HOW TO BE CREATIVE

(A first chapter from the "Buryl's Inventions" book)

     This chapter describes the most important invention of all, although it has gone unnoticed by most people. Simply described, it is the invention to systematically invent new inventions. This technique allows one (or many) to make more inventions without limit or personal restriction. It could be called a ‘metainvention’, for it is a way to make inventions in any and every area of human activity, from the most arcane science to the most ordinary social or physical activity. 

It is a short note about how to be creative. Nearly everyone knows the fable of the fairy who is released from imprisonment by some lucky person and is rewarded by being granted three wishes except the wish to have more wishes. But with knowledge of techniques of creativity one can make unlimited number of wishes. It’s easy! It’s fun! 

The process of creativity is now becoming a science. That is, there are repeatable techniques that, if followed, produce results. The techniques are so clear and simple that they can be learned by anyone. Unlike the good fairy who will grant three wishes except a wish to wish for more wishes, following creative techniques there is no limit to what you can create. Technology, new discoveries in physics, biophysics, chemistry, biology, business, or international relations can all benefit. 

The discovery of how to be creative certainty ranks with all the top discoveries of the last two centuries, for it means we can make new discoveries without end.  This is more powerful than atomic energy. It may be worth millions of dollars or substantial reductions in human suffering. Every area of human activity can be addressed and new solutions found. 

You can easily learn to be more creative.  Some of the techniques are simple and could be taught to small children. With a little more effort they can be taught to politicians. There’s individual and group creativity. Group creativity is the most powerful. They overlap, and both are covered in this chapter. 

Some basic techniques for increasing individual creativity are described in the next section.

 

Individual Creativity Methods.

1. Ask ‘how’, not “why”. Ask ‘how’ we can make it possible, sell it, get a grant for funding it, get a business partnership, etc.  The key is to ask ‘How’ questions, not ‘why’ questions. How to improve this or that? How can it be made it less expensive?, simpler?, more efficient?  It’s simple to use the word ‘how’ not ‘why’. ‘Why’ questions don’t usually lead to anything concrete, just philosophizing or speculating.

2. Ask and LISTEN to everyone. Little children and uneducated adults often can ‘see’ things in fresh ways. Listening, truly listening to another person is not so easily learned. It takes practice to empty my mind and give full attention to other’s ideas, without jumping in with MY ideas which of course I think are better, truer, or easier to apply.  By truly listening to another I have found they often give me ideas or fresh approaches to a problem, sometimes without even knowing it. Listening is a skill; it may take a while to learn. Older people often have crystallized minds, or learned assumptions, or unexamined folk rules such as ‘What goes up must come down.’ ‘Energy is conserved.’, ‘There is no free lunch.’, or ‘life is hard, that’s the way it is.’, ‘That’s impossible!’, ‘The only way to do that is... .,’Wars are just human nature.’ and on and on with endless clichés that limit or stop creative thinking. Even so, some creative ideas may squeak through. If I listen with an empty mind, perhaps I’ll get them.

‘The law of entropy.’ Who says it’s a law? The ‘laws’ of physics, the ‘laws’ of chemistry, the ‘laws’ of the land., etc., etc., etc. There so many so-called ‘laws’, so many restrictive boxes to our thinking it’s no wonder people need to get their brains deleted every 84 years or so. Our soft drives get clogged with useless or restrictive principles. Every ‘law’ should be questioned. Is it really a law or just a convention? Just because it seems to be true for most cases, does that mean its forever a rigid ‘truth’ everywhere? 

Young children have clearer, emptier brains (until filed with lots of dumb beliefs by adults. Sure, some are necessary for optimum survival, like ‘don’t cross a busy street’, ‘stay out of the water there are stinging jellyfish today’, ‘don’t hurt other people’, etc., but even then sometimes there are exceptions. Keep flexible.

Question all so-called laws.

 3. Empty your head of all mind chatter.  Allan Watts said: “Words get in our eyes”. Some people live in the world of words, of who said what, of TV and computer screens, of names for things, as if that were what ‘is’.

Why do apples fall to earth? Because gravity pulls them. Why do pieces of iron sometimes attract one another?  It is magnetism.  Those words don’t explain anything. Yet people think they have understood the phenomenon because they have named them.

 

 

 

Zen practitioners learn the value of internal silence. The world is. No words can completely describe what is. No words can explain anything.

When I am confronted by a problem, usually the first step is to get rid of the words. To clear my mind of all words; look at the problem; ignore the words, the laws, the reasons why it can’t be solved. Ignore beliefs about it. Observe, contemplate with internal silence. Then construct your own words, beliefs, or ideas.  Use imagination to solve the problem. Make up new, imaginary, better solutions. Never mind so-called reality, at least for a while. 

4. Ignore skeptics.  Anyone who says ‘that’II never work, it violates the law of....’ has a limited attitude. A common statement is ‘the only way that can be done is…‘ is obviously an ‘in the box’ thinker, probably a pretty tiny box.  When people say that, I immediately laugh and feel challenged. There are usually several ways to do just about anything. But instead of telling them to ‘bug off’, ‘go away’ ‘leave me alone’, I take it as a challenge and immediately start thinking of other ways to do ‘it’.  

A powerful way to develop creative ideas is with the aid of a small group. 

Group Creativity Methods 

The Synectics company developed a wonderful group creativity technique. The company they formed, called Synectics, works with some of the top fortune 500 companies in the world. At one time I was Director of Training and Research; one of my best loved jobs. Harnessing the creative power of a group is many times more effective than one individual. It must be done carefully, it is not just simple matter of good old fashioned brainstorming, although that sometimes is enough to get a few solutions for simple problems. 

An abbreviated outline of the Synectics method follows:

1.  Choose a problem or challenge that needs creative solutions.

It’s best to choose something that probably has a definite, though presently unknown, answer, not something vague, like ‘why do the democrats not believe in starting wars’? or ‘why is the world in such a mess’? Technical problems are usually good ones for the Synectics methods. 

2.   Select a facilitator who can write quickly and clearly on a bulletin board, wall chart, or free standing flip chart. 

3.   Limit the group size to six, seven or eight people. More people will probably create too many ideas to process. 

4.   Get everyone’s initial solutions. The facilitator must write down everyone’s idea, no matter how impossible or crazy it sounds. The facilitator must insist that each participant abbreviates or summarizes his idea in a few words. These initial ideas should be saved for later evaluation. Participants are not allowed to ramble. They must be succinct or precise in their contributions. The facilitator may summarize ideas, and limit garrulous participants and encourage reticent ones to contribute.  

5.   Ask people to make wishful solutions for the problem. These don’t have to be practical or possible. This is an exercise to open the minds of participants. 

6.   Be sure to have one person in the group who can make final decisions. A boss or the person who will be spending the money if required. 

7.   It’s good to have at least one person who doesn’t know anything about the problem.  Maybe a person with expertise in a different field, or a very young person whose mind is relatively uncluttered, free from preconceptions. They will be able to look at problems with ‘fresh’ eyes. Creative talent is usually greater in young people. 

8. Teach participants not to be negative to others ideas. This is very important. People are often even negative to their own ideas. It can take up to three days of skillful guidance by the facilitator to teach participants not to be negative to ideas. It is the most important part of the group creativity process. One negative participant or few unnoticed negative comments can quash group creativity like a dark cloud. 

It amazing how common and sometimes subtle it is. People can be negative by voice tone, or posture as well as verbally.  We all know the nonverbal head shake, the folded arms and sitting back with head back or eyes closed posture. Some negative responses are more subtle. Some are obvious, such as the ‘yes, but’ types who pretend to be agreeing while really disagreeing. Ask them to rephrase their disagreements in the form of ‘how to’ questions.

Being negative to someone’s idea can turn off that person’s creativity for once, or for the whole time the group meets.

9.     Practice in careful listening to each other. It is common for participants to ‘tune out’ others in order to develop one’s own rebuttal or great idea. Really listening, not just pretending to, is worth a separate lesson in group creativity.

10.   Building techniques.

     Another important creativity technique is to teach group members by listening carefully and bui1ding on other member’s ideas. People often are so internally focused on their own ideas they don’t pay attention to other people’s. Better to note their great idea on a note pad for mentioning later and attend to the person speaking. Often they may be expressing a similar idea and the next person can expand on their idea. Then the next person to speak may further expand the idea and “presto” there is a great idea built by everyone. This can be true group creativity. It ‘s fun and easy.

 

11. Teach people how to listen and build upon the ideas of others. Ideally creative group work should be built by everyone, not just a collection of ideas from the most talkative or creative participants. When everyone participates in evolving solutions everyone will want to help them manifest. 

12. Limit what people say to each other or to a question by the facilitator. The facilitator must not let people ramble on about their great idea or plan or justify it.  This can be done by writing down just a few words or a phrase or two, succinctly summarizing their idea or their comment, no matter how goofy or impractical it seems. People like to know that their comments are being recorded.  When the main idea is recorded, the facilitator records it, says “thank you” and focuses on someone else. A good facilitator will draw out ideas from everyone. No group member is allowed to dominate the group. Neither the boss, nor the oldest person, or the most educated. 

13. A special way of ‘playing’ with ideas follows: Essentially it involves guiding a group to focus on an analogous problem in another area, perhaps completely unrelated to the initial problem. The purpose is to open up participants minds to wider creative thinking and not get stuck on the main problem. It is to start out of the box thinking. Ideally it requires a trained facilitator and will not be discussed here. An interested person may read books and material by George Prince and Bill Gordon or take a Synectics workshop.*

Then the facilitator gets serious and focuses the group on selecting the best ideas for the initial problem for further evaluation and plans for specific action.  Auxiliary ideas or remaining parts of specific plans that have not been fully resolved may be saved for other group meetings. 

14. Use intuition. After a break, ask participants to relax, shut their eyes, and ask their Inner Mind, Higher Self, Spirit Guide, God, or whatever or whoever they wish, for any other ideas. As usual, the facilitator writes down ideas that come from this process, no matter how ‘far out’ or impossible, or irrelevant they seem. Sometimes a fragment of an idea received by one person ties in with another participant’s fragment to make a coherent, sensible, and practical solution to the initial problem. 

In my experience group members feel excited by this process and are ready to begin enthusiastically working on plans for action. Each person knows they have contributed to the solution; it has not been one person’s loud authority dictatorially pushing his or her own idea on others. 

As a frequent group facilitator I usually write a summary of the meeting(s) reporting on the main plan or action as well as any brilliant ideas given by others, so they all feel satisfied that they have been heard, recorded, and that they personally have been helpful. 

I, personally, have been so stimulated by these ideas that my creativity seems boundless. I have a reputation among my friends as an idea man, and sometimes have been called a genius. I’m not, but studying Zen, Korzybski, Gurdjieff, Seth, the Anastasia material, and most of all, working for Synectics, has helped me sometimes ‘think outside a box’. 

While working for Synectics, I gave General Mills the idea for the Granola Bar, started the first biofeedback company, and later rediscovered a new force simply detected and measured by a few tinker toys and some magnets.

I wish you similar success in whatever you choose to do. 

Just one new idea, put into practice, could enrich your life and that of many others. Besides its fun, and basically simple, so turn that TV off, invite 6 or 7 friends over and get your minds bubbling! Especially now that the economy is low. Step right into creative productivity. The world is full of opportunity. Now! 

Some General Comments on Creativity 

It is not always easy to come up with clear arguments why something could or should be done. You may be following your intuition, not current scientific methods. There seem to be an endless number of negative or narrow thinking people who enjoy finding something wrong with your thinking. Don’t let these people slow you down. Tell them to shut up, at least mentally, if not in actuality. 

Here is a list of typical reasons such people may come up with. Usually it is a waste of your time trying to argue with them. 

50 reasons why it won’t work: 

1.  We’ve never done it before.

2.  Nobody else has ever done it.

3.  It has never been tried before.

4.  We tried it before.

5.  Another company tried it once.

6.  We’ve been doing it this way for 25 years.

7.  It won’t work in a small company.

8.  It won’t work in a large company.

9.  It won’t work in our company.

10. Why change -- it’s working OK.

11. The boss will never buy it.

12. It needs further investigation.

13. Our competitors are not doing it.

14. It’s too much trouble to change.

15. Our company is different.

16. The ad dept says it can’t be done.

17. The sales dept says it can’t be sold.

18. The service dept won’t like it.

19. The janitor says it can’t be done.

20. It can’t be done.

21. We don’t have the money.

22. We don’t have the personnel.

23. We don’t have the equipment.

24. The union will scream.

25. It’s too visionary.

26. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

27. It’s too radical a change.

28. It’s beyond my responsibility.

29. It’s not my job;

30. We don’t have the time.

31. It will obsolete other procedures.

32. Customers won’t buy it.

33. It’s contrary to our policy.

34. It will increase overhead.

35. The men will never buy it.

36. It’s not our problem.

37. I don’t like it.

38. You’re right, but …

39. We’re not ready for it.

40. It needs more thought.

41. Management won’t accept it.

42. We can’t take the chance.

43. We’d lose money on it.

44. It takes too long to pay out.

45. We’re doing all right as it is.

46. It needs committee study.

47. Competition won’t like it.

48. It needs sleeping on.

49. It won’t work in this department.

50. It’s impossible. 

Can you turn these statements into “how” questions or the only sane answer: “Let’s try it.”

In addition a successful inventor needs courage, persistence, and some salesmenship ability. Sometimes one has to be stubborn and thickheaded as well. Don’t give up! 

It is also good to be aware that the grammar of our language subtly moulds our thinking along certain patterns and certain ways the world is put together. These grammatical patterns may not conform to the way the world works. The world outside our skins is not made up of nouns (things) and actions. It is always in flux. Static ‘things’ are only static in our made up language. ‘Things’ are always in motion, or constant change. Words, however are just static symbols. Convenient abstractions for simplified usage. 

Our verbal world is often based on two valued thinking: black or white, off or on, true or false, us or them, good or bad, living or not living. You may hear a rabble rousing politician say “are you with me or against me?” 

Such simplistic thinking is often an indication of a simple and non creative mind. The world is not two valued. In mathematics the term ‘n-valued’ is used or the language of probability. Better conformation to many world events, things, or structures, is possible if n-valued logic is used. Computers use the two valued logic based on ‘0’ and ‘1’. Sometimes by using many zeros and ones it is possible to bridge the gap from two valued to n-valued logic, if n is a very large number. 

Another successful inventor gave his formula for inventing. Below are 7 principles he suggests. 

1. Be alert every day for problems to solve, for better ways to make things, for better ways to do things. These are all problems crying out for new products. 

2. Promptly check it out and, if you can, make a working model. Try it out, but don’t spend an extra penny until you check out the market and perform a patent search. 

3. Be practical. For an inventor life is too short to get higher degrees in one narrow subject. 

4. Be alert to other people’s abilities and use them. If you’ve got a metallurgical problem, find someone who knows an alloy from an alibi. 

5. Combine other people’s talents with your own, and get on with the project. 

6. Find a good intellectual property law firm to complete your patent applications. 

In closing, I’d urge you to “take a crack” at a new invention or development if it makes sense. It’s a great thrill to see your inventions in use, creating new jobs, and making people’s lives a little easier. And, above all, helping make our air, water, and land clean and safe. 

7. Even if you don’t want to be an independent inventor, concentrate on looking for needs that will help your organization. There are lots of them out there. 

I wish you success. You can do it!