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.

focus (1)

A Thinkibility Challenge – what questions does not have an answer by search engines


In 10 research tips for finding answers online Danielle Thomson shared some of her best research tips to help you in those “why can’t I find this?” moments. One of them is this:

There are no new questions. Have a research question? Trust me, it’s been asked before. Put your exact question into quotations as a search term, and you will find, at the very least, a lead to your answer. Want to find out how much of the ocean has been explored? Type “How much of the ocean has been explored” into your search engine, and you will likely get your answer.

In this Thinkibility nibble we will challenge our readers to come up with a question that a search engine cannot answer.

If you will find one, don’t worry. Also, for your contribution we will reward you with our new e-book: 12 Thinking Strategies.


Ish – Thinking – Thinkibility Boost

As an introduction to a series of blogposts about conceptual thinking we will start by paying attention to “ISH-Thinking”. A concept is an abstract pattern in the brain that stands for some regular, recurrent aspect of the world, and to which  any number of different words can be attached. Sometimes ago we already pointed out the relation between thinking and language, as in our posts How Thinking Patterns are CreatedBanging the World into Sorting Boxes and Key Concepts as Optical Filters. As we see in the picture below a toddler is confronted with a an almost insoluble problem. He has to place a square block in a box, which, however, only has openings in the form of a circle and a triangle. ISH-thinking

Perhaps the toddler might solve the problem by redefining the block as two pyramids stuck together. The block is “pyramid-ish” and might fit the triangle opening.

In our daily lives, we often try to give meaning to a diffuse situation by drafting a metaphor that is more or less “like-ish”. Mostly the metaphor does not fit exactly, at least not literally.

  • by doing that he stuck a knife in my back
  • I feel butterflies in my belly
  • at this moment she is very instable
  • their relationship is stormy

Mostly we don’t have any problem at all in using these ill-defined concepts. It helps us to articulate confusing and in particular emotional situations to “get grip on them”. Less prevalent is “ish-thinking” to describe seemingly well-defined physical objects. You will rarely hear someone who discusses a concrete thing (a bridge, a museum, a coffee shop) as ” thing-ish” like bridge-ish, museum-ish, coffee shop-ish). Yet, Starbuck is coffee shop-ish. Also, a kind of museum which would work like a modern library could be called museum-ish or library-ish: Art-works will be transported from the basement to the museum room at the request of the museum visitor, like in libraries with books.

And this is surely “bridge-ish”:


In this instance it’s about inviting people to cross a body of water in an unconventional manner… by using an inflatable bridge equipped with giant trampolines.

Is it a bridge or is it a gigantic trampoline? Or both, or more or less?

We are sure that the moment you begin to think about an ish-bike, an ish-refrigerator, sunglasses-ish or a sweater-ish for the winter, you will get rid of existing preconception on how they should look. Instead, you may  start to think about alternative forms and functions. That is because by adding the suffix “ish” to the noun, you give yourself permission to think in alternative designs. We came across a similar idea (Ïsh-thinking- ish”) in Fuzzy Concepts:

A fuzzy concept is a concept of which the boundaries of application can vary considerably according to context or conditions, instead of being fixed once and for all. This means the concept is vague in some way, lacking a fixed, precise meaning, without however being unclear or meaningless altogether. It has a definite meaning, which can become more precise only through further elaboration and specification, including a closer definition of the context in which the concept is used.”

There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept. fuzzy conceptTo follow our future series on Conceptual Thinking, subscribe to the blog

Questions about Questions

QuestionsAlways the beautiful answer

Who asks  a more beautiful question.

E.E. Cummings

The single most important habit for an innovative thinker may be to ask questions. A well formulated question stimulate and inspire. Questions leads to more questions and the question is why we focus so much attention on answering questions and so little on asking questions.

Warren Berger says,
“Questioning—deeply, imaginatively, “beautifully”—can help us identify and solve problems, come up with game-changing ideas, and pursue fresh opportunities.”

Part of the answer lies in the way education values answer. The educational system is built to create workers and compliance and rote memorization are valued qualities. These qualities are not necessarily valuable qualities in the 21st century and they are definitely not qualities if you want to develop innovative thinking skills.

Seth Godin says,
“Our grandfathers and great grandfathers built schools to train people to have a lifetime of productive labor as part of the industrialized economy. And it worked.”

Warren Berger is the author of the book  A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas  and he says that the most innovative and creative people tend to be good questioners. Warren interviewed and studied innovators and designers and the common factors was the way these people kept asking questions. These people asked and formulated a question or a series of questions which lead to their discoveries. Yet, question asking is seldom taught.

Warren says,

“A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something – and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.”

Hal Gregersen has used a technique called Question-Storming. The idea is to generate a few powerful questions, which may help to determine direction for a search for new ideas and information. A crucial step in Question-Storming is to improve upon the questions and an advantage with this approach is that “good and fruitful” questions have a certain attraction to people. They are the questions that captures people’s attention and after a session you feel inspired to continue to explore the question.

Another approach to asking questions is to use three words to generate ideas.

“How might we?”

This approach avoids the problems linked to using questions such as “How can we do that?” or “How should we do that?” When posing these types of question, it is easy that questions such as  “Can we really do that?” are asked. These types of questions are problematic when you are trying to generate ideas and explore possibilities that can lead to an innovation.

The book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, is about questions that cannot be typed into a search box. Questions that challenge your thinking and inspire you to keep asking new questions. Yet questions themselves can be flawed and we must learn to question the question. The way we pose questions says something about our assumptions, biases and experiences.

“Have you visit The Right Question Institute?”

“What I am assuming when I ask that question?”

“Should I ask another question?”


Change a Point of View – Thinking Strategy

Recently we came across a handsome book by Jodie Newman called Business Creativity. In the chapter about  Creative Toolkit, we found five tools that we clustered around the theme Change Point of View, because basically they come all down to the same principle.

As we earlier pointed out each of us looks at the world from our Point of View, based on our experiences and agreements made by relevant others regarding how to attach meaning to the world. Everyone creates a kind of bulb around him or herself, wherein the world manifests itself as completely logic. How these logic bulbs are created – individually and collectively –  is described in our blog post Language is not Innocent – How Thinking Patterns are Created.

fig 1 language clour

A way to escape from your own logic bubble is to  do something what is like an out-of-your-body experience. Something that detaches yourself from your body, like visiting a distant location. This could lead to a change in perception on a challenge or problem you have, which is – per definition – creative thinking.

There are several ways to do this, as illustrated in the mind map below.

Change POV

  1. Prepare a list of 8-11 brands,customers, jobs, celebrities or stakeholders. Use logos, photos and images.
  2. Imagine (or ask directly) how this brand, customer, jobholder, celebrity or stakeholder would solve the challenge in question.
  3. Capture ideas that come to your mind until you have nothing more to add. Then pick up another brand, customer, jobholder,celebrity or stakeholder.

Other Thinking Strategies that we have paid attention to in this blog are:

There are more to come, so subscribe to  make sure you do not miss any!

Innovation and Lucid Dreaming


Does the idea of conspicuously dreaming up the next innovation appeal to you? Does it sound tempting to build storm proof cities in your mind? Solve mathematical problems? Or simple find a creative solution to the dripping tap while you are consciously influencing your dreams?

We spend around 6 years of our lives dreaming. Yet we know very little about dreaming and we rarely consider ways to use our dreams.

A framework has been developed based upon  Stephen LaBerge’s laboratory work at Stanford University where he mapped mind/body relationships during the dream state (read more in the books Exploring the World of Lucid Dreams and Lucid Dreaming: A Concise Guide to Awakening in Your Dreams and in Your Life.

Lucid Dreaming refers to:

  •  any occasion when the sleeper is aware they are dreaming.
  •  the idea of being able to control those dreams

This concept has lead to the development of ideas such as such smartphone apps and  specialist eye masks to enhance REM sleep.

Like most things in life, being able to quickly distinguish dreams from reality requires practice and discipline. To start with you need to make a Dream Journal and learn to distinguish between dreams and reality.

Photo: “Sleeping Mask On Face” by adamr

Trust or Trustworthiness? – Thinkibility Boost

trust 2

Trust or Trustworthiness?

When searching for ideas for our forthcoming book about Information  & Feelings, a sequel to Positive & Negative in the serie Thinkibility – Thinking about Thinking, Creativity Innovation and Design we stumbled on a broad range of emotions and feelings.

If you search this blog on keywords like emotion, feelings and intuition you will find some noteworthy explorations of what Edward de Bono calls Red Hat Thinking. Today we will explore the social construct of trust.

In our opinion trust is basically a non-rational phenomena, yet not irrational, nevertheless,  it should be carefully handled.

Wikipedia describes Trust as “One party (trustor) is willing to rely on the actions of another party (trustee); the situation is directed to the future. In addition, the trustor (voluntarily or forcefully) abandons control over the actions performed by the trustee. As a consequence, the trustor is uncertain about the outcome of the other’s actions; he can only develop and evaluate expectations. The uncertainty involves the risk of failure or harm to the trustor if the trustee will not behave as desired.”

Trust plays an important, perhaps decisive role in relations between people and groups, but also in the relation to governments, institutions, judges.  Often it is said that economic growth relies heavily on how traders trust each other. Trust even plays a role in dealing with material artifacts and technology. By trusting someone we can rely on her, allowing us to concentrate our actions and thinking on other subjects. Trust is a tool for efficiency and specialization.

Nowadays there is a moral call for Rebuilding Trust. There has even been a TEDx conference around this theme organized by the  Radboud University in the Netherlands. For an overview of the variety on subjects and the speakers, look here.

But we came across a much more constructive term when we are discussing the concept of  Trust. It is about Trusthworthiness. In general, in order for trust to be earned, worth and integrity must be proven over time.

A good overview of standard thinking and misconceptions about trust is given by Onora O’Neill in her TEDx presentation “What we don’t understand about trust”. Strongly recommended notwithstanding the sometime what boring way of presentation. Watch it.


Trust is not about attitudes. It is about judgement. It is about giving usable evidence that one is trustworthy.