Coffees, Poetry and Extending Concepts to get Innovative Ideas

What does it mean to go for a coffee?

Maybe you think of chatting with a friend while you drink something warm and eat something light. It does not have to be a warm cup of coffee and a biscuit or sandwich, going for a coffee can  mean to drink a cup of herbal tea or munch on a big ice-cream. You might even include if you had just finished a meal at a restaurant that you will have an alcoholic drink or a dessert.

The concept having a coffee is rather wide and generous. The meaning of the word changes with the context, in some cases you actually only refer to a cup of coffee and bringing you an ice-cream would be wrong.

How about having a coffee and writing a poem?designall.dllOn the International Poetry Day you could pay for the coffee with a poem. Here the idea of having a coffee would also include the idea of writing a poem. This is an example of extending the concept of having a coffee to include a special way of paying for the coffee. If you are a poetry lover you may suddenly feel a strong desire to go for a coffee. Business might be blossoming for the cafe on that day and next time you may visit that particular place even if you cannot pay with a poem every day. A way to increase business and to create a special niche.

In a similar way, we constantly extend and change concept. Using this consciously is a way to get innovative ideas. Think of a concept that you learned as a child such as shadow. We learn what causes them and to recognise our own shadow. Yet shadows can still be surprising and strange. Think of the shadow of an airplane or lunar eclipse. if you like photography you may have caught a what looks like shadow underneath a tree in the winter. This shadow is not a real shadow but lack of show underneath the tree. So your concept of shadow can be extended to include snow-shadows.

Think about your business and the concepts that defines it. Can you extend the concept and include new ideas? Or why not simply choose a concept and play around with it.

  • What is a sandwich?
  • What is a suit?
  • What is a. . .

Photo: Zazzle

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

Conceptual Thinking


Many people are not very proficient in Conceptual Thinking. Perhaps because it is nowhere taught.

Conceptual Thinking is thinking with the aid of concepts.   Some people  describe it as the ability to effortlessly walk up and down the ladder of abstraction.

A concept is

1. A general idea derived or inferred from specific instances or occurrences.

2. Something formed in the mind; a thought or notion. See Synonyms to idea.

3. A scheme; a plan.

A concept could also be a underlying principle, or a class of features.

Examples of daily concepts are doing the dishes, driving home,cleaning the house, brushing your teeth. These concepts are rather easily to describe.

But it is  more difficult to describe  more abstract concepts: restaurants, hotels, offices, building, tour operator, police officer, traffic light, a store, a prison, a library, a market, Wikipedia.

Most concepts can be defined in two or three sentences, however, that will need some hard thinking. But it is sufficient to summarize what it is for, how it assumed to function and what makes it sensible.

Concepts refer to underlying things, events, behaviors and embodiments. It is something like a container. We get rid of a lot of non-relevant details. The other way around, if we are able to describe concisely a concept, we are able to forecast things, events, behaviors and embodiments.

A three menu restaurant or a three star restaurant are all different concepts, as a cafe is where a simple meal is served for cost price. The bar owner’s business concept is that his turnover comes from both, serving guests a meal has the only goal to let them stay longer. Supposed the bar owner knows his concept well, what can we forecast?

There are very few tables in order to create waiting time for dinners. If a group enters the bar, and announce that they will have a meal, and a couple enters a considerable time after the group, the couple will be served first. Because it is more lucrative for the turnover to let wait a group at the bar (drinks) than the couple.

The concept of a three menu restaurant is to have few standardized receipts and supplies and no advanced cooking skills  needed, compared with a three star restaurant.

McDonald’s operates a complete different concept of a restaurant.

Sometimes in identifying a concept, it helps to contrast it with another, more familiar concept. Starbucks is a different concept than that of a normal cafe. What is  the difference?

Even more difficult are concepts that only exist in our brains. A state, social welfare, the internet, water management, war, health, health care, globalization, climate change, intellectual property, education, academic study. Or new business models, like those for internet browsers, on-line music shops, video channels. How does these work, how do they generate money, what value provide they?

However, extracting concepts is a powerful way to think clearly and to search for alternative or rivaling concepts to solve problems and designing new possibilities.

To explore the subject more in depth we recommend the blog of Eleven Seconds Blog

Some exercises on Wikiversity about building concepts: look here.

Conceptual Thinking, Design Thinking, Critical Thinking and Creative Thinking are all topics in our books on Thinkibility.

Photo: “Concepts Word” by Stuart Miles

Your Summer’s Wiki List

Your Summer’s Wikipedia List: 12 concepts that shaped the world

Thinking in concepts is a great advantage in making sense of complex phenomena. When your are able to articulate concepts in a concise and clear, yet accurate way, it will enable you to escape from it. Knowledge of the main concepts that shaped the world will develop your skills to escape from them and devise new concepts.

Below we quote the 12 concepts that changed the world from Melvyn Bragg. It is about how words and wisdom have shaped our lives. A warning in advance: This is all about description. We invite you to devise your own concepts that will shape the world.

If your are on the beach, listen to this.

Isaac Newton composed Principia Mathematica during 1685 and 1686,[1] and it was published in a first edition on July 5th, 1687 and began changing the world. Widely regarded as one of the most important works in both the science of physics and in applied mathematics during the Scientific revolution, the work underlies much of the technological and scientific advances from the Industrial Revolution (usually dated from 1750) which its tools helped to create.

It was the first book to note that women’s sexual desire coincides with ovulation and the period right before menstruation. The book argued that marriage should be an equal relationship between partners. Although officially scorned in the UK, the book went through 19 editions and sales of almost 750,000 copies by 1931.

  • Magna Carta (1215) by Members of the English Ruling Classes

Magna Carta was the first document forced onto an English King by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their privileges. The charter was an important part of the extensive historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law in the English speaking world.

Games which could be described in the most general sense as ‘football’ had been popular in Britain since the Medieval period. Rules for these games, where they existed, were not universal nor codified. The Laws were first drawn up by Ebenezer Cobb Morley and approved at a meeting of the newly-founded Football Association (FA) on 8 December 1863. Association football can be considered to begin at this point, as the game played by clubs which didn’t adopt the rules evolved into rugby football.

On the Origin of Species, published on 24 November 1859, is a work of scientific literature byCharles Darwin which is considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology. I Darwin’s book introduced the scientific theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection.

Wilberforce supported the campaign for the complete abolition of slavery, and continued his involvement after 1826, when he resigned from Parliament because of his failing health. That campaign led to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, which abolished slavery in most of the British Empire; Wilberforce died just three days after hearing that the passage of the Act through Parliament was assured.

Instead of viewing women as ornaments to society or property to be traded in marriage, Wollstonecraft maintains that they are human beings deserving of the same fundamental rights as men.

Faraday established the basis for the concept of the electromagnetic field in physics. Faraday also established that magnetism could affect rays of light and that there was an underlying relationship between the two phenomena.[4][5] He similarly discovered the principle of electromagnetic induction,paramagnetism, and the laws of electrolysis. His inventions of electromagnetic rotary devices formed the foundation of electric motor technology, and it was largely due to his efforts that electricity became viable for use in technology.

The spinning frame is an Industrial Revolution invention for spinning thread or yarn from fibers such as wool or cotton in a mechanized way. It was developed in 18th-century Britain by Richard Arkwright and John Kay.

The Authorized Version has been called “the most influential version of the most influential book in the world, in what is now its most influential language”, “the most important book in English religion and culture”, and “the most celebrated book in the English-speaking world“. It has contributed 257 idioms to English, more than any other single source, including Shakespeare; examples include feet of clay and reap the whirlwind.

The Wealth of Nations is the magnum opus of the Scottish economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith. First published in 1776, it is a reflection on economics at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and argues that free market economies are more productive and beneficial to their societies. The book is a fundamental work in classical economics.

Although eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays had been published in quarto prior to 1623, the First Folio is the only reliable text for about twenty of the plays, and a valuable source text even for many of those previously published. The Folio includes all of the plays generally accepted to be Shakespeare’s, with the exception of Pericles, Prince of Tyre and The Two Noble Kinsmen, and the two “lost plays”, Cardenio and Love’s Labour’s Won.

Of course, Bragg’s selection is arbitrary. It mirrors the dominant opinions of our time, as Michael Michalko points out in his excellent blog: The Incredible Genius that America Ignored:

“ I don’t recall any teacher who discussed invention, inventors, patents, history, genius, creativity, electricity, electric power, radar, TV, alternating current, the wire-less, MRI scans, atom smashers, the radio or the Noble Prize ever mentioning Nikola Tesla.”

Photo: “Woman Sitting On Briefcase” by Ambro