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.”




Thinking in Images


Most people think in words. When asked to imagine a traffic accident they come up with not very detailed descriptions, in comparison with people who are thinking in pictures. It became even worse if the words are becoming more and more abstract. Words as society, market, law, inflation etc. stay for them just words; they are unable to convert the words into images. Picture thinkers don’t have to translate, they think in pictures.


As school systems are mainly auditory-sequential oriented, it is not surprising that mainly visual-spatial thinkers will have problems at school. Usually, they encounter learning difficulties. But not only at school. Most picture thinkers don’t fit well in traditional companies and institutions. They do things in other ways than expected or “normal”, due to “weaknesses” in thinking.


Picture thinkers are also called right-brainers, as some popularisations oversimplify the science about lateralization, by presenting the functional differences between hemispheres as being more absolute than is actually the case.


We have also committed to this theoretical sloppiness with left/right brain generalisations, although, a handy mini theory to generate creative ideas as we have demonstrated in Blocking the Left Brain Functions.

As we wrote in left brain/right brain thinking, the debate regarding about what goes on in our left and right brain hemispheres seems like a never-ending story. You will find support for the idea that creative people use the right hemisphere while people who are good at organising things are using their left hemisphere. But we can also find support for the idea that creative and non-creative thinking are not two different things but are more reinforcing each other.

The idea that the brain has different specialised functions that can be used to improve memory, learning and thinking are also the part of the foundation behind mind mapping.


A Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers Will Rule the Future, a book by Daniel H. Pink, posits that the future of global business belongs to the right-brainers. He outlines six essential senses:

  • Design – Moving beyond function to engage the sense.
  • Story – Narrative added to products and services – not just argument.
  • Symphony – Adding invention and big picture thinking (not just detail focus).
  • Empathy – Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition.
  • Play – Bringing humour and light-heartedness to business and products.
  • Meaning – the purpose is the journey, give meaning to life from inside yourself.

Daniel Pink is one of an increasing number of writers on the importance of the Conceptual Economy, as a follow-up of the Information and Knowledge Age. Conceptual economy is a term describing the contribution of creativity, innovation, and design skills to economic competitiveness, especially in the global context. Other contributors to our understanding of the conceptual economy include Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat, Tom Kelley’s The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation, explaining the role of assets such as empathy, storytelling, individual experiences and stimulating work environments in fostering creative ideas.

The discussion about the necessity to escape from dominant linear-sequential thinking was earlier argued by Howard Gardner. He developed The Theory of Multiple Intelligences in his 1983 book Frames of Mind:


In one of our next blog posts, we will give hints and tricks together with some useful resources to become “picture smart”. An essential skill to use mind mapping to the fullest of its advantages.

Art and Innovation

What can innovators learn from art?

Observation skills, questioning, and experimentation are  vital parts of innovation. Observing everyday activities can lead to new insights where things can be improved on. It can also lead to break-through ideas.

The innovation psychologist  Leon Segal said:

“Innovation begins with an eye.”


By Johann Zoffany

Innovators carefully watch the world around them and the observations help them gain ideas for new ways of doing things. Observation skills are also at the core of art. Art students are often told to draw what they actually look at, rather than the way they think something should look. Copying someone’s ideas will not in itself lead to a person developing creative thinking skills. A painter needs to learn to think in colours, an artist working with sculptures need to think in 3D, and a songwriter needs to learn to think in lyrics.

Art is sometimes used to help medical students to develop their observations skills. Looking at art can help people understand ambiguities in a painting and also to look closely at something without “rushing to assign meaning to what we see.” Many of us are ready to immediately interpret what we see, yet looking at art can help a person to slow down and really observe things without immediately interpreting things. These skills can also help an  innovator to explore aspects and to help step out of the common way of interpreting things. Quick thinking is good sometimes but certain things are good to slowly digest.

Even if looking at art can help a person to develop observation skills the observation in itself is not enough. Making connections, questioning, visualising, and searching for patterns are also important aspects of art. Art can help a person to make connections between things. innovators often have a passion for questioning things. The importance  of question asking is a topic that has been previously explored in this blog. Valuing questions and being curious can lead to a search for new ways of doing things. Rather than focusing on quick answers, the innovative process thrives on asking questions to provoke new insights, possibilities and connections.

The book The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction is a wonderful collection of Neil Gaiman’s essays, and meditations on life, literature, and the life and love of literature. An inspiring essay in the book explores the ideas and ideals at the heart of Bradbury’s classic book Fahrenheit 451. This book is a great reminder of how important it is to explore one’s values. Neil suggests that speculative fiction gives  us a “liberation of vision”. Yet in order for this to happen, we must acknowledge that each story has a multiplicity of meanings.


Authors can offer an imagined but nevertheless persuasive alternative reality where the readers are offered a way to escape from the usual traditional way of thinking. New possibilities can be examined. It is easy to think that the way we live now is somehow the only way that the world can be organised.

Three questions can help an author to imagine possible worlds:

  • What if …?  This question provides a way to escape from the world. What if I could fold up my car?
  • If only … Allows us explore something exciting as well as the terrifying  about the future. If only there were no cars.
  • If this goes on … What would happen if that thing became bigger, became all-pervasive? Does not try to predict the future rather explores possible scenarios. If this way of parking cars goes on there will be no green spaces left in the cities.

Innovators are examining and trying out new ideas. Testing hypothesis and visiting new places and worlds. Imagining different futures is a fundamental aspect of the innovative process and reading books about the future can provide valuable insights. It can also help us develop skills to examine possible futures. A world that does not yet exist!

To think.

To imagine.

To change.


Photo: Kevin Krejci


Art – Thinkibility Boost

DT1854Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies by Claude Monet MetMuseum

Imagine that you would design an art museum, how would you hang the paintings? And what would you write on the notes that are placed beside the artworks?

The concept “Thinkbility”  refers to a biological approach to thinking, where it is assumed that thinking takes place in an environment and the characteristics of the environment influences the end results. Thus, the way a museum arranges its objects influence the way we experience and think about the artworks that are displayed.

Does Monet’s painting above makes you think of hope?

The philosopher Alain de Botton and art historian John Armstrong, explores the idea of art as therapy. They recognise that the way museums are arranging artworks is only providing us with a historical sense of how art and ideas related to art changes throughout history. Yet a chronological  arrangement is dull and we may benefit from notes that encourages us to look at certain aspects, rather than the usual notes with their dates and movements and tiny fragments of art history.

Art can be defined in many ways. Friedrich Nietzsche said, “We have our Arts so we won’t die of Truth.”

And this is Maria Pokova’s definition.

“This is the power of art: The power to transcend our own self-interest, our solipsistic zoom-lens on life, and relate to the world and each other with more integrity, more curiosity, more wholeheartedness.”

Today, there is a disconnection between art and life, and de Botton and Armstrong try to reduce this gap. Many artists are trying to do this with their artworks, so this idea in itself is not unique. The book Art as Therapy reframes and recontexualise art works. And it opens up our minds to new possibilities and in that sense it is an innovative approach. Museums are looking for ways to attract people and to make the experience more interactive. Many people may leave a museum uninspired by the notes below and simply knowing that a painting is famous is simply not enough to tempt a person to look at the artwork and more importantly to come back to look at another exhibition.We may not visit a museum to improve upon our characters like we visit a gym to improve upon our health. but a museum should encourage us to notice and explore different aspects. It should fill our lives and refresh our minds.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam allowed de Botton to rearrange the way the artworks were displayed. This rehanging of art works has both been welcomed and criticised. Is it the messages on the Post-it notes that are upsetting people? Or is it the idea that art can be something else?

“When I read through Art as Therapy, paintings that I had long admired suddenly became new when seen through the filter of self-awareness and exploration. Really, a gem of a book.” Gwyneth Paltrow, 

We are so used to Museum arranging artworks in a certain way that any changes to this is regarded as an unnecessary innovation. Yet artworks can be arranged like books in a bookshelves according to their colours. All the  painting classified in the white group could be in one room, then the blue paintings in another.

Pablo_Picasso,_1902-03,_La_soupe_(The_soup),_oil_on_canvas,_38.5_x_46.0_cm,_Art_Gallery_of_Ontario,_Toronto,_CanadaPablo Picasso, 1902-03, La soupe (The soup), oil on canvas, 38.5 x 46.0 cm, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada” by Pablo Picassowikipaintings. Via Wikipedia.

Franz_Marc_005Franz Marc 005” by Franz Marc – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Almond_blossom_-_Google_Art_ProjectVincent van Gogh – Almond blossom – Google Art Project” by Vincent van GoghdAFXSL9sZ1ulDw at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

UN_GlassUN Glass” by UN website [1]. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

In what ways would this arrangement encourage us to look at the paintings in a different way? Colours affects our moods, yet, the moods that you get by looking at the predominately four blue paintings above are completely different, at least to me. The warm smell of soup makes me feel comfortable, while the blue horses makes me feel energised. Maybe museums could be arranged according to the smells or movements that they communicate?

A book cannot teach you how to live your life, it can only provide insights into how other people solve certain problems. In a similar way, maybe art cannot heal or  tell us how to live but it can provide insights into both our own lives and others.

Some art may be more like shock therapy than self-help. But often a lateral jump does not hurt. We often embrace music and poetry and look for ways that they can find a place in our hearts. Can visual art offer  hope and comfort as music can? We have playlists of music, but seldom play-lists of artworks. What painting do you like to look at to make you feel curious and innovative. I need to start searching myself. . . de Botton and Armstrong suggests that Leonardo da Vinci’s studies of a baby growing in its mother’s womb celebrate curiosity. . . what paintings would you add to the list?


Making Plans More Engaging – Thinkibility Nibble

Many organisations and many people struggle with implementing plans, strategies or intentions. As a Thinkibility nibble we will hypothesize here that it is caused by boring presentations, but also by neglecting the planning process with all stakeholders.


Planning is often an interactive process

We will put forward the idea that, although most planning tools use visuals, they are still boring. Look at these examples of a Gantt-chart


or a PERT-diagram:

pert planning

Or something like this:


But what would happen if you use a map of the to set up base camps at the Mount Everest?

everest base camp

Or reenacting Shackleton’s dramatic journey:


Or to make your own map of dependencies like a Metro map?

metro map

Or Flight Plans:

flight chart

What if you use for maintenance planning the map of the Versailles?


For planning acquisitions and mergers you could use colonization maps:


Another idea is to go in the Third Interactivity Dimension, by building a planning town with paper, wood or Lego:

3D planning

See also the earlier post Life Redefined, about possible designs for a monthly planner by using known board games.

Colorful and creative planning!

Learning to Innovate: An Abstract Art

Learning to innovate: an abstract art?

Many companies and organisations may not have noticed that innovation means something else than more research, more technology, more money, or taking more risks. All these factors comes after the conception of an idea for innovation. Inventing ideas is thinking. And a truly innovative idea does not exist – it is only in the mind.

Successful innovation is never a product in itself. Success always lies in the underlying concept. This includes the way we think about the usefulness, the use, and value of the product.

On the other hand, in an abstract artwork, the artist attempts tovisualise an abstract concept. Or the artist creates what had never been before to explore unexpected but conceivable possibilities. But this is exactly what the creation of effective innovations is all about.

A connection between abstract thinking and innovation

There is a connection between abstract thinking and innovation, but what does it look like in reality? And is it possible to teach innovation? Could abstract art play a role?

If everyone makes the same product, it is all about who delivers the best quality at the lowest cost. Everyone plays the same game and ultimately the profit margins approach zero. Especially in view of the emerging economies, it is wise to play another game, to be unique in the market. A search for something new that does not already exist. Instead of more-of-the same ideas, break-through ideas are required. Therefore, it is necessary to abstract from the concrete manifestations, properties, phenomena and behaviour of a product or problem.

There is a remarkable relationship between creative thinking and the historical developments in art, such as surrealism and abstract art. Broadly speaking there are three schools in creative thinking and they share some similarities with art movements.
Brainstorming and the works of Picasso and Dali

One of the most classical methods for creative thinking is brainstorming. This approach mainly  frees and releases inhibitions so that we can  associate. The troubleshooting technique was developed by Alex Osborn around  the Second World War. In essence, the technique dates back to Sigmund Freud’s ideas of psychoanalysis at the beginning of the twentieth century. The idea behind brainstorming, and numerous variations on it, is that if you free the child within yourself, ideas bubble up naturally. The technique of brainstorming reminiscent of Surrealism in the works of Picasso and Dali.

TRIZ and Mondriaan

A very different technique for generating ideas is the systematic approach used in TRIZ. In the 50s, Genrich Altshuller developed TRIZ, a Russian acronym for Theory of Structured Inventions. In the beginning of 2000, emigration of  professionally trained TRIZ innovators from Russia,  brought the theory  to the West. Altshuller examined inventions and divided them into classes of the underlying thoughts of the inventor. In TRIZ, a concrete problem is translated to a description that has no longer any specific association with the original problem. The problem is made abstract. Subsequently, from a collection of abstract solutions, the result of Altshuller’s study, an abstract, theoretical solution is chosen. From this a translation into a concrete solution is made.

This method, which is supported by a database of thousands of inventions, prevents the tendency to move to the obvious. The technique is extremely powerful but little used in the west; however, it is popular in many Asian companies.

TRIZ is the art form of geometric abstraction, where ideas are presented in pure geometric forms. An example is the work of Piet Mondriaan.

Lateral Thinking and Kandinsky

Another technique of deliberate creativity is based on the idea that our brain is a self-organising information processing system. We take information in our memory and organise it into patterns. Those patterns will behave as thinking avenues so that we only see where we are already prepared for. Edward de Bono developed the sixties a couple of thinking techniques that logically destabilise automatic thought patterns. He calls this lateral thinking – thinking laterally – as distinguished from the normal logical and rational thinking, what could be named as vertical thinking.

You could say that the lateral thinking has features of abstract expressionism.  We find vague, disturbed or magnified form and this invites us to new interpretations of the existing idea. The art of Kandinsky is an example.

Teaching thinking and perceiving by abstract art

The latter two methods, lateral thinking and TRIZ, are difficult to learn. In essence, it is about the way we perceive and think. How we escape from the compelling logic of thinking is explained in terms of abstract concepts. Concepts that refer in vague terms to thinking operations, to how to think, or what steps successively to take.

Abstract thinking therefore appears only to be taught by the use of abstract concepts. But is there a possibility to circumvent this paradox? As outlined above, the abstract art could provide an intuitive solution. It might be that innovative thinking can be taught in the most practical and verifiable way by abstract art and the making thereof. Directly and without theoretical detours, that would be a discovery!
Jan Verhoeven‘s ideas behind the Center for Abstract Art and Innovation can sometimes prove to be decisive for the further professionalisation of creative thinking and innovation. Of course, only afterwards, as is usual in real innovations.

Photo: Idea From Finger by tungphoto, By J. Crocker (J. Crocker) [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons, By Wm M. Martin ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons