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Chapter 24: Creative Thinking Habits


Chapter 24: Creative Thinking Habits 


     Creative thinking habits are based on one fundamental principle—a new idea is made up of old ideas combined in a new way. The simplest way to do this is by addingreplacing, or subtracting ideas. Suppose you sell simple hamburgers made of a bun and a beef patty in the middle. To explore new products, you can add one more beef patty in the middle for those who love meat (addition). Or you can replace the beef patty with chicken, mushrooms, or even ice cream (replacement)! Or you can sell just the patties without the bun for people to cook at home(subtraction).

i)        SCAMPER

    SCAMPER is a word for the list of ways to get new ideas.
S - substitute something
C - combine it with something else
A - adapt something to it
M - modify or magnify it
P - put it to some other use
E - eliminate something
R - reverse or rearrange it

    Let's say we want to design a table. We can apply SCAMPER to come up with some interesting designs: 

    SubstituteSubstitute the typical material for making tables with unusual materials, such as recycled paper.

    CombineA tabletop that is a computer touch-screen or an aquarium.

    AdaptUse an antique door as a table. Or the stump of a tree as the leg. 

    Modify/magnifyA table with lots of very thin legs?

    Put to some other useA table with adjustable height that can double as a bed. A table with different removable tops (such as a chessboard) for different functions. 

    EliminateHow about a table with no legs? It might hang from the ceiling. Or it can be supported by an extended arm attached to the wall. 

    ReverseChange how people sit. Make a big ring-like table with a hole in the middle so people can sit inside as well. 

ii)      ANALOGY

    George de Mestral (1907-1990), a Swiss inventor, took his dog for a walk one day, and when he came back he noticed that the seeds of the burdock plant had attached themselves to his clothes. Using a microscope to examine the seeds, he noticed they are covered with tiny hooks that cling to fur and fabric. De Mestralrealised that this could form the basis of a new type of fastener. The result was Velcro (nylon fabric used as fastening), consisting of two strips of fabric, one covered with small hooks, and the other with lots of tiny loops. When pressed together, the two pieces join together strongly but can be easily separated. These reusable fasteners can now be found in sportswear and all kinds of products around the world. 

    The story of Velcro is a good example of an analogy at work. By seeing how the burdock seed might be analogous to a manmade fastener, an idea was borrowed from nature and turned into a product. Imitating nature is a powerful technique in creative thinking, especially in engineering

    Analogies are important not just for technical inventions. When we face a difficult problem, it is often useful to compare it to similar problems that we were able to solve.


    Sometimes the solution to a problem is to be found in a long list of possible solutions, and we just have to try them out one by one until we find the one that works. 

    This can be a rather boring and frustrating process, but we should not underestimate the power of brute search.Chess for example requires creativity and imagination. But supercomputers can search many steps ahead to check the pros and cons of a particular chess move, and chess programs can now defeat most human beings and sometimes even the best players in the world. 

    A good example of the use of search is when inventor Thomas Edison (1847- 1931) was designing the electric light bulb. One crucial task was the search for a suitable filament that conducts electricity well enough to give off light, but that will not burn up or melt as a result. So he tried all sorts of organic and inorganic materials, testing over 6,000 different types of material. This is what he said about the endeavour: 

Electric light has caused me the greatest amount of study and has required the most elaborate experiments. ... Although I was never discouraged or hopeless of its success, I can not say the same for my associates… Through all of the years of experimenting with it, I never once made an associated discovery. It was deductive. ... The results I achieved were the consequence of invention—pure and simple. I would construct and work along various lines until I found them untenable. When one theory was discarded, I developed another at once. I realised very early that this was the only possible way for me to work out all the problems (Churchill, 1905). 

    Creativity is not always a matter of waiting for inspiration. It sometimes requires going through possible solutions patiently. 


    When Einstein was asked which single event was most helpful in developing his theory of relativity, he answered, “figuring out how to think about the problem.” The perspective we use to approach a problem has a profound effect on the kind of solution we come up with. This is why it is important to examine a problem from multiple perspectives. We get a more comprehensive picture and might come up with better ideas. Here are some contrasting perspectives to explore: 

    Positive vs. negativeThe pros and cons of a proposal, supporting evidence vs. counter-evidence, gain vs. loss. 

    Fact vs. valueWhat is currently happening vs. what should be happening, what a person is doing vs. what he or she ought to be doing.

    PeopleAdopt the perspectives of other relevant parties, for example, teacher vs. student; employer vs. employee vs. client. Try to understand their different concerns and priorities. 

    DisciplineInsights and analyses from different theoretical disciplines, such as politics, economics, law, and psychology. 

    LevelA complex system can be understood at different levels. Same for theories and proposals. Think of policies (such as public health) at the international, national, institutional, social, family, and personal levels.

    OrderSometimes it is easier to solve a problem by working backwards. We might be able to infer what must come first if we know the final step. 

    TimescaleLong-term, medium-term, short-term. A problem that seems important right now can be quite insignificant in the long run.

    Types of solutionQuick-fix solutions might work only for a little while and suffer from other problems. Ideal or perfect solutions can be impractical or expensive. We might modify and combine them to come up with a solution that is effective and realistic. 

    Change focus of questionThink about the different parts of a problem. Take the question, “Why did Adam eat the apple?” Shift emphasis by asking: Why Adam(and not someone else)? Why did he eat the apple (as opposed to, say, saving it for later)? Why did he eat the apple (and not the orange)?

    When we are dealing with problems in our own lives, sometimes what is needed is not an alternative solution but a different attitude. 

    There is the saying that given the same glass of water, an optimist is someone who sees a glass that is already half-full, whereas a pessimist complains that the glass is still half-empty. 

    When we are in a difficult period and there is nothing much we can do, we feel better if we think about the positive aspects rather than the negative ones. 


     Many so-called creative geniuses were nurtured by a supportive family or mentor, or they might collaborate with others within an organisation.

     Brainstorming is a method for generating ideas in a group. In a typical brainstorming session, participants are supposed to create a relaxed and uninhibited atmosphere to come up with as many ideas as possible, including far-fetched ones. The initial objective is simply to collect the maximum number of ideas. At this stage, it is crucial not to criticise or evaluate these ideas for fear of inhibiting the expression of ideas. But after a sufficient number of ideas have been collected, they can then be examined, thrown away, combined or improved on to find the best solution to a problem.

     However, the effectiveness of brainstorming is controversial. Some researchers in social psychology even argue that individuals working in isolation will achieve better performance than if they brainstorm together. Here are some relevant considerations about the limitations of brainstorming:

     Only one person can speak at a time, during which other ideas might get forgotten or ignored. Some people might be shy. 

     Groupthink is a more extreme problem where the pressure to conform hinders critical analysis and creativity, resulting in poor decision-making. The symptoms might include self-censorship, suppression of dissent and stereotyping of outsiders who disagree, and the illusion that the group is infallible and morally superior. 

     Here are some measures that might be useful for more effective brainstorming: 

     An impartial group leader structures the discussion without introducing biases. 

     A devil's advocate to challenge assumptions.

     Consultation with outside experts.

     Break up a big group into smaller ones for discussion before reporting back. 


     Ellis Torrance (1915-2003) was an American psychologist famous for his work on creativity. He developed a test of creative thinking that is widely used to evaluate creativity in children. In one large-scale longitudinal study, he followed the lives of lots of people as they progressed from children to adults, and tried to understand the secrets behind a successful and creative career.

     Lifelong excellence in thinking requires more than just knowledge of the principles of critical and creative thinking. You need to have the passion to improve yourself through application and practice, and only then will these thinking techniques make a big difference in your life. 

     Drawing upon his own research, Torrance wrote the following Manifesto for Children on how to live more creatively:  

1.       Don't be afraid to fall in love with something and pursue it with intensity. 

2.       Know, understand, take pride in, practice, develop, exploit, and enjoy your greatest strengths.

3.       Learn to free yourself from the expectations of others and to walk away from the games they impose on you. Free yourself to play your own game.

4.       Find a great teacher or mentor who will help you. 

5.       Don't waste energy trying to be well-rounded. 

6.       Do what you love and can do well. 

7.       Learn the skills of interdependence.  



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