Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How to turbo-charge your creative thinking.

Post 471 - Roger von Oech writes that the first principle of traditional logic is the law of non-contradiction. Logic can only comprehend those things that have a consistent and non-contradictory nature. This is fine except that most of life is ambiguous; inconsistency and contradictions are the hallmarks of human existence. As a result, the number of issues that can be thought about in a logical manner is small, and too much emphasis on the logical method can inhibit the exploring mind.

"Hard thinking" is logical, precise, exact, specific and consistent. "Soft thinking" is metaphorical, approximate, diffuse, humorous, playful and able to deal with contradiction. Hard thinking is like a spotlight, bright, clear and intense, but the focus is narrow. Soft thinking is like a floodlight, more diffuse, not as intense, but it covers a wider area.

Some people have little use for soft thinking because it's not logical. When faced with an issue, they immediately think, “Let’s see the numbers and get down to brass tacks.” And as Karl Albrecht points out, they'll never give themselves the opportunity to consider steel tacks, copper tacks, plastic tacks, sailing tacks, income tax, syntax or contacts. Using a little soft thinking early in the creative process may still cause you to end up going with the brass tacks, but at least you’ll have the confidence of having considered other alternatives.

Our educational system does a fairly good job of developing logical thinking skills but doesn’t do much to develop soft thinking. In fact, most of our educational emphasis is geared toward eliminating soft thinking, or teaching people to regard it as an inferior tool. As a result, most people aren't very adept at soft thinking, so it takes some practice to do it well.

Human intelligence is a complicated phenomenon, and yet almost all of our formal ideas of intelligence are based on logic and analysis - I. Q. tests are a good example. Musical ability, decorating, painting and cooking seem to have no place in many test-makers’ idea of intelligence. As Edward de Bono points out, if someone says he’s learned to think, most people assume that means that he’s learned to think logically.

When exploring a creative challenge, take a leaf out of Einstein's book and utilize the power of hard thinking followed by soft thinking. Einstein would pour over his calculations and cover everything he knew before having in-depth discussions with his peers. All this involved hard creative effort. But Einstein appreciated soft thinking as well, so he consciously set the problem aside and redirected his attention to playing the violin or sailing - two things he loved to do and could "disappear" while he was doing them. He found was that during these pleasurable pursuits, his unconscious mind would go on thinking about the challenge and surprise him with a breakthrough insight or innovation at the time when he least expected it. So following Einstein's method seems like a good way to turbo-charge your creative thinking breakthroughs.

“What concerns me is not the way things are but rather the way people think things are” – Epictetus.

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