem with Experts

Experts need to specialize. They need to draw boundaries around their subjects so they can narrow their focus and be as effective as possible in their fields.

This ‘compartmentalization in thinking’ is immensely useful in speeding up problem solving. It also means experts usually fall short in stretching their thinking beyond their areas of expertise, and as such fail to see the big picture.

Michael Michalko puts it well in his book Thinkertoys: “It’s like brushing one tooth. You get to know that one tooth extremely well, but you lose the rest of them in the process.”

But it gets worse: experts may not only miss obvious solutions, but they may actually cause harm, forcing inadequate solutions that fall within their area of expertise. “To the man who only has a hammer, everything he encounters begins to look like a nail”, psychologist Abraham Maslow wisely remarked.

Although experts are often useful, when it comes to innovation you may actually be better off without them.

An Alternative: Embrace The Nonexperts Around You

The alternative to talking to experts is — drum roll — talking to nonexperts, of course.

Regular people around you. Your soccer buddies. The garbage collector. Uncle Bob. It doesn’t matter who: anyone outside your field, anyone who’s strange to the problem — anyone who “doesn’t know the rules” will do.

Regular people — nonexperts — don’t have enough experience to know where to draw boundaries: they’re unaware of limitations or “how things are supposed to work”. In their naïveté, they’ll miss many constraints and assumptions you take for granted — which is exactly the point. These are the people who will most likely spark fresh new ideas for you. They can genuinely think outside the box: for them, there’s no box.

We have a tendency to always go after more specialized people for getting help in our problems — and that works in many cases. But for creative endeavors, perhaps all you need is someone who knows less.

The great news is that there is no shortage of nonexperts around you. Everyone is a nonexpert at most things. All you need is to know how to tap into their non-expertise in the area you need help. Here are 3 tips to help.

1. Meet Different Kinds of People — Lots of Them!

To build a solid network of idea-generating friends, first and foremost you need to strive for diversity.

It doesn’t matter if you have 500 peers to draw ideas from if everybody else’s mind is the same: it’s not a matter of how many people you know, it’s how many kinds.

Resist the temptation to seek advice only from people who think alike: it’s comfortable, I know, but it hinders you from fully expanding your mind. Go out and mix with people with diverse interests for a change!

Getting in touch with many different perspectives is guaranteed to keep your creative juices flowing (and as a bonus you become a much more interesting person in the process!).

Find out how different people would tackle your problem. How would a nurse do it? A 5-year-old child? An economist? Your mom?

Never miss the opportunity to have casual conversations with strangers. The butcher, the old lady ahead of you in the line and the ice cream vendor are all sources of potentially useful ideas. Even if you don’t discuss your particular problem directly (which of course may not always be a sensible thing to do), discovering different perspectives about random life subjects is useful in itself to spark new ideas.

2. Seek Out Idea-Oriented People

Having an abundant circle of relationships always comes first, but after striving for quantity, you now need to make sure you have quality relationships too!

There’s a certain breed of people that you’ll always benefit from having around: it’s the kind of thinkers that spark your imagination whenever you talk to them. You know who they are:

  • They love original ideas and use them in their businesses and lives.
  • They are relentlessly curious and pay attention to the world around them.
  • They may be naïve about your business, but are not stupid or ignorant of the things that matter.
  • They have great wits and challenge the absurdity in things.

Make a list of people who you know have those traits and arrange to spend more time with them. Never let too much time pass without staying in touch with them. Discuss your challenges and ask for ideas — or just engage in idle chatting (which also sparks a torrent of ideas in itself).

Having such vibrant people around you is invaluable for your creativity and too fun to miss out.

3. Engage in “Fool Mode” (Assume Everybody’s a Genius)

This is a fun technique I use sometimes. I like to call it “Fool Mode”.

When I’m in “fool mode”, everybody knows the solutions to my problems. Everybody is a genius — except me. In fact, not only do they know the solution I’m looking for, but they may be already giving it away — the only caveat being they’re talking in riddles — so it’s my job to figure it out!

Adopting the fool’s mindset works great because it checks our tendency to kill ideas before giving them at least some thought.

Think about this: When someone presents us an idea we can’t see the use for, our tendency is to dismiss it immediately, labeling it a ‘stupid idea’. Now what if the other person were a well-known genius — like, say, Einstein? Would you not consider paying a little more attention to what he would have to say? Of course you would! It’s in that thinking — trying to force relationships between seemingly unrelated ideas — that your breakthrough idea may lie.

Being in “fool mode” is also fun and teaches important lessons: You open your mind to the world. You temporarily suspend judgment and let go of any intellectual arrogance you may have. You assume everybody has something to contribute — and what you come to realize, of course, is that they do.

In Closing

You shouldn’t expect random people to actually solve a complex problem they don’t know about. But, if you have an open mind and are willing to listen, they can spark off a torrent of fresh new ideas, which may be just enough for you to solve the problem yourself.

So, by all means don’t dismiss experts. They have more experience and can often help you. But don’t forget that the great innovative ideas are usually elsewhere. The solution you’re looking for may be with your neighbor or with weird uncle Bob — you just need to go get it.

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: Are you stuck in a rut? Run from the experts!.

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Einstein’s Secret to Amazing Problem Solving (and 10 Specific Ways You Can Use It) Tue, 04 Nov 2008 12:32:17 +0000 Einstein is quoted as having said that if he had 1 hour to save the world he would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only 5 minutes finding the solution. Here are 10 strategies you can use to tackle the most important step when solving problems.

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Einstein's Secret to Jaw-Dropping Problem Solving

Einstein is quoted as having said that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.

This quote does illustrate an important point: before jumping right into solving a problem, we should step back and invest time and effort to improve our understanding of it. Here are 10 strategies you can use to see problems from many different perspectives and master what is the most important step in problem solving: clearly defining the problem in the first place!

The Problem Is To Know What the Problem Is

The definition of the problem will be the focal point of all your problem-solving efforts. As such, it makes sense to devote as much attention and dedication to problem definition as possible. What usually happens is that as soon as we have a problem to work on we’re so eager to get to solutions that we neglect spending any time refining it.

What most of us don’t realize — and what supposedly Einstein might have been alluding to — is that the quality of the solutions we come up with will be in direct proportion to the quality of the description of the problem we’re trying to solve. Not only will your solutions be more abundant and of higher quality, but they’ll be achieved much, much more easily. Most importantly, you’ll have the confidence to be tackling a worthwhile problem.

Problem Definition Tools and Strategies

The good news is that getting different perspectives and angles in order to clearly define a problem is a skill that can be learned and developed. As such, there are many strategies you can use to perfect it. Here are the 10 most effective ones I know.

1. Rephrase the Problem

When a Toyota executive asked employees to brainstorm “ways to increase their productivity”, all he got back were blank stares. When he rephrased his request as “ways to make their jobs easier”, he could barely keep up with the amount of suggestions.

Words carry strong implicit meaning and, as such, play a major role in how we perceive a problem. In the example above, ‘be productive’ might seem like a sacrifice you’re doing for the company, while ‘make your job easier’ may be more like something you’re doing for your own benefit, but from which the company also benefits. In the end, the problem is still the same, but the feelings — and the points of view — associated with each of them are vastly different.

Play freely with the problem statement, rewording it several times. For a methodic approach, take single words and substitute variations. ‘Increase sales’? Try replacing ‘increase’ with ‘attract’, ‘develop’, ‘extend’, ‘repeat’ and see how your perception of the problem changes. A rich vocabulary plays an important role here, so you may want to use a thesaurus or develop your vocabulary.

2. Expose and Challenge Assumptions

Every problem — no matter how apparently simple it may be — comes with a long list of assumptions attached. Many of these assumptions may be inaccurate and could make your problem statement inadequate or even misguided.

The first step to get rid of bad assumptions is to make them explicit. Write a list and expose as many assumptions as you can — especially those that may seem the most obvious and ‘untouchable’.

That, in itself, brings more clarity to the problem at hand. But go further and test each assumption for validity: think in ways that they might not be valid and their consequences. What you will find may surprise you: that many of those bad assumptions are self-imposed — with just a bit of scrutiny you are able to safely drop them.

For example, suppose you’re about to enter the restaurant business. One of your assumptions might be ‘restaurants have a menu’. While such an assumption may seem true at first, try challenging it and maybe you’ll find some very interesting business models (such as one restaurant in which customers bring dish ideas for the chef to cook, for example).

3. Chunk Up

Each problem is a small piece of a greater problem. In the same way that you can explore a problem laterally — such as by playing with words or challenging assumptions — you can also explore it at different “altitudes”.

If you feel you’re overwhelmed with details or looking at a problem too narrowly, look at it from a more general perspective. In order to make your problem more general, ask questions such as: “What’s this a part of?”, “What’s this an example of?” or “What’s the intention behind this?”.

For a detailed explanation of how this principle works, check the article Boost Your Brainstorm Effectiveness with the Why Habit.

Another approach that helps a lot in getting a more general view of a problem is replacing words in the problem statement with hypernyms. Hypernyms are words that have a broader meaning than the given word. (For example, a hypernym of ‘car’ is ‘vehicle’). A great, free tool for finding hypernyms for a given word is WordNet (just search for a word and click on the ‘S:’ label before the word definitions).

4. Chunk Down

If each problem is part of a greater problem, it also means that each problem is composed of many smaller problems. It turns out that decomposing a problem in many smaller problems — each of them more specific than the original — can also provide greater insights about it.

‘Chunking the problem down’ (making it more specific) is especially useful if you find the problem overwhelming or daunting.

Some of the typical questions you can ask to make a problem more specific are: “What are parts of this?” or “What are examples of this?”.

Just as in ‘chunking up’, word substitution can also come to great use here. The class of words that are useful here are hyponyms: words that are stricter in meaning than the given one. (E.g. two hyponyms of ‘car’ are ‘minivan’ and ‘limousine’). WordNet can also help you finding hyponyms.

5. Find Multiple Perspectives

Before rushing to solve a problem, always make sure you look at it from different perspectives. Looking at it with different eyes is a great way to have instant insight on new, overlooked directions.

For example, if you own a business and are trying to ‘increase sales’, try to view this problem from the point of view of, say, a customer. For example, from the customer’s viewpoint, this may be a matter of adding features to your product that one would be willing to pay more for.

Rewrite your problem statement many times, each time using one of these different perspectives. How would your competition see this problem? Your employees? Your mom?

Also, imagine how people in various roles would frame the problem. How would a politician see it? A college professor? A nun? Try to find the differences and similarities on how the different roles would deal with your problem.

6. Use Effective Language Constructs

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for properly crafting the perfect problem statement, but there are some language constructs that always help making it more effective:

  • Assume a myriad of solutions. An excellent way to start a problem statement is: “In what ways might I…”. This expression is much superior to “How can I…” as it hints that there’s a multitude of solutions, and not just one — or maybe none. As simple as this sounds, the feeling of expectancy helps your brain find solutions.
  • Make it positive. Negative sentences require a lot more cognitive power to process and may slow you down — or even derail your train of thought. Positive statements also help you find the real goal behind the problem and, as such, are much more motivating.
    For example: instead of finding ways to ‘quit smoking’, you may find that ‘increase your energy’, ‘live longer’ and others are much more worthwhile goals.
  • Frame your problem in the form of a question. Our brain loves questions. If the question is powerful and engaging, our brains will do everything within their reach to answer it. We just can’t help it: Our brains will start working on the problem immediately and keep working in the background, even when we’re not aware of it.
  • If you’re still stuck, consider using the following formula for phrasing your problem statement:
    “In what ways (action) (object) (qualifier) (end result)?”
    Example: In what ways might I package (action) my book (object) more attractively (qualifier) so people will buy more of it (end result)?

7. Make It Engaging

In addition to using effective language constructs, it’s important to come up with a problem statement that truly excites you so you’re in the best frame of mind for creatively tackling the problem. If the problem looks too dull for you, invest the time adding vigor to it while still keeping it genuine. Make it enticing. Your brain will thank (and reward) you later.

One thing is to ‘increase sales’ (boring), another one is ‘wow your customers’. One thing is ‘to create a personal development blog’, another completely different is to ’empower readers to live fully’.

8. Reverse the Problem

One trick that usually helps when you’re stuck with a problem is turning it on its head.

If you want to win, find out what would make you lose. If you are struggling finding ways to ‘increase sales’, find ways to decrease them instead. Then, all you need to do is reverse your answers. ‘Make more sales calls’ may seem an evident way of increasing sales, but sometimes we only see these ‘obvious’ answers when we look at the problem from an opposite direction.

This seemingly convoluted method may not seem intuitive at first, but turning a problem on its head can uncover rather obvious solutions to the original problem.

9. Gather Facts

Investigate causes and circumstances of the problem. Probe details about it — such as its origins and causes. Especially if you have a problem that’s too vague, investigating facts is usually more productive than trying to solve it right away.

If, for example, the problem stated by your spouse is “You never listen to me”, the solution is not obvious. However, if the statement is “You don’t make enough eye contact when I’m talking to you,” then the solution is obvious and you can skip brainstorming altogether. (You’ll still need to work on the implementation, though!)

Ask yourself questions about the problem. What is not known about it? Can you draw a diagram of the problem? What are the problem boundaries? Be curious. Ask questions and gather facts. It is said that a well-defined problem is halfway to being solved: I would add that a perfectly-defined problem is not a problem anymore.

10. Problem-Solve Your Problem Statement

I know I risk getting into an infinite loop here, but as you may have noticed, getting the right perspective of a problem is, well, a problem in itself. As such, feel free to use any creative thinking technique you know to help. There are plenty to choose from:

You may want to give yourself an Idea Quota of problem statements. Or write a List of 100 problems to solve. SCAMPER your problem definition. These are just some of dozen techniques you can try.

Of course, how much effort you invest in defining the problem in contrast to how much effort you invest in solving your actual problem is a hard balance to achieve, though one which is attainable with practice.

Personally, I don’t think that 55 minutes of defining a problem versus 5 minutes acting on it is usually a good proportion. The point is that we must be aware of how important problem defining is and correct our tendency to spend too little time on it.

In fact, when you start paying more attention to how you define your problems, you’ll probably find that it is usually much harder than solving them. But you’ll also find that the payoff is well worth the effort.


(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: Einstein’s Secret to Amazing Problem Solving (and 10 Specific Ways You Can Use It).

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Brainwriting is Brainstorming on Steroids Tue, 12 Aug 2008 12:56:19 +0000 Wherever you ask, when it comes to group problem-solving, brainstorming is always the default tool of choice. Brainstorming certainly gets all the fame and glory, but is it the most effective tool for groups to generate ideas? Not necessarily. Traditional brainstorming pales in comparison with a technique called Brainwriting. Brainwriting can easily lead to more […]

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Wherever you ask, when it comes to group problem-solving, brainstorming is always the default tool of choice. Brainstorming certainly gets all the fame and glory, but is it the most effective tool for groups to generate ideas? Not necessarily.

Traditional brainstorming pales in comparison with a technique called Brainwriting. Brainwriting can easily lead to more than double the ideas generated in a typical brainstorming session. Also, it’s not as tricky as brainstorming to work well for you.

The Shortcomings of Brainstorming

Brainstorming is by far the most widely used group idea generation tool. We all know the drill: get together in a room and let the ideas run wild while building on each other’s ideas.

One of the reasons brainstorming is so popular is because of the widespread notion that grouping people together is always more effective than letting participants work in isolation. On a first look that makes sense, but is it really so?

That’s not what some recent research shows. Several studies (notably Diehl and Strobe’s, from 1987 to 1994) tested brainstorming teams extensively and realized that participants working in isolation consistently outperformed participants working in groups, both in quantity and quality of ideas generated.

The fact is that brainstorming, the way it’s carried out, has some fundamental shortcomings that are hard to overcome. Here are the top 3 reasons why brainstorming usually isn’t as effective as you might think:

1. “Blocking”

This is by far the number one deficiency in traditional brainstorming: only one person can speak at a time.

The problem with that lies in the fact that our short-term memory can’t effectively develop new ideas while keeping old ones in active storage. If we can’t announce our ideas because we have to wait for someone else to describe theirs, we will end up judging or editing them — or even forgetting them altogether.

Not surprisingly, this makes all the difference in our idea output. Even when we do get a chance to describe an idea, we may get to offer only one or two comments before someone else breaks in.

The larger the brainstorming group, the bigger the amount of “blocked” participants, and the fewer the ideas produced compared to an equal number of people generating ideas independently.

2. Evaluation Apprehension

This relates to the fact that some group members avoid expressing what they consider to be wild ideas based on how the other members will privately judge them.

“Suspend judgment!”, “Be wild and outrageous!”, “Speak with no fear!”: this is advice that is hard to take when you’re in company of an authority figure, such as the guy who gets to decide how small your annual bonus will be.

Despite the soundness of the advice to let ideas run wild, the truth is that many groups are not mature or prepared enough to follow it. “Maybe my idea” — they think — “will be seen as way off the mark, so why take any chances?”

3. Personality Face Off

Brainstorming sessions can easily become an arena of clashing human personalities. True, diversity is a necessary part of effective brainstorming, but it also makes fertile ground for all sorts of unproductive behavior.

Examples? Overpowering people trying to dominate the session. Passive people speaking the minimum possible to get by unnoticed. Stubborn people getting overprotective about their ideas and not accepting others’. Fearful people being reticent and evasive, and only presenting safe ideas. The list goes on and on.

The bottom line is that personality differences, if not dealt appropriately, can harm more than help problem solving.

Enter Brainwriting

If brainstorming groups are usually outperformed by individuals working alone, should we quit forming brainstorming groups then? Or is there a way to brainstorm together while sidestepping those fundamental shortcomings? Time to meet the Brainwriting technique.

As in traditional brainstorming, in Brainwriting everyone sits at a table together to simultaneously tackle a problem. The difference is that in Brainwriting each participant thinks and records ideas individually, without any verbal interaction. As we’ll see, this small change results in a fundamental difference in the idea generation effectiveness.

Here are the steps in a typical Brainwriting session:

  1. Participants sit around a table and each one gets a sheet of paper with the same problem statement written at the top. Just like in traditional brainstorming, you also need a moderator for the session.
  2. At the moderator’s signal, each participant has 3 minutes to write down 3 ideas on the sheet of paper. Just like in traditional brainstorming, the ideas should always go unedited. The difference is that now they are being recorded in private. The number of ideas and duration can vary, but I found that “three ideas every three minutes” works particularly well.
  3. When time is up (or when everybody’s done), each participant passes the sheet of paper to the participant to the left.
  4. Each participant now reads the ideas that were previously written and a new three-minute round starts. Each participant must again come up with three new ideas. Participants are free to use the ideas already on the sheet as triggers — or to ignore them altogether.
  5. Lather, rinse, repeat. The group can agree to stop after a fixed number of rounds (such as when sheets come to a full turn around the table) or when participants feel that contributions are exhausted.
  6. After the idea-gathering phase is completed, the ideas are read, discussed and consolidated with the help of the moderator, just like in traditional brainstorming.

So, what does this small change of having the ideas written, instead of spoken accomplish?

  • The amount of ideas generated can be amazing. Since ideas are generated simultaneously, participants never get to block each other. With everyone generating 3 ideas every 3 minutes, a group of 5 people is able to produce 100 ideas in 20 minutes.
  • Participants still get to cross-pollinate and build on each other’s ideas. That is, they still get the benefits of brainstorming in a group, while avoiding its main shortcomings.
  • Ideas are recorded the moment you get them: no ideas are lost while you wait for a chance to speak.
  • No one gets overshadowed and everybody contributes equally, regardless of personality type or personal agenda.
  • Ideas are contributed in private. In less mature environments, there’s no fear of being openly judged by other participants. The ideas can be kept anonymous and participants have freedom to be truly wild with their ideas.
  • Everyone’s given a clear task: to fulfill a specific idea quota in a specific time frame. The quota adds an element of healthy pressure that can help unlock your creativity, as it can be seen as a fun challenge.

Closing Thoughts

To be fair, there are ways to make traditional brainstorming work better (that may be the theme for a future article). However, using Brainwriting is always my preferred choice, as it often generates many more ideas and it’s way easier to get it right.

Here are some additional recommended resources on Brainwriting:

  1. Mycoted Brainwriting Page: The Mycoted wiki is an amazing online resource of creativity techniques (make sure to check their index page). The Brainwriting page has several interesting variations of the technique. Highly recommended.
  2. Michael Michalko’s book Cracking Creativity. An impressive resource. It has a great wealth of thinking and creativity techniques, including Brainwriting. Michalko’s book always tops my recommendations of books on creativity.
  3. MindMeister online mind mapping tool. MindMeister is the best tool I found so far for web-based, real-time, collaborative mind mapping. Even though it wasn’t specifically designed to support Brainwriting, it works very well for that purpose.

Also, to make sure you don’t miss complementary content, such as templates for Brainwriting and idea-generation in general, sign up for the free Litemind Newsletter.

Over to you now: share your experiences with brainstorming and Brainwriting. Have you ever faced the problems I described with brainstorming? Have you tried Brainwriting? If you have any experience with specific online thinking tools (designed for Brainwriting or not), sharing your experiences here would be invaluable. Thanks!

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]]> 23
The Medici Effect Wed, 18 Jun 2008 11:53:09 +0000 In The Medici Effect, author Frans Johansson explores one simple yet profound insight about innovation: in the intersection of different fields, disciplines and cultures, there’s an abundance of extraordinary new ideas to be explored. Click and check the full book summary.

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The Medici Effect - Mind Map

In this post, I present a mind map of the book The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures, along with a quick review of the book (to skip directly to the mind map, click here).

Step Into the Intersection

In The Medici Effect, author Frans Johansson explores one simple yet profound insight about innovation: in the intersection of different fields, disciplines and cultures, there’s an abundance of extraordinary new ideas to be explored.

Putting together ideas from different areas — ideas that were always seen as completely apart — can easily generate an explosion of new ideas. And since the best way to have great ideas is to have lots of ideas, the best chances for innovation are at those intersections.

The book makes a case for learning broadly and the importance of keeping a curious attitude. This comes as an inspiring invitation to explore other areas than our own and as a reminder to always pursue our ‘side’ interests.

Johansson shares many interesting stories of cross-pollination between disciplines, as he does in his blog. Ecologists helping logistics experts to plan truck routes more efficiently, or astronomers unintentionally unraveling old ecology mysteries: the intersections are literally everywhere.

Idea Generation and Execution

What I really like about this book is that it doesn’t focus solely on the dynamics of generating innovative ideas: it goes on to discuss the implementation of ideas. All of us have great ideas every now and then. However, a great idea alone is never enough for true innovation: the bottleneck for innovation usually lies in executing your ideas.

And that is largely because there are many psychological barriers associated with pursuing novel ideas: fear of failure, social rejection, or risking one’s reputation — just to mention a few. Discussing these barriers and giving tips to overcome them makes the book even more practical and useful.

Interested? Get It All for Free.

Great news: Nicely for us, author Frans Johansson made the full book available as a free download in his website. If you don’t mind reading on the computer screen, you can’t miss the opportunity to read a great book for free.

As for the book summary, here it is in three flavors:

The Medici Effect Book

Get the mind map for The Medici Effect:

Next Book, Please?

I usually get positive feedback for the book summaries I present here, so I will keep posting them. I have some books in my reading queue and since I’m not quite sure what to read next, I figured I should ask my readers.

Let me know what to read next by taking the poll below. These are the books I currently have in my reading queue — let’s hope they’re good enough to deserve a summary: if you have another suggestion, please let me know in the comments and I could maybe add it to my next Amazon shipment. Thanks!

[poll id=”3″]

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Creative Problem Solving with SCAMPER Mon, 02 Jun 2008 20:25:27 +0000 SCAMPER is a technique you can use to spark your creativity and help you overcome any challenge you may be facing. Click for a complete SCAMPER primer, along with two free creativity-boosting resources.

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Creative Problem Solving with SCAMPER

SCAMPER is a technique you can use to spark your creativity and help you overcome any challenge you may be facing. In essence, SCAMPER is a general-purpose checklist with idea-spurring questions — which is both easy to use and surprisingly powerful. It was created by Bob Eberle in the early 70s, and it definitely stood the test of time.

In this posting, I present a complete SCAMPER primer, along with two free creativity-boosting resources: a downloadable reference mind map and an online tool that generates random questions to get you out of a rut whenever you need.


SCAMPER is based on the notion that everything new is a modification of something that already exists. Each letter in the acronym represents a different way you can play with the characteristics of what is challenging you to trigger new ideas:

  • S = Substitute
  • C = Combine
  • A = Adapt
  • M = Magnify
  • P = Put to Other Uses
  • E = Eliminate (or Minify)
  • R = Rearrange (or Reverse)

To use the SCAMPER technique, first state the problem you’d like to solve or the idea you’d like to develop. It can be anything: a challenge in your personal life or business; or maybe a product, service or process you want to improve. After pinpointing the challenge, it’s then a matter of asking questions about it using the SCAMPER checklist to guide you.

Consider, for instance, the problem "How can I increase sales in my business?"

Following the SCAMPER recipe, here are a few questions you could ask:

  • S (Substitute): "What can I substitute in my selling process?"
  • C (Combine): "How can I combine selling with other activities?"
  • A (Adapt): "What can I adapt or copy from someone else’s selling process?"
  • M (Magnify): "What can I magnify or put more emphasis on when selling?"
  • P (Put to Other Uses): "How can I put my selling to other uses?"
  • E (Eliminate): "What can I eliminate or simplify in my selling process?"
  • R (Rearrange): "How can I change, reorder or reverse the way I sell?"

These questions force you to think differently about your problem and eventually come up with innovative solutions.

A classic example is MacDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. In hindsight, it’s easy to identify many of the ideas he used through the SCAMPER lens: selling restaurants and real estate instead of simply hamburgers [P = Put to other uses]; having customers pay before they eat [R=Rearrange]; letting customers serve themselves, avoiding the use of waiters [E=Eliminate] — just to mention a few.

SCAMPER Reference

You will find below a comprehensive help guide to using SCAMPER. There are more than 60 questions that can be asked, along with almost 200 words and expressions you can create associations with.


Think about replacing part of the problem, product or process with something else. By looking for replacements you can often come up with new ideas. You can change things, places, procedures, people, ideas, and even emotions.

Helper Questions

  • Can I replace or change any parts?
  • Can I replace someone involved?
  • Can the rules be changed?
  • Can I use other ingredients or materials?
  • Can I use other processes or procedures?
  • Can I change its shape?
  • Can I change its color, roughness, sound or smell?
  • What if I change its name?
  • Can I substitute one part for another?
  • Can I use this idea in a different place?
  • Can I change my feelings or attitude towards it?

Trigger Words

alternate, colorize, exchange, fill in for, locum, proxy, relieve, rename, repackage, replace, reposition, reserve, shape, stand in for, surrogate, swap, switch, take the place of


Think about combining two or more parts of your problem to create a different product or process or to enhance their synergy. A great deal of creative thinking involves combining previously unrelated ideas, goods, or services to create something new.

Helper Questions

  • What ideas or parts can be combined?
  • Can I combine or recombine its parts’ purposes?
  • Can I combine or merge it with other objects?
  • What can be combined to maximize the number of uses?
  • What materials could be combined?
  • Can I combine different talents to improve it?

Trigger Words

amalgamate, become one, blend, bring together, coalesce, come together, commingle, conjoin, fuse, intermix, join, link, merge, mingle, mix, package, relate, unite


Think about adapting an existing idea to solve your problem. The solution of your problem is probably out there already. Bear in mind that all new ideas or inventions are borrowed to some degree.

Helper Questions

  • What else is like it?
  • Is there something similar to it, but in a different context?
  • Does the past offer any lessons with similar ideas?
  • What other ideas does it suggest?
  • What could I copy, borrow or steal?
  • Whom could I emulate?
  • What ideas could I incorporate?
  • What processes can be adapted?
  • What different contexts can I put my concept in?
  • What ideas outside my field can I incorporate?

Trigger Words

acclimatize, adapt oneself, adapt, adjust, alter, amend, become accustomed, bend, change, conform, contextualize, copy, emulate, familiarize, find your feet, fit, get a feel for, get used to, incorporate, make suitable, match, modify, readjust, refashion, revise, rework, settle in, transform, vary


Think about ways to magnify or exaggerate your idea. Magnifying your idea or parts of it may increase its perceived value or give you new insights about what components are most important.

Helper Questions

  • What can be magnified or made larger?
  • What can be exaggerated or overstated?
  • What can be made higher, bigger or stronger?
  • Can I increase its frequency?
  • What can be duplicated? Can I make multiple copies?
  • Can I add extra features or somehow add extra value?

Trigger Words

amplify, augment, boost, enlarge, expand, extend, grow, heighten, increase, intensify, lengthen, make seem more important, multiply, overemphasize, overstress, raise, strenghten, stretch out

Put to Other UsesPut to Other Uses

Think of how you might be able to put your current idea to other uses, or think of what you could reuse from somewhere else in order to solve your own problem. Many times, an idea only becomes great when applied differently than first imagined.

Helper Questions

  • What else can it be used for?
  • Can it be used by people other than those it was originally intended for?
  • How would a child use it? An older person?
  • How would people with different disabilities use it?
  • Are there new ways to use it in its current shape or form?
  • Are there other possible uses if it’s modified?
  • If I knew nothing about it, would I figure out the purpose of this idea?
  • Can I use this idea in other markets or industries?

Trigger Words

abuse, apply, avail yourself of, behave, benefit, bring into play, contextualize, deplete, draw on consume, employ, enjoy, exercise, exhaust, expend, exploit, get through, handle, luxuriate, make use of, manage, manipulate, mistreat, operate, reposition, source, spend, take advantage of, take pleasure in, tap, treat, use up, utilize, waste, wear out, work

EliminateEliminate (or Minify)

Think of what might happen if you eliminated or minimized parts of your idea. Simplify, reduce or eliminate components. Through repeated trimming of ideas, objects, and processes, you can gradually narrow your challenge down to that part or function that is most important.

Helper Questions

  • How can I simplify it?
  • What parts can be removed without altering its function?
  • What’s non-essential or unnecessary?
  • Can the rules be eliminated?
  • What if I made it smaller?
  • What feature can I understate or omit?
  • Should I split it into different parts?
  • Can I compact or make it smaller?

Trigger Words

abolish, control, curb, destroy, disregard, do away with, eradicate, exclude, excrete, expel, exterminate, get rid of, jettison, kill, lessen, limit, liquidate, lower, moderate, modulate, pass, play down, purge, reduce, reject, remove, restraint, restrict, shorten, simplify, temper, throw out, tone down, underemphasize, waste, wipe out

RearrangeRearrange (or Reverse)

Think of what you would do if part of your problem, product or process worked in reverse or were done in a different order.

Helper Questions

  • What other arrangement might be better?
  • Can I interchange components?
  • Are there other patterns, layouts or sequences I can use?
  • Can I transpose cause and effect?
  • Can I change pace or change the schedule of delivery?
  • Can I transpose positives and negatives?
  • Should I turn it around? Up instead of down? Down instead of up?
  • What if I consider it backwards?
  • What if I try doing the exact opposite of what I originally intended?

Trigger Words

adjourn, annul, back up, change the date, change, delay, drive backward, go backward, invalidate, invert, move backward, move, overturn, postpone, put off, quash, readjust, rearrange, relocate, render null and void, reorder, reorganize, repeal, reposition, reschedule, reshuffle, retreat, swap, switch, transpose, turn around, undo, withdraw

(icons by Everaldo Coelho)

SCAMPER Resources

1. SCAMPER Random Question Tool

SCAMPER Random Question Tool

There are many ways to use SCAMPER. For example, you can sequentially go through all the questions in the previous section as fast as you can; or you can stay on each question until you think you exhausted all possibilities.

However, when it comes to creativity, getting random — and unexpected — input can really help your mind find a solution for that ‘impossible’ problem. With that in mind, as a companion to this article, I created the SCAMPER Random Question Tool: it shows you an unexpected question drawn from all the SCAMPER questions in the previous section. Think about a problem that has been nagging you then give the tool a try to see how many options you can generate.

2. SCAMPER Reference Mind Map

SCAMPER Reference Mind Map

I’ve put together all the SCAMPER questions from the previous sections in a mind map, formatted for a single printed page. Think of it as a handy one-page reference you can use whenever you are stuck or just need a kick start to get your creative juices flowing.

3. Thinkertoys Book

Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques at

The best resource I know about SCAMPER is Michael Michalko’s wonderful book Thinkertoys: it has more than 40 pages dedicated to SCAMPER alone. Michael’s book is the most comprehensive creativity reference I have put my hands on: there are more than 40 creativity techniques that should suit every taste — from the most logic to the most intuitive types. Highly recommended!

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Boost Your Brainstorm Effectiveness with the Why Habit Tue, 11 Dec 2007 11:44:40 +0000 If you’re stuck trying to find ways to achieve a goal or solve a problem, there’s a quick analysis tool that can put you back in perspective and save you hours of frustrated brainstorming. It’s as effective as it’s simple: all it takes is asking ‘why’… Finding Your Motivation Behind every goal you set or […]

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Boost your Brainstorm Effectiveness with the Why Habit

If you’re stuck trying to find ways to achieve a goal or solve a problem, there’s a quick analysis tool that can put you back in perspective and save you hours of frustrated brainstorming. It’s as effective as it’s simple: all it takes is asking ‘why’…

Finding Your Motivation

Behind every goal you set or every problem you’re working on there’s a motivation. Even though the reasons we’re doing something are usually clear, next time you’re brainstorming solutions for a challenge you’re facing, take a few seconds and deliberately ask yourself:

“Why do I want this?”

Knowing your motivation is the most fundamental step before taking any action; after all, if you don’t know the reason for doing something, why do it in the first place? While this may seem blatantly obvious, the truth is that we often don’t consciously clarify the reasons for our actions beforehand.

Suppose you have the goal “Get more customers to my business”:

“Why do I want to get more customers to my business?”
—”To increase sales” you may say.

Don’t try to be particularly clever about your answer: just give the first and most evident reason. While you may regard “to increase sales” as the most obvious of the possible answers, consciously bringing it to light accomplishes a lot: it gives you a fresh new perspective about your challenge.

That simple answer gives you an entire new dimension of brainstorming possibilities: if what you really want to accomplish is increasing sales, you don’t necessarily need to get more customers — What about making bigger sales each time? What about making your customers return more often?

Focusing too narrowly on a goal or problem without understanding your underlying motivations prevents you from coming up with many creative and effective solutions.

Motivation Comes in Layers

You can extract full benefit from this technique by realizing that your motivations are layered: each motivation is a way to fulfill a higher-level one. To find out upper levels of motivation, all you need is to keep asking ‘why’. In our example, the exercise could unfold like this:

—”Why do I want to get more customers to my business?”
—”To increase sales.”

—”Why do I want to increase sales?”
—”To expand my profits.”

—”Why do I want to increase my profits?”
—”To retire earlier.”

—”Why do I want to retire earlier?”
—”To spend more time with my family.”

Working the motivation ladder in this manner is a great way to find the perspective you’re more comfortable working with. You may be paralyzed about “getting more customers”, but brainstorming ways to “spend more time with family” may be much more appealing to you.

The trick is to find the motivation layer that resonates better with you and then work from there. When you purposefully think in terms of motivations, problems become multidimensional: you can always choose more effective approaches to get unstuck immediately.

More surprisingly, each level of motivation can bring you new insights that may drastically change the direction you approach your goal. In the example above, consider the high-level motivation “to spend more time with my family”: blindly tackling your lower-level motivation of “getting more customers to my business” may force you to spend even more hours at the office — which is the exact opposite of what you really want, isn’t it?

5 Main Benefits of Asking Why

There are many more reasons why considering your motivations can make all the difference in a brainstorming session. Here are just a few:

1. Multiplying your Creative Output

If you were stuck with only one goal to go after, now you have many more to choose from: that means that if you could accomplish it in a hundred different ways, now you can do it in five hundred ways or even more.

2. Bringing a Sense of Purpose

Even if you end up choosing the original challenge you had at hand, you’ll now work on it with a clearer purpose in your mind. This may give you just that extra enthusiasm boost that you need.

3. Spotting Misalignments

Just like in the example of discovering that ‘getting more customers’ really meant ‘spending more time with family’, you may find that a lower-level goal is misaligned or conflicting with a higher-level motivation. In this case, simply drop your lower-level goal and approach your objective from a higher-level one instead.

4. Finding broader solutions

Brainstorming at higher levels of abstraction can give you solutions that encompass multiple areas of your life and address many issues in a single blow.

5. Uncovering Personal Values and Mission

If you keep climbing the ‘why ladder’ as high as you can, you’ll notice that soon enough you’ll inescapably uncover your core personal values — and ultimately your life mission. This is an extremely simple and practical “bottom-up” approach to understanding what really matters to you.

It’s a Habit

We’re so used to just spitting out solutions to problems that, more often than not, we just get into auto-pilot mode — forgetting to connect with our underlying motivations. But asking ‘why’ is nothing more than a habit. In fact, it’s so simple and effective that all you need to do is to just get started.

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Tackle Any Issue With a List of 100 Tue, 06 Nov 2007 11:04:38 +0000 The List of 100 is a powerful technique you can use to generate ideas, clarify your thoughts, uncover hidden problems or get solutions to any specific questions you’re interested in. The technique is very simple in principle: state your issue or question in the top of a blank sheet of paper and come up with […]

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Lists of 100

The List of 100 is a powerful technique you can use to generate ideas, clarify your thoughts, uncover hidden problems or get solutions to any specific questions you’re interested in.

The technique is very simple in principle: state your issue or question in the top of a blank sheet of paper and come up with a list of one hundred answers or solutions about it. “100 Ways to Generate Income”, “100 Ways to be More Creative” or “100 Ways to Improve my Relationships” are some examples.

One hundred entries? Isn’t that way too many?”

Bear with me: it’s exactly this exaggeration that makes the technique powerful.

When starting your list you may believe that there’s no way to get it done. But then, at some point during the exercise, you will naturally have your subconscious mind naturally engaged in the process. That’s when you will uncover many new and surprising answers, and ideas will start flowing again. Making a List of 100 is a beautifully articulated cooperation between the conscious and subconscious minds tackling one single problem.

Unlike the related Idea Quota tool — whose primary goal is to acquire the habit of coming up with ideas — the goal of a List of 100 is to take your mind by surprise. While both techniques are based on the concept of getting good ideas from lots of ideas, the ideas generated by each method are usually different in kind. With the Idea Quota you tend to have more elaborate ideas, because you have time to incubate them throughout the day (often without being aware of it). With a List of 100 you tend to get more unexpected ideas, because you catch your subconscious off guard, not giving it any time for its behind-the-scenes editing.

Ground Rules

There are only two simple principles to keep in mind when making Lists of 100:

1. Do it at one sitting

This is the one crucial element for the technique to work. If you end up doing your hundred entries, though over many sessions, you’ll defeat the point of the technique. Before starting your list, make yourself comfortable and try to block all potential interruptions.

2. Eliminate distractions

Just like most brainstorming techniques, you should strive to eliminate all activities unrelated to idea generation during the brainstorming session. Just focus on getting the ideas out of your head as quickly as possible following these rules:

  • Don’t judge or evaluate ideas; you’ll review them later.
  • Don’t write complete words or sentences if that slows you down.
  • Don’t stop to wonder how far in the list you are; number the lines from 1 to 100 in advance or use numbered lists if you’re using a word processor.
  • Don’t worry too much about repeating entries; duplicates can shed light on your patterns of thought.

The Dynamics of Making Lists of 100

To understand why creating a List of 100 works, consider what happens during the process of making one. There are three distinct phases you will usually go through when making your list:

1. First 30 entries or so: where you escape circular thinking

The first items are the easiest to come up with. In this first phase, your conscious mind is still in charge and you’ll most probably just dump ideas you’re already familiar with.

2. Next 40 entries: where patterns emerge

In this phase you’ll start noticing recurring themes and patterns of thought. Phase two is usually the hardest one, as you may find it difficult to let go of the ideas you had in the first phase in order to come up with new, distinct ones.

Bear in mind that it’s exactly this struggle that enables you to get to the third and most fruitful phase, hence the importance of not giving up at this point.

3. Last 30 entries: where the gems are

At this point you will already have exhausted most “logical” answers, allowing your subconscious mind to express itself more freely. Don’t be surprised if you get at least one or two really nonsensical or seemingly illogical entries. You may feel tempted to not write them down (“How on earth did I think that?”). Write them down anyway: these wacky entries may sound far from profound, but it’s exactly those items you’re after.

Also, after coming up with so many entries, it’s not rare to experience a shift in perspective: items that you first felt as being awkward will seem to better fit now than when you started the list. Moreover, your whole attitude towards the problem can change as you develop your entries: you may even come to the conclusion that you should be dealing with a different list topic altogether.

Applications of Lists of 100

Although I have known a variation of the List of 100 technique for several years (thanks to Michael Gelb’s How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci), it was only recently that I realized the technique’s full potential by reading Kathleen Adams’s Journal to the Self: 22 Paths to Personal Growth. This is an excellent book that has many great journaling techniques — and the List of 100 has its own chapter.

Journal to the Self: 22 Paths to Personal Growth

The List of 100 technique can be used for a lot more than solving specific problems; it is a general-purpose personal development tool that can help increase your self-knowledge, motivate yourself, and much more. To illustrate its myriad of uses, find below a List of 100 Lists of 100. The list was mostly taken from Journal to the Self, and slightly adapted with some of my own ideas.

100 Things to Write a List of 100 About

  1. 100 Things I’m Grateful For
  2. 100 Ways I Could Nurture Myself
  3. 100 Ways I Sabotage Myself
  4. 100 Things I’m Good At
  5. 100 Things I Like About Myself
  6. 100 Questions I Want Answers
  7. 100 Ways To Improve My Life
  8. 100 Things I’ve Accomplished In My Life
  9. 100 Things I’m Feeling Stressed About
  10. 100 Things I’d Do If I Had Time
  11. 100 Things I Need Or Want To Do
  12. 100 Things I Want To Accomplish In The Next X Months
  13. 100 Things To Do Before I Die
  14. 100 Things That Are Going Right
  15. 100 Things That Are Going Wrong
  16. 100 Reasons I Want To Stay Married/Committed
  17. 100 Reasons I Don’t Want To Stay Married/Committed
  18. 100 Things I Want In A Partner/Relationship
  19. 100 Things I Have To Offer To A Partner/Relationship
  20. 100 Fears I Am Having Right Now
  21. 100 Things That Once Scared Me But Don’t Anymore
  22. 100 Reasons To Save Money
  23. 100 Things I Miss
  24. 100 Sacrifices I Have Made
  25. 100 Marketing Ideas For My Business
  26. 100 Ways I Can Make Money
  27. 100 Ways To Make A Difference
  28. 100 Jobs/Careers I’d Like To Have
  29. 100 Fears About Being A Multimillionaire
  30. 100 Things I Believe In
  31. 100 Achievements (Qualities) I Am Proud Of
  32. 100 Things I Value In Life
  33. 100 Ways I Help Others
  34. 100 Things That Turn Me On
  35. 100 Things That Turn Me Off
  36. 100 Judgments I Make
  37. 100 Things I Find Hard To Share
  38. 100 Things I’m Disappointed About
  39. 100 Things I’m Angry About
  40. 100 Things I’m Sad About
  41. 100 Things [Peoples, Places] I Love
  42. 100 Things To Do When I’m Depressed
  43. 100 Things To Do When I’m Alone
  44. 100 Rules I Have Broken
  45. 100 Skills I Have
  46. 100 Feelings I Am Having Right Now
  47. 100 Childhood Memories
  48. 100 Things My Parents Used To Say To Me
  49. 100 Ways In Which I’m Generous
  50. 100 Ways To Be More Productive
  51. 100 Things I Hate
  52. 100 Things I Want
  53. 100 Places I’d Like To Visit
  54. 100 Things I’d Like Someone To Tell Me
  55. 100 Things I’d Like To Hear
  56. 100 Things I’d Like To Tell My Child
  57. 100 Things I Want My Child To Know About Me
  58. 100 Reasons To Have A Baby
  59. 100 Reasons Not To Have A Baby
  60. 100 Adjectives Describing Myself
  61. 100 Decisions Other Have Made For Me
  62. 100 Decisions I Made That Turned Out Well
  63. 100 Things I’d Do If I Had Six Months To Live
  64. 100 Expectations Other Have Of Me
  65. 100 Expectations I Have Of Myself
  66. 100 Judgments I Haven’t Released
  67. 100 Ways To Be More Creative
  68. 100 Things I Could Carry In My Pocket
  69. 100 Things I’d Save If My House Were On Fire
  70. 100 Things I Want To Tell My Mother [Father]
  71. 100 Things I’d Never Tell My Mother [Father]
  72. 100 Financial Fears
  73. 100 Excuses I Make For Myself
  74. 100 Things I Need/Want To Control
  75. 100 Fears I Have About Giving Up Control
  76. 100 Answered Prayers
  77. 100 People I’d Like To Meet
  78. 100 Reasons Why I Get Jealous
  79. 100 People I Admire
  80. 100 Tasks I’ve Been Procrastinating
  81. 100 Memories From My Past
  82. 100 Things That Nourish Me
  83. 100 Things I Haven’t Finished
  84. 100 Things I’m Glad I’ve Done
  85. 100 Things I’ll Never Do Again
  86. 100 Ways To Generate Income
  87. 100 Principles To Live By
  88. 100 People I Want To Forgive
  89. 100 People I Want To Forgive Me
  90. 100 Things To Forgive Myself For
  91. 100 Mistakes I Have Made
  92. 100 Lessons I Have Learned
  93. 100 Ways To Be Healthier
  94. 100 Things That Make Me Cry
  95. 100 Things That Make Me Laugh
  96. 100 Things I’d Delegate
  97. 100 Thing I Want For My Birthday
  98. 100 Possessions I’m Tired Of Owning
  99. 100 Responsibilities That I’d Like To Avoid
  100. 100 Things To Write A List Of 100 About

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Solve Your Problems Simply by Saying Them Out Loud Tue, 30 Oct 2007 10:14:37 +0000 The very act of explaining a problem out loud can, by itself, be enough to solve it. How can this deceptively simple strategy work so well? How can we leverage it, transforming it in a problem-solving technique we can use at anytime?

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Rubber Ducking

How many times have you gone through explaining a problem to a friend, and before he could say a word about it you had already figured out the solution by yourself? The very act of explaining a problem out loud can, by itself, be enough to solve it.

How can this deceptively simple strategy work so well? How can we leverage it, transforming it in a problem-solving technique we can use at anytime?

The Magic Behind Explaining Problems Out Loud

Communicating your problems out loud has several advantages over silently thinking about them:

1. Clarifying Your Thoughts

In order to put your problem in a communicable form you must clarify it, stating it in objective terms. To articulate your message, you are forced to mentally organize all information you have about the problem. Moreover, by making your problem explicit, you free it from useless psychological noise, such as your anxiety or frustration for not being able to solve it.

Putting your problem in words will tremendously help you grasp it: language is not only a tool of communication as many believe, but also a tool of thought (for more on that, check ‘Top 3 Reasons to Improve Your Vocabulary‘).

2. Uncovering Hidden Assumptions

Explaining your problem to someone else is particularly effective when you assume no knowledge on the other person’s part. A good rule of thumb that works especially well for technical problems is pretending you’re explaining them to your grandma.

By assuming the other person’s total lack of knowledge on the subject, you focus on explaining what you know, instead of focusing on figuring out solutions. By making your knowledge and assumptions explicit, you often access different or overlooked data, and thus access entirely new avenues of thought.

3. Engaging Different Parts of the Brain

Saying the problem out loud engages many more areas of the brain than merely thinking about it. That’s why pretending that you’re explaining the problem to someone — but doing so only in thinking — is of little use. According to cognitive philosopher Daniel Dennett:

“[…] consciousness developed as a way to internalize talking to oneself. Speaking words triggers parts of the brain involved in moving the diaphragm, tongue, lips, vocal chords, etc. Hearing words triggers parts of the brain connected to the ears. Speaking aloud can be a bad survival strategy, especially when you’re thinking about the chief’s wife, so we developed consciousness as an internal monologue. It works, but it doesn’t exercise as many areas of the brain as speaking and hearing your own words. […]” (source: WikiWikiWeb).

Rubber Ducking

If explaining a problem is usually enough to solve it by itself, why would you need someone listening to you?

You don’t. Next time you’re stuck with a problem, why don’t you try explaining your problem to an inanimate object, such as, say, a rubber duck?

I know, your parents have warned you about people who talk to objects — but the fact is that it works. Telling your problem to a rubber duck is as effective as telling your problem to a human (if not more). Flesh, feather or plastic, it doesn’t matter of what material your listener is made of: the principles that make this technique effective always work.

If it serves to reduce your resistance and feeling of weirdness towards the idea of explaining problems to objects, be aware that the concept is rather popular in the software development industry. There’s even a term coined for it: ‘rubber ducking’ (popularized by the book The Pragmatic Programmer, a must-read for software developers).

“Are you saying I should replace real people and start talking to rubber ducks?”

Well, not replacing — but what about developing the habit of always consulting your rubber duck first? I don’t mean to slight us humans, but rubber ducks do in fact have some advantages:

  • Rubber ducks never interrupt your flow of thinking.
  • You don’t need to be worried if you are bothering the rubber duck with your problems.
  • Rubber ducks don’t gossip about your private problems with other rubber ducks.
  • Your trusted rubber duck is never busy and is always waiting for your inquiries.

Give rubber ducking a try. Once you get past the initial odd sensation of talking to a thing, you’ll certainly enjoy the feeling of convenience and independence it brings; not to mention you’ll also save a lot of your time as well as other people’s.

And, in case the rubber duck doesn’t solve your problem, just go ahead and explain it again to a friend. By then, you’ll have the problem much more well-defined and articulated, dramatically increasing the chances that that friend will be able to help you.

Silent Rubber Ducking

You should always practice rubber ducking out loud — but there are situations when you can’t make noises or simply can’t afford the social awkwardness of it (“excuse me while I talk to my duck…”). Fear not: do your rubber ducking in writing instead — sure, you won’t have the benefits of verbalization, but the technique still works fine.

One way to do it that works particularly well is to write an e-mail message explaining your problem. Pretend you’re going to send it to the smartest (and busiest) person in the world. Describe the problem in detail, the solutions you tried so far and why they didn’t work. List your assumptions and make sure you include all relevant information. Be both thorough and objective.

When you are done writing the message, you’ll probably have had many ideas to try out. If not, find a specialized forum and just send it as it is: with your perfectly-crafted message, I’m sure the Internet gods will help you.

Get Your Own Rubber Duck

Ready to start rubber ducking? As you imagined, there’s not much to it, except getting yourself a rubber duck. Well, it doesn’t need to be an actual rubber duck – any inanimate object will do. But it pays off choosing one that you really like: this will be a long-term relationship, after all. 🙂

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Real rubber ducks: the technique is called ‘rubber ducking’ for a reason. And besides, it’s hard to beat that classic yellow look.
  2. The 6 Dilbert characters: pick your favorite or use all of them together (this works particularly well combined with Edward de Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats technique – more about that in a future post).
  3. Full-blown cardboard stand-ups: I’ve seen these used by at least one software developer. I don’t think it gets more hardcore than that — unless you prefer an inflatable coworker, but I wouldn’t recommend that. 😉

As for me, my dedicated problem-solver, sitting next to my monitor and dutifully serving me, is my dragon Bob. He has the entertaining quirk of turning his head to always look straight in my eyes — undoubtedly an appealing effect, especially for optical illusion enthusiasts like myself.

(Embedded video – If you can’t see it, check it out here.)

If you’re interested, you can build your own ‘Bob’ using a paper model [pdf, 244 KB] (both video and paper model are courtesy of Grand Illusions).

Happy rubber ducking!

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: Solve Your Problems Simply by Saying Them Out Loud.

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Get Mentally Fit with an Idea Quota Tue, 25 Sep 2007 13:28:24 +0000 There are some strategies we can use to dramatically increase the amount of ideas we generate. The Idea Quota is one of the simplest and most effective of them.

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Get Mentally Fit with an Idea Quota

The first step to have great ideas is to adopt an attitude of having lots of ideas. Going further, there are some strategies we can use to dramatically increase the amount of ideas we generate. The Idea Quota is one of the simplest and most effective of them.

The Idea Quota

I first learned about the Idea Quota through Michael Michalko’s excellent book Thinkertoys. Putting it simply, using an Idea Quota means committing to have a predetermined number of ideas during the day.

The point of committing to a quota is that it forces you to actively pursue new ideas. Instead of just waiting and hoping for ideas, you give your mind a specific challenge to work on — activating your creativity and directing it to a tangible goal.

Although you can use quotas without specifying a central theme for your ideas, the technique works best when you direct it to very specific needs, such as:

  • a challenge you’re working on, either in your personal life or at work;
  • an improvement you want to make in your life or business;
  • finding answers to specific questions you have, either practical or more abstract.

Pump Some (Mental) Iron

Just like in a physical workout, to grow your creativity muscles you have to constantly push your limits, even if just a little bit. Every time you do that, you expand your comfort zone and make it increasingly easier to have plenty of ideas.

Thomas Edison, still the individual with the most awarded patents to date, had ambitious targets for himself: he had an “invention quota” of nothing less than a minor invention every ten days and a major invention every six months.

Even if you don’t plan to be the next light bulb genius, the point is: make sure your quota is challenging. Edison firmly believed that he could never have gone so far without giving himself very aggressive targets. The lesson he gave us is that your expectations matter a lot: if you expect to have just a few ideas, you will settle the moment you reach that amount.

How to Make the Idea Quota Work for You

1. Pay Attention to Your Problem Statement

Be extremely careful when defining your challenge: just by changing the way you state the problem, you will be able to greatly increase your idea output.

For example, when you define your challenge as “How to get a promotion”, what you may really mean is “How to earn more money” — or something entirely different, depending on your situation. By digging for your underlying motivations you avoid being distracted by situations that may be just transitory. By expanding your alternatives, you make the whole idea generation process much easier and more productive — but you also need to be careful not to make the problem too vague. Finding the sweet spot between not being too strict and not being too broad may not be easy, but it’s well worth the effort.

2. Honor Your Quota

Once you agree on a quota, commit to it. This is essential for the technique to work, as it shows you’re serious about getting that amount of ideas.

One general advice, especially valid to help you reac your quota, is to be prepared to write down ideas anywhere and at any time. By doing this, you won’t miss any ideas and will have a big head start against your daily goal. If you don’t reach your quota by taking notes throughout the day, then sit down at an appropriate time with the specific purpose of brainstorming ideas. Granted, when your creativity is low, this can be hard – but just like in a physical workout, it’s only by persisting that one can reap the greatest benefits.

3. Keep Ideas Flowing

When listing ideas, it’s important not to judge or evaluate them. The point of the technique is to come up with as many ideas as you can, so try to focus on the sole goal of reaching the quota you defined, leaving any form of analysis for later.

When in doubt about an idea, don’t get distracted by it — just write it down and move on. Two common examples of such distractions are: suspecting an idea is a duplicate of a previous one or believing the idea is completely unrelated to the subject at hand. Sure, don’t count those ideas for the quota if you prefer, but do write them down, as they may trigger other valid ideas.

4. Don’t Limit Yourself to the Quota

Sometimes, you’ll be right in the middle of a stream of ideas when you reach your quota. When that happens, don’t stop because you reached your quota. Always remember that the ultimate goal here is to have as many ideas as you can — the quota is just a guideline to help you reach that goal and should never be used to limit yourself in that regard.

Another common thought to avoid is that you should hold your ideas for tomorrow’s quota, instead of “using them up” in an already-filled quota. This only shows fear of running out of ideas, and it’s a strategy that always backfires later. Be aware that it is only by adopting a belief based on the abundance of ideas that you’ll be able to unleash your creativity’s full potential.

5. Have Fun!

To be fully creative, you have to have fun. Use your imagination to find out your own ways to make the Idea Quota always enjoyable. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Work with many simultaneous challenges. Cycle them daily, or randomly draw them from a “Challenge Box”;
  • Create some little incentives and rewards. Have them only after you reach your quota;
  • Partner with someone and collaborate on a shared quota or compete against each other.

Test Drive It

Although it may be impractical to be in “Idea Quota mode” all the time, I recommend you try it for at least a week for a specific problem or improvement you want to make. Don’t forget to be aggressive on the quota you set for yourself and you may be surprised about how many ideas you’re capable of having.

If you try it, please share your experiences in the comments section below. Did you struggle? Did you invent any new fun ways to do it? Did you combine it with a different technique of yours?

(cc) Litemind, some rights reserved. Original post: Get Mentally Fit with an Idea Quota.

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