Chapter 1 • Skill Building

This section of each chapter offers exercises to help in building or strengthening the thinking tools of that chapter. The following skills exercises are meant to break some of the "mental adhesions" that occur over time within even the most limber of minds.

Thinks to Do

  • Meditate. One of the first thinks to do is to investigate meditation. Recent studies have shown that meditation can improve concentration, change the brain's neural networks, and even make one's "gray matter" matter more as one turns grayer. Meditation has also been shown to be part of what psychologist and creativity theorist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls "flow", one of the hallmarks of creativity-in-progress. There are many forms of meditation yet quiet time and reflection seems to have disappeared from current models of education (except for nap time in Kindergarten.) Think about it — or better yet, spend some time not thinking at all.
  • Go Green. Richard Wiseman, the guy who has helped us see how much we don't see (see video below, just for fun), has also summarized some of the significant research on creativity (and a variety of other topics) in his book (and blog) 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot. Want one of Wiseman's suggestions to help you be more creative? Don't just plant ideas, plant plants. Outfitting the learning environment with more greenery improves creativity according to a study by Robert Ulrich at Texas A & M University. Another suggestion? Posting modern art—or at least, unconventional art—might provoke creativity through visual stimulation, according to research by Jens Förster at the International University in Bremen, Germany.

  • Challenge Yourself. In his poem, "since feeling is first", e. e. cummings opines that "death, i think, is no parenthesis". If one were British, one might say, "Of course not, death is a full stop." Since cummings used typography to great effect in his poems, try switching art forms by drawing a face using the following punctuation symbols: . , ? ! ' " : ; - ( ) . You can use as many of each as you need. Start with a circle and place the marks to create facial features. Although all the ones given must be used somewhere, see what others can be found and used. Give yourself a backpat, too, for adding in unusual punctuation like a tilde or interrobang .[1]
  • Create Connections. If you've ever had to gap a spark plug , you know that having the electrodes too close together will kill the spark and if they are too far apart, the spark can't jump the gap. It's much the same with words and ideas. To see for yourself, look at the following two-word poems and see if you can jump the gap and see the spark. Then try composing a few yourself....[2]
jellyfish             ant               nostril             macaroni
   umbrella             tugboat            cave                 water slide
  • Innovate. In his book Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration , Keith Sawyer shows the power of such juxtapositions through the use of "conceptual combination": putting two unlike things together and then imagining what the combination might be applied to or used for. In Sawyer's examples below, take one concept from column A and any other concept from column B. What would such a thing look like? What can it do? And be used for? Now, switch the words around. It's not the same object anymore. How does it look now, what does this one do, and what's the new use?


  • Acquire Tools. Learn to SCAMPER. This acronym derives from the pioneering work of Alex Osborn on brainstorming as later codified and arranged by Bob Eberle. While the classic brainstorming techniques of Osborn have been expanded and developed, there is still much to recommend the process, if done individually, followed by group discussion. "SCAMPER" stands for the seven ways that an idea can be manipulated into something new: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify (& Magnify/Minify), Put to other uses, Eliminate, Reverse/Rearrange.
  • Daydream to Music. In movies and TV shows, music scoring helps set the mood and provide an emotional dimension. For example, light pizzicato strings are often used for humorous situations, saxophones wail during steamy love scenes and, of course, harsh stabs with the bow on a violin can drive folks psycho. The animators at Walt Disney's studios created the film Fantasia by doing the reverse: listening to the various recordings and letting their imaginations create the action. (Hippos in tutus and en pointe?) A good creative exercise, then, is to have students listen to various recording snippets—best without lyrics—and imagine the action sequences that the music might suggest.

  • Or just dream. In a recent Psychology Today blog posting, Sparks of Genius authors Robert and Michèle Root-Bernstein outline the history of "purposeful dreaming" — a way into the subconscious processes called by Dr. Shelley Carson in her book Your Creative Brain, the "spontaneous pathway."

Thinking Differently | Conclusion
  1. ^ Interrobang example here
  2. ^ From the classic book by Joseph I. Tsujimoto, Teaching Poetry Writing to Adolescents, unfortunately now out of print