Staring into Space

Do you know how to stare into space to get the most amazing idea?

Do you know how to let your mind wander to get that amazing idea?

Creative thinking can be defined as an approach to thinking where the goal is to come up with a new idea. New ideas and insights can emerge either by accident or deliberate.

Take as an example the Inverted Umbrella: it closes and opens in reverse, helping trap the water on the inside.



We can think of something in a new way without using a special approach to thinking or using a deliberate creative thinking tool.

By accident

An observation made by chance can make you think or see something in a new way.

By logical thinking

Sometimes changes can take time and  ideas can be slowly molded into shape using a logical approach to thinking. This approach relies on each step making sense so it often takes a  long time to develop a new product.

By systematic use of a creative thinking technique

A deliberate approach may lead more rapidly to new ideas. For instance, in this case the invention could have been generated by use of de Bono’s Reversal Thinking Technique or the TRIZ inventive principle “The other way round”: Turn the object (or process) ‘upside down’.

Yet, a creative approach to thinking is not the same as coming up with as many as possible ways to use a brick. The task of coming up with ways to use a brick is sometimes used as a way to study a creative approach to thinking. An article in Psychology Today suggests that staring into space or daydreaming is a more successful approach to generate new ideas as compared to a more deliberate approach.

“. . . conscious thinking does nothing to improve creativity or help people come up with innovative solutions to problems. For example, when researchers give people a task that requires creativity (such as instructions to come up with a list of ways to use a brick), people don’t generate longer or more creative lists if they have a few extra minutes to think before they start.”  Christine L Carter

The answer to why a person does not generate longer or more creative lists when asked to come up with ideas may have little to do with a deliberate approach to creative thinking. Instead, we may simply write down whatever pops up into our heads. A real test for any differences in a creative approach to thinking would be to ask people to use a specific tool or technique. Then the results can be compared to not using a conscious approach.

The advice that staring  into space and not consciously thinking about the problem may not in itself be a bad suggestion. However, comparing this approach to  using a deliberate approach to creative thinking is in itself troublesome. Giving the brain time to make connections is important and an idea often needs to be improved upon.  However, deliberate thinking about the problem may help to provide the focus and help to provide the starting point. Staring into space and daydreaming does not mean that the brain is not working rather many different regions light up. More regions may light up int the brain as compared to when we focus on a specific part of the problem or when we use a specific tool to hep as explore different possibilities. But this does not mean that focusing the attention is a bad thing.

There are lots of thinking tools that can be used to explore a topic and more research is needed to explore the benefits of these. Also, research is needed into what happens when we take a time out and let the mind wander. Does the “aha moment” come when we let the mind wander about anything or when we let it wander around the problem we tried to solve.

So where is creativity? It is easy to think of creativity as something that lies inside a person, usually their brain. Yet the person who has a new idea is only a part of  a chain. The ideas in the society influenced the person as well as the environment in which the ideas and suggestions were formed. In a later blog post, we will explore the relationship between a creative approach to thinking and the environment.


Flickr Topher McCulloch

Thinkibility Olympics

What If there would be Olympic Games  in which thousands of thinkers from around the world participate in a variety of competitions?


It would definitelety differ from TED-talks or Edge-papers that are basically unilaterally spreading novel ideas and insights in a non-competitive way.

In an Olympic Games for Thinkers participants compete in thinking skills. But it is not against each other. like in a debate in which there is a heated dispute in argument wherein someone through logical consistency, factual accuracy and some degree of emotional appeal to the audience “wins”.


Nor will it be like the Mind Sports Olympiad, an annual international multi-disciplined competition and festival for games of mental skill and mind sports, like chess, bridge, draughts, shogi, backgammon, Chinese chess, Othello, poker, cribbage, Mastermind; and many newer games like: Abalone, Bōku, Continuo, Entropy, Kamisado,Lines of Action, Pacru and TwixT.

It will be  a contest of ability in “parallel thinking“or “divergent thinking“.

A contest in parallel and divergent thinking

In Parallel Thinking, practitioners put forward as many statements as possible in several (preferably more than two) parallel tracks.

Divergent Thinking typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, ‘non-linear’ manner, such that many ideas are generated in an emergent cognitive fashion. Many possible solutions are explored in a short amount of time, and unexpected connections are drawn.

The Thinkibility Olympics will be a contest of  the agility and skill in coming up with new possibilities, alternatives and choices. The winner will be the one that offers the most and qualitative best ideas, concepts and new approaches or thinking directions.

Thinking Caves

There will be various “thinking arenas”. Perhaps it is beter to speak of “thinking caves”, as a referral to Plato’s allegory of the Cave .


Reality might be just projections

Socrates suggests that the shadows constitute reality for the prisoners because they have never seen anything else; they do not realize that what they see are shadows of objects in front of a fire, much less that these objects are inspired by real living things outside the cave. The Thinkibility Olympics is like a kind of “Escape the Room Game“, but than virtually

Examples of the “thinking caves” might be:

  • foreign policy, f.e give as many possible causes and/or solutions about the conflict in Syria
  • medicine, f.e. approaches to prevent cancer orhow to prevent the spread of infectous diseases
  • economics, f.e. what if there is only work for robots left? Or ways to deal with an increasing population
  • financial system, f.e. how to prevent valuta fraud or perverse incentives for bankers?
  • feeding people, f.e. how to make massive food production ecological sustainable?
  • architecture, f.e. ways to build sustainable cities
  • education, f.e. ways to inspire kids to love learning, how to prevent bullying orhow to deal with negative attitudes and behaviour in schools
  • climate change, f.e. ways to prepare for the changes and ways to profit from the changes
  • engagered species, f.e. ways to determine which species to save first
  • environment, f.e. ways to deal with lack of water
  • information technolgy, f.e. ways to deal with data secutrity, ways to tell people about the biggest problems and to engage them in searching for solutions
  • fun (lateral puzzles or crazy topics), f.e. how to catch UFO’s, design alternative sequels for the ABCD-alphabet


No Nobel prize

Beware, it’s not like the Nobel prizes, where prizers are rewarded to achieved academic outstanding work in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, economics, and the promotion of peace. However, The Thinkibility Olympics is not about achieving, outstanding and academic.  It is about puting forward as many as possible unproven hypothesis, outrageous speculation – the forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence and  ideation – the formation of ideas or concepts.


All thinkers would use avatars rather than their names. Avatars are used to ensure that ideas are judged rather than a person’s previous contributions.

The organisation of the Thinkibility, the choice of the thinking areanas and the judging will be done by the Thinkibility University. The Thinkibility University  is an university that is solely dedicated to the in-depth exploration of “thinking” as a human skill.


Judging the performances would be in quantities of aspects (breadth) and degree of various detail (depth). Of course, there will arise a lot of discussion about the judgment of any jury. In contrary to the normal Olympic Games, the more discussions the better, it makes the Thinkibility Olympics even more attractive and useful.

During the session there could be a parallel session over the Internet, accessible for anyone in the world. The result of their thinking is projected on a screen, outside the view of the particpants, but visible to the public. The event is streamlined life.

Anyhow, some kind of criteria, derived from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking the judges should apply:

  • Fluency: The total number of interpretable, meaningful, and relevant ideas generated in response to the stimulus.
  • Flexibility: The number of different categories of relevant responses.
  • Originality: The statistical rarity of the responses.
  • Elaboration: The amount of detail in the responses.

There could have different handicaps like in golf. Using the internet to search for information for 1 hour, 30 minutes, 1 minute etc.

Participants ideas could be donated to sponsor the next Thinking Olympics.

The Thinkbility Team  is now seraching for sponsors to help arrange the world’s first Thinkibility Olympics:-:)


Participants Save

Sub-boxing Everywhere

In all highly developed civilizations, we see a trend to more:

  • segmentation: division into segments
  • specialization: made or used for one particular purpose, job, place, etc.
  • differentiation: development from the one to the many, the simple to the complex, or the homogeneous to the heterogeneous
  • classification: a category into which something is put

You could say that products, jobs, scientific disciplines, processes, phenomena, etc are continually divided up into smaller parts or “conceptual boxes”. The consequence is that such societies become more complex: finding the right “box” and making choices are becoming increasingly laborous and burdensome.

Segmentation is one of the eight trends in TRIZ that predicts the future development of a system that could happen. Below some examples:

Sub-specialties of cardiology are developed along electrical properties of the heart, the use of ultrasound, catheters, and nuclear medicine.

In economics and marketing, product differentiation (or simply differentiation) is the process of distinguishing a product or service from others, to make it more attractive to a particular target market.

Some hundred years ago sport shoes were invented as an alternative of the rather rigid all-day-shoe of leather. Nowadays for nearly any sport there is a specialized shoe available, specifically designed for that sport.

Sometimes the further segmentation reaches to the point of absurdity:


Market segmentation is a marketing strategy which involves dividing a broad target market into subsets.


Segmentation has been one of the strongest strategies in marketing as it is traditionally practiced. If you enter a new category, you attempt to create a product that is distinct from those already there, by carving out a niche. However, segmentation is a more-of-the-same strategy and could be easily counterproductive because it is based on the existing products and markets. Instead of fighting over an ever decreasing fragment of a market, by transforming a product enough to make it suitable to satisfy new or different needs, it is possible to create a new market. It is called lateral marketing.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) offers a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders.The DSM-I, from 1952, listed 106; the DSM-III, from 1980, listed 265, and the current DSM-IV has 297 mental disorders. It means that over 5o% of all Americans will have a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetimes. It seems that “b0xing”and “sub-boxing” provoke their own dynamics, as explained in this interesting article: Abnormal is the New Normal by Robin S. Rosenberg


A Creative Random Visual Approach to Innovation

Leonardi da Vinci was the first to write about the importance of introducing random and chance events to produce variation in one’s thinking patterns. Random words are a powerful technique that is easy to use. This method is often used when people need to create new ideas. A random word can be used to simulate new ideas, help  to break thinking pattern, and create new connections.

Artists can use a visual random approach to create a piece of art. Pablo Picasso identified parts of human faces and then changed the sizes and the way these parts were put together to create a face. This approach resulted in portraits where the person is seen both in profile and from the front.


Painting By Pablo Picasso – Website of the Art Institute of Chicago, PD-US,

What if this approach was used to make a drawing of a dog?

In a video by the artist and creative workshop instructor  Carla Sonheim, you could  start making a painting of a dog by cutting out the following six dog parts:
a.  an eye
b. a second eye, three times larger than the first
c. a nose or a snout
d. an ear
e. a tail
f. a leg or a paw

After this, you draw six random dots on a piece of paper and then you glue two parts of the dog onto the paper. Then you turn the paper 90 degrees and you glue down another two parts. Finally, you turn the paper again and glue the remaining two body parts. This approach helps to break your “thinking pattern” about what a dog should look like. You are placing the parts at random  and without relations.

Now the fun bit starts, where you twist and turn the paper and really look and try to “see” a dog. When the dog emerges you grab a crayon and add lines to finish it. Here you are trying to take the new configuration as a way to re-interpret the standard way of drawing and seeing a dog. A provocation to help you move forward.

Finally, you evaluate your creation and improve upon it.

We used a similar approach to re-design an orange juice machine.

  1. Identify the (functional) parts of the object, go here and here to read about juice machines.

An orange machine works as follows:

  1. a feeder introduces the fruit into the system
  2. the kitchen knife cut the fruit in two
  3. both halves are squeezed
  4. the juice is collected
  5. the peels are sent to the trash can.
  6. the juice is collected in a glass
  7. the machine cleans itself



Images are randomly glued onto a paper and search for a new way of squeezing oranges begins.

orange machine concept


The image is improved upon and modified.

  1. the oranges are collected in a basket
  2. the oranges proceed through a horizontal tube
  3. at the end of the tube, the orange will be pushed to the spherical end
  4. then they will be guillotined
  5. the juice and the peels are collected on a plate
  6. the juice will leak away to a compartment below through holes in the plate
  7. the peels will be shifted off the plate and will fall in a peels collector
  8. the washing machine will then cover and clean the installation

What can you improve upon or invent using a similar approach? What about an eco-friendly  car wash? A potato chip machine? Or. . .

orange 2

Brands – Thinkibility Nibble

It’s amazing how many people let themselves voluntarily be used as advertising boards by clothing manufacturers, yet at the same time, this is a  brilliantly designed ad campaign by  manufacturers.

The customers are not paid for showing the companies logo, they pay even more to be able to wear what is called “designer clothing”.

Amazing too is that so many people choose for their personal branding a logo that millions of other people also use for their personal branding:  the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands. Or better said: people identify themselves with qualities of something outside themselves, projecting to others “Who Am I?”


That is amazing because many scientists pose that in Western cultures the self-concept place particular importance on independence and the expression of one’s own attributes (i.e. the self is more important than the group). It is even more surprising considering the deeds and misdeeds of Nike, The Gap, McDonald’s, Shell, and Microsoft – and of their lawyers, contractors, and advertising agencies.

Perhaps we should design social interventions: an orchestrated attempt to get someone to seek professional help with an addiction or some kind of traumatic event or crisis, or other serious problem.

Perhaps when we mingle in a social event, we could wear clothes inside out, as a statement:

Another possibility is to have no logo at all, or a “no logo”:

Perhaps you could design your own logo that expresses

  • The view you have of yourself (Self image: your answer to the question “What do you believe people think about you?”)
  • How much value you place on yourself (Self esteem or self-worth:  your beliefs about oneself like “I am competent”, “I am worthy”)
  • What you wish you were really like (Ideal self: a sense of self, based on spontaneous authentic experience, and a feeling of being alive, having a “real self”.)

Or to design anti-logos:

Another possibility: a logo that communicates your mood:

Or a logo that conveys a political view:



What makes a great city?

“. . . we need to get out of our private cocoons more” says Jan Gehl.

In a recent article on CO Design, the Danish Architect and urbanist Jan Gehl talks about five important rules for designing cities. He uses Venice as a model for his ideas and with its pedestrian streets, picturesque canals and a constant hum of activity, Venice lures tourists from all over the world. Venice engages all of our senses and is described as the ultimate people-friendly city.

Today, 54 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and by 2050 it is expected that 66 percent of the population will live in cities. Thus, it is vital to consider ways to design people-friendly cities. Go here, here or here to see a list of the world’s best cities


Photo: Stéphanie Kilgast

“What we have to address now is making livable, healthy, safe, and sustainable cities,”says Jan.

Jan believes that city planners need to consider two issues when planning a city namely climate change and public health. Previously cities have been  designed in a way that focused on “cheap gasoline”. Architects designed cities where people were encouraged and even forced to spend their day sitting in their cars, offices, or homes. This approach to design has led to many health problems and a study in the medical journal The Lancet found that people in suburbs were having shorter lifespans than people who live centrally in cities. People in suburbs simply walked less that people living in the centre of a city and this influenced their overall health.

Another aspects that need to be taken into account, according to Jan, is ways to encourage people to spend more time in public space, designing for multisensory experiences, making transportation more equitable and a city where cars are banned.

Native ecosystem

“If you were to actually make a city that functioned like the native ecosystem next door, it would produce ecosystem services,”Janine Benyus says.

The purification of water and air, and cooling of local temperatures by using nature as inspiration may also make a city more resilient to climate change.For example, by using an ecosystem such as the wetland as a model, where water is cleaned by natural filtration, it may be possible to build cities where more water is cleaned in  a more efficient way . This approach may eventually lead to less energy being wasted.

Nature provides us with a knowledge base that has been developing for billions of years. Yet it is important to remember that the questions and the focus of our attention will also influence the way we search and indeed design different solutions.

Redefining focus

The concept smart cities is fuzzy and there is no absolute definition of the word. Instead, the idea is the solution for designing a smart city varies depending on which city it is and there is no fixed goal rather it is a process where the overall aim is t0

“enable every citizen to engage with all the services on offer, public as well as private, in a way best suited to his or her needs. It brings together hard infrastructure, social capital including local skills and community institutions, and (digital) technologies to fuel sustainable economic development and provide an attractive environment for all.” (p. 7 Smart CitiesSmart Cities)


Photo: Jonathan Leung

A way to gain new ideas and insights is to redefine the existing ideas and suggestions. For example, the idea that  cars should be banned in cities could be redefined as cities should be designed for self-driving cars. Moreover, the suggestion that it should be a multisensory experience could be redefined as cities should be places of silence. Many animals look for silent and quiet places to bring up their young. Blackbirds, robins and song thrusts, for example,  will stop to check that they are not being watched while they build their nests in  a hedge or shrub.

Challenge assumptions

We also assume that cities have the same design the whole year.

Why not different designs each month?

Arctic animals change the colour of their fur and feathers to avoid been seen by predators. Maybe our houses should have different colours throughout the year to minimise the energy that is used.

Or certain structures could be designed to deal with certain seasonal problems such as how to encourage people to ride their bike on a snowy day. Many animals build tunnels in the snow and perhaps this approach could be used to make it easier to ride a bike in the winter.

Safe cities

Let us return to the suggestion that cities need to be designed for people. An approach to designing cities that are great places is to  build them in a way that encourages  people to spend more time in public spaces. It is assumed that a  city becomes safer if people are encouraged to spend time in public spaces. We may feel more socially included and we can meet each other and not only watch different people on screens.

Let us start by looking at the concept safe. The Middle English word safe comes from Old French sauf, from Latin salvus ‘uninjured’.

Safe for whom? Safe from what or whom? Perhaps cities should use airports as a model to make they more secure from terrorist threats. What ideas can be used? What solutions would not work in a city?

Perhaps we could use the rainforest as a metaphor for a safe place? A police station. or your home?

Can you draw a map of your envisioned safe city?