Focus – Thinkibility Boost

focusComing up with real break-through ideas is not easy and will require some training and experience. However, the trickiest part of an idea generation session is in its first phase: defining the focus. Defining the thinking task is the first task you should undertake when you are trying something like a “20 Minutes Idea Boost”.

Defining the Focus

Often teams tend to skip this phase. They assume that the thinking task before them is clear.This is not the best approach since. . .

  • the current definition of the challenge or problem could be hindering the search for a solution
  • there may be unchecked different perceptions between the participants about what the problem or challenge is
  • the thinking task could be far too broad or abstract to get concrete ideas

Defining the wrong focus can sometimes result in great ideas, but the ideas may not be of the kind that you actually looking for – they do not solve your specific problem. You can also end up with simply poor ideas.

Example: We need ideas to deal with the shortage of maths teachers. The problem here is that teachers in maths are not well paid. Solution: raise they salary for  maths teachers. . .

To arrive at a focus shift you could use creative thinking techniques as cause-effect or foreground-background reversals, change of  system levels or any other thinking strategy.

Redefine the focus at infinity

To lessen the risk of being trapped in an obvious definition of the thinking goal – and getting obvious ideas – it helps to redefine the thinking challenge in at least 20 ways, connecting them with the statement: the problem here is. . . and. . . and. . . also. . . and not to forget. . .

Example: The problem with the shortage of maths teachers is that there are too few teachers leaving schools and also that maths teachers do have too many other tasks besides their teaching, and the problem is that the time in the class is not efficient used, and not to forget there is far too little PC aided support, and the problem is that far too much children have to learn math, and also the classes are far too big and there are too few teachers in maths because their education is too long, to elaborated. too. . . and so on. . .

Define selection criteria

Setting criteria against ideas at the end of a session are a very useful way to reflect on possible outcomes. It will prevent ” drifting”, that is coming up with wild and great ideas that are not relevant for this particular thinking task. Another advantage to setting criteria  before actual generating ideas is that it prevents a certain bias against crazy ideas, i.e. ideas that are not well-suited for overcoming the challenge.

Example: a good idea will increase the available maths teachers with at least 20 %, a good idea will reduce the amount of students that get no maths teaching with 80 % at least.  A good idea will not cost more than the salaries of maths teachers we don’t have at the pay this year. 

In Innovation – Selecting Ideas we wrote about the importance of setting criteria for what should be regarded as a good idea. This should be done before you start to generate ideas.

Make it sexy

The thinking task should be formulated in a way that is as challenging, far-reaching, provoking, imaginative and energetic as possible. The classical IWWMW – In What Ways Might We – is not real inviting, neither does ” We need ideas to improve…” ignites any real enthusiasm

Example: . At  least every child in secondary school should have 100 hrs maths a year by a qualified teacher. The amount of students that will have maths education will not exceed the available maths teachers.  How to make rock-stars of maths teachers within two years?

Make it formal

When you have finally found a promising thinking task, write it down:

  1. the subject: about what we are going to think
  2. the goal of objective: what should be reached after the thinking session: a solution, an idea, an approach, a decision, etc
  3. selection criteria for assessing ideas
  4. the sexy question

Time spent a meticulous formulating the thinking task will reward you with hopefully better ideas in less time. And all ideas will land exactly where you were aiming at. You will hit the bulls-eye – every time! Why does it work? It works because you have a clear view of the dart board.

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Focus the Attention, Relax, and Feel Invisible

Today, we can by using technology create situations that shows us how powerful our thoughts can be and also how confusing the boundaries between our own body and the environment can be. Below are two examples that pushes the boundaries when it comes to our concepts about thinking, the mind, body and the environment.

The idea of a separate body and mind have been discussed by many philosophical and religions traditions.The concept of thinkibility embraces a biological approach to consciousness and thinking. We believe that there is a complex interaction between the brain, body and the environment. In other words, we do not  believe that thinking takes place isolated in our heads.

The first example, illustrates how we can by focusing and relaxing our attention influence the environment. Ashley Newton has invented a set of robotic flowers that you control with your mind. You control the flowers and change the shape by focusing and relaxing. Like bioluminescent deep-sea creatures, the flowers blossom and  dances. The internal becomes the external and the boundaries between your mind and the environment becomes blurred.

CCguqeBW0AA3vLmNewton says; “The more you’re able to be aware of your mind and control it appropriately, the more effective you’ll be at doing whatever you want, and the better you’ll feel.” Controlling the robotic flowers can help to improve mindfulness.

Research carried out by Arvid Guterstam and his colleagues has explored what it feels like to be invisible.

The technology has not yet advanced enough to provide us with a real invisibility cloak but it is possible to create a perceptual illusion that makes us believe that we are invisible.
By using clever camera angles, virtual goggles and physical caresses (touching the body) it was possible to create the illusion that a person has no body. Go here to read more about the experiment.
So what happens to us when we think that we are invisible? The researchers looked among other things at how a person would react in a social situation and they found that feeling invisible reduced the anxiety brought on by standing in front of an audience. Thus, tricking us to feel invisible may help to reduce social anxiety.
An interesting aspect that the research team will look at next is how feelings of invisibility affects our moral.
Why not write a list of things you would do if you were invisible?
Ten positive things and ten more suspicious and even immoral things:-)

E429822A-5CB6-44BF-804064E9C95A77F0_articlePhoto: Staffan Larsson

Focus on What Matters When it Matters


When it comes to living incognito among coral, the pygmy seahorse is the specialist. Coral reefs may be bright and spectacular but they are rough places to live, so animals often use camouflage to stay safe.

Focusing the attention on what we are looking for may seem easy. We can easily multitask and search for several things at the same time. We can read a text message, look for the spoon in the kitchen, while glancing over to see what the kids are up to at the table.

We rely on this skill to quickly search our surrounding and find what we are looking for. Experience helps us develop useful shortcuts so that we do not have to waste our time looking for a butterfly on the rocks instead our eyes are drawn to the flowers in the garden, which is a more likely spot to find a fluttering butterfly.

Knowing what we are searching for is helpful. It is easier to spot the seahorse in the picture above if you know that you are looking for a seahorse. The sea horse’s shape will “pop out” at you. Yet if we are searching for the same thing, we become used to not seeing it. And we become less watchful. At the airport, the luggage checkers may miss the gun in the bag since they are so used to seeing no guns in the luggage.

Several ideas to make sure that people do not miss target can be used such as working with a partner, and increasing how often a person finds something. Sadly, none of these strategies seems to enhance the discovery rate. Yet training with feedback on the accuracy of each scan may enhance the discovery rate.

A visual search can be carried out in different ways. Sometimes an active search is good when we want to get new knowledge while a passive search may be better when we are looking for something that is hidden. We can let our intuition guide us.

But focusing on the attention on finding something, a visual search, may be different from focusing the attention on other things. And focusing the attention on what we want is not always part of the solution.  A sport person or musician needs to focus on thing that he or she does not want to happen. But it makes no sense to focus on what not to do or not to think of. For example, to say to yourself “I must not fall, I must not fall, ” will not prevent you from falling it might even lead to you falling. It is better to focus on things like I have to balance my arms (to not to fall).

More importantly, a sport person or musician need to focus on things that they can control. Many performers focus on things that make them anxious and distracted. By focusing on things you can control, you feel more confident and calm. This means that you may embrace the takes with confidence and present focus.

What does an expert focus on? A quarterbacks in football has to react and think very fast. Opponents are trying to prevent him from throwing a pass. If the back sees a blitz or that the line of teammates protecting him has been breached, he must make a quick decision. He can make a quick pass, take evasive action, or sacrifice himself to keep the ball. If he decides that he can survive he must decide where or when to throw the ball. Decisions regarding how potential receivers are moving and spread out must be taken into account. Lots of decision must be made while he is moving and avoiding other players. Noticing the important things is vital and making an instant decision.

Quarterbacks like radiologists and chess players use “selective attention”. A radiologist moves his or her eyes at a few locations before they are finding the necessary information. This means that if you put a gorilla in a non-vital area on the X-ray they will miss it. Expert thinks more efficiently and experience had thought them to eliminate and ignore certain aspects.


In the video below, Jeff Nelsen, former horn player for the Canadian Brass, discusses how important it is that performers focus about the WHAT and HOW in their performing! But they need to refocus before their performance and focus on the WHYs.

  • Why do I perform?
  • What is it I want to share?
  • Why did I choose to perform in the first place?

Focusing the attention is a form of athleticism. Like swimming, it requires training and practice. Yet the why you train and focus your attention influence how much you get out of it. What aspects are important to focus on when you are solving a problem, or looking for new ideas? Do you need to refocus your attention? When do you need to refocus? And how do you know that you need to shift your attention?

Photo Steve Childs/Flickr

Focus the Attention for a LOOOONG Time!


Paying attention is a form of jogging. Jogging requires practice and training. And if you practice for a while, you may one day experience a feeling where time disappears. You are in a zone and feel like you could run forever.

Flow, a coin termed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, means you are in intense absorption. Completely engaged. Yet attention fitness is rarely practiced. Clay Johnson on Lifehacker writes, “Most people who click on this article won’t finish reading it. So says Nick Carr. The New York Times will remind you that you’ll probably forget it in a few minutes. This idea’s so prevalent, even the Onion has started taking jabs.”

Attention fitness is vital not only to finish reading a blog post but also to solve problems and search for new solutions. Fast ideas and suggestions may be valued but insights and understanding may take time to develop.

Jennifer L. Roberts, professor of history of art and architecture introduced students to the virtues of deep patience and close attention. Patience and attention are rarely valued in today’s Internet era.

The students were asked to prepare an intense research paper on a single work of art. The project should start by doing a close examination for a work of art. Ah, a close examination sounds easy. . . but this was a looooong examination. The students had to spend THREE hours looking at the painting.

If you look at the painting below by Singleton Cople “Boy with a Squirrel”, there are relationships that take time to see. The students were amazed at some of the things they could see after a while.  Jennifer says that if you focus on the painting for a long time there are details that emerge after about one hour about the shape of the boy’s ear and the squirrel’s ruff. You may notice folds of a curtain and the proportion of hand and glass of water.


Teaching art students’ “patience engineering” allows them to slow down and explore new things. Things that a quick a fast glance might not reveal. Allow yourself to process things deeply rather than shallowly!

I must admit that looking at a painting for 3 hours – well, I simply could not do that. I like to focus for a short period, move around and return later to the problem. Maybe I can increase the time that I focus so that each week I focus a minute or two longer. Also I need to find something that will absorb me. Some of us may find it easier to focus on music. There are differences between focusing on music for three hours and looking at a painting. Music is constantly changing and it leads you somewhere. But then again maybe being absorbed in a painting takes you somewhere.

Focusing the attention is a vital part of applied creativity. And so is awareness of when your attention is shifting. Defining your focus when you are looking at a painting may help you to stay focused, for example, you could focus on aspects that you like with the painting or what the artists was trying to achieve. This approach can also be used when focusing on generating creative ideas. What is the topic? What is the goal? Deciding on what to focus on before starting enhances your chances of success.

Go here to read more about the focusing the attention.

Photo:  “Orange And Fruit Mix” by adamr, John Singleton Copley’s 1765 painting Boy with a Squirrel.

Technology, Humanitarian Aid and Change of Focus


How do you change the focus of your thinking?

Humanitarian aid is a challenging but important topic. Today, various new approaches to aid can be seen where social innovation is challenging many traditional approaches. Behind some of these ideas is a change of focus where ideas are developed that do not support traditional areas.

  • Change of focus on finding solutions based upon providing aid that support economic, medical or  health areas.

First you  identify the areas and assumptions of  the problem, then you try to find new areas that you can use to develop aid. For example, you can donate technology.

One Laptop Per Kid

Ethiopian kids who had never seen a printed word, taught themselves how to use a tablet and how to spell  English words. The children in the village had no books, no newspapers and there were no street signs. So a common approach  would be to teach these kids to  letters and to read and. . .  Or maybe not. . .

“Hey kids, here’s this box, you can open it if you want, see ya!”

The project One Laptop Per Child provided children with Motorola Zoom tablet PC. That is, they provided the kids with boxes of tablets containing the tablets plus solar chargers. This is what happened.

“We left the boxes in the village. Closed. Taped shut. No instruction, no human being. I thought, the kids will play with the boxes! Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, but found the on/off switch. He’d never seen an on/off switch. He powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs [in English] in the village. And within five months, they had hacked Android. Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera! And they figured out it had a camera, and they hacked Android.”

The children showed creativity and determination to find out more about the things in the boxes. Kids are curious and creative, if we provide them with opportunities to learn. “The kids had completely customized the desktop—so every kid’s tablet looked different. We had installed software to prevent them from doing that. “

Change of Focus

Of course there are other areas where you can search for  ideas to improve humanitarian aid.

  • Redefine  aid to developing countries as Aid for World Economics – this change of focus could lead to ideas like all the money currently spent on aid could be directed to global challenges that affect the developing countries the most, like rising fuel and food prices.
  • Aid does not have to be directed at the poor people in a country – could focus aid on improving conditions for the middle classes and support them to help the poorest in the country.
  • Aid is a short-term method – change of focus could lead to ideas that teaching people to solve problems could be a better long-term solutions

What other aspects of humanitarian aid could you focus on changing? What ideas did you get as a result?

Go here to read more about using technology to change people’s lives.

Photo “Worldtree” by Salvatore Vuono

Design Your Own Creative Thinking Techniques


Creative thinking can be learnt. How? By using thinking tools.

There are many tools for creative thinking, examples can be found in the following books:

As the author of this overview, Paul E. Plsek, noticed,  there are at least 250 unique tools in these seven books.

So, if you master those 250 unique tools, are you then supposed to have a 10th Dan in creative martial arts?


As we earlier noted in our post Thinkibility Ultimately Explained we compared  Thinkibility with “football-ity”, similar to something shown by stars as Johan Cruijff. It is not just agility and ball control. Nor velocity, or skill. It is more, much more.

Thinkibility is about virtuosity in thinking. What makes  someone regarded as  one of the finest thinkers in the world  in particular for their dexterity, capable of executing extremely fast and fluent  thinking? When can we say a person has a brilliant and showy technical skill of thinking? How do we describe it adequately, like we do in “in a final bravura the ballerina appeared to be floating in water”, or “the music ends with a display of bravura”.

For sure, mere mastering the techniques is not what you makes “a thinking star”. Again we have to turn back to our metaphor that links creativity to sports:

In a weekend self-defense seminar, the training exercises go exactly as planned: the attacker throws a straight punch at your face from three feet away, or tries to stab at you with a rubber knife from just such an angle. You learn to block, counter-attack, disarm, get away, and with a little practice, you can be consistently successful employing the technique.


Then reality sets in. You spar. You change training partners. And things don’t go exactly as they did when you were learning in slow motion. The technique you thought you had mastered fails you.


That doesn’t mean that the technique was useless. The techniques work, and work well, when the principles behind them are well understood, and when practice makes them second nature.

Innovation Lessons from a Martial Arts Seminar by Brad Barbera

Basic Principles

But what are the basic concepts or principles underlying those creative thinking techniques?

1. Attention


2. Escape


3. Movement



4. Focus



The four principles in a scheme.


4. Information is channeling itself into a thinking pattern. There are many thinking patterns possible. The choice of the thinking pattern is the subject of the FOCUS stage –> 1 The information that itself organized into a thinking patterns leads to a compelling, unconscious,automatic outcome of the thinking, if left unattended –> 2 Escaping from current thinking is the next stage –> 3. Once escaped, there is a need to move away from the standard thinking and a desperate effort to move to a practical idea.

We could use these principles to design creative thinking techniques as a situation unfolds itself, as in a street fight.

See here an example about a challenge of Improving Information Flow in a Medical Clinic and one for  “I want the local business section of the newspaper to feature a story on us hailing the innovative services that we have brought to our clients.”




How to Become a Creative Genius

In an earlier post we republished  Michael Michalko’s The Difference between the way the average person thinks and a creative genius thinks” As Michael Michalko noticed that an average person focusses his attention on a specific information and excluding all … Continue reading