Book Review: 'Creative Thinkerin: Putting Your Imagination to Work' by Michael Michalko
Creative Thinkerin: Putting Your Imagination to Work Michael Michalko New World Library (2011)
How and why conceptual blending of dissimilar subjects, ideas, and concepts is the most important factor in creative thinking
Those who have read any of Michael Michalko’s previously published books, notably Cracking Creativity and Thinkertoys, already know that he has a unique talent for explaining the creative process (making something new) and the innovative process (making something better) and does so creatively and innovatively, in ways and to an extent that almost anyone can understand (a) what they are, (b) how they differ, (c) what they share in common, and (d) how to benefit from them.
In his latest book, he explains how and why conceptual blending of dissimilar subjects, ideas, and concepts is the most important factor in creative thinking. It is not only a matter of “connecting the dots,” although that skill important; it also involves “connecting the right dots in the right way” and, more importantly, being able to recognize especially important “dots” that others may not see, much less appreciate.
Michalko organizes his material within two Parts: Creative Thinking and The Creative Thinker. Obviously, the first focuses on various techniques, skills, drills, exempla, and exercises that explain what creative thinking is and can do. In Part II, he explains how almost anyone can become a much more creative thinker. More specifically, how to become much more alert for connections (especially between and among what are significantly dissimilar), intentionally thinking more creatively rather than haphazardly, changing the way one speaks in order to change the way one thinks (he devotes all of Chapter 12 to that), and “Becoming What You Pretend to Be,” the title of the next chapter. Long ago, Henry Ford observes, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Michalko wholly agrees, noting that just as attitude can influence behavior, behavior can influence attitude. Of special interest to me is the “Thought Experiment” (“Velten’s Instructions,” on Pages 183-185″). I’ll say no more about it except this: What I learned from completing this exercises – all by itself – is worth far more than the cost of the book.
Here in Dallas, we have a farmers market near the downtown area at which several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as a sample of their wares. In that spirit, I now provide a representative selection of Michalko’s insights from among the several hundred I carefully considered:
On Leonardo da Vinci: “His mind integrated information instead of segregating it. This is why he was polymathic. He created breakthroughs in art, science, engineering, military, science, invention, and medicine.” This is what Roger martin has in mind, n The Opposable Mind, when he discusses his concept of “integrative thinking.” Page 10
On the Edison research center in Menlo, Park (NJ): “Thomas Edison’s lab was a big barn with worktables set up side by side that held separate projects in progress. He would work on one project and then another. His workshop was designed to allow one project to infect a neighboring one, so that moves made here might also be tried there. This method of working allowe4d him to consistently rethink the way he saw his projects. You can use separate notebooks to do, in time, what Edison’s workshop did in space.” Page 70
On the creative thinker: Someone who is “a result of the assembly and interactions of certain critical human traits. First, you must have the intention and desire to be creative; second, you must consciously cultivate positive speaking and thinking patterns; and last, you must act like a creative thinker and go through the motions of being creative every day.” Page 145
On creating one’s own experiences: “Cognitive scientists have discovered that the brain is a dynamic system – an organ that evolves its patterns of activity rather than computes them like a computer. It thrives on the creative energy of feedback from experiences either real or fictional. An important point to remember is that you can synthesize experience, literally create it in your imagination. The human brain cannot tell the difference between an `actual’ experience and an experience imagined vividly and in detail.” Page 186
I presume to offer two suggestions to those who purchase this book: highlight key passages (my preference is for the Sharpie ACCENT wide tip pen with Smear Guard) and complete the several dozen “Thought Experiment” exercises using a notebook (my preference is the Mead Black Marble Wide-Ruled Composition Book). This really is a workbook without spaces within which to complete the exercises. Fortunately, Michael Michalko has a very creative mind and thus has been into his book a lively and substantive interaction between his reader and the material he provides.
Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission.Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.