This page created and compiled by Don Edberg, Business Coach.
The following mind exercises will give you some tools to use with your
clients or mastermind groups. Below I have posted some thinking techniques that work really well.
The term Brainstorming has become a commonly used word in the English language as a generic term for creative thinking.
The basis of brainstorming is generating ideas in a group situation based on the principle of suspending judgment - a principle
which scientific research has proved to be highly productive in individual effort as well as group effort. The generation phase is
separate from the judgment phase of thinking.
In Michael Morgan's book Creative Workforce Innovation he gives the following guidelines:
Brainstorming is a process that works best with a group of people when you follow the following four rules.
1.Have a well-defined and clearly stated problem
2.Have someone assigned to write down all the ideas as they occur
3.Have the right number of people in the group
4.Have someone in charge to help enforce the following guidelines:
Every idea is accepted and recorded
Encourage people to build on the ideas of others
Encourage way-out and odd ideas
In Serious Creativity, Edward de Bono describes brainstorming as a traditional approach to do deliberate creative thinking
with the consequence that people think creative thinking can only be done in groups. The whole idea of brainstorming is that
other people's remarks would act to stimulate your own ideas in a sort of chain reaction of ideas.
Groups are not at all necessary for deliberate creative thinking, and Serious Creativity describes techniques for individuals to
use to produce ideas. In a group you have to listen to others and you may spend time repeating your own ideas so they get
sufficient attention. Thinking as a group using brainstorming can certainly produce ideas, but individual thinking using techniques
such as those described by de Bono should be employed.
de Bono believes that individuals are much better at generating ideas and fresh directions. Once the idea has been born then a
group may be better able to develop the idea and take it in more directions than can the originator.
From "What a Great Idea" by Charles Thompson.
The world is full of opposites. Of course, any attribute, concept or idea is meaningless without its opposite. Lao-tzu wrote Tao-te Ching which stresses the need for the successful leader to see opposites all around: The wise leader knows how to be creative. In order to lead, the leader learns to follow. In order to prosper, the leader learns to live simply. In both cases, it is the interaction that is creative. All behavior consists of opposites...Learn to see things backwards, inside out, and upside down.
1.State your problem in reverse. Change a positive statement into a negative one.
2.Try to define what something is not.
3.Figure out what everybody else is not doing.
4.Use the "What If" Compass
5.Change the direction or location of your perspective
7.Turn defeat into victory or victory into defeat
1. Make the statement negative
For example, if you are dealing with Customer Service issues, list all the ways you could make customer service bad. You will
be pleasantly surprised at some of the ideas you will come up with.
2. Doing What Everybody Else Doesn't
For example, Apple Computer did what IBM didn't, Japan made small, fuel-efficient cars.
3. The "What-If Compass"
The author has a list of pairs of opposing actions which can be applied to the problem. Just ask yourself "What if I ........" and
plug in each one of the opposites. A small sample:-
Stretch it/Shrink It
Freeze it/Melt it
Personalize it/Depersonalize it
4. Change the direction or location of your perspective
Physical change of perspective, Manage by Walking around, or doing something different.
5. Flip-flop results
If you want to increase sales, think about decreasing them. What would you have to do?
6. Turn defeat into victory or victory into defeat
If something turns out bad, think about the positive aspects of the situation. If I lost all of the files off this computer, what good
would come out of it? Maybe I would spend more time with my family?! Who knows!
Ask "Why" Five Times
Ask "Why" a problem is occurring and then ask "Why" four more times.
1. Why has the machine stopped? A fuse blew because of an overload.
2. Why was there an overload? There wasn't enough lubrication for the bearings.
3. Why wasn't there enough lubrication? The pump wasn't pumping enough.
4. Why wasn't lubricant being pumped? The pump shaft was vibrating as a result of abrasion.
5. Why was there abrasion? There was no filter, allowing chips of material into the pump
How about a blend, an alloy, an assortment, an ensemble?
Lateral thinking is about moving sideways when working on a problem to try different perceptions, different concepts and
different points of entry. The term covers a variety of methods including provocations to get us out of the usual line of thought.
Lateral thinking is cutting across patterns in a self-organizing system, and has very much to do with perception.
For example: Granny is sitting knitting and three year old Susan is upsetting Granny by playing with the wool. One parent
suggests putting Susan into the playpen. The other parent suggests it might be a better idea to put Granny in the playpen to
protect her from Susan. A lateral answer!
The term "Lateral thinking" can be used in two senses:
Specific: A set of systematic techniques used for changing concepts and perceptions, and generating new ones.
General: Exploring multiple possibilities and approaches instead of pursuing a single approach.
The Discontinuity Principle
The more you are used to something, the less stimulating it is for our thinking.
When you disrupt your thought patterns, those ideas that create the greatest stimulus to our thinking do so because they force
us to make new connections in order to comprehend the situation. Roger van Oech calls this a "Whack on the Side of the
Head", and Edward de Bono coined a new word, PO, which stands for "Provocative Operation".
Try programming interruptions into your day. Change working hours, get to work a different way, listen to a different radio
station, read some magazines or books you wouldn't normally read, try a different recipe, watch a TV program or film you
wouldn't normally watch.
Provocative ideas are often stepping stones that get us thinking about other ideas.
Abutting ideas next to each other, such that their friction creates new thought-paths is a technique that flourishes in the east (haiku
poetry and Zen koans) but causes discomfort in Western thinking.
Forced analogy is a very useful and fun-filled method of generating ideas. The idea is to compare the problem with something
else that has little or nothing in common and gaining new insights as a result.
You can force a relationship between almost anything, and get new insights - companies and whales, management systems and
telephone networks, or your relationship and a pencil.
Forcing relationships is one of the most powerful ways to develop ways to develop new insights and new solutions. A useful
way of developing the relationships is to have a selection of objects or cards with pictures to help you generate ideas. Choose
an object or card at random and see what relationships you can force.
How many ideas are really original?
It is quite valid to imitate other ideas as a preparatory step to original thinking. Try what all the "great" creators have done:
imitate, imitate, imitate. After you have imitated enough, you will find your preferences shape what you are doing into a
distinct style. Originality is a natural result of sincere creative pursuit.
Isaac Newton said: "If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulder of giants".
Just as the Beatles started out playing cover tunes, J.S. Bach went blind in his old age copying scores of other musicians (for
personal study), Beethoven played on the themes of his time, and Jazz musicians insert popular melodies into the middle of
bizarre atonal solos. Ideas are constantly on the move, much to the annoyance of patent & copyright lawyers! Certainly, ideas
may be exploited by the materially minded, just like anything else. But if you truly comprehend an idea, it is yours.
Dean William R. Inge said: "What is originality? Undetected plagiarism."
T. S. Eliot said: The immature poet imitates; the mature poet plagiarizes.
Storyboards go back to the very beginnings of cinema, with Sergei Eisenstein using the technique. In the world of animation,
Walt Disney and his staff developed a Story Board system in 1928. Disney wanted to achieve full animation and for this, he
needed to produce an enormous number of drawings. Managing the thousands of drawings and the progress of a project was
nearly impossible, so Disney had his artists pin up their drawings on the studio walls. This way, progress could be checked, and
scenes added and discarded with ease.
Story-Boarding is a popular management tool to facilitate the creative-thinking process and can be likened to taking your
thoughts and the thoughts of others and spreading them out on a wall as you work on a project or solve a problem.
When you put ideas up on Story Boards, you begin to see interconnections, how one idea relates to another, and how all the
pieces come together. Once the ideas start flowing, those working with the Story Board will become immersed in the problem.
People will "hitch-hike" onto other ideas. To implement a Story Board solution you can use a cork board or similar surface to
allow pinning up index cards. Software programs are now available such as Corkboard (Macintosh).
Start with a topic card, and under the topic card, place header cards containing general points, categories, considerations, etc
that will come up. Under the header cards you will put sub-heading cards ("subbers") containing the ideas that fall under each
header; they're the details ideas generated in the creative-thinking session, ideas that develop or support the headers.
Story Boarding works well in group sessions and there are four major types of Story Boards (according to Mike Vance in his
"Creative Thinking" cassette program): Planning, Ideas, Communication and Organization boards. During a story-boarding
session, consider all ideas relevant, no matter how impractical they appear. Think positively, hold all criticism until later, and
hitchhike on other's ideas. Creative Thinking sessions are held separately from Critical Thinking sessions.
Leonardo da Vinci used to put ideas up on the wall and examine the layout. Story-Boards give total immersion in a problem as you can see how everything fits together.
The Synectic Pinball Machine
Synectic thinking is like a mental pinball game. Stimulus input bounced against the scoring bumbers (the Trigger Questions) is
transformed. Ordinary perceptions are turned into extraordinary ones; the familiar or prosaic is made strange. Synectic play is
the creative mind at work.
A useful technique of generating ideas is to list the assumptions of the problem, and then explore what happens as you drop
each of these assumptions individually or in combination.
For example, I used to work in the Customer Service division of a software company. When customers purchase software,
they are encouraged to purchase support agreements for a cost of 15% of the software value. The revenue from this
maintenance funds the support personnel who answer telephones.
The assumptions of this situation are:
Customers purchase maintenance agreements
Customers pay 15% of the software's worth for support
Support is a product and should therefore be sold
The software vendor provides helpful, timely support
Now think about the situations as each attribute is dropped.
What happens if support is free? - Maybe the software price should be increased and the support given away, creating the
impression of free support.
Don't support the product - Don't offer support. The vendor doesn't have to support it, so doesn't have to employ support
staff. If anyone rings for help, tell them to buzz off! This could lead to customers forming their own support groups (user
groups) or turning to other areas such as the Internet, bulletin boards, newsletters, independent support specialists and so on.
Even more assumptions could be dropped. What if the vendor gave away the software? You are most likely reading this file
with Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Explorer. Did you buy that software? How do you think Netscape makes money if most
people don't pay for the browser?
Free form assumption dropping
Assumption dropping is a great way to relax and think of crazy ideas. How would you answer these questions?
What if gravity stopped for one minute every day?
What would you do if you didn't have to sleep?
Describe your working week if you only had to go to work (or school) for one day a week? Or one month of the year?
The approach is mainly based on methods and ideas described by Edward De Bono in his book "Serious Creativity". Generally
I am dealing with a pragmatic group of business people who may be skeptical of the value of creativity methods, so I begin by
explaining the motivation. I explain that we are born without pre-conceived ideas about the world, but that with experience, we
come to recognize patterns and categorize the things and situations we see: This is a chair; that is a book; that's a car, this is a
fire, etc. With experience, we become able to find a category or pigeonhole into which to put many situations. This is great
because it allows us to react rapidly to these situations. Not much time is needed for thought or analysis. The disadvantage is
that our thinking becomes limited. If we do not have a pigeonhole into which to put something we are looking at, sometimes we just
don't see it. We carry many assumptions around in our minds, and these assumptions make us blind to new possibilities.
The book "Test Your Lateral Thinking IQ" by Paul Sloan offers several examples of assumption blindness. When the French
built the Maginot line after World War I as a defense against the Germans, it was assumed that the next war would be fought
the same way as the last war, but with better equipment. They therefore focused on building a strong fortification along the
Franco-German border. The German blitzkrieg through Belgium made this defense obsolete.
Another example: The first time North American Indians saw a European on horseback, they thought they were seeing a new
creature with two heads, two arms, and four legs.
De Bono provides an illustration of the tendency to assume that what already exists must remain. He suggests a game in which
letters are presented one at a time and the goal is to form a word from these letters. The first letter is A. The second is T, so the
word AT is formed. The next letter is R so we form RAT. E arrives, so we form RATE. G is next and we form GRATE. Then
a T arrives, and at first most people try to fit it into GRATE, without success. It is only by rejecting the idea that the letters must
stay in this order that a person is able to integrate the second T and form TARGET. An industrial example of this is the
automobile turn indicator. For forty years, the turn indicator on automobiles was a mechanical arm attached to the side of the
vehicle to imitate the way the driver's arm was previously used to signal the turn direction. It remained that way because for a
long time no one challenged the assumption that it had to be done that way. When the assumption was finally challenged, the
more efficient blinking turn indicator was invented.
What we want to do then is to let go of our assumptions for a moment so that we can see if this reveals new possibilities. To
break us away from our assumptions, De Bono suggests the creation of provocative statements that suggest new directions for
our thinking. For example, he says that to develop a new concept related to restaurants, one might list assumptions about
restaurants like: Restaurants serve food; and You pay the bill when you leave. Using the Escape Technique, we then transform
these assumptions into provocations. "Restaurants serve food" becomes "Restaurants do NOT serve food." We then use this as
a starting point for looking at restaurants in a new way. It might lead to an idea like creating an elegant restaurant-like place that
does not serve food but instead rents space to people who want to host a picnic in elegant surroundings and bring in their own
After explaining all this, I then have the group create a list of assumptions about the business operation they want to improve.
From this we randomly select an assumption and apply the Escape technique to create a provocation. They then spend just a
few minutes thinking on their own about the provocation, and writing private lists of ideas that occur to them. We then share the
ideas and discuss them for the purpose of clarification and producing still more ideas. This process is repeated for as many
assumptions as time allows.
Following this, we evaluate the usability of the ideas produced. Those that seem interesting but have problems can be examined
further. For each of these, we list the problems and then try to develop solutions for each.
De Bono also offers a number of other techniques for creating provocations, which are outlined in his book.
People in the workshops seem to like this technique. I suspect they like the fact that it is a structured approach that focuses on
the problem at hand as opposed to a more scatter-gun brainstorming approach. Starting with what is familiar to them, by listing
assumptions about their current situation, eases them into the process and perhaps makes it easier for them to warm up to the
Creativity, Innovation and Problem Solving
START WITH THE CUSTOMER OR END USER:
The customer is always your first and most important creative challenge. Listen! Try to see the customer's problems and needs
from his point of view.18 Restate the problem and the customer's needs in his terms and iterate until a consensus is reached. Ask
not only what his problems are, but what special methods or tools he is presently using to solve them. 7 Work together with or
in the place of the end user or customer. Use fictitious product descriptions to stimulate ideas and discussion. Remember that
effective market research and sales strategy requires just as much creativity, enthusiasm and perfection as does product
IMPORTANCE OF ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS AND
MAKING A PROPER PROBLEM STATEMENT:
The problem as first stated is rarely the true problem. Ask at least five times. Always restate the
problem as many ways as you can; change the wording, take different viewpoints, try it in graphical
form. Describe the problem to laymen and also to experts in different fields. Don't try to learn all
the details before deciding on a first approach. Make the second assault on a problem
from a different direction. Transforming one problem into another or studying the inverse problem
often offers new insights. If you don't understand a problem try explaining it to others and listening
to yourself. Test the extremes. If you can't make it
better, try making it worse and analyzing what happens. Get a "SuperTech" to help: Imagine how an
ideal super-technician would perform the required function and then try to implement his equivalent
in hardware and/or software.
"Why are we so much better at answering questions than at answering the right questions? Is it because we are trained at
school and university to answer questions that others have asked? If so, should we be trained to ask questions?" [Or trained to
ask the complete set of right questions in the right way?] Trevor Kletz (Analog Science Fiction, January 1994, p195)
DEVELOP THE PROPER TOOLS AND PROCEDURES:
Creative problem solving depends on using the right tools, tricks, procedures or methods of analysis. In some cases new tools
and methods of analysis must be developed from scratch by the inventor before a problem can be solved and in other cases
special tools and procedures must be developed to take the final critical step of enabling successful commercial applications.
GETTING GOOD IDEAS FROM EVERYONE AND EVERYWHERE:
Asking once is rarely effective, you have to ask many times in many ways. Look at all possible sources of good ideas: your
customers, your competition, your peers, the literature, patents, and your own subconscious. Give others some examples, this
serves both to illustrate what you're talking about and encourages them to suggest improvements to your ideas. Tell them also
what [you believe] you don't want and which solutions [you believe] won't work. Remember that breakthrough innovations
often come from the outside. Work with high performers in fields related to your own to identify and adopt their relevant
methods, tools and "tricks of the trade". Trade ideas with all.
Serendipity is a very effective process for coming up with useful new ideas, but requires you to keep your eyes open and
imagination turned on. Learn from Mother Nature (the originator of serendipity), and study the lessons or investigate any
unexplained phenomena she may reveal to you. Find useful solutions by reviewing your backlog of problems while you browse
at random in libraries, trade shows, and the real world. Review your problems before you go to sleep at night and keep a
notepad and audio recorder handy.Meditate out under a tree or in an open field. Play with combinations of ideas and concepts.
Think about analogies to the problem.
SEARCH FOR MULTIPLE SOLUTIONS:
"Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one we have." The first solution found is usually inadequate or
non-optimum. There is usually more than one acceptable solution. Suspend judgement and criticism when first collecting ideas
(see brainstorming). Studying multiple problems jointly often generate unique solutions. Look for solutions using combinations of
ideas from different or evolving technologies. Even if you have one optimum solution it may be necessary to get patent coverage
for all other effective solutions so as to protect your market. Team up with others in applying these techniques.
In the initial phase of a brainstorming session participants are encouraged to suggest any idea that comes to their minds. During
this initial phase it is a firm rule that none of the participants can criticize or react negatively to any of the ideas that are
proposed. Following sessions are used to critique the ideas; selecting, improving, modifying, and combining them to produce
the final working solution. Have someone throw in ideas from Mother Nature (see Serendipity above). Encourage examination
of the problem statement itself (use a separate chart). Encourage ideas on improving the brainstorming process itself. Use
different media/descriptions of concepts, problems relationships (text, graphics, paste-up items, show and tell table). Use a
separate chart (parking lot) for unclassifiable ideas. Use separate wall charts to record: (a) guesses as to objectives, specs,
customer needs/wants, trends. (b) related areas, related businesses or companies, information sources, problem solving
methods, (c) things that are "impossible", approaches that "can't possibly work"
VALUE OF EXPERIMENTATION, PLAY, EXAGGERATION & PERSISTENCE:
Get your hands dirty. Spend some time trying things you "know won't work" or "don't know how they will work". If you don't
fail frequently you aren't trying hard enough and may be missing a lot of good opportunities. Try Tom Peter's algorithm:
"READY, FIRE, AIM." Persist, persist, persist. As Edison said "invention is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration
[persistipation?]". Be very stubborn about solving a problem, but be flexible about the definition of the true problem and be
very flexible and open minded about the form of the solution.
PATENT AND PROJECT NOTEBOOKS:
Patent notebooks are used to provide legal protection for inventions, but can have many other useful, complementary functions:
a recorder, a reminder, a source of ideas, a means of ensuring project continuity, and a way to communicate with yourself and
within a project group. Neatness is not essential, but clarity and conformance to legal standards is critical. Other things that
should be recorded: sources, questions, what doesn't work, things to try. A truly effective, comprehensive patent requires
planning, team work and iteration: invite everyone to participate in finding ways around your patent claims or to break them or
improve on them. A one page summary sheet of the important procedures and checkpoints should be included inside the front
cover of every patent notebook issued.
INNOVATIVE COST REDUCTION:
Remember that the real objective is higher profits. Raising the selling price by adding value or retargeting the market can be an
alternative or supplement to cutting costs.
EFFECTIVE USE OF NOTES:
Try file cards with text and graphics (diagrams, flow charts, block diagrams, elementary circuits). Keep them simple and easy
to change (use pencil or wipe-off transparencies for overlay). Scramble the cards, lay them out together in different
arrangements. Consider computer equivalents: outliners, rolodexes, Canvas, MindLink, HyperCard or SuperCard. Mark ideas
and questions in a way that makes them obvious to a reader and searchable by a computer. Avoid software that eats up all
your creative energy trying to make it work!
What can I do to increase my creativity?
The simplest answer of all, based on the power of our subconscious is "Take a walk". How many ideas have you had while
you were jogging, walking, gardening, washing the dishes or driving? Our subconscious mind is constantly processing the ideas
and stimuli received consciously. A useful technique is to actively work on a problem before going to sleep, allowing the
subconscious to take over. Review any ideas when you awake, and make sure you have a pad and pen by your bed to record
There are no sure-fire ways to guarantee success in creating great ideas. Structure can be good but has a key downfall and is a
stumbling block to many. True inspiration is not physically measurable, nor tangible in any concrete way.
Specific methods of generating ideas are discussed, but the point remains that these discussions rest on a quality which cannot
be measured, though it may be discerned with the attuned mind, i.e. any mind that seeks attunement. This is because creativity
cannot be limited, and therefore anything which limits cannot contain creativity.
For many artists and creators, in our Western society, creativity is viewed as something to do. There is a perception that hard
work is required to create the best works. Yet, there are great artists that don't need to overwork to succeed, while others
need to work very hard. This belief is deeply ingrained in our society.
A person's creativity is often influenced by their viewpoint on creativity. One way to increase creativity is to understand how we
view creativity itself and specifically how it works for each one of us. We cannot teach creativity to a group of people and expect
them to perform similarly. This looks surely so obvious, but creativity is rarely taught in that way. Learning how to be creative is
not the same as learning to bake a cake.
Eastern philosophies have some components relative to creativity, in particularly, Buddhism (including Zen Buddhism) and
Taoism. It is believed that we cannot create adequately from the control and illusion of the mind. One must go beyond it,
beyond its power, and just let the mind be free to express anything it wants. As soon as we try to create, i.e. "to do it", we start
controlling. We have to learn to loosen control, to let the mind be. Instead of forcing anything, we let it come, or more
appropriately, we give it a chance to come (although this does not work with everyone). This message is very similar to
Timothy Gallwey's book The Inner Game of Tennis and discussed further in the Brain section of the Creativity Web.
Creativity is strongly linked to a receptiveness to life and what it has to offer us. It means being open to what is true, about
ourselves and about others. Creativity flourishes when the truth about things is admitted to oneself. For instance, it is always
true that people are important. If I try to achieve my goals by neglecting the rights/feelings of others, I deceive myself, and my
perception of reality is blurred. Since creativity depends on accurate information about one's environment, my lack of concern
for others becomes a roadblock to creativity.
Another contributor writes:
Another area where honesty with myself allows me to be more creative is in my personal goals and dreams. I have
found that the more I think about my goals and evaluate them objectively (as if they were someone else's goals),
the more real they become to me; I find that they tend to become feasible as my mind works on creative ways to
make them work. In general, I have found that the more I dwell on something, the more my mind works in a
creative fashion to make that something come true. The message here is to dwell on things you want, and not on
things you don't want.
For example, I have found it a tremendous help to learn about the local news by talking to people, not by
watching it on TV. Where I live (USA), the news media emphasize the violent aspects of the news, and
shamelessly present pictures which my mind cannot forget. Dwelling on such things is fine if such pictures
contribute to attainment of my goals, but too often they are situations which I have no control over, and all they do
then is divert my creative abilities from where I really need them. Refer to "Psychocybernetics" by Maxwell Maltz
for further details.
To strive for originality is counterproductive. Originality springs from the exact opposite of striving. Simply follow the natural
way, and originality will result.
The natural way does include discipline, the purpose of discipline is to focus energy by avoiding distraction. In this mode, it is a
joyous experience, because the benefits are obvious.
Try out the techniques and strive for integration with your thinking style until you are not consciously applying the techniques.
Write the technique onto an index card, and carry that card with you for the month (or week) and consciously practice the
technique until it is part of your very being.
Random Input Creativity Technique------From Edward de Bono:
The random-word method is a powerful lateral-thinking technique that is very easy to use. It is by far the simplest of all
creative techniques and is widely used by people who need to create new ideas (for example, for new products).
Chance events allow us to enter the existing patterns of our thinking at a different point. The associations of a word applied to
the new "out of context" situation generates new connections in our mind, often producing an instant "Eureka" effect, insight
It is said that Newton got the idea of gravity when he was hit on the head with an apple while sitting under an apple tree. It is
not necessary to sit under trees and wait for an apple to fall - we can get up and shake the tree. We can produce our own
Random inputs can be words or images. Some techniques for getting random words (and the words should be nouns) are:
Have a bag full of thousands of words written on small pieces of paper, cardboard, poker chips, etc. Close your eyes,
put in your hand and pull out a word.
Open the dictionary (or newspaper) at a random page and choose a word.
Use a computer program to give you a random word. I have a Hypercard program suitable for Apple Macintosh which
uses this list of words (236 of them!)
Make up your own list of 60 words. Look at your watch and take note of the seconds. Use this number to get the word.
It is important to use the first word you find.
Once you have chosen the word, list its attributions or associations with the word. Then apply each of the items on your list and
see how it applies to the problem at hand.
How does it work? Because the brain is a self-organizing system, and very good at making connections. Almost any random
word will stimulate ideas on the subject. Follow the associations and functions of the stimulus word, as well as using aspects of
the word as a metaphor. You may want to mind-map the random word.
Mind Maps Introduction
The human brain is very different from a computer. Whereas a computer works in a linear fashion, the brain works associatively
as well as linearly - comparing, integrating and synthesizing as it goes.
Association plays a dominant role in nearly every mental function, and words themselves are no exception. Every single word,
and idea has numerous links attaching it to other ideas and concepts.
Mind maps, developed by Tony Bussan are an effective method of note-taking and useful for the generation of ideas by
associations. To make a mind map, one starts in the center of the page with the main idea, and works outward in all directions,
producing a growing and organized structure composed of key words and key images. Key features are:
Visual Memory - Print the key words, use color, symbols, icons, 3D-effects,arrows and outlining groups of words
Outstandingness - every Mind Map needs a unique center
Mindmaps are beginning to take on the same structure as memory itself. Once a mind map is drawn, it seldom needs to be
referred to again. Mind Maps help organize information.
Because of the large amount of association involved, they can be very creative, tending to generate new ideas and associations
that have not been thought of before. Every item in a map is in effect, a center of another map.
The creative potential of a mind map is useful in brainstorming sessions. You only need to start with the basic problem as the
center, and generate associations and ideas from it in order to arrive at a large number of different possible approaches. By
presenting your thoughts and perceptions in a spatial manner and by using color and pictures, a better overview is gained and
new connections can be made visible.
Mind maps are a way of representing associated thoughts with symbols rather than with extraneous words something like
organic chemistry. The mind forms associations almost instantaneously, and "mapping" allows you to write your ideas quicker
than expressing them using only words or phrases.
How Thinking About Thinking Affects Coaching
This was originally submitted by Sue White, (a former client of mine) MBA, MAMFT, MATS, ChFC, Executive Coach, who can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visited on the web.
Charles-Hampden Turner has done a marvelous job of describing the various "Levels" of thought which
have occurred throughout the history of humanity in his book, Maps of the Mind: Charts and concepts of
the mind and its labyrinths. I consider each of these "Levels" to be worldviews and paradigms of thought
that affect how we view our world, how we think about our world, and even, what we can acknowledge as
existing in our world. Worldviews are pervasive and affect individuals, groups, organizations, societies
and cultures, as a whole.
Points 1-9 are taken from his book, while Point 10 and all the coaching commentaries are my own.
1. The Deterministic Worldview
The human mind struggles to free itself from servitude to the gods or Newton's mechanistic worldview.
This paradigm claims that the mind is just one more response to a "determined" universe. Scientists, who
are viewed as "Puritan agents of the divine clockmaker," are seen as promoting the Newtonian philosophy
of humanity. This deterministic worldview has held sway over the past several centuries, at least in
Clients holding this worldview frequently feel powerless, believing that an external system controls
or determines their destiny. Modern American business has been heavily influenced by this
determinism. Many CEO/Executives and Entrepreneurs adopt this perspective when they talk about "oiling
the wheels of progress," or "fine-tuning the sales engine". Even Corporate clients as recently as the
1990's, who undertake major "reengineering" projects, have internalized this worldview and believe that
the world, business organizations, and the people who inhabit them, are essentially "machines" -- or at
the very least, they exhibit machine-like characteristics and tendencies.
The inevitable corollary to this worldview was the rise of reductionism -- where the whole was
broken down into its "pieces and parts." A direct result of this view was that people were considered
to be objects to be moved around like furniture, or chess pieces on a game board. Feelings, families,
and life outside of work have little relevance. After all, machines have neither feelings, families nor
existence -- independent of their work-related functions.
During the Industrial Age, these machines were typically envisioned as manufacturing, or production,
machines that performed some labor-intensive activity. In the Information Age, these machines are
more frequently viewed as computers which process information rather than replace manual labor.
Either way, people holding this worldview see life, and their world, as a gigantic machine, which
must continually be oiled and repaired in order to function. The Second Law of Thermodynamics
applies, (i.e., order dissolves into disorder, and therefore, requires constant management, supervision,
and maintenance to overcome the laws of entropy.) Frequently, in business organizations, this
translates into hierarchical organizations and Theory X management styles.
As long as we consider the world to be essentially rational, logical, objective and predictable,
people believe that they can learn to control their worlds, if only they learn the rules and play the
game well. Unfortunately, as we see with the advent of Level 10 thinking, this is an impossibility -- people who strive to control their worlds, and feel secure in themselves only when they have achieved absolute control over people and things in their environments, are doomed to failure, for the world -- at least as envisioned by modern scientists -- is not predictable, but rather, full of potentials which are as yet, undefined and essentially, uncontrollable.
2. Psychoanalytic and Existential Worldview.
The psychoanalytic and existential paradigm recognizes that the objective world does not, and
cannot, explain the totality of our universe. Level 2 introduces a subjective element into our thinking
by exploring the depths and multiple layers of the human mind (i.e., full consciousness, pre-
consciousness, and unconsciousness). Human thought and human behavior vary widely along these dimensions.
Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung have been two of the major figures espousing this worldview. Dr. Freud's
work is still having tremendous affect on modern-day thinking, including both the coach and clients'
worldviews, despite having been discredited, in many respects, by subsequent research. Recovering
Clients, and those rebuilding their lives, often demonstrate this worldview. Sometimes, these clients
may even use their "unconscious" as an excuse for their current behavior or to abdicate responsibility
for changing current circumstances and realizing their goals. They, too, may believe that they are
powerless -- but for different reasons than clients holding the Deterministic World View. As Flip Wilson
used to say, "The Devil made me do it."
Carl Jung talked about the "Collective Unconscious" and many modern scientists talk about "Field
Theory." Both have relevance to our Creative Clients, as they make discoveries about themselves, life,
the universe -- and the types of experiences these clients attract into their lives. Anton LeVoy, in
Callings, said "The psychologist Ira Progoff once said that each of our lives is like a well and we're
meant to go down deeply enough into our own wells so that we finally reach the stream that's the source
of all the wells. There, says theologian Frederick Buechner, in the place where 'our deep gladness and
the world's deep hunger meet,' we hear a further call. This call leads us out into the world to test our
bright swords in real combat--to teach love, save lives, change minds, educate, minister."
M. Scott Peck states, "The unconscious is always one step ahead of the conscious mind--the one that
knows things--so it's impossible to know for sure. But if you're willing to sit with ambiguity, to
accept uncertainties and contradictory meanings, then your unconscious will always be a step ahead of
your conscious mind in the right direction. You'll therefore do the right thing, although you won't
know it at the time."
3. Physiological Worldview
Julio Olalla, speaking at the 1999 ICF Conference in Orlando, Florida said, "The biggest issue of our time is: because we are lacking meaning, we have no other goal than growth without purpose. Growth without purpose is like a cancer."
Recent scientific discoveries have shown that thought and behavior have physiological, anatomical, and psychological components. There is an increasing recognition of the "Mind-Body" connection and the difficulty in determining whether a given problem is simply "physical" or "psychological" - chances are - it is both.
Author, M. Scott Peck states, " I make no distinction between the mind and the spirit, and therefore no distinction between the process of achieving spiritual growth and achieving mental growth. They are one and the same."
Once we recognize that thought and behavior are multiply determined, we must broaden our definition of
health and well-being. From a coaching perspective, this means that we must foster balance -- both in our clients' lives, and in our own.
4. Creative Worldview
This paradigm acknowledges the ability of the creative mind to transcend the mechanistic worldview
of previous levels. According to Alfred North Whitehead, "A race preserves its vigor so long as it
harbors a real contrast between what has been and what may be; and so long as it is nerved by the vigor
to adventure beyond the safeties of the past. Without adventure civilization is in full decay."
Dr. Arthur Freeman and Rose DeWolf, writing in The 10 Dumbest Mistakes Smart People Make and How to
Avoid Them, state, "When you change your patterns of thinking, you change the way you feel about
yourself, about others, and about the world. And changing the way you feel enables you to deal more
productively with your problems and burdens and to take actions necessary to improve your life."
As coaches are able to help clients develop and consider more alternatives, the client's world
expands and life becomes happier, more fulfilled and more successful once clients begin to incorporate
their own creativity into their lives. Albert Szent-Gyorgi has said, "Genius is seeing what everyone
has seen, and thinking what no one has thought."
5. Psycho-Social Worldview
Level 5 allows the individual to be seen in relation to others -- The Psycho-Social Worldview
studies the mind as it perceives, learns and grows. This paradigm subsumes earlier levels.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. has said, " Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind
than in the one where they sprang up." I am a great believer in the value of the intersubjective
space -- the value of the "relationship" itself in the lives of people, or as Martin Buber would
say, the value of the "I and the Thou" type of relationship.
As the ancient Sufi Masters put it, "You think because you understand one you must understand
two, because one and one make two. But you must also understand 'and'." The coaching process introduces
a type of "magic" into the client's life through which relationship and process transcend even the
content of the coaching conversation.
6. Communication, Language & Symbolism Worldview
With the advent of Level 6, the mind is viewed in terms of its structures -- linguistic, visual,
These structures form the basis of mutual understanding, and the mind seeks to reach out to
establish contact with other minds. Rolf Jensen, in his book, The Dream Society, comments: "Today,
knowledge is stored as letters; we learn through the alphabet--this is the medium of the Information
Society. Most likely, the medium of the Dream Society will be the picture." Communication, language
and symbolism allow the client to tell himself a "story" about his life -- as s/he becomes more and
more able to modify that story; s/he grows and develops beyond earlier stages.
Helen Luke comments, " A real story touches not only the mind, but also the imagination and the
unconscious depths in a person, and it may remain with him or her through many years, coming to the
surface of consciousness now and then to yield new insights.
"As Salmon Rushdie has said, "Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their
lives, power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change,
truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts." Here, the client begins to see, and
value, the coaching experience as s/he reaches out to contact another mind [in this case, the coach's
7. Psychobiology Level (Cybernetic Level)
With the Psycho-biological Worldview, the mind is studied as a natural organism living within the
context of its environment, but this perspective has its limitations as well. This level also represents
the Cybernetic Level, because it introduces the concept of feedback into our thinking about thinking.
Michael Gelb and Tony Buzan, in their book, Lessons from the Art of Juggling, state, "The process
of succeeding can be seen as a series of trials in which your vision constantly guides you toward your
target while in your actual performance you are regularly slightly off target. Success in any area
requires constantly readjusting your behavior as the result of feedback from your experience."
With respect to coaching, this level builds upon the foundations laid in Level 6, and incorporates
the value of the feedback the client receives from the ongoing coaching relationship.
8. Paradigmatic Level
With the advent of the Paradigmatic Level, the mind can begin to evaluate the previous levels from
an empirical perspective, and ask questions such as, "How does the mind influence discovery?" "Which
epistemologies and methods of inquiry reveal facts and patterns?"
Mechanistic thinking and reductionism have led to a very fragmented, and often meaningless,
existence for modern man. As David Bohm states, "For fragmentation is now very widespread, not only
throughout society, but also in each individual; and this is leading to a kind of general confusion of
the mind, which creates an endless series of problems and interferes with our clarity of perception so
seriously as to prevent us from being able to solve most of them ... The notion that all these fragments
are separately existent is evidently an illusion, and this illusion cannot do other than lead to
endless conflict and confusion."
Albert Einstein commented, "The years of searching in the dark for a truth that one feels but
cannot express, the intense desire and the alternations of confidence and misgiving, until one breaks
through to clarity and understanding, are only known to him who has himself experienced them."
At this level of thought, the client is open to surfacing, evaluating, and even discarding his or
her life-long assumptions, which previously s/he had been unable to do. Marcus Aurelius has said,
"Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and fully all
that comes under thy observation in life."
9. Myth Institution and Cultural Level
Here, the mind is seen as inhering in the structure of myth, institutions and culture. Culture
becomes, effectively, the mind on a mega-scale -- which shapes us unawares, unless we develop the
understanding and ability to shape our culture.
Arthur Miller states, " An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted." Joseph
Campbell states, " Myths do not come from a concept system; they come from a life system; they come
out of a deeper center. We must not confuse mythology with ideology. Myths come from where the heart
is, and where the experience is, even as the mind may wonder why people believe these things. The myth
does not point to a fact, the myth points beyond facts to something that informs the fact."
We see this concept being applied in more and more places today, even in business. As Scott
Bradbury notes, "A brand is a metaphorical story that's evolving all the time. This connects with
something very deep--a fundamental human appreciation of mythology."
At this level, the client is much more empowered -- from a personal perspective, but also, from
the larger, cultural perspective. S/he recognizes that there are many fewer "givens" in life than s/he
had previously thought, and that he or she can, indeed, have a significant impact on his own personal
destiny, and the world at large.
10. The Non-Local Mind
Modern scientists and researchers are questioning the thinking that limited the "mind" to the area
housed by the brain. Much current research is centered on the "intelligence" of the cell, the gene,
the limbic system, etc. Ernest Rossi & David B. Cheek comment, Current research seems to indicate that
each cell can also carry memory and "think." As Bernie Siegel says, "Right down at the cellular level,
and right from the start of our lives, our bodies know what we are to become. Consider, he says, that
as the cells in a fertilized egg multiply, they soon reach a point when the subtlest indentations appear
in the growing cell-ball, which distinguish the head from the hindquarters. Although this distinction
seems to be lost on some people, nonetheless from this point on, if you take a cell from the head and
place it at the hindquarters, it will migrate back up to the head."
Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., has introduced us to the concept of "Emotional" intelligence, and many
writers now speak of multiple intelligences and multiple ways of learning and processing information.
Margaret Wheatley says in her newly revised edition of Leadership and the New Science: Discovering
Order in a Chaotic World, "It took these physicists a long time to accept the fact that the paradoxes
they encountered are an essential aspect of atomic physics … Once this was perceived, the physicists
began to learn to ask the right questions and to avoid contradictions … and finally they found the
precise and consistent mathematical formulation of [quantum] theory."
William Shakespeare said, " We see with the mind and not the eye," and Alan Watts, in Shaving the
Side of Your Head, notes: "We see what we believe rather than believe what we see."
A story is told of a native tribe in the depths of the African jungles, who -- upon seeing a
helicopter for the first time -- literally could not even "see" or comprehend its existence, because
it did not fit within their currently operative paradigm. Similar stories are told of people who have
been blind from birth, upon being given the technical ability to see, often cannot see -- sometimes for
days, sometimes for months, sometimes never -- because sight is not contained within their paradigm of
being blind, and their mind has not developed a way to organize their visual perceptions.
In the quantum world, it is truly a case that: "what you see is what you get". The roles of the
observer and of awareness, on the outcome of various scientific experiments have become the classical
problem to solve in quantum physics. Schroedinger's cat and the double-slit electron experiments have
become classics. The behavior of the electrons in these experiments further challenges our understanding
The world of physics has recently been rocked with the introduction of the "String Theory" of the
universe -- which, if proven and accepted -- has the potential to completely revamp our understanding
of reality and the universe.
For those of us who are coaches, this indicates that we need to be ever mindful of the many ways
that our clients think, learn and process information, and that we must always be mindful to coach
the "whole" person, and not just one part of the person. Further, we must be cognizant of the effect
that we, the coach-observer, actually have on the process being observed. Nothing is as simple as it
used to be. Everything is related and inter-connected.
Conclusion: Julio Olalla has stated, "Since the Industrial Revolution, our learning has left out
soul." His call to us -- as coaches, and as the coaching profession -- was to "build a profession having
a new understanding or reality." He called upon coaches, and the coaching profession, to "be light,
be passionate, laugh a lot, but do not betray the call. Being a coach means providing service with love."
The way we "think about thinking" affects everything we believe, everything we value, everything we
see, and everything we understand. It affects how we view reality. Arthur Schopenauer said, " Every
man takes the limits of his field of vision for the limits of the world."
According to A. T. Ariyaratne, "When we try to bring about change in our societies, we are
treated first with indifference, then with ridicule, then with abuse and then with oppression. And
finally, the greatest challenge is thrown at us: We are treated with respect. This is the most
Field Theory has a lot to say about the Attraction principle, and how it operates in our lives.
Chaos Theory has much to teach us about the value of adversity, and even decompensation, in our
lives -- and the lives of our clients; for it opens us to the possibility of self-reorganization at a
much higher level. And Quantum Theory has much to teach us about living in a world of apparent
contradictions, with wide swings from one state to another, much like the pendulum swings of a
Since coaching is largely a business of questions -- we must constantly seek to ask the "right"
questions and to avoid contradictions. But, to me, the greatest lesson from this high-level study
of "thinking about thinking" is the deep understanding that we must always remain humble in light of
our limited understanding of "truth," "reality" and life in general. Henriette Ann Klauser, in
Writing on Both Sides of the Brain, states, " 95% of what we know about how we think, that is
virtually all of the current information about the chemical, physiological and psychological
functions of the brain, has emerged in the last 10-15 years."
With knowledge doubling at an ever-increasing rate (currently less than 18 months), what will the
next 10-15 years bring us in terms of our "understanding" of thought, the mind, truth, and "reality"?
As coaches, we must constantly remind ourselves that what we think we "know" may not be true at all,
and that "what we think we know" clouds our vision -- and may actually prevent us from seeing
reality -- either ours, or our client's reality. We must learn to be open to the present, to surface
and challenge our own presumptions, and to be willing to revise our worldview in light of a constant
influx of new information. As Alexander Pope has said, " Some people will never learn
anything...because they understand everything too soon." Bertrand Russell stated, " Orthodoxy is the
death of intelligence," and Andre Gide comments, "Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those
who find it."