I am a very methodical person — to the extreme. Even something as simple as getting dressed is a process. Each morning I simply grab the shirt in my closet on the end. I then pick pants to go with the shirt. Done. I place clean shirts at one end of the closet and pull shirts to wear from the other end — that way my apparel rotates. Years ago I got the idea from the movie, The Fly, where Albert Einstein was quoted as believing that man had a finite amount of thought, so he wore an identical outfit each day to avoid wasting thought on what to wear. I figured that I didn't have to wear the same thing each day — I only had to avoid deciding what to wear. My process provides variety as well as lack of thought.
So as a methodical person, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that my boss, VP of Corporate Strategy & Engagement, Jon Pittman, would give me a copy of A Whack on the Side of the Head for Christmas. The book recommends 10 different ways people can change their thought processes to be more creative. It was written by Dr. Roger van Oech who is the founder and president of Creative Think in Menlo Park. He's actually the author of four books on creativity. In my role as the human version of Cliff's Notes, allow me to list the 10 ways as succinctly as possible.
- Continue to ask "what if" questions even after finding a first correct answer, because a second, third, or even tenth correct answer may be a better answer.
- Logic is important in the practical phase of problem solving, but don't let it limit you during the imaginative phase of problem solving. Feel free to be illogical to open yourself to all of the possibilities.
- Don't be afraid to break the rules when problem solving. It may turn out that the rules no longer apply.
- Know when to listen to the artist within you (imaginative) and the judge (logical). Each is beneficial at different stages in the problem solving process.
- Playing with a problem is an effective way to fertilize your thinking. Play is not a frivolous activity.
- Don't limit your thinking too narrowly. Be an explorer. When trying to generate new ideas, pay attention to what's right in front of you as well as looking to outside areas.
- Playing the fool can help you reverse your thinking so you can get yourself out of any mental ruts you've settled into.
- Start out with problems ambiguously defined, because too much specificity can stifle your imagination.
- Embrace your failures and learn from them. Failures eliminate what doesn't work and provide opportunities to try something else.
- Self-confidence about one's creativity is essential. Without it, lack of creativity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The 10 steps, imbued with Heraclitus' 30 epigrams, help one overcome one's mental locks and open up the mind to a myriad of alternatives. The key is know when to play what role in the creative process.
I recommend this book highly. It is an easy read and has lots of humorous pictures. The chapters are short and sweet — perfect for knocking out one or two as part of a commute on mass transit. I can see why the book has been a best-seller for 25 years.
Methodical creativity is alive in the lab.