Search This Blog

Friday, May 29, 2009

Influences In Creative Thinking #1

I have had a lifetime of benefits from using de Bono's creative thinking ideas, even though I have merely enjoyed the humble success of an interesting and creative life. My choices have led me to put time to be creative ahead as a priority, which has turned out to have been a rewarding, satisfying and happy choice.

I'll start out with how I used de Bono's thinking skills in the first five years after I ran into them from reading one little book called "PO". This book was the start of many inspirations to seek out "new perceptual assumptions" during the course of my life. You'll also read a number of additional points about how de Bono's ideas affected me as an adult - (I am now 55.) I still enjoy seeing many parallels between de Bono and other brilliant observers - great minds often think alike.

Let me tell you some of the first ways I used these ideas when I was a teen. The first book I read of de Bono's affected me deeply. It was "The New Word, PO" that I stumbled across in the Riverside, CA library when I was fifteen, (1970.) The effect of reading "PO" on my personal life was immediate. One of the first expressions of problem solving that I applied as a teen was for the challenge of getting along with my group of friends.

Thinking skills as way to ask for participation
By far the greatest advantage for me that ran through the book PO was that I could now had ways to ask others to play thinking games with me. The many de Bono books that I later read, continued to give me terms for asking for participation in many of the thinking skills that I had already innately been doing, but had never been able to describe to others. These terms also helped me to explain to others my motives for using thinking skills. It helped to minimize authoritarian resistance to the question of who defines the priorities & criteria of what constitutes improvement. In short, it stopped conflicts over who had or wanted to have control.

Interpersonal relationship problem solving
At the time it was obvious to us that we teens had no clue how to deal with interpersonal relationships, so we were quite open to new ideas. When interpersonal relationship problems would occur for us, it involved many members of our whole group. So we problem-solved as a group. From reading de Bono's book, we separated the description and expression of our problems from what we were going to do about them. Then we could try out various solutions and improve them. We discarded what didn't work and redesigned other experiments until we did find some useful processes.

The form of problem solving we stumbled on was similar to co-counseling - (many years later published and popularized by an adult psychologist who had the same idea independently.) But our way had an additional value. Somehow we figured out how to work together toward continuing improvement without inciting further conflict with each other.

After we had listed all of what might be bothering us or speculated possible causes of internal and external conflict in each of us, we united as a group and categorized those concerns which seemed to be about similar issues, noted those which seemed to be unique and connected those which seemed to be related to our relationship with each other. This activity put us on the same side of the question.

Because of the reversal example in the book PO, (and because of the story of the pan being used to iron a shirt;) we figured we had made assumptions that could be at the core of our misunderstandings of each other. So we actively looked for a way to uncover what those assumptions were.

We noted how each person's explanation of shared situations differed. As we listened, we found ourselves coming up with various conclusions or judgments. These conclusions became a signal for us that there must be an operative assumption underneath them. Until we noticed the provocation of a reaction, these assumptions were hidden. We decided we didn't really know enough to determine conclusions and pass judgments. That is when and why we decided more experiments were needed and this had to be an open-ended solution that could be improved.

Once we had all the pieces of the content, we came up with ideas how to deal with the issues (which included our own illogical feelings,) including problems of how to implement our bright ideas in real time when they were most needed.

Our teen discoveries
We decided that "truth" of what "really happened" didn't matter and was a dead end. Each of our points of view about what happened were valid, because of the emotional content and because of how important we were to each other. So in a sense, we invented a concept of "emotional truth."

For instance, one of those problems was how were we going to deal with deciding if we should do what we had said we were going to do as a group together when one or some of us were distracted. Nobody wanted to be left out and nobody wanted to be rejected. So we came up with a codified way to notify (or give a "chance to listen" as we described it.) This phrase was designed to give distracted members of our group a chance to answer back with a momentary "date" ("give me 5 min. then I can pay attention to what you're asking.")

If or when anger would come up, we learned a great deal about how little awareness the angry person had about how they were affecting others before they realized they were angry. So who was starting a reactive fight became quite an interesting question that held rather surprising answers for all of us. To find this information out, some of our experiments were quite volatile! During our experiments, we managed to remain friends - two of these women I am lucky to count as lifelong friends over the last 40 years.

Designing independent study courses
As a teen, another form my creative thinking inspirations took was to dare to propose an independent study of history credit during my first semester of my sophomore year in high school. After reading a specific historic account, I compared how various history books had described it. This research taught me some miraculous insights about point of view, bias and persuasive language. It taught me specifically to recognize exactly how language may be used to promote certain invested interests. Later I understood that teachers use language in this way to bring about an experience for their student, so manipulation and promotion wasn't all bad. (Of course, as a teen , I was quite reactive at that time to being controlled by adults.) From this experience I realized that going through a process could have results that I could not foresee.

During college, I was also led by a curiosity about perceptual assumptions to explore how behaviorism and animal trainers seem to be at odds with each other in a college independent study communication credit at USIU, Poway, CA. Since my final paper explored some of the possible differences between the Whorf-Sapir ideas as well as issues of inter-species communication, I invented what is now called mind-mapping to express and synthesize these divergent results in pictures and flow-chart style.

The skill of reasonable motives
As an adult, most fascinating to me were the de Bono ideas about encouraging speculation for what was motivating people in mysterious situations. I really took these mysteries to heart. At first, speculating about unknown but reasonable motives was useful for my own entertainment in people-watching situations. Later the skill took on another useful result.

This creative ability of finding positive, reasonable explanations, (requiring deliberate, skillful practice,) saw an unexpectedly handy use. Strangely enough, the skill became useful to get people to behave in a civil manner. These were difficult people who were complaining, acting mean or were apparently pursuing revenge. Whether it meant the person suspected I was incurably gullible or that I was merely stupidly hopeful didn't matter. My creative skill to come up with a perfectly compassionate and understandable explanation made difficult people motivated to not disappoint in the future.

Probably in hind-sight this was a mixed advantage, but it was one that I was attracted to nevertheless - so having practiced this skill offered me useful means of avoiding and mitigating difficult situations. Projecting positive outcomes had the effect of negotiating how "difficult" people should treat me in a civil fashion. Of course, in most cases I had to actively guard against violation, set boundaries and enforce them. However, I was able to work personally with seniors, the disabled & homeless, despite their culturally disenfranchised.

F.M Alexander skill training & de Bono's thinking skills
Building a separate new perceptual assumption frees creativity, as does uncovering self-limiting patterns of thought. Positive, forward thinking movement during creative thinking is indespensible - this is absolutely the same with F.M. Alexander's work. I became interested in Alexander Technique in 1976, and have been a teacher since 1985. I see these as parallels exist between de Bono's work and the principles of F.M. Alexander's. Alexander Technique provides a tool for carrying thinking into action that includes training a new perceptual assumption - proprioceptive assumptions. I was also happy to note additional interesting parallels between Alexander Technique and de Bono's work in the Masterthinker series.

Plus, Minus, Interesting, Unknown
I have since used the Cort thinking skills in many situations where decision making was tricky. I especially found useful the Plus, Minus and Interesting to help me explore many factors to stop them swimming around within my concerns. Over time I came to add another useful section to this activity, which was "Unknowns." Having this "Unknowns" section, (Positive-Negative-Interesting-Unknown,) got me to form questions about what was missing. Having questions helped to point me in the direction of where to go next to get these missing elements. Not knowing where to go next is often a great deal of the content that tends to result in unproductive resistance. Sometimes the unknowns were what was stopping me from acting.

Thinking skills taught patience for extending questioning time
Knowing what my questions were also motivated patience. Meaningful questions can become virtually unanswered, but many questions require patience for answers to arrive. Some unknowns are not answerable at once, because the time when they could be answered hasn't arrived yet. It's impossible to anticipate everything, but that shouldn't be a reason to stop the project. There are many times when you must stand on the step of where you are going to be, in order to see ahead.

Thinking skills revealed, extended and developed my natural talents
Before I ran into what de Bono had written on creative thinking, I wasn't very creative in a practical sense; I was only able to identify a happy accident - to be creative accidentally on purpose. I had always been a fast learner, but I mostly learned through osmosis and imitation. Once I had structure to hang my brain on such as the ones proposed by de Bono's ideas, I became deliberately creative. You can head out to for the long list of my multiple creative abilities.

Creative thinking welcomes improvement
I decided to enter this competition because my 97 yr. old Alexander Technique teacher Marj Barstow had called me the most resourcefully creative person she had ever met, (and she had taught many professionally creative performers during the course of her life!) Possibly what makes me notable as a creative thinker is because I am not intimidated by social constraints as has limited most women that stops them. I can problem solve when being criticized, angry or emotional. This characteristic in myself was no doubt the result of some great parenting, but I believe in part it has been from the benefit of having run into de Bono's ideas at an early age. Without that, I never would have learned how many benefits there were to being blessed with the ability to think.

Testimonial toward effectiveness
For the ability to manifest my creative thinking, I owe a great deal to de Bono's ideas. They have been a significant and fascinating benefit to me, my relationships and my work during the course of my life in the last forty years. Without thinking skills, intelligence and multiple talents are mostly a nuisance, spawning wild ideas that never culminate into results.

If you'd like to check out Edward de Bono's new forum for thinkers:

Monday, May 04, 2009

Reactions Fascinate

Had an old friend of mine (gone now) who would say self-deprecating things out loud to people, and it was hilarious. He'd chase someone down who had fled when the conversation lagged for a moment...he'd ask them, "Ahhh, does that mean I'm not interesting enough to hold your attention long enough for you to say good-bye, or did you just need to run away for another excellently secretive reason?"

People who "rile", strangely enough, fascinate. Noticing a reaction sometimes points me to a value that I wouldn't have known was there because I took it so much for granted. Humans only seem to notice "mismatches" or "contrasts" that stand out, so anyone or any situation who brings something like this to my attention is offering me a strange, back-handed sort of gift.

Sometimes the assumption is mine, sometimes it's theirs - but it's always interesting to stop and do what you imagine would be a good idea for the other person to be doing. Then if you do it yourself, they will tend to follow your lead - especially if you have some degree of self-possession to determine your own motives and examine your own assumptions.

But sometimes, it riles them! It helps to explain your motives before you step into areas where defensiveness may occur.

Women, for instance, have many ways they establish "we're in the same boat" attitude as a base agreement. Sometimes women do this with mutual complaints or bitching; sometimes by addressing what is most commonly a cultural assumption about motive-in-common, (such as all women are trying to lose weight, beauty, want money, have problems with men, etc.) Sometimes women try to negotiate an agreement to not tear each other up competitively or pass judgments on each other, to not gossip, etc. Seen in this light, pretty much all these "nasty & thoughtless" topics listed above are, in fact, positive intent.

For instance, if someone is bitching about how bad things are, the best response (as Barbara Sher suggests) is to take the bitch far beyond "normal" bounds to where it gets hilarious.

If you don't fit social expectations, you'll get weird routine comments from people over and over again, "you don't look like dumb enough to want to get sweaty...except in bed." If this is the case for you, this is your chance to come up with a quip (or many quips) that can become a stock answer(s): "Yeah, athletes with brains have to hide it because they don't want to threaten those who feebly try to compete."

I have a standard reply that can make people groan and also get them thinking about assumptions. When they meet, people will commonly ask: Where do you come from? I learned to answer..."Like most people, I came from my mother, originally." Then when they repeat the question, I can say, "Oh, you mean, where was my mother located when I was born?... In a canyon." This helps them to be more specific with their questions to me. Then I can tell them that the hospital where I was born was torn down to be rebuilt across the street when the highway was widened. My mother would point to a bare spot in this canyon when we would drive over a bridge and she'd say, "that's where you were born." I have a chance to explain to them, this is why I'm motivated to examine assumptions and to question people who are questioning me what they mean, exactly. I want to set this person up from the beginning to understand that I do not question their assumptions in order to get them to defend themselves. I ask questions merely because it is all too common to misunderstand.

My intent is to gain information and to get people to think for themselves - not to incite defensiveness. To defend is the more common reaction for people who wary to being "snubbed." Defense cuts off creative thinking ability and directs the blame on to the person who "incited" the defensive reaction...which of course, I do not want them to think about me. I want to encourage people to feel free to talk to me, not shut them up.

Well, sometimes I want to shut them up. As the woman who looked for her license as the cop tried to engage her to get her admit she had a "good excuse" to be speeding, I've used the ruse that I am preoccupied if the person offers me the wrong lead. I'm using the word "lead" here as in the leading the conversational intent somewhere where I know I do not want to go because I know that it is not positive or constructive. There's a rhythm to who gets to lead, when - so watch for this rhythm and redirect when it is your turn.

But if you determine that someone knows your boundaries, and they are still "testing" these boundaries, now it's a Training Issue. If the person, (who knows better) is intentionally "messing with you," if you don't slap them down in the moment, you'll just be encouraging them to blithely disrespect you again and again. You've expressed your preferences and limits, and now you must enforce them... or cut off the relationship. Assuming that you'd like to keep the relationship going, you can try other tactics: distraction, humor, a "pattern interrupt" action. Other bright ideas are to change your pacing, slowing down or speeding up the tempo of the exchange, communicating with body language & actions...all these are handy. Some of the time, they actually work.

Communication is a tricky thing, but you get relationships out of it.

One of my rules of both thumbs is "Never Say What You Don't Want Them To Do - It Confuses The Animal." It helps to remember to "Keep Your Eyes On The Prize" and state what you do want. It allows other people to play what I'm playing, but it makes me feel a little like I'm selling something.

If I want to inform someone that they have jumped toward making a mystery assumption and I'd like to know what they did, maybe I'll ask about their motive with a story that explains why I'm so insatiably curious, (such as the one above about my birthplace).

Even if their motive was apparently a "mean" one that they suddenly are having a very hard time explaining, I've found that coming up with an innocently positive explanation for their rather obviously "nasty" comment will make them behave better towards me. Every time, (whether they are secretly imagining I'm an insufferable "PolyAnna" optimist or stupidly gullible,) as they choose the more positive explanation that I've dangled in front of them, they are acting as if they are a much nicer person. Whether they are a "nice person" or not, they're getting trained to be - by me.