The creative attitude: learning to ask and answer the right questions 0026071703, 9780026071703

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The creative attitude: learning to ask and answer the right questions
 0026071703, 9780026071703

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guter Models of Thought and Language lited with K. Colby) eptual Information Processing ts, Plans, Goals and Understanding: An try Into Human Knowledge Structures R. Abelson) 'e Computer Understanding: Five Programs Miniatures (co-edited with C. Riesbeck) ling and Understanding: Teaching From an icial Intelligence Perspective

amic Memory: A Theory of Reminding and ning in Computers and People

Cognitive Computer: On Language, ning, and Artificial Intelligence (with hilders)

anation Patterns: Understanding ranically and Creatively


CREATIVE ATTITUDE Learning to A\sk and Answertne Kignt Questions ROGER SCHANK with Peter Childers


Copyright © 1988 by Roger Schank All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including

photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Publisher. Macmillan Publishing Company 866 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022 Collier Macmillan Canada, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Schank, Roger C., 1946-

The creative attitude. 1. Creative ability.

I. Childers, Peter G.

II. Title.

BF408.835 1988 153.35 ISBN 0-02-607170-3


Macmillan books are available at special discounts for bulk purchasesfor sales promotions, premiums, fund-raising, or educational use. For details, contact:

Special Sales Director Macmillan Publishing Company 866 Third Avenue New York, NY 10022








Printed in the United States of America

To mychildren, HANA and JOSHUA, in the hope that their world will let them create.




Part I: Looking at Creativity 1. What’s the Problem? 2. The Creative Attitude: A Look at Creative People 3. The Perils of Script-based Thinking

3 38 62

Part II: The Natural Creative Process 4. Failure and Reminding 5. Anomaly + Explanation = Creative Thought 6. The Importance of Questions

9} 127 169

Part Ill. Creativity Tools 7. Asking Questions and Tweaking Answers 8. Planning with Explanation Patterns

195 222


9, Wandering the Paths of Thought: Some Questions 10. Question Transformation

251 284

Part IV: Questions and Answers 11. Ten Questions about Innovation 12. Encouraging Creativity in School 13. Ten Maxims to Remember Index

311 329 348 363


I once attendeda lecture by a professor whoseresearchproject had been to find out what people think of other people in various walksof life. Among the things she asked hersubjects was whatthey believed was the mostdifficult aspect of a professor’s job. They were asked, Whatis the greatest fear that a professor is likely to haveP The vast majority of people believed that a professor’s greatest fear is to be asked a question that he cannot answer. This made the audience(all of whom were professors) laugh. Why? Because answers are easy. Professors worry about questions, not about the answers to questions.

A professor worries about his ability to come up with good questions that give him some idea of what to pursue in his research. Creativity and progress depend upon asking tthe right question at the right time. When the questionis relevant and at the right level, the path to the answeris often fairly obvious. If you have askedall the questions, you don’t need an answer anymore because you have solved the problem at hand. The last question is effectively the answer. Wetendto believe that we need answers. Our society tends to look for answers to such questions as how to stop nuclear


war, how to feed the hungry, or how to stop druguse. But these questions maynot bethe onesto ask if we really want answers. Questions have natural biases built into them. With every question comesthe hintof an answer. Howto feed the hungry has an obvious built-in answer: send food. How to stop drug use: crack down on the importation andsale of drugs. But these answers are obviously wrong. They don’t work. Why not? Because those questions are not the right questions. Since questions point to answers, we must learn to ask the right questions—that is, the ones that point to helpful answers. But we must learn to ask questions for another reason as well. Let meillustrate with a story: When I wasin high school, I took biology and was getting mediocre grades. My mother went to see myteacher, and he suggested that I start to ask more questionsin class. More questions? That seemed absurd to me. My problem wasn’t that I neededto ask questions. You asked questions if you didn’t understand. I needed the answers. How were questions going to help my grade? This teacher was at once very wise and very foolish. He was wise enough to understand that someone whois not asking questions is not thinking, that it is really impossible to understand any subject well if questions are not readily coming to mind. The fact that I wasn’t asking questions certainly did indicate that I wasn’t thinking about whatwasbeingdiscussed. Naturally I was getting mediocre grades if I wasn’t thinking. Onthe other hand, why wasn’t I thinking? I was bored. What

questions werethereto ask about how yet another species was classified? I just didn’t care. Good questions come from an interesting environment. Both he and I had failed to provide one. It is all too easy to stifle good questions. Children tend to start out with good questions, but various things conspire to stop them. In this book, I talk about the creative attitude, and whenI talk about this subject, I am invariably remindedof the time when my daughter, at age seven, was asked to take a “creativity” test. This test included various questions whose answers were drawings of one kind or another. The grader of


this test was very impressed bythe fact that my daughter had drawn a moosein responseto one of the questions. I asked my daughter whyshe had drawnthe mooseatthatpoint. She said that it was obvious that they were trying to get you to draw a happy face, given the parts of the drawing that had already been supplied, and she didn’t want to do what she was supposed to do. Whatis the creative attitude? It is, among other things, the desire to go against the mainstream. But such desires are stopped, by parents, in school, at work—nearly everywhere. The creative attitude entails posing one’s own questions, not answering the questions of others, andit is not always easy to get away with such a point of view. Onereasonit is difficult to keep posing one’s own questions is that you can actually begin to know too much. When myson was five, he was very interested in football. On one Saturday afternoon, Oklahomascored eighty-two points in a game.I asked him, “How, by what combination of scoring, could they have done that?” While I wasstill thinking about the answer, he responded,“Eight touchdowns,eightfield goals, eight extra points, and a safety.” I was dumbfounded.I hadn’t gotten the answeryet.I wasstill dividing 82 by 7. But myfive-year-old son had not only gotten an answer more quickly than I did. He had also gotten a very different answer than the onethat I, and most people, would get. Why? What had he done? He had discovered factoring. Basically, he had asked himself an easy question: How manytensaretherein 82? He askedthis because he knew howonescoredten pointsin a football game, a touchdown,anextrapoint, and a field goal. The next problem after that was to see what wasleft after you had eight tens. Easy.

He could come up with such an inventive way of doing things precisely because he didn’t know the “right” method. He didn’t know howto divide by 7. Of course, I am not advocating that one shouldn’t learn to divide. But I am pointing out that there is a cost to learning how to do something— namely, you begin to think that the method youlearnedis the



only way to do that thing. Learning the answer can cause you to forget the question. Whatis a good question? That’s a good question. Andit’s a question upon whichthe possibility of being creative depends. Like most good questions, there really is no answertoit. In this book, I try to show wherecreativity comes from and how one can learnto ask the right questions. I also talk about how the creative process can be stifled and how to be on guard against suchstifling. Myviewson creativity come from myattemptto build intelligent machines. In order to attempt such a thing, I had to decide which questions to focus on, and I chose What makes people intelligent? which naturally led me to ask, How does the mind work? While working on getting machines to be creative, therefore, I had to wonder how people are creative and what methods they use whentheyare creative. But this book is not about computers.In fact, the word computer is barely mentionedatall. It is about people, because in my opinion work on intelligent machines must also be about people. This book contains, in addition to my view,the opinions of other people who are involved with creativity, and these are included atvarious parts of the book that I thought appropriate.

Mostofall this is a book about whatyou alreadydo,or at least once did. Creativity is not a mystical process. Thereis no magic creativity formula to be learned. To become morecreative,it helps to understand how youare already creative and build upon that. But to do that, you must learn to ask the right questions.


V/hat's the Problem?


A young boy has been daydreaming in mathclass instead of paying attention and hasn’t been following the lesson on the Pythagorean theorem. Two other children in his class have been listening carefully to everything the teacher says. The teacher asks theclass to find the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle with sides of 3 and 4. One child makes somecalculations and then raises his hand to indicate that he has the answer. The second child thinks for a second, recalls that he has seen a 3-4-5 right triangle once before, and says 5. Our boy draws a right triangle with sides 3 and 4, estimates the missing side, and guesses5. The first boy knew the Pythagorean formula, a? + b? = c?. He plugged in the numbers and found 3? = 9 and 4? = 16, added them together to get 25, and took the square root of 25 to get 5. The second boy knew the answer was 5 because he had been paying attention in class enough to have heard of a 3-4-5 triangle. The third boy took out a pencil and carefully drew aright angle with oneside slightly bigger than the other; saw that the hypotenuse had to beslightly bigger than either side, guessed that the answer hadto be an integer, and came up with 5 also. Then he went back to his daydreaming.

Looking at Creativity

Whichofthese boysis rightP Which of these boyswill do best in school? Which of these boys will do best in life? Which of these boys is most likely to be the most creative? To answer these questions we must first ask, Why do welearn the Pythagorean theorem in school at all? Every schoolchild learns the Pythagorean theorem, but whousesit? There ought to be a really good reason to learn a formula in school. Ideally that reason should be that we will needto use that formula later in life, outside school. At the very least, understanding that formula should enable us to do something else—perhapsjust to think about problems in geometry for which there aren’t easy formulas. The answer seems to be that we learn this formula in school because in school we learn formulas in general. This formula maybe of particular interest to mathematicians, but to schoolchildren it is usually presented as just one more thing to memorizein order to get the right answer. The original reason it was decided to teach any given formulais often difficult, if not impossible, for students and even their teachers to recall. If we all rememberthat a? + b? = c?, yet cannot remember why we should care about such a formula, then something is wrong. If we ever runinto a right triangle that needs a computation, we will be ready and able, but what have we learned about geometry from the memorization of that formula? Some day we mayneedto know something about geometry,butit is highly unlikely that we will have to know how to compute the hypotenuse of a right triangle. The child who learns the formulas correctly has donehis job as a student and is the kind of person who, assuming that following instructionsis typical behavior for him,will do his job in life. Of course, it is dificult to make predictions about a child’s life from his reaction to one math example. However, it is less difficult to predict the impactof this kind of teaching on children. Formulaic thinking tends to make us dependent upon someoneelse’s having solved a problem for us in order for us to be able to think aboutit.

What's the Problem?


If knowing the answer is what mattersin life, then knowing the formula will help. But a formula isn’t always available for problems we havein life. The real problem with formulasis that we cometo rely upon them for everything we experience, and moreoften than not there aren’t any formulasavailable for life’s important decisions. Even when formulas are available, they are often nearly useless or just plain wrong—if not factually wrong, then wrong in the way they limit possibilities. There is no shortage of easy answers and formulas for the myriad of problems wefacein life; no shortage of people who will calmly tell us that there is one right and true way of doing things; no shortage of bosses whowill yell, “What do you mean you werethinking? I don’t pay you to think, Jones. Shut up and get back to work.” But if we follow the rules and use the formulas, we will never be creative and will never learn anything new.


Creative thinking is a kind of game withoutrules, or rather the rules can be whatever you decide. Rules and facts are the playing pieces, to be moved aroundbythe players. The momenta player tries to make serious business outof the rules and the formulas—the moment one assumesthat truths are hard and fast—the gameis lost. Creativity is a game of making and testing hypotheses, taking them as far as they can be taken, then watching them crumble and wondering why. Creativity is not the exclusive province of a small minority of physicists, artists, and inventors. It is really a rather common form of thinking, one that most people are hardly aware of. The problem is that a great deal of effort, usually quite unintentional, goes into stopping people from beingcreative. Insti-

Looking at Creativity

tutions such as schools, religions, governments, and businesses all effectively reduce creativity. These institutions usually don’t believe that they limit creativity. But by their very nature, institutions thrive on rules and on ready answers. Creative people have the annoying habit of rejecting rules and answers and asking new,and hard, questions. Creative people make waves. Institutions abhor wave makers. How can you survive the assault against your creativity? That is one of the questions we attempt to answerin this book. Manyof us can, despite everything, think creatively. Who has been teaching us? The answeris simple enough. For the most part, creativity means knowing how to teach yourself. Learning to teach yourself to think creatively is one of the goals of this book. The aim of this book is to reteach you how to ask questions. I say reteach becauseeverychildis full of questions. Hehasto learn, from unresponsive teachers, parents, employers, congressmen, and so on, to stop asking them. And when you stop asking questions, creativity quickly disappears. We will answer the question, How can creativity be increased?byfirst asking, Howis creativity decreased? Whatare the ways in which welose the creativity game, whether by our own doing or by what is done to us? There are three very commonscenarios for discouraging creative thinking, whichI call formulaic thinking, the reinventing the wheel syndrome, and tripping on the prototype.


Wetendto have a misplaced respectfor the task of accumulating standard facts and theories and sticking to them through thick and thin. What passes for knowledge,intelligence, and erudition in oursociety is for the most part a body of formulaic knowledge that is often of little practical use to those who master it. Having answers for every question stifles creativity.

What's the Problem?

Formulasare an insurancepolicy against thinking. The minority of folks who actually makeuseof their formulaic knowledge at some level rarely do so in the context of making a truly creative leap. They mostly just apply it in stereotypical situations.

The teaching of formulaic thought can havedisastrouseffects on a child’s basic creative potential. The primary disaster is that children brought up on formulaic thinking begin to believe that there is an answer for every question. A better thing to believe is that there is a question for every answer. Children naturally pose their own questionsall the time. The problem with our schools is that they are based on a principle of handing down answers, as if answers and truths were just sitting out there, ready-made. This system teaches children to stop asking questions altogether, instead of teaching them howto ask better and better questions. In a world whereall the answers are known, memorizing what those answers are would seem the thing to do. But in a world where very few answers are known, memorizing the few that are knownis probably not the wayto find more answers. And, of course, welive in the latter world, not the former.

Instead of encouraging children to formulate their own knowledge, we teach by handing down knowledge that is seemingly cast in stone. The schools, and the greatersociety in which those schools exist, have institutionalized formulaic

thinking and teaching. Many bright students have a healthy contemptfor this approach, which is why many smart kids get mediocre grades. Whenwelearn about geometryin school, for example, what we should be learning is how to reason about geometric problems, and how to reason in general. We can’t benefit from learning a formula unless weare also going to learn how to reason for ourselves. Quite simply, we should be learning the formsof logical reasoning and understanding that would equip us to see the need for and then invent such a formula, should

we ever haveusefor it. The Pythagorean theorem would be quite valuable if it were learned by children who have been

Looking at Creativity

encouraged to develop general principles for reasoning about the regularities and irregularities of mathematics and geometry, and then used as a springboard toward the invention of other useful formulas. People need to be able to think on their own. Creative thinking means doing something in a new way, a way you thought up on your own. Evenif an answerto a problem isn’t new to anybody except you, even if you are amazed that the whole world has already thoughtof the idea that you just thought of on your own, even thenit is creative to have thought of the idea by yourself. Creative thinking means that you did that thinking on your own,even if you won’t be awardedthe Nobel Prize for your idea.


People whosuffer from the reinventing the wheel syndrome feel compelled to show that their own ideas or other people’s ideas are the same as previous people’s ideas, so they had better sit down and shut up unless they are saying something thoroughly original. Worse, when faced with a new problem, the first question they ask is who might havealready solved that problem, and thus they begin a massive effort in library research, rather than a massive effort at thinking. The reinventing the wheel syndromeis one of the best methods of stifling creativity I know. It is often self-inflicted, but most scholars do a very good job of enforcing its code when a new thinker is being born. In manyareas, especially in scientific matters,it is quite rare that one unintentionally duplicates exactly the work ofothers. However, it is very easy to be persuaded that what you are doingis not significantly different from what others have done, so that youfail to continue that train of thought. If, whenever you have an idea, you assumethatit cannot be

What’s the Problem?

original, that someone else must have thoughtof it before, then you might begin to search the literature to find out what other people havesaid aboutthe subject. Instead of extending your own workonthesubject, you start spending your time reading what others have said. The goal should notbe to remain ignorant, but to learn to treat whathas already been said as mere raw material for your own thoughts,notas the authoritative version of truth which can only be repeated. Even if it were true thatall the great ideas about the nature of life and how to live it have already been thought up and written down,trying to find out aboutlife by reading about a given subject would be the wrongthing to do. Eachsituation we encounteris a little different from what we have read about. You can’t get by on rote knowledge, no matter how profoundthe source. Children will inevitably ignore their parents’ advice, make the same mistakes that their parents did, and then be forced to recognize their parents’ wisdom. Active responses to new situations require personal experiences that

have been mulled over and connected to manyof the other experiences one hashad.It is very difficult to become knowledgeable in a passive way. Actively experiencing somethingis considerably more valuable than passively having it described. This is as true for visits to Europeasit is for mathematics. You simply have to do it yourself. Passive learning may yield a well-read, intelligent-sounding person who can cite famous authorities, but it will not yield a person who can think for himself. My point here is simple. If you want to be creative, you must not be afraid to reinvent the wheel. In fact, you might just want to reinventit. Your wheel mightbea little different from the usual wheel. You might enjoy inventing it. And most importantly, you will get into the habit of creative thinking. The stifling of creative impulses happens not only in academic endeavors but in daily life as well. No idea is likely to be wholly original in mattersof daily life, but discovering that someoneelse thought of something before you didis unlikely


Looking at Creativity

to make you feel good about yourself and is unlikely to encourage you to extend the idea. In other words, worrying about rediscovering the wheel is extremely unhealthy for creative thought. Children quite commonly venture out on their own with newgeneralizations derived from a small sampleof cases that they have observed. They are not afraid of inventing a new category of creatures that includes horses, dogs, and mice. Children create hypotheses from a few instances and come up with their own ideas about various events and subjects. No one says to them, What a waste of time. You just discovered mammals. That category has been knownfor centuries. Adults don’t say this because they recognize that children needed to know this category. What adults fail to realize is that more important than knowing the category is knowing howto inventthe category, and as long asthis invention process is not discouraged, children will continue inventing. Most people are notso kind to adults. Indeed, parents are not so kind to their children’s hypotheses whenthat hypothesis is at odds with what the parent knowsor believes, or when the child’s idea is met with a parent’s lack of information aboutthe subject. Often, an adult doesn’t know whyhebelieves what he believes, so instead of carefully explaining his own viewsto his child, he criticizes the child’s view outright without takingit seriously for a moment. Manyteachers do the samething to their students, from gradeschoolall the wayto graduate school in universities.

Indeed, in our society showing why someone’s idea won’t workis one of the hallmarks of erudition. Professors love to cut each other's theories to pieces. It shows how goodtheyare at thinking on their feet. And sometimesthey are goodat thinking on their feet, but more often in academic circles the cutting down of others’ theories is merely the operation of the reinventing the wheel syndrome. WheneverI give a visiting lecture at another university, if I present an idea that I am working on that is out of the ordinary in some way, a professor in the audience can be

What's the Problem?

countedonto raise his hand and ask whetherthis idea isn’t just like the work of so-and-so, and whetherI had read someone’s

book on such-and-such. I used to be upset by such questions, regarding them as very hostile. (This is not as paranoid asit seems, since questions from academics to academics often are quite hostile.) But this particular type of question occurred so frequently that I began to wonderabout the mental processes behindit. Why would other professors ask if my idea wasn’t just the same as that of so-and-so? Why did they incessantly try to demonstrate howsimilar it was to previous theories, instead of focusing on what was different or new? In somecases, they were quite mistaken about the relatedness of my ideas and hadn’t really been listening carefully, except perhaps to echoes inside their own heads of previous theories they could easily understand andfelt they had mastered.

The Lazy Use of Reminding As part of my research on the structure of human memory,I had begunto study the process of reminding. I was primarily interested in how seemingly random remindingsoccur to us, rather than the type of reminding that occurs when someone asks you to pick up a loaf of bread on your way home, which isn’t an especially interesting type of reminding. When some event reminds you of something else, when seeing someone reminds you of something you haveto do,or when reading something remindsyou of an experience in your own life—these are all interesting types of reminding for a scientist who studies the mind. The reason is simple enough. Remindings of this type are a kind of data for the mind to operate on. We ask why A reminded youof B, especially if A and B have no obvious features in common,and by examining the answer welearn something about how human memory works. In the context of thinking about this kind of reminding,I



Looking at Creativity

began to examine the problem of the critical professors. I beganto see the reinventing the wheel syndromeasthe lazy use of remindingfor declaring that what someonehasjust said is the same as what wassaid earlier. The natural thought processes of these professors caused them to look for a theory in memory that was closest to the one I was presenting. Thatis, they attempted to understand what I wassaying by theuse of reminding. The problem is that the professors were using this type of reminding to limit the possibilities of thought, and to limit their own understanding of and contact with anything new. This kind of reminding can thus be quite harmful if its intent is to prevent any theories or explanations from being developed. There can be great value in reminding if we avoid the trap of the reinventing the wheel syndrome. When someonetells you a story, it often reminds you of another story. When you hear a joke, you are remindedof another joke. When you have an experiencethat is odd in some way, you mightfind yourself thinking about a similar experience that was odd in the same way. Whyis this? Why are people reminded? What are the mostcreative strategies for employing our remindings? As we shall see later, reminding can play a keyrole in learning and creativity.


Tripping on the prototype is just an extension of formulaic thinking coupled with lazy reminding. By prototype I mean the obvious standard experience in life. In formulaic thinking you attempt to find the standard formula. When you trip on the prototype, you compare the explanation of a newly experienced event with the standard formulas and situations you have kicking around in your head, andstrip away anything that is different about the new formula. In other words, tripping on the prototype means understand-

What’s the Problem?

ing something in terms of a typical experience of that type. The problem occurs when wego nofurtherthan that in our effort to understand. We understand somethingby finding an event already in our memoriesthatis the closest to the one we are attempting to understand. Whenwelook for an episode for comparison, we consider only the most applicable onein its relationship to the case currently being processed. We are not always aware of doingthis. It literally doesn’t occur to us to look at the event as anything butanotherinstance of such-andsuch. Sometimes the process of comparative reminding is employed by others to help us to understand. For example, the following article appeared in The Washington Post: JAL Airliner Goes Astray Near Soviet TOKYO. Soviet fighter jets were scrambled last week as a Japanese Air Lines jetliner strayed off course with 132 people aboard and approachedSakhalin Island near the spot wherethe Soviet Union shot down a Korean Air Linesjet in 1983, Japanese officials said Thursday. The Japanesejet’s crew on the Oct. 31 flight discovered they had made a navigational error and corrected their course before the airliner improperly entered Soviet airspace, the officials said. The plane never cameinto contact with the Soviet fighters. The incident recalled Korean Air Lines Flight 007 which was shot down Sept. 1, 1983, by a fighter off Sakhalin after flying through Soviet airspace. All 269 people werekilled.

The writer was, in effect, trying to help us understand this event by making a comparative reminding to the event most similar to it that we knew about. The writer encouragesus to recall the Korean Air Lines incident and to begin to draw generalizations about what is commonto both. The generalizations abouttheperils of air travel that might spring from this comparative reminding maynotbeverycreative. The danger is that we will see a new airplane-straying-off-course story merely as another instance of the prototypical case.



Looking at Creativity

In other words, by recognizing the Japan Air Lines incident as yet anotherinstance of Russian aggression, we learn nothing from it at all. We have brushedit aside as the sameold thing. In effect, what we have doneis to replace the new event we are trying to understand with one we havealready under-

stood. Thus, by remembering thefirst event, we avoid the work of understanding the new event. By treating it as just another

instance of X, we miss out on the creative possibilities that exist in the differences between any two events. By comparing something we don’t understand very well to something we believe ourselves to comprehendperfectly, we can avoid having to think at all. We merely replace the hard problem with an easy one instead of beginning to consider two hard problems at the sametime. Nothing is simpler in understanding than dismissing what we are attempting to understand as having already been understood. As we shall see when wediscuss explanation, many of our attempts to understand what wesee and hearareattempts to place the new thing being consideredinto its proper place in memory. Everything we hear about, see, or read gets stored in our memories. Where do we put the events we have just processed? People have nosense that they are looking for a location in which to place a thought or an experience, but thatis exactly what they are doing. In order to find a book that you put in your house, you must rememberwhereyou putit. You must recall its location. If you put it in a vast library of books, then you must give it a number or someother kind of index to make finding it easier. The same is true of memories. We

give them names, like library indices, in order to find them

again when weneed them. Of course, we don’t do this consciously. We are not aware that we doit. But the mind must have somesystem for finding things when it needs them. The place we choose for a memorycan serve to hideit forever, if we have labeled it improperly, or to confuseit with other memories, if we have labeled it with something like another one of those airplane-straying-off-course stories. The

What’s the Problem?

latter kind of label causes us to forget the new story in favor of the old one. When we havedifficulty thinking of where to put a new experience, when we don’t quite understand what it is we are seeing, we are confused. At that point, we can allay our confusion by simply declaring the confusing item to be just like something else and dismissing the differences. Or we can begin to consider the differences. Reminding becomesincreasingly creative as the episodes broughtin for comparison becomelessandless obviously relevant and as the work of making them relevant by explaining possible connections becomes more involved. For example, one might consider the reasons behindthe actionsof the Russians; one might wonderif they would do this to a Pan Am flight; one might want to think about what exactly is so precious on Sakhalin Island, and so on. One methodof creative understanding, then, is to find rele-

vant, but not necessarily obvious prior experiencesthat relate to the current experience. You haveto try to remind yourself of something relevantthat will help you see the new event in an interesting way. If you begin to consider labels such as paranoid people or institutions which overreact to trespassers, or people with an exaggerated sense of privacy, those labels just might correspond to other experiences in your mind that have been labeled in the same way. Creativity depends upon a desire to find old relevant memories, and finding those memories depends uponconstructing the labels that they have been stored under. In other words, creativity depends upon reminding and explanation. Why explanation? Becausethelabels that the mind uses usually consist of explanations.

Your Own Warat Eighteen

Another example of tripping on the prototype that I particularly like comes from thetime, in 1968, when I was campaigning in Texas for Eugene McCarthy, who wasat the time the



Looking at Creativity

peace candidate. I spoke with a manin his mid forties, a veteran of World War II, who admonished mefor being against the Vietnam Warwith the following statement: “We had our war when we wereeighteen, so you should have your war.” Put aside for a momenttheabsurdityof this statement. Ignore the millions of eighteen-year-old Americans who missed “their” war because they grew up whenthere didn’t happen to be a war going on. This man had understood the Vietnam

Waras an instance of wars one fights when oneis eighteen, so

he didn’t have to think anymore about it. He didn’t have to consider if it was a reasonable war, or even if the kid he was

talking to might shed somelight on the differences between World WarII and Vietnam. He didn’t want to understand any further than he already had. He had found his prototypical case, and he didn’t needto hear about any differences between the prototype he had selected and immediatereality. Of course, one cannot be so sure that this man would have

been creative in his analysis of the differences. And who was to say that the prototypical case I had assumed to be correct was correct? The point, of course, is that the discussion that might have enlightened us both did not take place. The moreoneis sure that one’s prototypeis really all there is to know abouta subject, the easier it is to believe that one has understood new eventsthat look like the prototype. And the more onebelieves that one has understood completely, the less one seeks a deeper or more comprehensive explanation. In order to begin to think creatively about what is going on, we must notice when we havefailed to understandfully.


Let’s return to the math class for a moment. Formulaic thinking was exemplified by the boy whofaithfully memorized the formula and then applied it when told to. Comparative reminding was exemplified by the child who simply remembered that there was such a thing as a 3-4-5 right triangle and

What’s the Problem?

therefore didn’t have to work out the formula as the teacher had hoped. This student did what comes quite naturally to everybody. He was reminded of something he had seen that seemed relevant and applied this reminding to the current situation.

The problem with both these waysof thinking is that getting the desired answer doesn’t give rise to an awareness of any mathematical principles that underlie the problem. In other words,the studentswill simply find the right answerbyrecalling the formula, or by rememberinga triangle that is relevant. They will not necessarily learn anything about geometry by employing these methods. It is easy enoughto assert that formulaic thinking is bad and that what we really want to dois to think creatively all the time. Formulaic thinking developed for a reason;it has serious purpose, and it would be quite difficult to survive without it. We cannot, afterall, treat every situation we encounteras

if it were brand-new and worthyof serious thought. We need formulas to give us some ofthe tools for understanding a new event.

Formulas should serve as mere fodder from which new questions can be asked and new formulascan be derived. Someday you might need a mathematical formula in order to apply it whereit was not quite intendedto be applied, and theability to reformulate it yourself would be quite handy. If a mathematician wants to solve a problem,hetries to find the problem mostsimilar to it that he has already solved, and starts with that. If a chef wants to create a new recipe,hetries first to adapt an old recipe or an old principle of cooking. So there is a creativity-enhancing reason to learn formulas: Welearn formulas so that we can adapt them later, move them aroundlike pieces in a game.

But do the schools havethis goal in view when teaching our child? No. Children are expected to learn formulas because that is what they are tested on and measuredby. Schools emphasize passing tests rather than being creative as a measure of success. It is easy to teach formulas. After all, examinations



Looking at Creativity

that ask only formulaic questions are mucheasierto grade. No matter how well a child actually does in learning formulas, no matter how many A’s he gets, the real lesson that he has learned is that when he doesn’t know somethingit is simply becausehe has forgotten,or failed to learn, the correct answer.

The idea that he might invent the answerhimself, that a precompiled formula for the current problem may notexist, is hard for him to fathom. The formulas which the schools try to drum into our children aren’t the only kinds of formulas welearn. Thereis a kind of formulaic knowledge or knowledgestructure that werely on throughoutourdaily lives, which I call a script. Scripts are, quite simply, formulas for living.


Despite its potential for misapplication, in the schools and elsewhere, formulaic thinking is necessary and hasits place. One of the most useful kinds of formulaic thinking occurs every day in everyone’slife. In order to understand what goes on in our lives, we use something wecall scripts. Rather than being mathematical formulas, scripts are everyday formulas that we use to cope with routine or commonplaceevents in our lives. When werely upona script to cope with routine actions and experiences, we do so precisely because webelieve that that script is correct and will not need to be changed. Wetry to understand what the people we knowarelikely to do, what they want, why they wantit, and so on. Wetryto understand howtheinstitutions that we deal with can be ex-

pected to act, and how those institutions expect us to act.

Scripts are a kind of canned explanation that serves to codify our expectations about the more mundaneactions in our lives—i.e., what commonly occurs in airports, restaurants,

whenthe plumbervisits, when wego to the departmentstore, and so on. In other words, scripts of various kinds help us to understand by supplying the prototypical cases. This help is a

What's the Problem?

kind of double-edged sword, though. Prototypical cases allow us to spend our valuable thinking time whereit is of the most use, but theyalso help us notto think at all about anything that seems to be taken care of by the scripts or formulas. A script is a story line, as in a play or a movie, only perhaps more generalized.It is our way of doing something the wayit has always been done. It is our way of decreasing the number of things we haveto think aboutall the time, so that we can do things without thinking about them.Scripts provide us with a way of not thinking. Theyare, in effect, a way of following instructions. While this has its bad side effects, scripts canstill be a meansof survival in a complex world.

The Airplane Script As an example of an everyday script, consider the airplane script. Any frequent traveler knowsthat he has to checkin at the check-in counter, get a boarding pass, give up his luggage in return for claim check, find the gate, walk to it and wait a while, board whenhis flight is called, show his boarding pass to the flight attendant,find his seat, stow his carryons, sit down and buckle himself in, pull down his tray table in orderto eat, and so on andso on. This script is boring to talk about and boring to execute if one has done it many timesbefore. But if one has never doneit, each detail is a new experience that must be learned if one wants to travel on anairplane. There are countless variations to the airplane script, of course: sipping champagnein first class before the plane takes off, selecting your favorite seat, trying to find out why the plane is delayed, and so on. We knowa great deal aboutair travel if we do it frequently. Such knowledge is embodied in the airplanescript, and it would be a mistaketo avoid learning such a script because without it we would haveto figure out the sameold details over and over again. The knowledge wehavethat enables us to understand what people are talking about, to fill in the blanks when people fail



Looking at Creativity

to spell out every detail of what they are referring to, is embodied in scripts such as the airplanescript, the restaurantscript, and the departmentstore script. We know a great deal about these scripts in that we know how to use them and how to understand others when theyrefer to them.In fact, knowing a script can becritical in helping us to understand what someone has said. When weheara friend tell us about something that happened in a restaurant, we do not wonder why the waitress brought what our friend ordered. We might wonder whyshe didn’t bring what was asked for, of course. Knowing the script enables us to focus our attention on what matters, not what is commonplace and well understood. In other words, scripts embody the knowledgeof the world that is well understood. In learning a script we do notnecessarily try to learn why something is done the wayit is, we just learn how the script is followed. If we do find out why,it often is of no interest to the other participants in the script. For example, there is a reason why onehasto put up one’s seat back on an airplane during takeoff and landing. Studies have shownthatthe people behind you have difficulty getting out during a crash if your seat back is down. Now,try to explain this to a flight attendant whenthereis no one behind you, or even no one else on the airplaneatall! Flight attendants don’t know whythis rule exists, and they usually don’t care. They know only how the script is followed. They will force you to keep your seat back up even if you’re the only one on the plane.

Scripts Are Made, not Born Unlike our instincts, which are inborn,scripts are learned,or

acquired. We formulatescripts in the samesituations that we use them, namely in the course of ourdaily lives. To discover your ownscripts, you need only answer such mundane questions as: What route do you take to get to work? What are some of the duties of your jobP What do you take on a picnic? If you

What’s the Problem?

wereable to answerthese questions, you havescripts for these routine activities. Think of the most recentscripts you formed. Did you just buy a new appliance? Did yourjob recently require you to use a new machine or system of some kind? Chancesare youarestill adjusting to the change,still learning whatever newscripts you need in order not to have to learn somethingall over again. Children are rapid script learners and script formers. They have to be. By the time theyare in their teens they have to be able to survive in a very complicated society. Children who have difficulty formulating scripts because of poor memory or impaired cognitive functioning will have a great deal of trouble learning anything. Children have no basis for forming scripts—for knowing whatto think or do in the world—except for what their parents and other adults in their immediate environmentof neighborhood andschool tell them or show them. Whethertheyaretribal children in Thailand or schoolkids in New Jersey, children learn by watching adults do the same things over and over, and by repeating those actions in the proper scenarios. Children watch their parents for guidance well into adulthood. How manycollege students begin (or end) their college careers certain that they want to do what their fathers or mothers do? How manynine-year-olds repeat in school the same political opinions heard across the dinner tableP How manykids dream at some point of being just like one of their parents? Most children do. Whena child experiences a standardized activity such as catching a planeor going to a restaurant,he orshelearns basic scripts for airports and restaurants. The child may make funny scripts at first, by giving high credenceto certain otherwise unimportant events. He may rememberthat his parents were asked for their passports one time and assumethat passports are necessaryfor all flights, even New York to San Francisco. He will have madepassports a partof his airplane script and will expect the same thing to take place for every trip. His parents will help him formulate his airplane script by answering his questions and by explaining to him what happensthere.



Looking at Creativity

Each time he gets on an airplane he learns more about the important parts of the airplane script and corrects his earlier assumptions.

As examples of normal childhood script-functioning, consider these early scripts: At age four, my daughter Hana had formed more or less complete scripts for taking an airplane and for going to a restaurant. These scripts had begun todevelop thefirst time she had been taken to these places, and by the time she was four, she knew mostof the possible scenarios and variations on the airport and restaurant script. When asked, she could describe from beginning to end the major steps and alternatives involved in taking a plane and going to a restaurant.

However,it was also easy for her to overgeneralize in creating scripts. When I got a new car whenshe wassix, she asked meif I was then going to get a new keychain. I asked why she thought that, and she told me that that was what I had done last time we'd gotten a new car, four yearsearlier. A second example occurred when I went shopping with my son, Joshua, age four months. I brought him home, put the stroller on the porch, and then took the groceriesinside. He began screaming blue murder. When my wife got home, I asked her what this could mean, and she told meshe always broughtthestroller in first and then broughtin the groceries. This kind of script-based behavior in children is normal and is part of the learning they have to do to cope with oursociety. In a different society, of course, the scripts would be different. The very survival of the individual in today’s society requires the mastery of thousands of scripts, both large and small, complex and simple. Using a bank, taking a shower, buying clothes, waiting tables, answering an office phone, taking a cab, looking for a job, looking for a house, getting married, and even having kids can be seenasscripts of different orders and levels. The bottom line is this: If you don’t

use scripts, you have to figure out whatto do each time you do


What's the Problem?


The operation of the normal understanding cycle relies heavily on scripts for the set of assumptions that we use when understandingthe routine events ofdaily life. People are best viewed as bundles of expectations. Their everyday understanding is based on expectations of how events normally proceed. They expect the teacher to be in class when they show up. They expectthe doctorto ask them to undress, they expect the fruit and vegetable manto ask them to pay before he hands them their purchase. They expect ABC Newsto start promptly at seven.

Whenthese things occuras anticipated, everythingis fine and no thinking is necessary. One doesn’t wonder why they occurred the way they did. When things are in order one doesn’t ask why. But when expectations fail, when the doctor is rude when he has always been very polite, when the man hands you your purchase when you don’t expect it, when the news is preempted, you wonder why. You dothree things in these cases. 1. Notice the anomaly. 2. Ask a question. 3. Find an explanation. In other words, understanding something meanseither determining that what you have witnessed is consonant with your expectations, in which case the cycle simply finishes, or else determining that an eventhas failed your expectations. If your expectations have not beensatisfied, you must wonder why and demandan explanation from others or create one on your own. An important question is, What becomesof your new explanation? Thereis a critical fourth step in the normal understanding cycle:



Looking at Creativity

4. Alter the failed expectation. The part of understandingthat relates to learning is what we do whenourscripts fail. At that point, the expectation that failed must befixed. It might be fixed by a codicil. For example, you might begin to notice that the doctor is never friendly on Mondayand learn not to make appointments then. Or you might learn something that causes an expectation of more general importto be altered.If you notice that the fruit sellers in France behave one way with respect to when you pay, and that those in America behave the opposite way, you might start being more sophisticated with your expectations. Whennofailures occur, normal understandingis a largely unconscious process that takes place without much effort on our part. The course of everydaylife is so routine that our basic expectations are seldom violated, and our modelof the world seldom fails to allow us to understand. The only way to see how this process works is to examine what happens whenit doesn’t work. Our methods of understanding becomevisible only when we must exercise them consciously. And we exercise our understanding mechanisms consciously only when expectationsfail and standard questions go unanswered. When weconfront new or anomalousevents, understanding becomesan increasingly conscious chore.


People often ignore the remindings that pop into their heads at seemingly random times simply because those remindings aren’t obviously relevant, or because they seem random, and random thoughts are easily discounted as irrelevant. People ordinarily do not try to understand events with the intent of finding out what is anomalous and in need of explanation. The economics of thought ensure that quite the opposite is the

What's the Problem?

case. An understanderis usually trying to determine just how the action is the same as somepreviousaction, so that he can get on with the task at hand. An understander wants his expectations to be right. When something anomalous does occur—when an event cannot be avoided or explained away, and a new explanation is sought—remindinghelps out a great deal. If a person is not actively squelching his understanding mechanisms,if he is willing to think about why an expectation failed, then he can begin to come up with creative explanations. It is a mistake to rely on old explanationsall the time. Scripts are in essenceold, fossilized explanations. When expectations fail, it is possible to try to find another explanation from set of old standards. Thereare a great manyof theseavailable, and often they are contradictory. Proverbs represent the most common generally agreed-upon explanations. So when a friend goes awayandfails to communicate with you, you might be upset because “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” However, you have the option of switching to another old explanation such as “Outof sight, out of mind.” These explanations are generally available and easy to recall. On the other hand, you might be reminded of another time that this same type of thing happened to you. The value of those remindingsis that, looking at the two experiences—the old memoryand the new event—it maybe possible to find one explanation for both. You might find it possible to create an explanation of your own. This kind of creativity is, as we shall see, easier than you might expect. Creativity often comes from the failure to have predicted correctly, so the failure to find an easy explanation for the expectation failure implies that one creative strategy would be to actively seek out events and actions that do not fit our old models of the world—to look for failures and to show how the stock explanation patterns we have are wrong,instead of looking for the few similarities in a newsituation thattell usit’s just

the same old stuff. A parallel strategy would be to look at events andactions that do seem to fit with the goalof finding



Looking at Creativity

waysin which they don’t fit. We can consciously decide to ask a question where we haven’t asked a question before, which is the same thing as deciding to seek an anomalyin a situation that otherwise hadn’t been treated as anomalous by us or by the rest of the world.

Finding Anomalies: Making Failure and Anomaly Active

Wecanactively look for anomalies in the world. We can try to determine whya situation that seemsto fulfill our expectations is actually anomalous in some way. Oncewerealize what our scripts are, we can pretend that we don’t have anyscripts and thensee if the scripts we build from scratch work better than the old ones we used to have. We can pretend weare a foreigner in our own country. If we can pretendthat all the facts and answers we know are wrong andthat the standard questions are wrong, too, we can ask “dumb” questions and come up with new answersfor them. Deciding to look for failures and anomalies instantly transforms the normal understanding cycle from an unconscious process into a conscious process. Ordinarily, we unconsciously notice when things are odd in some way. Byactively trying to look for oddities, we begin to see things worthy of explanation that we might easily have ignored before. Wehavetheability to make muchbetteruse of our remindings than we are accustomed to. We can actively follow up seemingly irrelevant remindings, and then play with them until they can be maderelevant, even if absurdly relevant. This process I call tweaking, in the sense of modifying or manipulating. We say a car’s engine has been tweaked when someonehasstuck all sorts of high-performance gadgets and twelve-barrel carburetors on it to soup it up. That’s what tweaking a remindingor an old explanation does—soupsit up. Another unused and seemingly passive resource in our memories is our storehouse of old standard explanations. They

What's the Problem?

seem to be worthless junkif they can’t accountfor a truly novel or puzzling situation, and the fact that we can’t use them to explain something new mayjust tempt us to ignore whatever

it is about the eventthat really is new. But old explanations are really the building blocks of new explanations and hypotheses.

When someoneeats, for example, we use the explanation that

he must be hungry. If someoneeatsall the time, then he must be hungryall the time. But what causes hunger?Ifit’s a physical cause, then weall should be hungry the same number of times per day. Whyis one person different from anotherin this regard? Old explanations need to be reexaminedtoseeif they can be built upon and enhanced in some way. Old explanations can be the focus of tweaking as well. One subgroup ofold standardsin particular, namely proverbs, embodies useful abstract formulas and predictions and can thus function as the raw material for new connections and theories about causality. Proverbs can be tweaked into relevance or applicability, often with useful results, especially in planning outcomes.


How can one becomemorecreative? One answeris to attempt to makethe unconsciousprocesses that the mind follows in the understanding cycle into conscious processes. Thatis, instead of just letting your mind doits thing when expectationsfail, you muststart to really think about the remindings,old explanations, and new expectations that come to mind every day. To become morecreative, what you really have to dois start taking control of processes your mind has been doing for years without your thinking about them. You must begin to think about what you are thinking about. Creativity comes from the posing of an ordinary question in an extraordinary place, and the explanation of seemingly ir-



Looking at Creativity

relevant remindings. A two-year-old who has endless energy for running aroundthe entire day need nevercauseoneto ask why two-year-olds have that kind of energy. Ask why a twoyear-old has such energy—thatis, question the ordinary—and begin to tackle questions of evolution and survival. It is creative to ask questions where they haven’t been asked before.It is creative to ask “dumb” questions, where “dumb” means a question that has been considered to be fully and completely answered. The mereactof asking what one’s assumptions and standard questions and answers about the worldareis a very good starting point for creative questioning. In no way should my recommendation that we becomeconscious of our own understanding mechanisms be seen as an assertion that all creative thinking is or must be conscious.It is precisely because so many of our greatest insights occur unconsciously—that is, without any traceable source or index in memory—that we should make ourselves conscious of the mentalpitfalls, the various modes of formulaic thinking, that weigh down our normally free and creative question-asking and reminding processes. Finally, my version of the creatively applied understanding cycle, as with any model, rule, formula, theory, convention, or

formal system, is not so much somethingto be adheredto as something to be departed from, manipulated, and experimented with. Behind all the techniques in this book lies a central thesis: We must learn to play with the rules as well as follow them.


Creative thinking implies understanding that thereis a for-

mula to be invented, rather than a formula to be memorized

and plugged in on cue. We mustlearn the ability to make good explanations and generalizations using our own resources. We

What's the Problem?

wantto notice the prototypical case and to wonderabout why that happensto be the case.Betterstill, we want to fail to see the prototypical case and try to invent it ourselves. Invention comes from applying remindings—what wealready know, what we have experienced—to our current experiences in novel ways. But this process is not alwaysdistinct from formulaic thinking, since formulaic thinking uses the same processes. These different ways of thinking are really points on a continuum. The endpoint of that continuum is whatI call hypothetical thinking. A good example to demonstrate this kind of thinking is the Swalecase.


Swale was one of the best racehorses in America in 1984. Racing enthusiasts believed that he would be voted Horse of the Year, as he had won most of the importantracesfor threeyear-olds in America. One day, Swale was found deadin his stall. No one knew whya healthy, young, well-cared-for horse should die at such a youngage,and the newspapers had a great manyarticles discussing this death andits possible causes. While this was going on, I decided to perform an experiment. I first performed the experiment on myself, then on a group of graduate students. The experiment was simple enough. I asked myself, and then mystudents, to invent reasons why Swale had died. Now while I know something about horseracing, my students do not. Even so, knowledge about horseracing turned out to be irrelevant for my purposes.I wanted to see how manydifferent kinds of explanations might be considered. I was especially interested in crazy explanations, as it was not myintention to solve the problem of Swale’s

death but to study the problem of creativity. The first explanation that people come up with is based on the idea that foul play must have been involved. People imagine that Swale was murderedandgive two possible motives— one is that he was killed for the insurance money, and the



Looking at Creativity

other is that he waskilled so that his arch rival could win the upcoming big race. Now,these are rather stereotyped answers. One might expect better from a groupofintelligent graduate students, so I pushedharderon them to give me morecreative explanations. WheneverI got a really new explanation, I asked the inventor howhe or she cameupwith it. Below are someof myfavorites of the many explanations that were told to me, together with the reasoning that produced them: The Janis Joplin Explanation. Since Swale wasverysuccessful very

quickly, this subject was reminded of other very successful stars, such as Janis Joplin and John Belushi, who gotrich and successful too quickly, couldn’t cope with it, and began taking drugsto the point where they died of a drug overdose. Thus the explanation was that Swale died from taking too many drugs because he couldn’t cope with his success. The Jim Fixx Explanation. Since Swale was a famous runner who died, this subject was reminded of Jim Fixx, a jogger who had written a book on how jogging was good for your health and who then died while jogging. The explanation concocted wasthat famous runnersdie early. The Stud Farm Explanation. Since Swale waslikely to be retired to the stud farm after a year of such brilliant racing, this subject thought of the old warning that too muchsex leads to an early grave and decided that a good explanation was that Swale died from just thinking about whatlife would belike on the stud farm. The Poor Youth Explanation. Given that poor people die sooner than rich people and that this is often attributed to their living conditions, this subject realized that Swale had been living in a barn and eating hay and conjectured that Swale died from living in atrocious conditions.

These explanations are clever enough, and evena little humorous. They can be seen as the seeds of creative thought,

What’s the Problem?

because reasonable explanations can be derived from ostensibly silly ones. It is only a small step from thesilly idea that Swale had been taking drugs to the moresensible idea that Swale had been given drugs to augmenthis racing performance anddid indeeddie of an overdoseor of having been given them for too long. Similarly, since Jim Fixx died from a heart attack, it might be reasonable to wonderif that is how Swale died—if running coupled with a latent heart problem could have resulted in sudden death from a heart attack. The last two explanations based on sex and living conditionsare basically just humorous, but humorandcreativity are strongly related. Whyis hypothetical thinking a way of thinking creatively? As we just saw, oneis easily reminded of mundane examples whenoneis trying to think about something. Theeasiest, most stereotyped remindings comefirst, and I am afraid that they have the least creative potential. The weird, odd-sounding remindings that seem to occur unconsciously, despite our efforts to screen out anything but the most relevant and commonplace connections, have muchgreatercreative potential. Andto take this one step further, the conscious effort to make the weirdest reminding-based comparisons into close-fitting explanations is where the greatest creative potential lies. Hypothetical thinking is the ability to ask, What if this were the case? Whatelse would haveto betrue? andto start the understanding cycle all over again with the answersto that question. Another elementof hypothetical thinking is to learn to find out whythe prototypical case is wrong, and thenalter it until it fits the case you are considering exactly. Swale was underinsured, considering how muchhe was worthalive. So the killedfor-the-insurance-money explanation is wrong, although standard. But having thought of that standard explanation, which we can call an explanation pattern (or XP for short), one can begin to consider aspects of that pattern that mightfit the case nevertheless. Perhaps someoneelse stood to gain from Swale’s death. Perhaps Swale was not worth what people thought he was worth.



Looking at Creativity

This kind of manipulation of the standard XP broughtto minda silly explanation based upontheJanis Joplin reminding, but then a very real thought occurred. The pattern in which success too fast, too young, leads to drugs came to mind by seeing Swale as if he were a humanstar rather than an animal star. Having broughtthat pattern to mind,it is possible to play with it until it produces a morerealistic possibility. The reminding of the Janis Joplin story causes us to think that Swale might have been the victim of an unintentional drug overdose by his owner. In a later chapter I will take apart the standard explanation questions and explanation patterns generated in the understanding of the Swale case, in order to reveal just where the formulaic pitfalls and creative potentials lie. For now, consider that hypothetical thinking meansaltering an old standard explanation pattern or a standard prototypical case until it becomes relevant to the new experience. Creativity as such isn’t so far from ordinary thought. To be creative, one must think of the normal questions and explanations andtreat them as playing pieces in the gameof creativity. Imaginethat you are a child of eleven wholives in a rather run-downsection of a big city. As you ride your bicycle slowly along a deserted street with a friend, you pass a man whois riding a bicycle, too. As you pass by, he catchesa small part of what you are saying to your friend and for somereason assumesthatit relates to him. He begins to threaten you, and you realize that he is not joking. He is very angry andpossibly just a bit crazy as well. He begins to chase after you, and you both begin to pedal as fast as you can. What do you do? Assumethat you have never experienced anything like this before. Howcanyou figure out what to doin this situation? At this point, let’s try to recall some of the standardstrategies that mothers and fathers commonly tell their kids to use when threatened andsee if any of them can help: 1. Run and/or scream forhelp.

2. Try to find a policeman.

What’s the Problem?

3. Look for a friendly stranger,tell him you are being threatened, and ask him to escort you home. 4. Go to the nearest house and ring the doorbell (similar to 3). 5. Do exactly what the bad guy says—give him what he wants and he won’t hurt you. 6. Stand and fight, using every dirty trick in the book. Strategy 1 is obvious and comesnaturally, but may not do much for you. It occurs to you that screaming might be just as likely to scare the attacker and make him want to shut you up fast. You wonder why you never asked Mom or Dad about that. Strategies 2, 3, and 4 depend on being very near a reliable source of help or safety, which may not be the case when oneis attacked. Also, numbers 3 and 4 contra-

dict other parts of standard advice you have been given, namely don’t trust strangers, and don’t go into a stranger’s house withouttelling Mom or Dad first. Being a city kid, you know that you can’t alwaysfind a truly friendly stranger. Five is clearly the worst advice to give a child as a general rule for dealing with predators; and 6 applies only to threats from a relative peer in size and strength, or when trapped or cornered. After a few secondsof reflection, it becomes clear that the

traditional answers for such situations aren’t going to come through for you in this case. How can you come up with a new idea, a creative solution, to your problemPr What are your alternativesP You know you need an answer, but you first have to ask, What is the real question here? The standard questions that come to mindare: Is there a friend or relative around who could protect meP Are the police nearby? But you realize that behind these useless standard questions is an important key question: How do you get

someone tough enough, but who doesn’t know you, to protect you, without much time for explaining on your part? This, you realize, is the question to answer. If Mom and Dad had just told you to ask this question, instead of giving you



Looking at Creativity

the answerto that question, you might have been better prepared to deal with the situation. Thefirst part of the answeris to look for people who consider themselves to be tough. You don’t want someone whocould be just as threatened as you are. If you appeal to a coward on the first try, there won’t be a second chance. But how can you convince people to help youP You don’t have the time to explain the predicamentto a likely stranger and negotiate for his services. You can’t ride up to a group of neighborhood toughs and say “A manis chasing me!” They might just laugh and decide to watch what happens and then maybe take your bike. You need just the right group of people—not your peers, but peers of the man whois chasing you. A group of tough men,individually callous, but who feel obligated to help someonein distress simply because of group social pressure would be just right. Now you havea potential answer, and you are already much better equipped than when you had only the conventional wisdom to work with. When the ready answers havefailed you, you needthe right question to begin again. Now youcan consider where you might find the kind of people you need. One place is a nearby neighborhood bar. Three things are wrong with this suggestion. Oneis thatit is daytime, and the bar might not beespecially full. The second is that in getting off the bike, you would have to slow down, and this might cause you to be caught before you got into the bar. The third is that the man might just take your bike and forget about you. Other drawbacksare that people in bars hate leaving them for any purpose and maybetoo drunkto care. Whatother places are available? You happen to know that there is a park nearby wherebaseball is almost always being plaved. Youride right up to the pitcher’s moundofthe ball field. The men whoareplaying are ready to kill you for interrupting the game,until they see the man whois chasing you. They then make an offer to the man to see how well a batfits in his skull, and you spend the rest of the day watching baseball.

What's the Problem?

Wasthis solution creative? If creativity meanstheability to think up a newsolution to a problem, then yes, the process we just went through is a creative process. What was going on there was something we commonly call thinking. We asked the right questions. We played with the standard answers instead of relying on them at face value. We formulated a new question, and we found a new answer. Would a child in such a situation reasonably be considered to have been creative if he had simply followed his parents’ advice, even if it worked? Suppose you had been chased many times and always respondedin this way? If you were chased again tomorrow and did exactly the same thing just because you had doneit before, would it be creative?

THE ANSWER IS THAT THE QUESTION Is WRONG Creativity depends upon asking questions when things don’t work out the way you expected. It also depends upon being able to reject old explanations and adapting old explanations and new remindings for purposes they may never have been intended to have. We needto take a hint from ourchildren. Children ask questionsall the time of themselves and of others (at least until they start school), which is why they are capable of learning. Creative children ask more questions than dull children. And children invent explanations and make wild generalizations. They learn to stop this behavior. We must relearn it. What we needis questions, not answers. If our goal is to improve ourcreativity, then we must learn to ask questions. Teaching people to think means teaching people to ask questions, not coercing them into memorizing answers. A question

that has a stock answertoit is always the wrong question. The correct answer to the question Whatis the Pythagorean formula? is: I disagree with the question.



Looking at Creativity


To be creative one must learn howto go into uncharted waters armed only with some old formulas and old explanation patterns that couldn’t possibly apply to the current situation. One must learn how to adapt these patterns and howto call to mind new patternsas food for thought. One mustbeable to believe that one has failed in one’s initial understanding so that one can try to find other, possibly irrelevant cases to consider together with the current case. One must learn to be reminded so that new cases will appear in one’s mindto be considered. One must be willing to propose silly hypothesis in order to see how it sounds, so as to be able to discuss it and get further remindings and new patterns to consider. One must not be afraid to fail. Andourlittle boy who wasn’t paying attention in class? He might just invent the desired formula on his own if he could be motivated to do so. As unlikely as this is to happen, we can feel sure that the first boy will not inventit because he already knowsit. Nothing stifles creative thought as well as knowing the answers. The second boy maycontinue to rely upon lazy reminding instead of formulaic thinking and will always be better off than the first. But the fact is that none of these boys is being taught to think. They need to be taught how to adapt an old formula, how to create an absurd hypothesis and try to defendit, how to be reminded, howto find an explanation for whythings are the waytheyare. The understandingcycleis straightforward: we mustfail, we must wonder why, we must be remindedofsimilar situations in which we weresimilarly confused, and we must compose a question in order to explain what is going on. Constructing explanationsis the essenceof creativity. As far as our creativity is concerned,the endresult of the explanation process doesn’t matterhalf as much asthe process of constructing explanations itself.

What’s the Problem?

You don’t have to be taught howto doall this; it comes quite naturally. But this simple form of creativity, from which more complex forms are derived, is threatened by twothings.First, knowing the answerswill inhibit failures from occurring. And if you don’t fail to understand at somelevel, you won’t try to think up a new answer. Second, once one has thought up a tentative answer,it is easy to be intimidated. Someone must have already thought it up. Your friends point out whyit’s wrong. The teacher gives you an F because he didn’t understand it himself. Creativity is fraught with peril.


The Creative Attitude: A Look at Creative People

In order to create, we have to go against what we havepreviously believed or espoused. We haveto criticize the old and experiment with the new,and thencriticize the new whenit becomesold and outmoded. This is not as easy as it may seem, noris it as difficult as it may seem. It is all a question of attitude. People are not born with attitudes. They adopt them. Some people feel that it doesn’t matter what you do, nothing will work out. This is an attitude, perhaps developed overa period of time with a set of experiences that never quite seem to work out. And, it should comeas no surprise, attitudes like that do not foster creativity. On the other hand, if every time you ever ventured out on vour own with some poorly thought-out scheme,it worked out, vou would very likely develop an attitude that creative thought and action aretrivial. This is a nice attitude to adopt, of course, but it isn’t any closer to reality than the negative attitude. The creative attitude is somewhere in between. It is not an attitude about optimism or pessimism. Ratherit is an attitude about change. Thecreative attitudehas, at its core, the philosophythat if something isn’t working it can be fixed. It also has

The Creative Attitude

as an intrinsic part the underlying question, I wonder whyit broke in the first place. Creative people, if they have anything in commonatall, have in commonthe need to wonder,to speculate,to explain. Whatis the difference between people whosearchfor explanations for everything and those who do not? What are they doing differently? Are they naturally more curious? Does creativity depend onthe entertainmentvalue of good explanations? What kind of emotionalsatisfaction results from explaining why things have happened the way they did? The first observationis that creative people tend to treat the most everyday phenomenaasslightly odd. They wonder why butterflies have to be caterpillars first. They wonder why the drugstore on the corner always does well and why the one across the street from it seemsto be upfor sale every two years. They wonder why menareusually taller than women and why womenhavelongerhair. They notice things and ask questions about them. They aren’t satisfied with what others take for granted. A creative attitude meansa willingness to look for the holes in traditional systems and ways of doing things, to wonderjust where the system fails to fulfill its own promises or goals. By asking a few simple questions about how things are donein an industry,it is possible to knock downtraditions and change the views of others. Questions about why something has been done the wayit has are routine and obvious to people with a creative attitude. Often, questions that seem obvious to ask have never been posed, simply because everyoneinvolvedin that particular situation has been banking on the same unexaminedsetof basic assumptions. Opportunities in business abound when standard assumptionsare challenged by someonewilling to ask a few difficult questions. To be creative you must notice when things around you don’t work. You must seek out anomalies in the world around you, in people’s behavior, in your own behavior. You must wonder why you do what you do. If you have been going throughlife thinking that everythingis just fine, this might be



Looking at Creativity

very disturbing to you. But to depend for your peace of mind on the feeling that things are totally right or almost totally right is to have a very uncreative attitude. Looking at the world and seeingall that is wrong with it doesn’t have to ruin your day. Detecting where other people’s theories fail and discovering the unexplained anomalies in the world can be exciting and invigorating. The quickest way to take a creative attitude is to ask a question, and particularly a question that everyone seems to know the answer to. Questions lead to new thoughts, answers only to the end of thinking. This is why teachers should supply questions, not answers. Explanations are creative only when we come up with them ourselves. The goal in increasing creativity is to think for oneself, a useful habit. This may sound easyortrivial. Most people feel that they do think for themselves. It isn’t a great feeling to admit that one doesn’t. But there are ways in which weallow others to do our thinking for us that may not be immediately apparent. Every time werely on somefact or other that has been handed downto us from on high, every time weforget that facts, formulas, and rulesare all pieces in the game, every time we take this attitude, we are allowing someoneelse,

maybe someone whois long dead, to do our thinking for us.


It is easy enough to find creative people in the university setting, althoughitis far from truethatall university professors are creative. Let us take a look at creative people in general andscientists in particular. What observations can we make about those people we deem to be creativer To begin with, creative people tend to feel hedged in or imprisoned bytherules of society and find themselves trying to break out of established patterns. They are revolutionary not only in their work, but also in many mundaneissues as well. This does not mean that in order to

The Creative Attitude

becomecreative you must developstrange eating,sleeping, or sexual habits. But it does mean that while you are questioning why things have been done the way they have been donein your profession, it will be difficult to avoid wondering about everything else you encounter as well. A creative attitude doesn’t turn off when you leave workat five. You are either wondering or you aren’t. And the more you wonder, the more adept you becomeat thinking on your feet and at making sudden alterations in your theories about the world. Below are some statements wecollected from people who have a creative attitude:

1. Geoffrey Rappaport: Finding Holes in the Beauty Industry We looked for some holes in an industry—the beauty business. The beauty business is at best a benighted industry. It survives on the goodwill of craftspeople. Welistened to what people said, and tried to figure out how to do the things we thought were necessary. Not to do the things people told us they wanted, but the things we thought they really wanted. We took a good look at what we wanted, and tried to combine it with what we thought the public wanted. My idea wasthat you put together something that is so picture perfect that it can be repeated time after time. We reversed the market trend by setting a price for a service or craft product. We offered people alternatives to what other people were shoving down their throats. We weren't attempting to act on an esthetic level as arbiters of fashion. We asked people whatthey wanted, andtried to deliverit to them. We were looking for the person who would drive by a unisex salon at 35 miles

an hour knowing that he would never go in there. Wethought that we wouldn’t be taking customers away from other people so much as we would be creating new customers, people who

would never go to a hair salon, who don’t want to go to a barbershop and read out-of-date magazines, who don’t want a salon where they have to wait for a certain person. Another thing people couldn’t understand is that we had taken a good look at haircuts and found that there are about five or six different



Looking at Creativity haircuts, with three or so variations or permutations on each of these types or basic designs. So we had to get a good grasp on whatthe designs were, then we had to figure out how to cut those designs accurately, with no mistakes, very quickly. Then we had to figure out a

way to teach people howto dothat, so it was a transferable skill. You would haveto teach people with all kinds of previous ideas, people who

said they were experts. We could see that there was only one way to cut each of the five or

six basic hair designs. We had to find a way to teachtrainers to teach that to other people. We came up with a teachable system, a craft system. At that point we had done something very subtle. We had said to the public, We are the experts, but we’re only the experts with regard to our craft; you are the expert with regard to what it is you want. So our job is to translate what you say into something we can do. The slogan we usedis ‘Wecut hair for your ego, not ours.’”’ We're not doing this for ourselves. We’re qualified craftspeople.

Whatis it that people are really judging? Well, they’re judging what it feels like. What what feels like? Well, what the experience feels like. Not being intimidated, not depending on the one person you've been told to ask for. We penalized people for asking for a certain haircutter. Our haircutters couldn't pretend that their hands were guided by gods. It was an industry working under the mythologythat it was an art form and only artists could do it. We see it as a craft. It’s not an art.It approachesart at the place whereart and craft blur together. It may be artful. We had an enormous amountof resistance from people in the haircutting industry, because they had beentold that if you weren't

charging a whole lot of money and dressing kind of funny and promising people something they couldn’t get somewhereelse, you weren’t doing your job. In the industry you hadto bring in your own clientele, but we made that unnecessary. You hadto think the whole process through and see whattherationale had been for the old system. In the old system there had been competition for customers. So we created a system where you couldn't stand there and say, You can only getthis from me. Our people don't work on a commission basis. They get paid a salary. Onething that our

industry never had was guaranteed wages. That was held overfrom the

Depression. If you couldn’t bring in enough customers to paythe rent, you couldn't work there. This system guaranteed that newly licensed

The Creative Attitude

cosmetologists couldn't get a job. They would have to work for nothing to build up a clientele. In the old system, the stores themselves had no specific feeling to them. Each of the haircutters would try to create some mystique around

the haircutting experience in order to get customers.In the old industry,

whenyoustarted out, you had noclient base, you had to steal custom-

ers from others, and you had no guaranteed wages.If you had just come out of school, you couldn't geta first job. You paid the proprietor haif of your wages to workin a place. That was called giving you a 50 percent commission. Wecalled it giving half of what you earned with your own hands to a proprietor who just sat there.

You used to walk into these places that weren’t barbershops or beauty parlors, and you watched people having their hair dyed and having permanents, and you saw weird customers and children running

around. Prices were high. People associate looking different with looking better. When customers come to one of our shops, they wantto look different. If you allow

them to look different anytime you cut hair off, they’re going to look different. And if you do that in an atmosphere where you exude confidence and where you're trying to do something perfectly, that change will be a changefor the better; therefore, customers will feel that they look better. It’s not what they say, andit’s not what people traditionally have been trying to shove downtheir throats. To look better is not to come out with your hair painted green—unless you wantthat, andif it’s done correctly,

you're going to look good. But that’s not what people in general want. Traditional beauty parlors are dying becausetheir clients are dying— the little blue-haired old ladies who went in weekly. | know that what we’ve doneis really unique. How did wefigureall this out? What do we mean whenweSay wedidn’t listen to what other people said? What do we mean by confidence? What do we mean by craft? Whatis this all about? A haircut is not just getting the hair cut, it is the whole experience of

walking in the door, being greeted by the craftsperson, telling him or her

what you want, and having it delivered. People don’t understand us. We create a craft product. Each one of

them is absolutely the same, therefore they are absolutely different because each personis absolutely different. We fight the battle of explaining this simple approach every day.



Looking at Creativity

While | was thinking about new businesses,| thought about plumbing. You have to change something very dramatically. You have to ask,

Whatattitudes would you have to change? and then, How would you change the system to eliminate the attitudes that makeit possible for plumbers to come into your house and do the badstuff they do now? You haveto think about what the plumber thinks about the individual and aboutthe society. You haveto think about whatthe individual thinks

about the plumber whothinks about the society. Until you can break those old bonds intellectually and be able to sit back and reflect on

‘‘what would it be like if. ..’’ you’re not going to be ableto find the cracks in the center. You have to take concepts that have been treated as givens and see if in fact they are true. You have to evaluate whetherthey are solvable. Geoffrey Rappaport is the chairman of EMRA Corporation. In 1975 he and Frank Emmett cofounded Supercuts. They presently have over five hundred stores in the United States and Canada and had systemwide revenues of approximately 125 to 150 million dollars in 1986.


Marvin Denicoff:

Al People and Creativity One of the major goals of the Office of Naval Researchis to find the very best people in the country and encourage them to exercise their most creative personality. The other goal is concerned with contributions to military technology. Ultimately the scientific goals are the underpinnings of the military goals and supersede the military goals, but the military goals are met. We also consider what secondary civilian goals could be metby the results of applied military research. Thus the ONR contributes to the economic and social well-being of the country, as well as to its defense. | was able to have an impact in at least two areas—artificial intelligence(Al) and robotics. Early on | anticipated the need for a revolution In industrial automation. And that led to more and more attention to computer science and Al, both for civilian and military goals. Twenty-five years ago, Al was not respectable. All the other scientists

were not just skeptical aboutit, but downright antagonistic. They argued

The Creative Attitude

that it wasn’t science, that it was the province of charlatans. My argu-

ment wasandstill is that the Al community was not pursuing the traditional scientific route. They were at least willing to address problems where the mathematicians and statisticians and engineers simply feared to tread. The technologies that those people built were inadequate or inappropriate. They lacked the guts, the raw courageto try to

do something novel and to fail, or to improvise a set of heuristics that would not necessarily solve the problem, but which could at least describe the problem and makeit that much more solvable. Traditional scientists have a script that says, You can’tfail. They are in pursuit of rigor and formalism, and are afraid ever to violate that script. The difficulty is that the really important problems donotyield to

that kind of thinking. That is what makes the traditional scientists so antagonistic to some of the iconoclastic scientists in Al. You have to know someof the Al scientists. They epitomize creativity. Those early people and their successors were almost militant in the

creation of a different genre of scientific thought. The goals of Al are so great and potentially so relevant to the entire

world that even if | knew that we weren’t going to realize them in twenty-five years, but only in one hundred years, | would still deem it worth following. Al people are willing to improvise, take risks, make shortcuts, accept less than total theoretical success. They are willing to address a problem involving risks and to try something without any data base, without any comprehensive laboratory tests or formal experiments. They can

make shortcuts. The traditional scientist’s whole training tells him ‘o repeat the same experiment over and over again. The hard problems

don’t allow that kind of thinking. At ONR there were many years of debate and sarcasm and cynicism and acrimony about funding Al. But again, in a few respects | was fortunate. The navy is a strange mix. In one senseit is the most conservative of all the branches. But there is something about being at sea.It givesbirth to a nation of incredibly conservative but also romantic guys. The navy was way aheadof the other servicesin getting into Al. There is a need for scientists not to abandon the scientific tradition but to reach out and adoptor adapt someof these more courageous and less rigorous approachesto scientific inquiry. A way of doing thatis to insist that we have Al people working within other areas and fields to see what technologies and approachesto problems we can comeup with.



Looking at Creativity

WhatI’m getting at is interdisciplinary laboratories and researchefforts. Weare starting to see Al people working with mechanical engineers, chemists, doctors, materials specialists, psychologists, lawyers, financial people, and so on. Traditional creative people in general, and especially creative people

in literature, have a hang-up about computers. They are willing to look at computation as a meansof word processing. But it would never occur to them that computation in the Al approach could be a help to gener-

ating ideas, could surprise you by showing new pathways,thatit could learn your style and could essentially turn out a piece of workin your style. The same set of problems obtains when you begin to pursue the possibilities in other humanistic fields. The humanists can’t accept what they see as a scientific approach. My recommendation is that instead of worrying about the different methodology, they worry about the quality of the relationship.

So Al is caught in between. It has opposition from the traditional science community and even from the traditional liberal arts community.

Walking that middle ground is a pretty tough road with very few allies

and lots of enemies.


The problem with the scientific community in general and with Al people in particular is that they tend to be very introverted people. They

don’t read much. They don't read literature, they don’t read novels. They don’t read poetry. Most Al people start out as computerscientists

or programmers. That's unfortunate because they’re in a field where creativity is where the action is, and they won’t open themselvesupto creative arts. They don’t go out to the theater. Al has becomehypein the newspapers and even in business. Every

company wants to get into Al now,asif Al is finished and done with its research phase. The many real achievements that Al has made are steps in an incredible intellectual revolution, but the progress could be lost if we create a hype that can lead only to disappointment. The tendency may beto throw Al out becauseit hasn't fulfilled our wildest dreams, even though it has achieved things that ten years ago were declared impossible.

The ONR wasclever enough to realize that once you fund someone

you haveto get off their back. A proposal is an approximation. You can’t ask, Did he complete step 3 of his proposal by the time he said he would? The funding of basic research by the government should be based on the understanding that this is not a lockstep procedure and

The Creative Attitude

that creativity doesn’t work that way. Sometimes the proposal gets torn up by the researcher two monthsafter he is given the money, and he

says he has five new ideas along the samelines that need pursuing.

The right funder will let him do it. The wrong fundersays, |’m going to watch everything you do to make sure you’re adhering to the proposal. If | as a military person know exactly what | want done, step by step,

then | shouldn’t go to a leader in Al research. | should go to an expediter, a contractor. There are lots of people out there who can do what | want. In research, however, | want to be surprised, | want to be

amazed. | also want to point out the extreme importance of long-term funding

and keeping a group together. These go hand in hand. You need a group so there is that group consciousness, crossover, cross-fertilization. You have to have enough confidencein this community to put your money outfor a five-year period, so that the creative people don’t have to keep worrying every year about the next year. Let them be free of

paperwork for a few years and work.I’m an absolute enemyof a creative person’s filling out forms to state just how much time he spent on

his creative work and being forced to stick to a schedule of any kind. Creativity doesn’t work that way. Lastly, | think we haveto build a rapport between the military and the nation’s resources. The government doesn’t have an appreciation for how dedicated all these creative people would beif they were properly supported in peacetime. If the scientific community is treated right

regarding pure or fundamental research, then in a real crunch, a time of real national need, the most creative people will pitch in on a Manhattan Project or something likeit. Marvin Denicoff was the director of the section of the Office of Naval Research that was responsible for funding computer science. As one of the original funders ofartificial intelligence research, he played a very importantrole in the creation of that field. He has a liberal arts background andis also a playwright. He works at a private company and teaches at MIT.

Creative thinking requires a delicate balance of mentalities. One has to becomepart poet, part scientist, part psychoanalyst, part crusader, part fussbudget, and part magician. This



Looking at Creativity

makesfor a strange combination of personality characteristics. Does one haveto beall these things in order to be creative? Well, yes and no. You haveto be willing to be weird or to be perceived as weird. You haveto risk not being careful and compulsive about your work or your domain of inquiry, but you mustalso care about whatyou do. It is risky to be creative, and a great many eminentscientists, having once taken the risk, find themselves afraid to take the risk a second time for

fear of losing the respect they have gained. The hardest part of being creative is that it is very threatening to those whoare not. More than one Nobel Prize winner has turned to new fields to investigate something radically different after winning his prize, only to be shot downbyhis colleagues as having now gone off the deep end. Creative people don’t take muchstock in the normal or established ways of doing things. Theyare iconoclastic in general. A scientist might think upthe basis of a great discovery but usually has to rely on more methodical graduate students to follow the idea to see what its merits are. The students, in

the meantime, have to contend with the probability that the scientist will burst in six months later and tell them to drop their work on his idea for a better stellar infrared spectrum analyzer and work instead on his new schemefor using a particle beam to vaporize tumors in cancerpatients.

3. Bob Kahn: Creativity, Usefulness, and Knocking Down Stereotypes | think you have to separate out the difference betweencreativity and the ability to translate creativity into useful end products at somepoint, whetherit’s in the form of a paper or report, device or concept— whateverthe output is—it may even be a system. That creative person who can harnesshis creativity toward a productive end is very hard to find. | can’t give you any real insight as to whatfraction of the truly creative people that is. | mean | don’t knowif that’s half the creative people, or 1 percent or 99 percent. The kinds that | have experienced

The Creative Attitude

in my career generally tend to think that they can really harness their creativity. That’s the basis on which they often show upin myoffice. So | have to assess 1) whether they really have creative ideas and 2) whether they can articulate a goal and achieve it in an acceptable manner. A lot of people see research asan effort to evaluate, but the trouble

with that is that there is no way to quantitatively measure the results. lf someone works on a project for two years and says,‘| now have a

deeper understanding,” what exactly has happenedin the process?If he doesn’t write a paper, and you can’t otherwise measurethe result,

there’s no tangible output. So that’s why you’ve got to have some external observables, some measures of performance. If you can’t

Stipulate exactly what the results will be, you may be able to stipulate its shape and form. There might be a report at the end of a certain time which describes the key ideasor insights to date or the implications of what’s been learned. It certainly seems to me that an element of creativity is the ability to maintain an open mind. Creative people are willing to look at unusual as well as at ordinary things without stereotyping them in all the normal ways. For example, if somebody looks at a hammer and sees only something that can hit a nail, he doesn’t see it as something that can open a door or ward off an attacker or break something in two. An essential aspectof creativity, as far as I’m concerned, is the ability to apply it to useful purposes. Useful could meanintellectually useful—a

better way to think about things—or physically useful.

On the other hand, it’s important to recognize ideas that stimulate your imagination. You know,I’ve had people come up with apparently

useless ideas that were so rich in potential and such original ways of viewing problems that they had the effect of destroying stereotypes. It is interesting to consider what goes on inside a human being who ls generating a creative idea. How doesa creative idea capture somebody's imagination? | think there’s something really very fundamental in there. | believe an essential element of the recent video-game craze was that the users were taking their minds to work in ways they had never experienced before. That is what would keep someoneat one of

those video gamesfor hours on end, shooting those targets or bullets

or whatever. Most people in a lifetime never have to deal with more than one conceptual thing at a time, and many people just have no way of dealing with more than onething at a time. But there, suddenly, is a



Looking at Creativity video game, which forces you to figure out how to coordinate multiple

actions. You haveto start thinking about two orthree or four things. The kids are good at that, and | imagine it takes elements in their brain

structures that haven’t been utilized before.

Dr. Robert Kahn is president of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (NA), a not-for-profit organization foundedin 1986 to support the development of key technologies. Prior to that, he was director of the information processing techniques office of the Department of Defense. Dr. Kahn wasinstrumentalin formulating and initiating the strategic computing program, a ten-year billiondollar effort to develop a machine-intelligence technology base in industry. He conceived and implemented efforts in computer architecture, design, and fabrication and is internationally recognized for his pioneering work on packetswitching network design and development.

Creative people who succeed in starting a business often cause trouble in their own company byconstantly changing their ideas and whimsically proposing this and that. Turning a mad new invention into a productthatsells is a highly scriptbased chore that often maddens what venturecapitalists call idea people. Indeed, many venturecapitalists, responsible for funding newbusiness ventures based upon the work of some creative thinker, have a general policy of kicking out the founderandcreative inspiration behind their companyas soon as he or she finishes developing the product, whenthe task of managing a stable company becomes paramount. In a later chapter I will treat the whole question of creativity, innovation, and the business world moreclosely.

Channeling the Flood without Stemming It

To be creative, one has to keep a balance between the sheer flood of new ideas that comes when one departs from the old scripts and the needto follow a few of those ideas to see where they will lead. Some people can’t follow up a newidea without

The Creative Attitude

setting off their ingrown scripts. They automatically reject their own new ideas, as well as the inspirations of others, be-

cause they aren’t consistent with previousscripts and theories. The greatest cause of death of incipient ideas is the rejection of those ideas by their creator. People are their own harshest critics.

The main difficulty in channeling creative energyis defining a coherent methodfor following up an idea. Whatconstitutes a coherenttest of a new idea? Often you can’t easily test a new idea using a system or machinethat was designedto test an olderidea. Scientists tend to work according to a particular paradigm or philosophy of science in order to test their new ideas. Most scientists, these

days, have read the work of Thomas Kuhn, in which he proposes that great ideas of science occur only when an entire field of inquiry is ready to make a paradigm shift. Thatis, advances occur whenscientists reject the current way of doing business. But the tendencyto keep to the current methodology is so strong that scientists familiar with this concept of Kuhn’s almost always ignore it when criticizing the radical work of others. If Einstein had subjected his new ideas about light and energy to the coherencytests of his contemporaries, his ideas would have beeninvalidated. Galileo’s theories about planetary motion failed the coherency test devised by the Church, which had its own established view of the movements

of the heavenly bodies.


A creative idea usually requires the invention of an equally creative test of its coherence and validity. Two qualities that any creative person needsarethe ability to set up a paradigm in which his own creative ideas ought to be considered, and the personality to fight for both the ideas and the paradigm. Many very creative ideas can’t be tested by any established methods because these methods becameestablished as part of



Looking at Creativity

the support for the old theories. Quite often the tests of coherence that characterize a field of scientific inquiry simply assume a certain philosophy of how that science must be done. Thus, these tests invalidate ideas formed outside the basic as-

sumptions before they start. They weren’t designed totest anything new. They wereset up to test older ideas andarein fact part of the old ideas. When used on a new ideathetests

will simply demonstrate conclusively that the new ideais incompatible with the old way of doing things. The old systems of thoughtexist precisely because they have had to withstand only the established coherencytests. WhatI say here about creativity applies to everyone,notjust scientists. It applies particularly to the business and financial world, where mostscripts are adhered to with an ardorthat comparesonlyto the order-freak scientist or the religious zealot. Venture capitalists, for example, have checklists that set up criteria for which innovative ideas will be funded and which will not. These rarely measure the quality of the ideaitself. Rather, these criteria are intended to minimize the risk in-

volved in funding the idea. And the rule of thumb in such risk-avoidancesituations is never to do anythingtooradicalor too new. “Use of the established principles of business that have already worked before” is the theme behind venture capital. It is frightening that so-called risk-capital people are so averseto risk.

4. A Venture Capitalist Who Wishes to Remain Anonymous: Making Risk-free Investments Venture capitalists are fiduciaries of the people who give moneyto invest, and if they serve on boards of directors they are fiduciaries of all the stockholders. Since the financiers are fiduciaries, they are always worried about what people are going to think. They make decisions on insufficient information, and they are held accountable for those decisions on the basis of information which comesto light later on. Venture capitalists are constantly vulnerable to second-guessing:

The Creative Attitude

Why didn’t you see this or that? What everyoneis trying to do is to produce file that they can point to later. They are trying to minimize risk, which to a financial guy is uncertainty. The decision-making process has a series of rigid rules, for example: 1) never invest in a guy over the age of forty—he cannot have enough energy; 2) never invest

In a guy under the age of forty—he is not mature enough. These are real rules. Two different people have these two opposed

views. The importantthing is that they have the rule, because then they can give a reason whythey did or did not invest in a certain guy. For example, a commonrule is, Never invest in a guy who hasn’t done it before. The question is, Who will ever give these people a shot? How

does one get to be a CEOif no one ever gives you a shot, if you have to be experienced? Nobody wants to back someone who has never

been a CEO.A track record inspires confidence, but there are many cases where experienced entrepreneurstook millions of dollars of capi-

tal and threw it down the drain in their next venture.

In one company the CEO had no previous business experience but

was a jazz musician who had taught TM for five years in Brazil. The company won't go downthedrain, butif it did, people would blame the backers. This kid’s idea was a graphics terminal, and he wanted to be the CEO of the company, but the deal wasdifficult to fund because nobody wanted to back a CEO whohad never been a CEO. But the irony was that the kid had sucha fire in his belly that he was going to crawl over any hurdle in his way to win. It was a hard deal to fund because of the uncertainty factor. The price had to go up to compensate. The same thing happens over and over again. To a venture capitalist, uncertainty is equal to risk. My industry funded forty-two hard-disk-drive companies. There were 42 venture-funded hard-disk-drive companies. There were 148

MC68000-based Unix workstations companies funded by venture capitalists. There were many companies making personal computers that

were merely copies of existing ones. Hard-disk drives come easy. The

first hard-disk-drive company camealong and producedit, the product was successful, and everyone decided, Let’s go for that. Money was rushed into the business on the basis of nanoseconds of access time and the number of disks—both basically artificial distinctions to the users of the disk. Following Tandem computers, ‘‘fault tolerant” computers, the same thing happened even though nobodyis really sure if what sold Tandem



Looking at Creativity computers wasfault tolerance. Many companies following the same pattern as Tandem wentbust.

Here are some deals that are not being funded: an idea for home software for kids through a sort of book-of-the-month arrangement. A guy had an agreement with National Scholastic, founding something called Microzene, and a deal with Computer Depot, a large midwestern-

based computer chain that sold a lot of consumer computers. The idea wastosell subscriptions with the computers.It was an impossible deal to fund. No one else wasinterested. Uncertainty createsrisk. One way of assessing uncertainty is to say that if a deal has been subjected to other venture capitalistsit is less uncertain if all the venture Capitalists get onto the bandwagon. Experience teachesthat in many

big deals that you go into alone, unless they work out right away, they get into big trouble and there is no one to help bail them out. This is one good reason to syndicate deals. The otheris that syndicationis a good source of other deals. It is the common wisdom notto gointo a dealif no other venture capitalist is willing to go into it with you. Another guy and | wereinterested in the software deal, but could not arouse any interest because there had never been a deal like this before, any-

where. This was the case even though the consumerreaction wasnot negative, but ‘| don’t know.” This is scary because even when you are talking about new products, you are actually looking for a path that has already been trodden. The only place where there is room for creativity in my businessis in the structure of deals. There are a company,a set of products with somerisk involved, a presumed market with a revenue stream setup, a bunch of people with moneyinterested in managing. The creativity

comesin when youare trying to get enough moneyto fund the enterprise. You are trying to use the capital as efficiently as possible. You

must make sure you have enough capital so that you can get to the milestone where the deal looks different enough that you can markit up. The goals are well defined. There is a script for venture deals. The script for venture deals is that the first set of shares are sold for a buck, the second set are sold at anywherefrom 2x to 5x, the third set at 2v abovethat. The first funding gets you the product; the second funding gets you into the market; the

third funding gets you working capital, and it gets you to the public deal.

The first step up is usually the biggest. Stop and think about this as a venture capitalist would: Despite the

The Creative Attitude

fact that you’re funding creativity, your job is to minimize risk, and that

drives creativity out of the job. The classic scenario, however, is when one or maybe two people have an idea that they are so wild about that they are going to try it whether they are funded or not. Those are the good guys to punt with, as a rule. When you start seeing arguments on bothsides,it doesn’t work well, usually. And what happens downthe line when there are steady sales, and

all of a sudden competitors pop up, and all you’ve been doingis selling

this new product? You need anidea guy, but you’ve kicked the idea guy out. How are you going to innovate now? Yousell the company! And

then fund an idea guy somewhereelse.

You can’t keep the idea guy around. It never works. We haven't figured out a wayto do it. Here | am acting just the way that idea guys

say that venture capitalists act. I’m embarrassed. The other reason a company can’t keep an idea guy around is the

customers. You can’t eat your babies. If you’re selling whiz-bangs and you invent a superwhiz-bang, youare goingto alienate your customers. They are used to what they have been working with. Venture capitalists don’t really fund creativity. On the face of it, we venture capitalists are in the business of minimizing risk. That also means minimizing uncertainty, and unfortunately that takes a toll on creative people and ideas. But there is an ecology here. An idea person

is funded and then kicked out. He takes his money andstarts another company, or else the companyis sold after a few years, when it is stable. The idea guys will then come out and start another company. That is the life cycle. The person interviewed is a venture capitalist working for a very renowned venture capitalist firm. He requested to remain anonymous.

If you have a new idea in management, it would be folly to subject it to the coherencytests that support the old business practices. The old business practices that you are trying to improve uponare based on coherencytests that will obviously

demonstrate the uselessness of your idea. You will have to figure out a new test of coherencyto disestablish the old man-



Looking at Creativity

agement practices or systems, and then show how your new idea succeeds wherethe old onesfail. Whenyoufeel you have a newidea or a new wayof looking at something that departs from the old or established script, be it in science or business or any aspect of your life, you have effectively decided that there is a hole in the older systemsof thought, a drawback of somekind. If you have detected weaknessesin the old scripts, the first thing to inventis a test of the old scripts that would disestablish them. To do this you will need to ask a slew of questions: Whatexactly is it about the old script that is inadequate or wrong? What common drawbackof the established coherency tests allows this inadequacy to go unnoticed or unmeasured? What scripts prevent the experts from seeing the same drawbacksin the old theories that I do? What newtest could I devise that would demonstratethis inadequacy to thesatisfaction of the adherents of the old ways andscripts? Whatcan I putin place of the old scripts? What tests would determine the coherency of my new ideas? These questions are very difficult to answer, and even more difficult to learn to pose, but they are the battle tactics of creative thought. Learning to pose them is an importantpart of developing a creative attitude.


Creativity is expressed more in one’s attitude than in a set of mental strategies or techniques of thought. And the subject of testing new ideas brings metothe single most importantele-

The Creative Attitude

ment of the creative attitude: the ability to fail and to learn from failures. The single most important elementin learning is failure, and since creativity is an outgrowth of learning,

failure is also important for creativity. The creative attitude can be expressed in one phrase:a willingness to take risks. The reason that taking risks is so important may seem obvious, and in somesenseit is: One can’t present a new idea without taking the chancethat once someone hears that idea he mayreject it. But the mostsignificant reason to take risks is that you mightfail. Creativity depends upon knowing that you don’t know,andthereis no better way to realize what you don’t know thanbyfailing to predict some outcome,or by failing to understand someevent. Thefailure of our expectations of the world is what allows us to ask the right question at the right time. And asking the right question at the right time is the main strategy for creative thinking. Whatis so great aboutfailure? Why is learning dependent upon it? Why is creativity dependent upon it? These two things, failure and questions, seem so negative. In a society that puts such emphasis on the positive, perhaps they are. Too much emphasis on success causes people to fear failure. But failure is very valuable. When one succeeds—whennothing appears to be wrong—oneneed do no morethan continue to replicate the behavior. Whenonefails one has to wonder why. One neednotfail badly, that is, with people laughing at you or with a disaster occurring, in orderto learn.It is not the pain of failure that is the point, but the wonderoffailure. Thisis where questions comeinto play. If one wonders why one has succeeded, it is possible to learn from success, too. In other words, it doesn’t matter if the rule or formula one follows

works. It only matters why it works, and how one could invent such a formula for oneself. Sometimesscripts fail. People don’t do what we expect, or whatwe do doesn’t get the expected results. Whenthis occurs we have to recast our scripts to account for the new experi-

ences. Whenscripts fail, recovering from thatfailure requires a reexamination of the script. And reexamination of ourscripts



Looking at Creativity

is the hallmark of creativity. Expectation failure is a catalyst for learning. To see what I meanbythis, imagine that you are someone whohas never been taken to a fast-food restaurant and are accustomedonly to fancy restaurants. I decide to take you to a restaurant that I think you will like called Burger King. You come with me, armed with your restaurant script, which meansthat you expectto be seated, to read a menu,to order from a waitress, to be served bythewaitress, to relax and enjoy

your food, to have the table cleared by a busboy when you are done, to get a check and to payit. But in Burger King, things don’t quite work the way you had expected. No one seats us. We don’t get a menu, but instead we have to look up at a big glossy board. We must stand while ordering, and then, astoundingly, we must pay before we get what we ordered. Only then are weserved, and we must carry our own food to a table weselect for ourselves. Finally we read a sign that asks us to clean up our own table. Surely this isn’t a restaurant. Is it a cafeteria? Well, even there one gets one’s food first. Is it a departmentstorer Well, sort of, but departments stores don’t serve food and don’t advertise their wares on a glossy board. You have experienced expectation failure. You will have to figure out, at some point, that you are ina new script. The fast-food script is not part of your restaurant script, and you will have to reorganize your memorysothat next time it can cope with new questions. In other words, you will have to learn. Nowit may seem ridiculous to argue that learning about BurgerKingis a creative act, butin fact it is. Once we discover that a cherished script has failed, we must create a new one. Simple creativity to be sure, but it is on this principle that humancreativity is based. We are creative to the extent that we create new meansof coping with newsituations. This is as

true in restaurantsasit is in high technology.Scripts are to be

avoided unless, of course, they are to be invented. It is in the invention of a new script that creativity often emerges.

The Creative Attitude


The process of failing and then recovering from that failure can be the source of the creative spark. Failure builds a creative character because the morefailures one recovers from the better equipped oneis to fail again, and thus the morerisks, the more chancesof success one will take. No creative idea can ever be dreamedupif its dreameris afraid to take the risk of being called a fool. Risk-taking and creativity go hand in hand. To be creative, people must learn that being confused is okay and has great advantages. A friend of mine whois a well-knownscientist was asked howhefelt about something he had just witnessed. Hesaid he was confused, but that he loved being confused. He might also have addedthat he loved being remindedof other times when he had beensimilarly confused. In order to learn we mustbe ableto fail gracefully. The value of failure lies in its ability to make us improve our ideas and theories about the world and aboutthe problemsweface. But in order to improve one’s theories, one must, of course, have

theories that need improvement. If you think of a new idea or pursue a new approach to someproblem andfail, then you will rethink, you will reexamine the issues yourself. But if you are not willing to invent your own theory,if someoneelseis always telling you the facts, as if there were facts, it will be very difficult to fail. Thus, learning depends upon manydifferent things, but these things really do not include memorizing a formula. Consider the case of a child learning language. Children go through several stages in language learning, one of my favorites being wliat they do with past tenses. First children memorize all the words they hear. Thus, they learn irregular conjugations, such as went and brought quite easily. Then suddenly, much to the consternation of their parents, they begin to get wrong what they previously had right. They say goed and bringed when previously they hadit the right way. What is



Looking at Creativity

happeningis that they have learnedthe -ed rule for past tense and begin to useit in all logical contexts. Now they haveto be systematically corrected each time they makeanerrorso that they can get the few irregular past tenses correct. This happensto a child every dayofhis life. It happens while he learns language,but it also happens whenhelearnsto walk, whenhelearnsto eat at the table, and whenhelearnsto deal

with other children. A child must formulate hypotheses about how to act, about what he can get away with in essence, and he finds out what works and what doesn’t work. In other

words, a child is used to failure. To be sure, he is used to a

failure that is not painful—psychologically, that is; falling down does hurt, but being laughed at while falling down hurts more. He recoversfrom thesefailures effortlessly. No child refuses to learn his language because he is embarrassed by the mistakes he makes. That same child, ten years later, however, may die of embarrassmentif he tries to learn a second language. Same problem, same person—whathas changed? Whathas changed is that he has learned to fear failure. Wemustlearn about the basic mechanisms of human learning and creativity so that we can get back to what we once knew, albeit unconsciously. In subsequent chapters we will talk about how people learn and howtheyare creative—that is, how those processes naturally occur in human beings. We will discuss why those natural abilities tend to disappear and how to make them return.


The problem with learning to becreative is an intrinsic one andat the sametimean extrinsic one. We haveto relearn what we once knew quite naturally, but we also have to unlearn what the school system and the broader social system have taught us.

The Creative Attitude

Schools have had their greatest effect on squelching American innovation byinstilling in so many of us a great fear of failure. At every stage, the schools emphasizesuccess, success, SUCCESS! The emphasis on succeedingitself affects our personalities and our attitudes. Weteach ourchildrenthatfailure is to be avoided. Either we take the attitude that schools and teachers don’t fail, only students fail; or at the other extreme,

we worry that our children might be adversely affected by failure, so we deliberately set up situations in which they can win. At the end of the season, everyone gets a good grade or trophy so they won’t feel bad. Children proudly display these awards, but children are not stupid. As they receive these awards they can’t help devaluing them in their own minds. Schools are organized so as to makeit difficult to fail. They ought instead to be organized so as to makeit difficult to succeed. Temporary failure can lead to ultimate success because it provides motivation for thinking about what went wrong. Real rewards motivate children; artificial rewards confuse

them. Schools should strive to get children overtheir fear of failure and of being wrong. By teaching kids (and adults) to overcometheir fear of failure, we can show them howto take

the risk of doing or just thinking something wild and havingit not work out. Thatis the only way they will stand a chance of coming up with something new andcreative that does work out. The creative attitude, then, is an attitude about risk and

about change. Most importantly,it’s an attitude that embodies curiosity. You cannotbe creative unless you are curious about everything and willing to tear something downandstart again whatever the consequences. And this may mean abandoning some of your favorite scripts.


The Perils of Script-based Thinking

Of course, it is easy enough to suggest that all one needsis a creative attitude, but such an attitude may not beso easy to acquire. The scripts that are so useful in our daily lives can be very difficult to abandon. Andit is unclear that we should want to abandonall of them, or even question all of them. The toothbrushing script seems to work well enough for most of us, and wereally don’t tend to think aboutit atall, unless there is something wrong with our teeth. To question this script would seem ludicrous, but then again, some people have thought of other methods of keeping teeth clean. Withall these scripts allowing us not to have to think about everything wedoall the time,it is easy never to think about anything we do. Worsestill, scripts allow us to usethestale thinking of others when wearecalled upon to think for ourselves. One of my favorite examples of this can be found in the classic man-in-the-street interviews. Thanks to a radio pro-

gram called 60 Seconds on WHCN, a radiostation in Hartford,

Connecticut, we have a large data base of everydayscriptbased thinking.

The Perils of Script-based Thinking

THE WHCN TAPES WHCNconductedstreet interviews with random people concerning a question of the day. We acquired transcripts of the interviews to use in our research on explanation at the Yale Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The interviewsthat follow, as well as others used in this book, wereall conducted during 1981 and 1982: Why do you think bank robberies are occurring more frequently? 1. Society’s posing a challenge for the robbers to deal with all the publicity and all the guards. 2. The punishmentisn’t great enough for bank robbery. 3. It’s a good wayto find sustenanceif you’re having trouble makinglife on the outside. 4, Thestate of the economy. 5. It’s probably because people aren’t receiving long enoughjail sentences. 6. People need the money, now more than ever. They have no other way of getting it, and a bank is the best opportunity because it’s the largest return for the least effort. 7. The court system is all backed up. Theprison systems are too backed up. Chances are they'll get off with a verylight prison sentenceif they get caughtatall. There’s a big risk involved, but they have a good chance of just getting away with it and getting the money.

What do you think ofour increased assistance to El Salvador? 1. I’m against it. I don’t want to see us get involved anymore. I think we haveto start taking care of things at homefirst.



Looking at Creativity

2. It makes mefairly nervous. I look at it as a sort of Vietnam. I think it’s great for the U.S. when a countrydoes indeed need help, but I also think we should be very careful about how we spend our money, the way the economyis here in the States. 3. What happened in Vietnam should have taught the American people a lesson. 4. I’m fearful that it might lead to a situation similar to what wefaced in Vietnam fifteen years ago, and therefore I would examine carefully anything we did before we got ourselves stuck into a situation we can’t get our-

selves out of.

Creativity involves, among otherthings, the ability to make up new explanations. You cannot wonderaboutthingsin any effective way if you are not preparedto at least try to supply some answers. The people being interviewed here thought they were making up new explanations from scratch. They were trying to be creative. It is highly likely that prior to hearing the question, the respondents had never thought about the premise of the question. For example, 1981 wasn’t an especially bad period for bank robberies in Connecticut. Nevertheless, the respondents were capable of composing an explanation, on the spot, of a circumstance that they werein essence told needed an explanation. Whatis compelling hereis that in their attempts to becreative the respondents used truly hackneyed explanations. They simply gave the standard answers. People have stock explanation patterns. When faced with something newto explain, they use an explanation that has worked before. People use unthought-about explanations to decide what’s going on all the time. They accept the explanations they have always heard and apply them when they seem to fit. This kind of thinking is characterized by clichés andtrite explanations taken from other people and adaptedto fit new


The tendencyto see El Salvador as an instance of Vietnam

The Perils of Script-based Thinking

is at the same timetrite and creative. As we saw in chapter 1, the Vietnam War serves as a very convenient prototypical

case. Yetit is not entirely trite because there haven't been that many instances where wehavesaid, Aha, this is just another

Vietnam.Is this kind of reasoning right or wrong? Actually it is both. It is right to try to be remindedof a relevant prior case, but it is wrong therefore to assumethatthe casesare identical. Creativity meansfindingthe relevant case andcarefully examining the similarities and differences in order to construct a new explanation. But when tripping on the prototype the tendency to assumethatthe prototypeis all that one needs to know is very great. And whena script is available—well, one needn’t think atall. Oddly enough, a person can appearto be quite intelligent simply because he is good at following the scripts he has learned. One can answer WHCN’s questions by knowingall the right scripts. One need notthinkatall. Good scripts make life easy, but they also prevent creativity. The reasonis simple enough. Good scripts answerall the questions. Scripts may help us survive, but it is equally clear that excessive reliance upon them can be rather dangerous. Script-based thinking is one of the major obstacles to creative thought. Going by the script prevents us from seeing anything other than what can be applied to the script. Scripts prevent us from asking, “Why?” And in order to be creative, we must ask why in situations where weare not used to asking why.


The range of activities for which we form scriptsis limited only by the activities we can devise for ourselves. Every organizational and technological advance we makebrings with it a changein ourscripts. To invent somethingis to devise a new script for getting an old (or a new) job done,or for thinking about the world. There are three large realms of human behavior in civilized culture that are completely or almost com-


Looking at Creativity

pletely script-based: jobs, bureaucracy, and religion. Let us first discuss these, proceedingin orderof increasing resistance to change.


Most forms of employment are highly script-based or routinized, regardless of whether intellectual or manual labor is involved. The fact that a job can even be described makes it a script. Most jobs are outright repetitions of the same tasks, or interaction with the same group of people. Very few jobs in this world leave one to his or her owncreative urges and yearnings. The few people in this world with comparatively non-script-based jobs are writers, artists, musicians, scientists, inventors, professors, research and development

people in small companies, and consultants. I don’t need to explain most of these, but consultants are interesting in one respect since a consultant is usually a type of temporary employee whose only script is to analyze the larger scripts that operate (or don’t operate) in whatever company he or she works for. Small companies often need consultants to help them explore new fields. Larger companies need them just to keep abreast of reality. The difficulty is twofold: the larger the company, the greater the resistance to change and the more difficult the task of analyzing its own script-based processes and improving them. Big companies are hard to manage, since there are so many scripts in operation. Some of the

biggest companies need consultants just to find out whatis going on, what everyone in the companyis really doing. The directors can lose track of what their own companyis doing and therebyfail to change scripts that are inefhicient or counterproductive. Large script-based institutions are in essence bureaucratic, since their operation consists entirely of shuttling bits of paper from bureauto bureau,literally from desk to desk.

The Perils of Script-based Thinking

Bureaucracy: Not Profiting from Failures, Let Alone Successes

The activity and character of large script-based corporations brings us to the next large script-based activity of the civilized world: bureaucracy. Bureaucracy of any kind consists almost purely of script-based behavior performedin an office environment. Bureaucracies havetwosetsofscripts: how it’s supposed to be done, and howit’s really done. The old saw is that a bureaucrat actually keeps three sets of rules or books: one for

himself, one for the client, and one for the boss.

Bureaucracies are far more resistant to change than businesses, for the simple reason that they don’t need to be efhcient to continue to exist. If a company’s script-based activi-

ties don’t make it enough money to keep the creditors happy, it’s bye-bye to the whole process. The bad scripts cause self-destruction. In business there must at least be a profit, if not genuinecreative spark, for the script-based processes to survive. Various industries undergo whatis called a shake-up, which is when the unsuccessful scripts for business success are eliminated. Economists like to talk about the free market, because they believe that competition and survival of the fittest are the best regulators of the economy. What they really mean is that, ideally, the free market will reveal the success or failure of various scripts for doing business, and will weed out the bad ones. There is no such force, ideal or even flawed, weeding out bureaucratic scripts, because bureaucracy doesn’t need to produce results to continue to exist. Bureaucracy is immune from

any sort of test of its usefulness. It will live forever unless systematically broken down.It maytry to devise its own system of checks and balances, but it will never undermineits

own existence. No small script in a bureaucracy will ever call into question the script of the whole bureaucracy. I found an example of bureaucratic scripts when I decided to spend a sabbatical year in France. In orderto live in France temporarily one needs a visa, and in order to get a visa one



Looking at Creativity

needs a medical exam. Why? Who knows why?Thenext step after obtaining the visa, upon arrival in France, is obtaining a temporary residence card, and in order to get a temporary residence card, one needs—you guessed it—a medical exam. But I just had a medical exam, will that do? Of course not, one

needs a medical exam from the bureaucracy. And if you give a series of lectures and wantto get paid for them, you need a medical exam. Yes, another one. Why? There is no why ina bureaucracy. There are only scripts.

Religion: Scripts for Living

Of course, the best exampleof scripts without any whys behind them are thescripts one findsin religion. A religion, or any ritualistic practice, is a purified form of script-based activity that operates both at the individual and the societal level. Religions control the parts of people’s lives for which there would otherwise be no rules, or where the rules would consist

of individual preferences. Religions provide the necessary scripts for people whoareusedto living by the rulesof others. Thereare religious scripts for eating; for what to do with your leisure time; and for births, deaths, and marriages. Some peo-

ple need suchrituals. A marriage in city hall doesn’t seem real enough without someritual. A death seems less empty when followed bya ritual of some kind. These big events are poorly understoodby us, and religious scripts permitus to feel as if we know what to do when someoneis born,gets married,or dies. Even the mostirreligious person might decide to adoptthe funeral script of someone close to him who has died. Why? Perhapsthere are times when thinkingcreatively is notall that desirable. In many circumstances, people need scripts. Religious scripts, like many other scripts, have evolved over time without much rational design behind them. Religions with official hierarchies are the mostresistant to change.Like bureaucracies, religious institutions have scripts designed primarily to keep the institution important in people’s lives.

The Perils of Script-based Thinking

Whenthescripts are called into question, religious splits can occur, which is why today we have the Anglican church,various branches of Protestantism, two major branches of the Catholic church, and Christianity itself. With so manyreligions to choose from, how does one decide howto live? Well, actually, people rarely decide such thingsfor themselves. They just go on following the scripts they were brought up in, while believing that everyoneelse is following the wrongscripts. People are not rational aboutscripts, they are religious aboutscripts. Besides jobs, bureaucracies, and religions, whatotherscriptbased activities do people have? To find the answer, wejust have to ask a seemingly silly question: What do wedo besides working from nine to five, standing in line at Motor Vehicle, and going to church? What about going to restaurants, bars, airports, dentists, doctors, grocery and departmentstores, gas stations, banks, and health clubs? What about throwing a

partyP What about getting dressed in the morning? What about changingtheoil in our cars? What about sharpening a pencil? Most of us have formulated scripts for these activities, too.

Culture: The Scripts We Live

Within the realm of scripts, people have their own individual tastes and variations on the basic themes, and some people have far-out and eccentric ways of doing things. Culture is composed of various artful scripts for living. Andthis is as it should be. If everyone had to have the samescripts, we wouldn’t have culture, or at least we wouldn’t have an evolv-

ing culture. Societies are characterized by the scripts that are used in them, and membersof that society learn to use those scripts easily. We havescripts for most of the activities that are basic to human survival in our particular culture. A modern city-dweller’s script for satisfying hunger might



Looking at Creativity

be to walk to the grocery and buy some sandwich fixingsor to look for a restaurant. He has a very good idea of what to expect in a restaurant—whatto do and whatto say. Butthescript for getting dinner in the yuppie culture of New York differs widely from the correspondingscript in the aboriginal tribes of the Australian Outback. New Yorkers don’t try to spear lizards on a stick to be roasted on a campfire, and aboriginals don’t look for a cab to take them to a restaurant in SoHo, nor

do they fuss over which trendy new frozen dinners to buy and warm up in their microwave ovens. Certain New Yorkers have evolved strangescripts for getting dinner. A bag person’s script for getting dinner in New York is to scrounge in the dumpsters behind Burger Kings and McDonald’s in search of the burgers and fries that were thrown out because no one bought them within a few minutes after they were cooked. Of course an Australian aborigine would laugh if he knew that American fast-food restaurants have script that tells them to discard foodif it isn’t purchased within ten minutes after being cooked. They would probably laugh just at the idea of purchasing something. Whenwetravel to other countries we spend a great deal of effort trying to learn the appropriate scripts to use. On a recent

trip to Japan, I was told that it was impolite not to bring your glass up from the table toward the person who was pouring your drink. Not doing that was a sign that you didn’t really want the drink. In America, on the other hand, people will often tell you to put your glass down when they pour your drink, since it is unsafe to pour any other way. Scripts for pouring drinks, and for drinking andeating in general, abound in everv culture and differ from culture to culture. They are not right or wrong, theyjust are. Whenwefind ourselves in a new situation we attempt to learn the variations on thescripts as best we can. Welearn that on a small commuterairline there is no boarding pass, there are no instructions about emergency procedure,and the captain himself takes vour bags. We learn thatin a fast-food restaurant you payafter ordering instead of after eating. And we

The Perils of Script-based Thinking

learn that one must remove one’s shoes whenentering a Japanese house. People know how to act appropriately because they have knowledge about the world in the form of scripts. They have accumulated this knowledge from their experiences, observations, and interactions with everything in their environment. They have developed scripts for many of the things they do, and they are thusessentially script-based. How to act appropriately is always relative—it can be defined according to almost anyone’s standard. Doctors have doctor scripts that they use; economists have economist scripts and beliefs, and so on. A Parisian acts like a Parisian because he has knowledge about the world he lives in, namely Paris. From the Parisian’s point of view, a Texan’s actions would seem inappropriate or even wrong. And to the Texan, the Parisian’s ways might in turn seem inappropriate. Both Parisians and Texans have their scripts, each of which is inappropriate in the other’s environment.

What happens whenweuse inappropriate, or wrong scripts? The effect of using the wrongscripts is dramatic. Using the wrongscripts for activities is one basis of creative thinking, but

is also treated as a cardinal sign of mentalillness. Psychiatrists spend a great amountof time judging whethertheir patients are acting appropriately, where appropriately is usually loosely defined to mean “like most people.’ A person whois caught up in his ownlittle world of misappliedscripts has quite a journey ahead of him. The mentallife of a schizophrenic might be consumedby one or two twisted versions of otherwise normalscripts, played out repeatedly, regardless of the surroundings.

SCRIPT-BASED THOUGHT Whatfollows is one of my favorite examples of the perils of script-based thought(as well as the perils of fighting against it): My son washaving trouble reading in fourth grade. I went to



Looking at Creativity

talk to his teacher. She told me herarely completedhis reading workbook exercises, and even when he did them they were sloppy. She said she knew he wasoneofthe smarterkidsin the class and that he could do his work if only his attitude improved. I said that perhaps he didn’t like doing the workbook. Whydidn’t she just let him read a book? She was astounded at the idea but decidedto tryit, so for an entire unit of ten weeks she had the kids read books. Now myson beganto love school. He came home every day with a new idea and a new enthusiasmfor reading. But soon there was an outcry from some ofthe otherkids who were used to the workbooks and could handle them. They had already formed an efficient script for handling the workbook, and it was working out for them. They didn’t wantto have to think. They just wanted to know what was expected of them—all the rules for getting through school—and then follow them. To ask them to read a book was like asking them to make their own rules. They didn’t like the new readingunit because they had to think, and thinking is difficult and challenging. They were good at doing the workbooks. Whether doing the workbooksis of any value is anyone’s guess, butitis highly likely that such structured tasks frustrate bright children and reward dull ones. These kids had formeda scriptfor doing workbooks well and couldn’t cope with the actual tasks of reading, which are far more challenging and enriching than doing workbook exercises. It is no coincidence thatthis favorite example of mine concerns script-based thinking in school. Schools are made to producescript-based thinkers. Is it any surprise that most people in this world are script-based to a great degree? Their scripts tell them, Don’t think about it! Simply select the answer from this list of three possibilities! Some people appearto havea script for living, made upof all the smaller scripts they require for daily life. These people make a tremendous effort always to have a script by which to live. and always to stick to that script. They tend to get uneasy, defensive, and even scared whenthey have to depart from their script or when someonecriticizes their script. We

The Perils of Script-based Thinking

all know people like this. Whenever we detect such extreme script-based attitudes we automatically tend not to bring up certain topics or ask certain questions that mightset off their defenses. Is there anything you can’t talk about with a friend or family or fellow worker? Have you ever met a person who seemed to have a certain formula in his or her mind that just couldn’t be questioned or put to any kind of test? If ves, chances are there is an extremely script-based attitude behind it that sets off the person’s aggressive or defensive reactions.

The most extreme forms of script-based attitude are revealed in people who make unequivocal, zealous, or aggressive assertions, and who respond to questioning or argumentation only with increased aggression or with an attack onthe personality or motives of the other person. Think of the last racist, sexist, or fundamentalist-anything you had a talk with. Think of any extremist viewpoint, whether from the mouth of the president or from the mouth of a masked guerrilla. Think of the last time you felt that someone was laying down the law about his beliefs and views without considering that there might be another side to the argument. This is script-based thinking at its most blatant.

Do Scripts Make Good Sense for Everything? Script-based activities are those that we do without thinking too hard about them. They are the routine and repetitious events of our lives. Einstein and Picasso would probably look like normal everyday people while standing in line at the Motor Vehicle Bureau, going to an airport, or sharpening a pencil. They maynot have usedscripts for scientific discovery or for painting, but they used them for more mundanethings like going to the bank. Those are the proper applications of script-based thinking. Scripts are instructions to be followed. Wehave reached what mayturn out to be a painful conclusion:



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Scripts prevent thinking and are meant to replace it or make it unnecessary.

It is clear that weall use scripts for those mundanedaily tasks where little thought is required anyway. Shouldn’t it then be clear that for the important decisions we should use scripts muchless? It’s one thing to have a routinescript for getting up and getting to work in the morning,or for washing the dishes (Ido vou washall the dishes and thenrinse, or do you wash and rinse each individual dish?). But why do we leave the most important decisions of our lives to be decided by script-based behavior patterns? One would imagine that for important decisions more outright thinking would naturally be required and exercised. However, this is not always the case. People find themselves getting married not because they have thought it over carefully, but because their parents expect it of them at a certain age. Many people go to college only because that was the script they were taught by Mommyand Daddy. I recall that on the day that I entered college I had to fill out a form saying why I had decided to go to college. I was dumbfounded by the question. I had never decided to go to college. I just went. My mother had been talking about my going to college since as far back as I could remember. I had only to choose where, notif. Some people don’t even choose where. Most of myfriends from high school went to the same college. Everyone in our city went there, so there was nothing to think about. Fortunately for me, my mother’s go-to-college script didn't specify where I had to go. The go-to-college script has its opposite: the I-never-wentto-college-and-I’m-damned-if-my-son-is-going script. This negative script can have tragic consequences: A bright teenager

from a working-class family recently shot and killed his parents for continually belittling his ambitious and carefully thoughtout college plans. It is hard to imagine having complete scripts for living, for coping with vour teenager, or for raising a family. These are such complicated, constantly changing systemsandactivities that having a script for them wouldbe difficult indeed. If we

The Perils of Script-based Thinking

leave the big things in life to our script-based thinking, what will happen to us whenreality ceases to conform to ourscripts? What happens when ourscripts break down? We mayjust have to ask a question and look for a creative solution.


BREAK DOWN? For most of the time, our scripts function perfectly to get us through the day. When wearrive in a restaurant we know what to expect and wefeel we knowall possible alternative versions of the restaurant script. When wearriveat ourscriptbased job we know exactly whatis expected of us, and we set about doingit. But whatif on the way to work our car breaks down, inter-

rupting our get-to-work script? Do wefall apart? Do wejust “crash” the way a computer does whenit can’t get to the next step in its program? The answeris, of course, no. We can determine when the world is working accordingto thescript, and also whenit isn’t. We can adjust our scripts when something in the world breaks down. Whenthings go awry, we can manage. We can cope. Wehavethe ability to analyze our world and ask appropriate questions aboutit. We canfix it or learn to live with it. Whenourcar breaks down, wecall a tow truck, or else get out whatever tools we have (perhaps only a set of keys) and tinker with the engineto see if we can find the problem and fix it. At worst, we get out and walk. But even a mechanical idiot who doesn’t know the first thing about auto mechanics and has never looked underthe hoodofhis car will roll up his sleeves and give it a try on a back road. Based on whatever far-out notions he has aboutcars, he will look for a problem—a disconnected wire, smoke, leaking fluid, missing nuts, cracks,

strange noises, and so on. Hewill rack his brains for a solution. He will think.



Looking at Creativity

Fix Car, Then Fix Career

What if this same manfixes his car againstall odds and gets to work only to find the building has burned down, or that the company has gone out of business overnight? Again, he will cope. He will recover. He mayfeel lost or he mayfeel liberated, but he will cope. To take this yet one morestep, if this person takes a hint from his successfixing his car, he may feel that he can look for a job ina newfield that requires him to learn a completely new set of scripts. But if he is a more script-based person he may feel that he can’t cope with a different type of job, and may look for the same kindof job he had before. Heis bullish with something as minorasfixing his car, yet timid abouthislivelihood. A job is a bigger matter than a breakdown on a highway. One canrisk blowing up one’s car by accident, but does one want to play around with one’s career? Then again, should a person be able to cope only with the minor breakdownsinlife, and be extremely script-based about the important decisions such as choosing a career or accepting a certain job?


These questions raise an important point about scripts and how we employ them. As we go throughlife we tend to become morescript-based about the important decisions, while we actually sharpen our ability to cope with the minorones. Children aren't born with anyscripts, so everything is a process of coping for them. They are congenital script changers and script builders. Watcha very young child drag a pull-toy around the house. He will inevitably get his toy caught on things, andthis will sometimes require that the toy be pushed backward first, and then forward. Early on, whenhis toy gets stuck the child will simply become frustrated by yanking on the string. His script

The Perils of Script-based Thinking

for pulling his toy has been thwarted. He will scream until someone comesto help him. He may have to be shown how to disengagethe toy from the obstacle. After he is shown once, maybetwice,he will learn to disengageit himself. If he is very bright, he will start to make analogies to this situation every time he gets stuck somewhere. Hewill learn to use his knowledge in different contexts, and he will become good at changing and rejecting his ownscripts. But as children grow up, and certainly once school begins, they slow downtherateof script formation andscript alteration. They accept more and more,and do less andless to get out of situations they aren’t happy with. As people become better able to cope with the basic tasks of day-to-daylife, they turn off their script-changingability, simply becauseit is used less and less. They use it only when normally stable situations break down. They don’t question things that have worked a long time andstill seem to be working.

5. Vinod Khosla: Changing Assumptions | have a significant advantage. | don’t have a level of expertise in any area to a degree that I’m limited to that area. I’m much more of a generalist. | have a master’s degree in engineering and an MBA,which is a great combination. | have another advantage, too. I’ve had to watch my own assumptions change. | came from a culture where you believed everything you were taught. But you transplant yourself from India to America, and all your basic assumptions have to become absolutely different. | was in India until | was twenty. | came here, and | met a family who were

worried becausetheir son hadn’t gone out on a date byagefifteen. This going out on a date for a young man would be the worst thing backin India, something for the lowest level of prostitutes and criminals and common people. Here | discovered that when one goesto dinner at a friend’s house onebrings a bottle of wine. In India, the host would feel terribly insulted if you brought anything.



Looking at Creativity

So | had the major advantage of discovering just to what extent we bank on our assumptions. | found out thatit is all right for all of one’s basic assumptions to change. This applies to Sun in that if you talk to the financial community out here, they will tell you that Sun is one of the most unconventional companies they have dealt with. When we asked some people to work

on financing for us, they said it would take eight weeks minimum, they would put together this road show—they havethis process.| said fine. But the next day | called up ten people | knew who madeinvestments, and within three days | had a commitmentfor the whole sum. | called up the financial people and told them to set up a meeting with these guys. We had the financing committed before they got started with their procedures. They were absolutely not willing to consider violating that process even if it didn’t make sense. When it came time for the second roundof financing, everybodysaid,

‘Let's go out to Wall Street.” And | said, “What does Wall Street give us except greenbacks?” There are lots of people in very attractive

companies whowill give us a lot more. We have ten major suppliers, So let's seeif they are interested. We have ten major customers;let's see if they will invest in us. Let’s get value-added money. We looked for highly leveraged investment. All the investment experts and financial people said, ‘“‘That’s not done.” Werealized that if you take money from traditional investors, they worry only about the money, andif things look bad, they pull out their

support and makeit look really bad. Instead wefinally found Kodak. Kodak's major workis in imaging, and they needa lot of small computers. They wanted to buy about 100 million dollars worth of equipment. They were happy to put in 20 million dollars in return for a piece of

equity, since they were going to be putting 100 million into the company anyway. It's not just in financing, it’s not just in high tech. It’s everywhere. People told me | couldn't call people until Monday, but | would call them at home. One protocolis that you talk to someone whotalks to someone else who agrees to organize a meeting. | don’t subscribe to that protocol. At one point | asked the second-level managers to make a deal with Computervision, and they lost the deal. They told me there was no way to get their business. | caught a plane to the East Coast and parked myself there for the better part of the day just talking to whoever would

The Perils of Script-based Thinking

talk to me. | began to make someridiculous proposals to them. | called the CEO andtold him aboutall the technology we had developed, which he wasinterestedin. | told him | would give him all our technology free of cost, and he could build it at the lowest possible cost. | said | would send him my engineers to train his people to build this stuff, with zero

obligation. My goal was to get him to talk to me. Sun at that time was thirty

people, and | was twenty-eight years old. He didn’t want to do business with me. | wanted him to lay out the problem for me and then define what he wanted. | don’t think a traditional manager would have made such a deal. He called me back a weeklater and said, ‘Let's talk.” | said, ‘“‘Let’s talk now,” and flew out that day. The CEO himself started doing one-on-one negotiations with me. Becausehe didn’t wantthe rest of the company to know what an unconventional process was going on,

we decided not to meetat their site or our site. We met at Chicago's O’Hare. One day we decided we would make the deal and talked all

night and signed a deal that we had written out in pencil. Nobody else would have made such a deal, but if you ask our venture capitalists today they will correctly say that if we hadn’t made that one deal, Sun would not be in existence today. lt was such a visible deal. If Computervision was willing to go with Sun, then everyone whowaspaying attention to Computervision would pay attention to Sun. A lot of people sit on one side and say either that you need a Steve Jobs (the founder of Apple) or a John Sculley (the president of Apple). | see the need for both, and | always create a conflict situation between the two classes.It’s important that it be a balanced conflict. In a sense | always like to see thefinal call in the hands of the free-thinking types. When it comes to whose decisions have the most influence in the business world,it’s the other type. What wefinally ended up doing was eliminating Computervision’s concernsby giving them full manufacturing rights, with a royalty scheme that changes. They would befully trained in the building and implementation of our product. To protect them from the possibility that we would go out of business, we gave them manufacturing rights, which means

they can build our productif we go out of business. Granting such rights has actually become more common since we made the deal. Let me give you a technological example. If you look at it, there are lots of start-ups with very great products. But the really successful



Looking at Creativity companies, the old names like DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) and IBM have comparatively poor products. What's the reason? People recognize the name. They have heard ofit for years. Sun developed a network file system. This is a networkwidefile system. Two people with different computers can pretend they have the

Same one and share data. No one else had such a system when we developedit. Now onthe faceofit, this was a great strategic advantage for Sun, but we putit in the public domain. We let DEC haveit free of cost. Now nobody takes the mostsignificant part of their technology and putsit in the public domain. DEC adapted it, Data General adapted it, and about twenty other ventures did. Suddenly, everybody wants everything to be compatible with Sun. It’s a benchmark, a name people have started saying. People nowfollow us. We are the leaders. | have never seen anyone else put technology into the public domain, and it got a lot of opposition from some of the managers at Sun, but people still want our machines over those of our competitors.

I've given examplesin business negotiation, finance, and technology. We were unconventional to the hilt. Everybody wants to emulate us now because Sun is not an overnight successor fad, but has a very strong base. Wedidn't ignore the business requirements,the practical requirements. But we did ask questions about the traditional ways of dealing with them. We had a high-risk shot at the moon. If we hadn't shotat the moon, we wouldn't have gotten anything. We had everything to gain and nothing to lose. Why not take the risk? Vinod Khosla ts the founder of Sun Microsystems, a California company that makes advanced microcomputers.

As people move on to their adult years, their basic scripts become set in stone, or so it would seem. Enormous changes seem incrediblydifficult to the adult, despite the fact that the only way a person survives childhood to becomean adultis by adjusting rapidly to enormous changes. Once our basic patterns are set, we seem to turn off our ability and our drive to deal with enormous changes. We simply drift toward middle age, toward retirement in that mobile homein Florida. We

The Perils of Script-based Thinking

stop asking questions, wetry notto allow anythingto bring the basic patterns into doubt. We don’t want to change. Weare tired of coping with new things. We develop defenses for our ways of thinking, so that anything that challenges them can be pooh-poohed,disqualified, or stamped out if need be. These trends are what makeusless creative than we think we should be. Ignoranceis bliss.

The Script-based Organization Man When I wasin college I took a summerjob at an insurance company. Myjob consisted of punching data into a big calculating machine and writing the answer into a form on a computer printout. Now,the data I was punching camefrom that printoutinitially, so it didn’t take a genius to see that a computer could moreeasily do what I was doing. Being a nascent computerscientist, I wrote the program and handedit to my boss. I was told to shut up, and I received an unsatisfactory job rating at the end of the summer. Consider the following story: A cardiologist invited an engineer from a small, innovative midwestern medical-electronics firm to observe open-heart surgery. In the operating theater,

the engineer watched as the surgeon used an electronic cau-

terizer to make anincision inside the patient’s chest. The engineer noticed that while the cauterizer was in use it interfered with the oscilloscope, which monitorsthe patient’s heartbeat during the operation. Theoscilloscope reading was completely interrupted, similar to the waya hair dryer will make a TV go fuzzy. The anesthesiologist seemed totally unperturbed bythe sudden interference, even thoughit is his job to watch the patient’s heart for any changes or abnormal signs and make adjustments in dosage based upon such changes. The engineer asked the anesthesiologist if he knew that his oscilloscope was malfunctioning, and hesaid,“Oh,yes. It always does that when you use the cauterizer!”



Looking at Creativity

The engineer was incredulousandasked, “Andyousettle for

thatP” to which the anesthesiologist replied, “Well, yes, I mean that’s the wayit is.” Even though the oscilloscope and the cauterizer were manufactured by the same huge electronics corporation, it was obvious that the company had neverseen its own products used simultaneously. The engineer wentback to his small companyandin a short time designed and patented a fifty-cent circuit that would protect the oscilloscope from electrical interference. The large company thenhad to buy the rights to the device from the small company. Nowthis anesthesiologist, if he is at all bright, may once have asked a surgeon or hospital technician about the interference that occurred during surgery andreceived that very reply:“It always does that. That’s the way it is.’”’” Even if he was very bright, he may have calculated that pressing the issue would just make others irritated with him.

How many people have beenfired or demoted from their jobs simply because they asked the one question that no one else was ever going to ask? If everyone has learned to live with a situation, no matter howbadit is, they are going to react negatively to any questions about the merits of thatsituation. That is why large corporations hire armies of independent consultants—theyare the only people who can even ask the necessary questions, let alone begin to answer them. Members of a corporation are too loyal to the scripts that are in place, too script-based to seek or accept a new system or a new method. If you make waves by proposing a new wayof doing things, vou might risk your job. The managers above vou may simply be unable to understand what you mean; they may come right out and sav: We can’t use vour idea.It’s too new.

People whose existence is defined by the current script may

feel threatened because thev would have to change or would

simply not fit into your proposed system. They cannot admit that they are wrong. or that vour proposal might be better,

without having an identity crisis. They tend to be script-

driven. not self-directed. Their voice of reason tells them:

The Perils of Script-based Thinking

Here are the rules. Do them. Such people base their lives on scripts.

6. Larry Weiss: New Ideas and Stress in the Corporate Scripts When | was marketing research director of the Maxwell House division of General Foods,| had begunto notice stress in the corporate environment whenever new products were proposed. The reason | was promoted so rapidly was because offailures | had with new products. Successes with new products wereterribly devastating to a career. Early in the game, the successes | had were when | was part of a team, so no one knew how much | had to do with it. The first projects on which | was the main person responsible were all failures, and those caused very rapid promotions and salary

increases. Later on, when | did have successes, and it was clear that | was responsible, peopletried to fire me.Atfirst | thought it was curious. But then | began to see the pattern and logic ofit all. Back then in ‘64 or ‘65 we had whatwascalled the “Art Larkin Million Dollar Club,”’ which was reserved for people who single-handedly lost over one million dollars in a test market that flopped. As a junior associate | was able to join this club because of a Maxwell House product which | developed and which bombed. The product was designedto beatHills and Folgers in the West, as a western coffee for western tastes. We did all the development workonit and discoveredit was notliked by East Coasters, but only by West Coasters.It was test-marketed in Baltimore.It got a four share of the market, whereasin the West it would have gotten

an eighteen share or more. What’s importantis that this disaster was all blamed on me. From this project | got a double promotion and became the manager of the

department. The failure had made the higher-ups notice me. They said to themselves, This guy has gotta have managerial talent to organize such a large project. They get to hear your rationale for what happened, your beautiful summary of why the productfailed. At bottom they themselves know they couldn’t have done muchbetter, and anybody can get wiped out by competition. So they pat you on the back andsayit’s okay;



Looking at Creativity you become part of the club, and nobodyfeels really bad aboutit. But the most important thing they said is, Look at all the valuable experience this guy has now. Here’s a man whohassigned the social contract. General Foods put mein the position to do some heavy product

development in the cereals division. It was clear from myfirst assignment with kids’ cereals as product group manager that new products were desperately needed to compete, and General Foods had been pretty bad at introducing new products. The last successful new product had been eight or ten years earlier, called Honeycomb. This was about 1967. Looking at the market it seemedthat no licensing of characters for cereals had been done. | thought it would be a good idea to getkids to eat cereals you had put little theater into. Kids needed reasonsnot to skip breakfast.

So | thought of associating cereals with favorite cartoon characters. | originally wanted to do a whole line of Saturday Morning Cereals that would be associated with several big Saturday morning cartoon characters. The Flintstones were notoriginally part of this lineup.

| was not in charge of new products. | was in charge of established products. | needed new products. But | looked at the new-product development system and why it had been so bad. Nobody had ever looked at that. Every step of the procedure madea lot of sense, but the process of proposing and studying a new cereal took seven years! This

was longer than | was going to be in the company, and| figured that if | had been able to engineer a massive coffee disaster in a year and a bit, | should be able to do a cereal success somewhatfaster. | realized that the system was in place because there were too many people at General Foods. Everybody wasenrolled (had their role) in the process.

It was like a giant civil service bureaucracy doing this process. | went outside ofit a little bit, trying not to make people too mad. My line of cereals passedthe initial tests really well, but the managers of new products declared that character associations were fads and that the cereals might do well, but would burn right out. This taught me to stay away from the rules even more. One idea | had was a variation on the Crispy Critters cereal, called Creepy Crunchies. This product would haveall kinds of ugly shapes—

worms, frogs, creepy crawlies, and so on, in a black package with a witch on the front. This thing scored off the charts in the marketing evaluations. The national sales manager looked at it and declared,

The Perils of Script-based Thinking

“The sales force will sell this over my dead body. Neverwill a black package bearing the Post Cereal label appear on the shelf.” This was a new one to me. Black packaging is now extremely chic, of course.| was getting discouraged now,having put a great dealof effort into these first kids’ cereal ideas. At this point, | still identified so much with the goals of the company that even though it wouldn’t make a whit of difference to my pay or

position, | wanted to make new products that worked. General Foods was very much aware of the need for new products, but they were too delighted with their process for introducing new products. They had introduced fourteen failures. They knew better than anyone else how to manage a new product that would fail. They had all these rules about how to doit, including rules about the kind of idea they would agreeto develop. These rules were never made explicit. You had to discover empirically the limits of what they would tolerate. You had to try to feel in the dark where the walls really were. You could propose a product

that would wend its way successfully through their system, getting approval at each stage, passing eachlittle test. Looking at the rulesit wasClear that yes, you could build a product that would fit these rules, but such products would not passthe ultimate test, namely the test of the marketplace. Everyone would work on it, get promotions from it, and feel good about having piloted several nose-diving projects. They had even developed an actuarial basis for shooting down new ideas.In fifteen years, only one had turned into a successful product. One hundred ideas had led to twenty-five major projects, ten serious ones,six test-markets, and only one idea that worked. Clearly, in order to get one project that succeeded with this system, you had to propose ninety-nine other ideas. They werewilling to settle for this rather than looking at their rules and systems for creating new products to see what commonthread

could be responsible for fifteen failures in a row. No one was saying, Obviously if we are doing the same thing over

and over again, we should change whatwe're doing. There is no external validation of the process. General Foodsis no worsein this respect than a great many large marketing companies. People can’t back off from their career concerns to look at something differently. Even to lookatit differently is to embarrass people, andif you embarrass people you embarrass your superiors, who have become superior by going through the system.


Looking at Creativity

While at General Foods, Larry created Cocoa Pebbles and Fruity Pebbles cereals. Some years later, he translated his cartoon character concept and created the Underoos brand of children’s underwear. He received external validation of the concept and enough money to do what he likes, which turns out to be helping a large company buildproducts and services consumers want. Larry Weiss heads the development division at Citicorp in New York.

People who have been maderich and secure by the old scripts will be the strongest critics of a new idea. Large companies are often so threatened by a new idea that they buy the idea or the small company that is producing it just to squelchit. The first question to ask when someonecriticizes your new idea unequivocally is, What does this person(or this institution) get from the old script or system? This question takes as many varied forms as there are subtleties to a vested interest or hidden double standard. If the personis a politician or bureaucrat, his or her entire platform or identity might be threatened by what vou propose. If the person is a superior in a company, his very job and sense of worth may hinge uponthe system that you have found to be inadequate. Or he may simply be what I call a script-based person. A small electronics company that hopes to beef upits research and developmenteffort quickly might regretits hiring of an entire group of laid-off but otherwise devotedelectrical engineers from the recently phased-out whiz-bangdivision of a giant corporation. But the same company might do well to hire someone whoresigned or was fired because ofhis dislike of whateverscript-based processes at the giant company were thwarting his creative energies. It’s not that large corporations necessarily have the intention of getting rid of creative people. The processes that made the engineer leave might be quite benign and might even be to the giant company’s long-term benefit, although the largest corporations tend to be the most

The Perils of Script-based Thinking

short-sighted, even though they usually have plenty of cash and resources for creative and long-term experimentation. Theirony is that giant companiesare often in the business of buying the small companies that their creative people escape to. The new technology becomes the old technology, and the new nontraditional approaches will soon be the old script-based approaches. There is an ecology to this cycle, regulated by script-based thinking andthe struggle to escape such thinking.


Creative thinking is possible when one abandonsone’sscripts. To be creative one must avoid the pitfalls of script-based thinking, which is at once our method of coping with a complex world and our greatest obstacle to improving it. Once one’s scripts are abandoned,it is possible to become open to wondering about things. And wondering brings on the need for answers. Most answers come from our own memories, from our

own experiences. The possibility for creative thought is there simply by learning to listen to what. your own memoryhas to say. But in order to find an answer, you have to have been looking for it, rightP Well, as we shall see in the next chapter, your memory maybe willing to supply answers even when you haven’t consciously asked it questions.


Failure and Reminding



A key part of creativity relies upon an ability which even the most uncreative people have andusein their daily lives: the phenomenonof reminding. It may seem strange to claim that remindingis an importantpart of learningor creativity. At the start of this book, we talked about the lazy use of reminding: People often avoid thinking creatively about new ideas by paying attention only to those things which remind them of ideas they’ve encountered before. Being reminded only of very similar events is one end of the reminding spectrum. On the other end are the remindings that seem to happen randomly and uncontrollably, and that appearto havelittle to do with our current problems. It is quite difficult to perceive consciously what our minds do unconsciously, with the result that although we notice when we are reminded of something, we usually fail to notice the significance of the reminding. But the how and whyofa reminding can be quitesignificant. It shows how wearethinking about things and can point the way to new thoughtsbycalling up useful and relevant old ideas that we otherwise wouldn't


The Natural Creative Process

have thought of. Remindings serve to make connectionsbetween what weare currently experiencing and what we have experienced in the past. Most of the time remindings seem to bubble up of their own accord, but some experiences leave us dumbfounded and unable to recall anything quite like what we are seeing. Whenwecan’t recall anything like what we are experiencing, the experience is that much more difficult to understand. One of the nice features of human memoryis that it is unconscious most of the time. Human memoriesallow their owners to forget most of what they know until some experience reminds them of something and then allow them to find what they want. The human mindis a storehouse,a veritable library, of information that we can retain without constantly reviewing or repeating it. You don’t have to be continually conscious of your birthdate in order to rememberit. In fact, you can forget it for most of the time.


Reminding is the basis of much of our conversation and of our thought. Most of our casual conversations are remindingdriven. We tell each other entertaining stories that come to mind without realizing how they came to mind, or why they came to mind. Remindings thus quite naturally appearin all kinds of literature. In the following passage from Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby, Mrs. Nickleby relates a curious series of remindings: ‘Kate, mydear,” said Mrs. Nickleby,“I don’t know howit is, but

a fine warm summerdaylike this, with the birds singing in every direction, alwavs puts me in mindof roast pig, with sage and onion sauce, and homemadegravy.” “That's a curious association of ideas, is it not, Mama?”

“Upon myword, my dear, I don’t know,” replied Mrs. Nickleby. “Roast pig; let me see. On the day five weeks before you were

Failure and Reminding

christened, we had a roast—no, that couldn’t have been a pig, either, because IJ recollect there were a pair of them, and your poor

papa and I could never have thought ofsitting down to two pigs— they must have been twopartridges. Roast pig! I hardly think we ever could have had one, now I come to remember,for your papa could never bear the sight of them in the shops, and used to say that they always put him in mindofverylittle babies, only the pigs had muchfairer complexions; and hehad a horroroflittle babies,

too, because he couldn’t very well afford anyincrease to his family, and had a naturaldislike of the subject. It’s very odd now, what can have put that in my head? I recollect dining now once at Mrs. Bevan’s, in that broad street round the corner by the coachmaker’s, where the tipsy man fell through the cellar-flap of an empty house nearly a week before the quarter-day and wasn't foundtill the new tenant went in—and wehadroastpig there. It must bethat, I think that reminds meofit, especially as there was a little bird in the room that would keep onsingingall the time of dinner—atleast nota little bird, for it was a parrot, and he didn’t sing exactly, for he talked and swore dreadfully, but I think it must be that. Indeed I am sure it must. Shouldn’t you say so, my dear?”

As Dickens’s passage reveals, human memoryis full of what seem to be random associations. In fact, “random” memories are not random atall. Our minds attempt to process everything we see and hearin any waythatcan help us learn from what we have experienced. From these remindings we gain new insights about the world around us. Remindings may seem random, but no matter how cloudyor distorted or irrelevant they seem,they are always our mind’s effort to make a connection to what weare trying to learn or understand. The messagein all this is twofold: first, every reminding has some creative potential—eventheratherfrivolous remindings of Mrs. Nickleby; and second, we should pay attention to our remindings, perhaps especially the “seemingly irrelevant” ones. Whatfollowsis a real conversation that shows how weconnect seemingly random or unimportant remindings with a view to explaining a situation one has neverreally understood



The Natural Creative Process

that well: John and Sam went to a university cafeteria for lunch. Sam got into the sandwich line, where the server,a voung woman, wasslicing roast beef, ham, corned beef, etc.

Sam sawa nice-looking piece of meat on theside of the cut roast beef and ordered a roast beef sandwich. However, the server had previously sliced some beef off, and she putthis previously sliced beef into the sandwich. It wasn’t nearly as nice as the meat that wasstill unsliced. When they finished with the lines and were seated at their table in the dining room, Sam turned to John andsaid, “Boy, have I ever been

suckered!" and he explained what had happened.

Johnsaid, “No, you haven’t been suckered, because my im-

pression of the word suckered is that it implies a seriousattempt to defraud. You wanta real suckering experience?” John asked. “Onourtrip to Spain, we were driving across the country, and we cametothis tiny village. We wentintoa little store run by someone wholookedjust like a gypsy lady. We bought some cheese and great bread andreally nice-looking sausage and some wine. Then wehadit all wrapped up, and we drove out of the town. Weparkedin a secluded location, founda hill with some trees, climbed up to the top and sat down,looking out over the beautiful countryside. Then we opened the wine and unwrappedthe food. Garbage. All there was was garbage, carefully wrapped garbage. Now that was a suckering experience. The gypsy lady suckered us.” Samthought the story was pretty good and was remindedof an experience of his: “I went to Mexico with a friend,” Sam said. “My friend tried to bargain for a hat. Hestarted at one hundredpesos andtried to get the price downto fifty. But the guy wouldn't go below seventy-five. So he quit. Just then, someoneelse walked up, and bought a hat without bargaining. He paid the full hundred pesos. So my friend went back upto the guyand said, ‘Look, if you give it to me for fifty, you will have gotten your price from both of us if you average it out.’ And he did. So someoneelse was suckered, and myfriend took advantage ofit.” “Well,” said John, “that reminds meof a similar incident that

Failure and Reminding

happened in Mexico, except that the result was just the reverse. This was a long time ago, way back in 1957, just after I graduated from MIT.I had driven downto the Yucatan with some friends. There we saw somereally lovely hammocks. One friend, who wasraised in Mexico and spoke fluent Spanish, bargained the price way down and then bought one. So I walked up andsaid I wanted one,too. But now the price went back to the original price, and try as I might, I couldn’t get the price down to anything close to what myfriend had just paid. I haven’t thought about that incident in years—andit’s been twenty-three years since it happened.” This is a rather typical reminding-driven conversation. People tend to trade stories as they are reminded of them. Sam tells about something that happened to him, and it reminds John of somethinglike it that he experienced. This, in turn, reminds Sam of a good story, and so on. People do this with jokes, they do it with stories aboutillnesses, they do it when trading yarns about the opposite sex, and so on. People dothis

kind of thing all the time, even thoughthesignificance oftheir

remindings doesn’t usually occur to them. In such conversational remindings, the conscious mind seems to do no morethan hearonestoryandtell another; yet unconsciously we havean entirely different situation. Reminding is the basis of learning in the unconscious. This is why weird remindings can often be the basis of creative thoughts. In order to understand whythis is so, we need a theory of what kinds of things we rememberand why.


What causes our memories to run into old events while processing new. ones? Some events, even ones that have been stored away for many years, come to mind when you least expect them. Quite often, these seemingly forgotten events have one thing in common: previous expectations associated

with them havefailed. When wefail to understand something,



The Natural Creative Process

or when some normalprocess goes awry, we tend to remem-

ber it for later reference. We remember unusual things in terms of the expectationsthat failed and in termsof the explanations that we madeto understandthosefailures at the time. This is the mind’s natural mechanism of learning and creativity—the ability to store and later recall events that were confusing so that they can be reprocessed when moreinformation is available.

Everybody Remembers His Refrigerators

For example, everybody has a refrigerator story, and every refrigerator story involves something incredibly weird. I know this sounds odd, but if you casually ask someonetotell you a story about a refrigerator, he will inevitably be able to call up some memoryof a refrigerator that blew up, evolved newlife forms after years of no cleaning, froze the whole house, was used as a planter, or what have you.If the event didn’t happen to him personally, he will nevertheless have picked up refrigerator tale from someone else and rememberedit, which

makesthings odderstill. Obviously, I am speaking only about people who grew upin cultures whererefrigeratorsare fairly common. Eskimos aren’tlikely to have a refrigerator story. Ask Eskimos about their sleds, kayaks, or igloos, and see what you get.

Consider the following example, in which a reminding hinges on the memory of a mishap that occurred whena certain word came up: John and Mary were having dinner,casually discussing whether they should have an affair. John thought it was a good idea. Mary wasn’t so sure. Suddenly John thought to change the conversation by discussing some business that the two of them had together in France. Mary wrote downa business address for John and wrote underit affaires, which is the French word for “business.” At this point Mary thought it necessary to explain the wordto John andin doing so, knocked over a glass of water that drenched John. John

Failure and Reminding

laughed andrelated a story he had heard from a friend. The friend, in asking a woman to have an affair with him, had spilled a glass of wine on the womanas he wasasking. People tell each other stories based on what sticks out as funny or odd. They are remindedofone thing by another and try to change things consciously that their unconscious refuses to change. We rememberwhatis unusual in some way. When something is unusual, we keep it around so that we can match

it with other thingsthatare like it, that are unusual in the same

way. In this fashion, we use our previous experiences to understand our current ones. This is what learningis all about. We are reminded quite naturally, without an active conscious effort, in a seemingly random fashion. A good technique to make oneself learn better and to make morecreative connections to one’s experiencesis to make this unconscious passive processinto a self-conscious and active one. We can learn how to be reminded consciously and how to follow up our remindingsactively to yield new explanations and hypotheses.

CONSCIOUS, ACTIVE REMINDING If we can find ways to be reminded when wewantto, we can have a very powerfulset of data available to us at any time we wish, not just at the whim of our unconscious. Our own experiences, when called uponat the right time, can allow usto learn a great deal. Using memoryfor understanding requires determining the appropriate wayto label and store the memoryof an eventor action. Since we are reminded without knowing quite how,it is difficult to imagine what our mind’s internal labeling techniques are. Sometimesan expectation failure and its potential

candidate explanations wait for years before becoming conscious as a result of some weird event. Whensimilar failures with similar explanations happen, a reminding usually occurs. Sometimes this can take twenty or thirty years. The human mind is quite patient when it sets out to understand some-


The Natural Creative Process

thing. To use our memories for learning, we must first make a conscious and active effort to find out why our seemingly random remindings are not so random afterall. What I propose is a reminding strategy based on the premise that the source of creativity and invention is creative questions, and that questions often arise in one’s mindin the first

place because of some remindingthat has occurred. Thestrategy requires one to achieve two important but deceptively easythings: first, one must learn howto find significance in the seemingly random remindings that one experiences; second, one must learn to be reminded in a waythat provides a great deal more useful data which can help one to form valuable generalizations, test them out, fail, ask more questions, and

thereby learn.


Remindings are linked to the failure of one’s expectations in situations where a person has very clear expectations about an event and those expectations turn out to be wrong. This does not mean we are remindedonly ofourfailures, in the sense of failures to achieve a goal; rather, events that stick out of the

past tend to be somehow anomalousor extraordinary. Thatis, they have violated our expectations about what will happen. As those expectations may have been bad, expectation failure can often be quite pleasant. In any case, it is usually quite neutral. We are not devastated by expectation failure, but we do have to think about it whenit happens.It is important that we not continue to keep the same expectations after they have failed. Learning means modifying them so that they do notfail again.

The notion of scripts provides a handy way to think about failure-driven reminding. Wethink ofscriptsas fairly rigid and canonical. When a script is followed very closely, we don’t

Failure and Reminding

remember much. Wetend to rememberonly unusual events, since we can always reconstruct the usual ones. We tend to rememberthe times whenthestereotypical script in a situation wasn’t followed, when people turn out not to movetoward the expected goals or when they have unusual plans for achieving their goals.


Much of what we do when weattempt to understand the world is to form expectations about what will happen next. People are bundles of expectations about everything. We can anticipate the gist of what someonewill say before hesaysit; we can anticipate how someoneweknowwill feel after a given event, and so on. The world has an orderto it, and we rely upon that order when we understand. We don’t haveto listen carefully to every word of every sentence because our expectations guide us. We don’t have to keep our eyes glued to a person whom weareobserving, worrying that he might evaporate or turn into soap. People don’t do that sort of thing, and we can rely upon the fact that our friendswill still be around if we look away for a second. Our expectationsare in a constant state of change, however.

We might not expect someone to disappear, butit is possible that he might choose to run away as soon as you turn your head. In that case, you develop an expectation about that person in that situation. Expectations are complex, detailed in their specificity, tailored to both the society at large and to particular individuals, and enormous in number. Whenan expectation fails, we want to know why. Weattempt to explain the expectation failure. This explanation, in turn, helps us to change our knowledgestructures so that we can do better next time. As wesaid, taking a plane is a good example of script-based activity—from buying the ticket, to



The Natural Creative Process

boarding, to the life-jacket demonstration, to deplaning. The airline industryis, in fact, based onstrict regulations and standardization. A person whoflies very often forgets all or most of the details of most of the flights he takes. What he does remember, however, is the time he was seated in first class

even though he had an economy ticket. He remembers an enjovable flight when by coincidence he was seated next to an old college buddy. And he remembers an attemptedhijacking or a bomb scare. What memorable events reveal is that we notice violations of our scripts and such violations stick in our memories. We tend to rememberparticular experiences because they somehow thwarted our dull, normal expectations of what should happenand howpeople should behave. Every experience we have is a knowledgestructure in its ownright, and thousands of structures quickly become millions of structures. We search our minds constantly for the structure that is most closely related to our current experience. This ability reveals itself to us in the form of episodes from our memories that pop upas remindings. To search effectively we must remind ourselves of what we are looking for.


Failure-driven reminding involves our predictions of other people's actions, as well as the actions of physical events. A large part of understanding events andstories requires us to predict people’s behavior based on what we knowabout people and their reasons for doing things. We try to understand why someone does something now with the hopeofpredicting what he will do next. Whenwefail in our predictions, we rememberour failure for the next time that we find ourselves in similar circumstances. We didn’t expect to get free champagne, nor did we expect to see cockroaches onthe table. These failed expectations enable our memories to help us choose one restaurant

over another next time. They also enable us, perhaps more importantly from a memorystandpoint, to notice patternsthat keep repeating themselves. Suppose weendupat the Walt Whitman Truckstop and get nondairy creamer for our coffee. We might remember what happenedthe last time we wereat a turnpike truckstop and asked for real milk and got an argumentfrom the waitress. In this case, our expectation is based on a remindingofa failure of a previous expectation, not on a standardscript. If the waitress were courteous to us, we might rememberthe Walt Whitman as a very congenial place, even though we would have thought nothing special about it if we hadn’t had the first experience. And if the waitress were youngortall or fat or whatever, we might be reminded of another time whena waitress with those same characteristics treated us in the same way. In this way, we begin to form generalizations. These generalizations are not scientifically valid. In fact, they are often quite erroneous. But people’s beliefs are derived from them. Webeginto like fat people anddetesttall people, or whatever, because of our accumulated experiences with them.


In the process of understanding we are attempting to do a great deal more than just make sense of an isolated event or story. We arerecalling related experiences and attempting to see connections between them. Wehavecertain expectations in certain contexts, and these expectations will on occasion be wrong. Whentheyare, we haveto be ableto take note of the important and relevant details, and store the experience in such a way that we can makeuse ofit at a later time. When things fail consistently, for the same reasons, we must build new structures, collections of new expectations that will accommodate the newfacts. Welearn via the understanding cycle: expectation failure,


The Natural Creative Process

question, explanation, reminding, question, and generalization. In its full form, the understanding cycle has the following steps: THE UNDERSTANDING CYCLE

Expectation failure

An event doesn’t occur the way we thought it would.


We wonderwhy.


We concoct an explanation.


Werecall another event that we explained in the same way.


Weask ourselves what the two events have in common.


We construct a new generalization about both event, thus giving us a new expectation.

To better understand the value of reminding in the expectation failure process, let’s return to Burger King. Visiting Burger King with a standard restaurant script in hand causes us to realize that Burger King fails every expectation we have about a restaurant. How can we remembersuch an experience? A better question is how could we forget itP When an experience fails so many expectations,it is stored in terms of those failures hoping to be resolved some day. Nowsuppose we go into a McDonald’s. You would discover that it, too, fails your expectations about restaurants. Butthis time you are prepared. You are remindedof Burger King, and

vou can use the experience in Burger King asa set of expecta-

tions about McDonald’s. In other words, having beenreminded of Burger King, you see McDonald’s as an instance of Burger King andare not surprised when you haveto payafter ordering. One does not have to be too clever to generalize from the

Failure and Reminding

two experiences andto decide that there must be a new kind of script, the fast-food script, and that Burger King and McDonald’s were not restaurants at all but fast-food places. This is simple enough,yetit is learning andit is creativity, although of a rather mundanesort. This is an exampleof the expectation failure-question-explanation-reminding-question-generalization cycle. This cycle underlies a great deal of what we learn and whatwecreate,and the mechanismsbehindsuchlearning are powerful.


Notall remindingsare basedin situations that are so patently similar as one fast-food restaurant to another. Remindings can occur between events that have nothingat all in commonat first glance. The potential powerof remindingis thatit allows one to relate the consciously unrelatable by the use of unconscious processes. And then, new reminding in hand, one can begin to consciously wonder whatbroughtit to mind and what there is that is similar about the new situation and the old situation. Reminding can cause wondering, and wondering is very important to creativity.

Imagine,for example, that you are watching the movie West Side Story for thefirst time. It might remind you of Romeo and Juliet. There is something about West Side Story that calls up the thought of Romeo and Juliet. You may not be able to describe just whatit is, since the reminding occursquite spontaneously and unconsciously. It is up to you to find a connection and explain how the two dramasrelate. This is where the understanding cycle swings into action. Seeing a connection between these twostories doesn't require a genius, but it does require someone who has been paying attention at more than a superficial level. The settings are different, the circumstances are different, even the out-

comeis different, but they are essentially the same story. In order to understand that, one must have characterized the


The Natural Creative Process

original story in terms that were abstract enough, devoid of details, but full of high-level characterizations such as goals, relationships, feelings, and results of actions, so that a new

incarnation of that story could still be seen as the same. The story line of Shakespeare’s play about rival families differs greatly from that of a musical aboutracial gang warfare. There is a great deal of obvious detail that could discourage us from connecting Romeo and Juliet to West Side Story. What is something similar about the twostories? It might only be the theme of two young lovers who are denied happiness because of the conflicts of the groups to which they belong. We could phraseit a thousand ways:love striving against evil; individuality versus social obligation; mutual understanding trampled by mass hate. There are quite a numberof thematic structures that we could use to characterizethe similarity between these two stories.

But it is doubtful that we are born with such high-level, abstract labels in our heads, or even with a special sensitivity for assessing the quality of others’ relationships. How do weget such labels to put on particular experiences? Are labels such as

those that might be used to label West Side Story inborn?It

seems unlikely. More likely is that we build them up as we growolder. We learn certain things about the world which help us make connectionsandsee relationships between very different stories and events. And welearn to label our experiences, quite unconsciously, in termsof abstractions suchas love thwarted by rival families resulting in death of the lovers. What are the mechanismsof the remindingsweuse in making such connections? How can weconnectstories with similar underlving themes but radically different contexts? How does our memorychangeasa result of new stories and information? The trouble with answering these questions is that people aren't really equipped to examine the mechanismsoftheir own remindings. Consciousness does not extend to an awareness of how we encodeor retrieve experiences. Even when we are asked to remember somethingactively and consciously,it is hard to describe what we do.

Failure and Reminding

The power and sophistication of high-level remindings is hard to describe in a theoretical way. All the most powerful intelligence processes remain difficult to describe. The processing we do to find remindings is completely unconscious. Most of our remindings pass in and out of our consciousness withouttheslightest effort on our part. Sometimes the remindings we are least aware of are the mostuseful. Theyare relationships that literally suggest themselves, as if a little man were sitting on our shouldersaying, ‘Hey, look at that—that’s just like the time you did such-and-such.”’

A Look AT SOME REMINDINGS The best waytoillustrate what I mean by remindingsat a high level of abstraction may be to provide some examples. One of the fortunate things about being a professor at a university is that one has no shortage of smart people to tap for sources of examples of creative remindings. In our researchat the Yale Artificial Intelligence Laboratory we have focused on the phenomenon of reminding. We wantedto get a better insight into what the reminding process was for and howit worked, with a view to modelingit in our AI programs. Wesent out computer mail requesting people to send in their remindings. In a short time we had collected hundreds of “reminding experiences” of the various people who workedin the lab. Here are some of the remindings we collected, together with comments ontheir significance. 1. QWERTYand the Newlyweds’ Ham

Initial Story: A student was reading Seymour Papert’s book Mindstorms in which he explains how the standard QWERTYkeyboard wasoriginally designed. [QWERTY is the nameof the standard typewriter keyboard now in use; it comes from the first six letters of the keyboard.] The original intent of designing the keyboard was to make typing as slow as possible in order to keep the keys from



The Natural Creative Process

jamming. The author pointed out that people today try to claim that the QWERTY keyboardis a great benefit to typists in thatit makes typing easier and faster. The author's point is that people tend to assume that the way things are is the way they are supposed to be, regardless of the actual history of a particular set of ideas or humaninventions. Reminding: Papert’s comments reminded the student of a story about a newlywed couple who were having the motherof the bride over for a dinner of roast ham. The wife took the ham outoftherefrigerator andwithgreat effort cut off the protruding bone and a small amount of meat, which she threwout. She put the ham in a baking pan andthen into the oven. Her new husband assumed there must have been something very wrong with the end she discarded, since it is normal to keep a full roast ham intact. But the discarded end seemed fine, so he asked her whyshe cutit off. She answered that that’s just the way you make ham, and that her mother always cut off the end before sticking it in the baking pan. So when the mother arrived, he asked her why she cut off the ends of hams, and

she replied that that’s just the way you make ham andthat her mother alwaysdid it that way. So he called the grandmother and asked her, and she explained that in all these manyyears, she had never gotten around to buying herself a big enough pan.

Many remindings are actually examples of how people attempt to understand unusual circumstances. The student in the story here was attempting to understand the argumentof the author. The best way to understand what someonehassaid is to cast it in light of other things that you have already understood. This student must have had a class of events in her mind that we could label times when people do things without understanding why, but just because they have always done them that way. The student understood the story about the OWERTYkevboard in terms of conclusions she had previously drawn from the story about the ham. Whenwe understand something one way,it is often difficult to see it in anyother way. The student saw the QWERTYstory as an instance of people being too foolish to realize why some-

Failure and Reminding

thing is the wayit is. The student wasn’t remindedof anything that related to the fact that QWERTY worked as a method of slowing people down. The authorwas, of course, centering on exactly the aspect of the QWERTYissue that triggered her reminding. Her reminding exemplifies how she understood the story. To understand we must be able to contrast and compare the first story with the second so asto be able to speculate on what each hasto say about the other. 2. A Consumer’s Well-warranted Skepticism

Initial Story: A person saw a TV commercial for video games. The womanin the commercial was blathering about the free video game one could get when one bought twoat the normalprice. RemindingA: The observation that the flip side of a hit record usually has an awful and unheard-ofsong onit. Reminding B: A theater’s free play for subscribers, which is usually one they can’t sell out. Reminding C: Movie and book excerpts that are often the only part worth seeing or reading. Reminding D: The strawberries on the top of a basket are always the best.

Here we see an example of how weattemptto understand by using what we know, with new information to confirm our beliefs. This person obviously believes that anything that is free is worthless. We have adages that conform to suchbeliefs and weare remindedof these adages whenthey apply. You get

what you pay for or There is no such thing as a free lunch

come to mindhere. To create and maintain beliefs such as this, we must constantly be on the lookoutfor new “facts” to add to our collection that will confirm what we know.Doingthis



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requires that we be able to see new events as instancesof general categories that we have constructed for ourselves. 3. The Optician and The Winds of War Initial Story: After several years without ever having had any bad encounters waiting for the bus at night, a student had a badscare. She wasin a bad neighborhood and was nervous about being mugged.Instead. she was hit in the face by a snowball, which had the result of breaking her glasses. The next day, she went to anoptician in another bad neighborhood to have her glasses fixed, but while there she beganto feel uneasy. She was the only person other than the young man and young woman who workedthere, and they were acting strangely. She wasstill jittery from the night before, and so she decided that she wanted to leave. The problem wasthat the very people she was afraid of had her glasses. This meant she was going to have to ask them to give her her glasses back, and she was afraid of them. Nevertheless, she asked for them and, of course, got them back.

Reminding: In Wouk’s Winds of War, Natalie, trying to get out of Nazithreatened Europe, goes to the Lufthansaoffice to pick up tickets. She has to give them her passport (her major protection as a Jew and an American), but feels reasonably safe until the Lufthansa employees give her a form to fill out that asks her religion. This shakes her, and she decides that flying Lufthansa is even more

dangerous thanits alternatives. She wants to get out of the ticket office and abort the whole transaction, but the Germansstill have

her passport. She asks for it back, and they refuse to giveit to her at first. but she finally manages to get out of the Lufthansaoffice, safely and with her passport.

The similarity between these twostoriesis striking, down to the details of the feelings and attitudes on the parts of the participants. We must have very complex and detailed memories indeed to be able to store andretrieve such intricate stories on the basis of a set of rather subtle details. The value of the remindinginthis caseis fairly clear. By storing information

Failure and Reminding

about the problemsof others, even if they arefictional characters, we can learn from their actions. When our own circum-

stances match those of people we have heard about, we can conclude that there is cause to modify our behavior so as to learn from the commonality of experience. Here the student presumably learned a new rule of thumb: Hold on to your valuable possessions when youare frightened. Without them you may not be able to get away. Learning and remindingare strongly related. When weexperience something twice, either ourselves or vicariously, we

want to be able to profit from the experiences. We cannot do this if we fail to recall one experience while processing the other. We don’t always know whywearethinking of whatever happens to be on our mindsat the time, but reminding goes on whether wetake advantageofit or not. Thereis usually an important connection to be found, and each connection in turn can bring withit still other remindings. We simply have to put ourselves in a mental or psychological position to make interesting and useful connections to what our minds have stored away. 4. Casablanca

Initial Story: A man met a woman,andtheytalked about life for a few hours and beganto feel very close to each other. But she was married and wasafraid to go further. The man went backto his hotel, and

the womanto her home. Later the manreceived call from the womansayingthat she had to see him beforeheleft on a plane the next morning, but that she wasn’t sure she knew howto get away from home without causing trouble. Reminding: The man found himself thinking about the movie Casablanca and Woody.Allen’s related movie, Play It Again, Sam. In both of those movies a man says to a womanheis in love with as she is about to leave her husband whois going on a plane, “If you don’t go now,you will regret it, maybe not now, and maybenot tormorrow, but soon andfor the rest of yourlife.” Woody Allen says the



The Natural Creative Process

line and thensaysthat he has always wanted tosay it. The manin our story found himself remindedof the line and used it as Woody Allen did.

What can we makeof remindings suchas the onejust given? The circumstances are very similar—planes, extramarital affairs, life decisions, and so on, enterintoall three cases. Human

inemoryis a cluster of experiences, each labeled in complex ways. These labels allow for the retrieval of relevant experiences to come to mindat the right time, to give us guidance, and to help us learn.

Tools for Reminding Reminding occurs randomly, or so it seems. But what if we were able to control our remindings? I don’t mean bythis that we want to control remindingsso that they fail to occur. What if we could cause more remindings to occur? Then we would have more food for thought and morepossibilities to compare. Creativity thrives on such possibilities. If we let our minds wander, we can comeacross eventsin

our past that allow us to comparecurrent eventsto onesin our past. What we want is to be able to take full advantage of history, both personalhistory and cultural history. Thereis an old adage that those who ignore the past are condemnedto repeat it. It is a very important adage for people who wantto be creative. Knowing howa similar situation turned out in the past can enable you to do it differently in the future. Just knowing that vou want to do it differently can often be impetus enough for something newto happen. The problem with reminding is that it is hard to do con-

sciously in the normal way. That is, when one has a problem,

asking the question of oneself, Has anythinglike this happened to me before? maynot be very productive in producingremindings. Answering it depends upon having cleverly characterized the previous possibly applicable situations in such a

Failure and Reminding

wayas to make them seem the sameasthe problem nowbeing considered. In other words, when processing the earlier situation one would have had to haveanticipated in what wayit was related to the future situation. In other words,it requires luck to bring old relevant situations to mind. Obviously we don’t want to depend upon luckforcreativity, although it is equally obvious that that is precisely what most people do. Whatis the solution? You must learn to go through past history methodically looking for what you need. Here again, useful remindings depend uponasking the right ques-

tion in the right wayat the right time. I. Era-based Reminding

One of the most useful ways of controlling reminding is to attempt to put yourself in the position of thinking about a question in a place and time different than the one youarein. Thus, instead of asking yourself if you ever have seen any situations like X before, ask yourself if you ever experienced anything like X before when you lived in place P at time T. Specifying the question in this way changesyourpoint of view considerably. It is important to ask yourself if you have seen something like this when you were a studentin college, or when you werein the sixth grade, or when you were a new mother, or when you got your first job, and so on. An era is an ill-defined concept, but essentially it can be defined by where you lived, who your friends were, what job you had, or whatever. The key point is that asking yourself a specific question such as, Have I seen somethinglike X during time TP allows you to think about T, and new thoughts and experiences that may be relevant can come to mind. To take a simple example,let’s think about chairs. It is easy to imagine a chair and then to say some things about what chairs you like and don’t like. Now,let’s add the idea of a chair that you experienced while you werein college or a chair you liked when you were very small. Suddenly,if you think about these things, your concept of chair changes. You can think



The Natural Creative Process

about the idea of chair differently. Also, you might find yourself thinking about other things from thoseeras in yourlife. When I performed this experiment on myself, I found myself thinking about a chair that somefriendsstole in college, and then I found myself wondering whykids in college feel that it is all right to do things that they would never do as adults. Suddenly, because the idea of terrorism was on my mind from having written some of the later chapters of this book, I began to wonder how muchofterrorism is due to the

ages of the terrorists and the lack of responsibility that one can feel at that age. Of course, maybe that is why they are chosen by people who are not so young. In any case, mypointis that thoughts from anywherecanlead to anything,so the ideais to put yourself in other placesto facilitate this. One wayto dothis is to attempt to examine current concepts with referenceto past eras in your ownlife. 2, Failure-based Reminding For reasons that we havealready discussed, people remember their failures. Really what they rememberis their expectation failures, so they can recall successes when they thought they might fail and forget failures that they expected to occur. It follows, therefore, that if one wants to be reminded, one ought to try to think about failures, since that is one of the labels that the mind naturally uses. Howeasy is it to construct a failure in one’s mind that matches a failure that one has actually hadP Faced with a problem suchas a job changeor a problem with one’s child as we discussed earlier, one can, in addition to asking the ques-

tion above, attemptto find situations that bear nodirectrelationship to the problem being thought about and attemptto find a relationship. This can be done by characterizing the original situation in abstract termsso that othersituations characterized in the same terms can cometo mind. As an example, the problem with one’s child can be characterized as a failure of someone onecares about to do whatyou

Failure and Reminding

want, or as a failure of a child to do what’s best for himself, or

a failure to achieve a long-term goal, and so on. These abstract characterizations, when given a context, can bring old situations to mind that bear on the current situation. The problem is to establish the right characterization of the problem. This is done by thinking about the subject at hand apart from its particulars. That is, only goals and frustrations of goals are considered. Consider again the plot of Romeo and Juliet, this time in an abstract way having only to do with goals. We might characterize this story as a situation where a man and woman have a commongoal, whichis frustrated by the fact that they are part of warring groups. Eventually, one of them hears about the death of the other and kills himself. This characterization is not too far from how one might characterize the play West Side Story. In fact, viewed this wayit is obvious that the first play was the inspiration for the second. Creativity by reminding occurs in this way. If we wanted to write anotherplay, say one about corporate mergers, we could usethe basic plot of Romeo and Juliet to come up with one. Theideais that to create something new,we can take something old, characterize it abstractly in termsof goals and results of attempts to achieve those goals, and we have something with which to work. In the same way, in this example seeing West Side Story would remind you of Romeo and Juliet once you made such a goal-based, failure-based characterization. Thus, in orderto bring old situations to mind, one can use such characterizations. Also, one can use such characterizations as

a base from which to create new things. 3. Explanation-based Reminding

A good explanation will bring to mind othersituations characterized in memory by the same explanation. For this reason, if you want to be reminded of something that might help you work on a given problem,it is important to attempt to



The Natural Creative Process

explain the difficulties in that problem. Such explanations need not be unique or even believable. As long as you can come up with some abstract characterization that explains why someone has acted the way he has, other memories with that same explanation will come to mind. lor example, if you want to think about issues in world events, and you want to be creative about, say, the situation in Nicaragua, you should attempt to explain what Reagan, the Sandinistas, and any other relevant actors might have in mind. explain Reagan's actions as an attempt to control the spread of communism, and Vietnam comes to mind. Explain them as the attempt to stop communist expansion in Latin America,

and Cuba comes to mind. Explain them as an attempt to curb an aggressive nation’s imperialistic plans, and the 1936 Munich accords come to mind. Explain them as an attempt to control the production of bananas, and you get another rangeofremindings. The same technique works from the other side. Seeing the Sancdinistas as true revolutionaries brings 1776 to mind. Seeing the U.S. as foreigners taking over another country brings Russia and Afghanistan to mind. Mvpoint is not that any of these remindingsis correct. Any reminding is good to have. The more the better since one might turn out to be relevant to the problem at hand. Mypoint is simply that whenone tries to see actors in different ways, by hypothesizing about what motivates their actions and thus what explains their actions, other situations that you have characterized with the same explanations will come to mind. Some of these remindings may be useful and relevant for a more careful examination of what is going on and may point to

solutions that have workedin the past that might be adapted to the current case. To be remindedin this way, then, one must attempt to make numerous explanations for any phenomenonthatoneis interested in. Each of these explanations will bring to mind previous situations where these explanations have been used. And the examination of the current situation and the prior situation should give some newinsight into one of them.

4, Goal-based Reminding Another way to be remindedis to focus on the particular goal that is being pursued. If you are worried about how to make moneyfrom an enterprise you are currently working on, for example, step back from that particular case and consider making moneyin general. Think about whom you know who has made moneyand howtheydid it. Old explanations about money-making are likely to be stored in memory under the goal to which they relate. Such old patterns mayat first seem irrelevant. So what if Rockefeller had an oil monopoly? That was another time and anotherplace. But how did he do what he did? Whatcould there possibly be in common betweenhis situation and yours? The answeris that it is important to ask such questions. Adapting old methods of reaching the same goal to current conditions is a very important method of creativity.

do. Feature-based Reminding Whenoneneedsa good idea, one wayto getit is to focus on one particular aspectof that situation and think only about that aspect.


You want to know how todeal with John. Well, John can be seen as many things. He may have red hair, he may be a Catholic, be of Irish extraction, be tall and thin and love to

party. Seen as a whole,this entire package maybe stereotype from which only mundaneideas will come to mind. But seen as individual features, more patterns can cometo mind. Think of redheads whoare notIrish. Think of other thin people. Think of people with John’s love of parties who are otherwise nothing like John. What happensis that other people whoshare only one feature with John may give someinsight, even if it is only the insight that comes by comparing opposites. The problem here is to get ideas to think about. This is done, in the case of feature-based reminding, by examining features apart from the package of which they are normally a part.


The Natural Creative Process

6. Feature-intersection Reminding The combinations of sweet and sour, needing and nothaving, wisdom and money, and so on, are themselves unitary indices. That is, their combination is one label. So one wayto get ideas is to combine two unrelated concepts and ask to what extent these or similar concepts have appeared togetherbefore. The mind naturally does this sort of thing, so that saying chair and banana can bring to mindstories that you knowthat relate the two. Pick any two things, think for a few seconds,

and you will usually find some story or situation coming to mind. Of course, that story may not be applicable to what you want to think about, but whatever comesto mind can beuseful later on, as we shall see. Reminding Tools Tool 1. Era-based reminding: Ask yourself about past eras in your life. Tool 2. Failure-based reminding: Ask yourself about failures to achieve certain goals. Tool 3. Explanation-based reminding: Explain to yourself actions of others that confuse you. Tool 4. Goal-based reminding: Think about how others achieved what vou would like to achieve. Tool 5. Feature-based reminding: Find categories to place people in, and think about that category in order to find out about the individual. Tool 6. Feature-intersection reminding: Pick two things, and combine themto find remindings that relate the two.


Our storehouse of remindingsis also our storehouse of answers, and creative people are more concerned with questions than answers. What are remindings the answer to? Theyare the answer to the question that comes from an anomaly. We wonder why something happened, we proposea possible explana-

Failure and Reminding

tion, and the remindings weget are examplesof other, similar kinds of experiences that we can nowtry and relate to our current experience. In this way we can create a new generali-

zation which mayultimately replace our original explanation. My favorite example of this is the steak and haircut story: John and Bill were talking, and John was complaining to Bill that no matter how manytimes heaskedhis wife to make his steak rare, she just couldn’t seem not to overcookit. Bill responded that this reminded him of a time, thirty years ago, when he wasin England and asked for a very short haircut, and the barber just wouldn’t cut it as short as he wanted him to. The interesting aspect of this reminding is that it is crosscontextual. What does steak cooking haveto do with haircutting? Why would Bill ever have foundthe haircutting story in his memory while in the process of considering the steakcooking story? The answerthat seems most plausible is that he must have tried to explain the anomaly of the English barber to himself at the time. He must havesaid to himself that the

barber was certainly capable of cutting his hair shorter and

that he was paid to cut hair, so the only explanation for his behavior must have beenthat the barberthoughtBill’s request to be too extreme. Hairstyles wereshorterin the UnitedStates than they were in Englandat that time, but the barber probably thought the overall effect would be awful. How do we knowthatBill explainedthis situation to himself this way? We knowthis because,while listening to John’s story, he musthavetried to explain John’s wife’s anomalous behavior in the same way. Whyelse would he have been reminded?’ Whatdoesthis tell us? It tells us that explanations are themselves one of the kindsof labels that the mind uses. Bill must have labeled his barber story with the expectation failure won't do what he was asked to when he could and should, and

with the explanation must think the request is too extreme. Then, whenthe steak story was told to him, he had the same expectation failure and created the same explanation. Since his explanation was a label that had been used previously, he was reminded.



The Natural Creative Process

And the creative part here? The creativity is in the construction of the explanation. The value of the creativity, in this case, is to fix a very simple expectation failure and replace it with an expectation that will be more accurate. This may not seem like much—all Bill now knows is that the next time he wants something that is extreme he may have to find a plan other than just asking for it. But it is from such local fixes that people become more capable of operating in the world.

QUESTIONS AND EXPLANATIONS Explanation is a distinctive feature of humanintelligence. People explain their experiences to themselves and to others everyday. We ask a friend whyhe orshe was missing for a day. Wesee a crowd formingin the street with no apparentcause. Wetry to explain a bad grade on a paper. We wonder whya political candidate has taken a certain position on an issue. We try to understand each other’s feelings about certain things,as well as our actions in certain situations.

If you want to understand your own experiences,beliefs,or feelings, you have to ask yourself a question. (Whyis that man smiling? Why did John ask meto do that whenBill could have done it betterP Whyis the airport located whereit isP Why do telephonecalls still cost ten cents in Connecticut?) We cannot teach ourselves anything without the ability to explain and to understand the explanationsof others. By explanation I mean to include hypotheses, theories, descriptions, beliefs about causality, and accounts of how things work, how things evolved, and why things are the way they are. Any explanation you construct for yourself doesn’t have to be the correct, complete, or absolutely true explanation, butit

must make sense to you, based on what you know. If you cannot construct an explanation that at least makes senseto vou, then you can’t understand what’s going on, and you need to ask a question.

Failure and Reminding

In a way, there is no such thing as a complete explanation. You can’t know every reason that something happened. The explanation process is an inherently creative process that tends to correct itself by continually discovering new anomalies related to the original anomaly.


Perhaps the first thing to understand about explanation is that it is a commonplace form of creativity in all people. Explanation is going on all the time, but not every explanation is wildly creative or instructive. We do a great. deal of explaining without learning a thing of interest. Sometimes we explain things to make sure that they are not of interest.

You might think that the difference between the everyday kind of creativity and the kind weare usually more impressed by amounts to nothing more than the belief that some domains of inquiry are the preserve ofcreativity while others are not. Nothing could be further from the truth. Creativity is coming up with a new idea on your own. Having yourcreativity be recognized by othersas true creativity depends uponthe acceptability of your idea and the area of inquiry in which that idea occurred. We award thetitle creative to scientists and artists. To sports handicappers and farmers we are somewhat less expansivein our use of the term. The premise hereisit is all the same process. How do we modify an explanation over time so that it becomesgeneralized andcausesthe learning of a new hypothesis or rule to occur? When doesa resultant explanation cause us to drop a line of inquiry as a target of further learning? How is an explanation pursued tothesatisfaction of the explainer? How does aninitially anomalous situation become no longer anomalous? If we can begin to answerthese questions, we can begin to take a look at creativity with a view to increasing it in ourselves.



The Natural Creative Process


All efforts at explanation should, and inevitably do, tend toward the goal of generalization. World events and humanbehavior are highly complex, which is why creating explanations and theories is such a challenge. This complexity means that much of the work of explaining must involve generalizations. We don’t just seek to know whya given person does what he does (althoughwesettle for it if that’s the best we can do). We also want to create a generalized explanation or hypothesis that will hold true in similar cases or situations. John maylike to date only teenage girls, but is this also true of all truck drivers? Bill quit the last three jobs he had. Was the reason something I can fix, or would he quit working for meas well? We try to make rules of thumb for the behavior of events, especially events involving human motivation, in such a way as to create rules that will hold in circumstancesother than the particular situations we have encountered. Whatdoes generalization involve? A generalization takes a minimum of data and makes a theory or a value judgment from it, with the implication that it will hold in all similar situations. A generalization can be formedfrom just onecase, although such generalizations are rarely accurate or useful. Think of the last time you caught someone(or were caught vourself) making a broad generalization. The context may have been an argument or debate of some kind. Everyone makes an outrageous generalization from timeto time. If a family from an exotic country moves in next door and seems to manifest some strange habits, it is easy to find yourself believing that all the people from that country behavein that way, even though you maynotsee yourself as representative of your countrymen’s behavioratall. What makesa generalization broad is usually the paucity of data, or the spuriousness of the alleged connection.It is not necessarily wrong to make generalizations based upon one

Failure and Reminding

case. It is usually inaccurate, but that doesn’t makeit wrong. The mind must start somewhere.It is better to make a wrong generalization and bewilling to correctit than never to make the generalization at all. Making a generalization puts you in the position of creating your own theory. Creating your own theory is creative, and creativity can becomehabit-forming. One must be willing to abandon one’s generalizations as soon as they have been formed, however. When you meet another person from your neighbor’s country, you will attempt to form generalizations based on the two of them, abandoning earlier ones made on thebasis of only your neighbor. If we keep an open mind andexercise ourcreative potential, we find it easy to form new generalizations and abandon old ones. Often those around us encourage us to do the opposite of what I am suggesting here. Our teachersusually tell us to be careful in forming our own new generalizations and to hold firmly to those generalizations given to us by the society in which we live. Human creativity depends upon exactly the opposite process from whatweare taughtin school. One must freely create and freely abandon generalizations. Oliver Wendell Holmessaid, “No generalization is worth a damn,including this one.’”’ He was right on both counts.


What good would the understandingcycle beif it didn’t yield us a better explanation or generalization that would be of use in understanding future events? The value of forming explanations and theories about the world andits events seemsclear: we want our current experiences always to be useful in interpreting future experiences. In short, we want to be able to predict the future. This is what gives us an edge overthe other animals. We want to turn an unknowninto a known, orat least

into a not-so-unknown. If we accidentally succeed at some task, we need to explain just why, so we can doit again in the future. Any explanation



The Natural Creative Process

we create at the moment will be useful in the future, even if

only negatively, by being rejected in favor of a better explanation. If we don't form explanations at every stage, there is no progress, no knowledge base, nothing to evolve. We need to knowwhat aspects of an event are significant. This is the only way we can make our current experiences useful in the future. Creativity depends on our ability to generate explanations for things that confuse us and to store those explanationsin memoryfor later use. Storing something for later use is quite simply the reminding process. Why do we need to rememberthings for the future? Because in orderto profit in the future from our current and past experiences, we have to explain whatforces or actionsactually playeda role in the events we experience. Just because we get what we want from a given action doesn’t mean wecaneasily repeat what we did later. We have to find the connection between our action and the result, and the connectionsin the

world are never crystal clear. A great many concepts that might appear to be significant indices for an event,like, for example, the day and time that that event occurred, may have nothing to do with the success of the outcome andthusare often quite irrelevant to the replication of that outcome.If we want to sort out the relevant elements of a process, we have to use our ability to explain events and humanactions. For example, if we make a good stock purchase, we might wish to knowif our success was due to our keen insight, our broker, the day of the week, the industry our stock belongsto, the nature of the market, the weather, or whatever. Did our

original reasons for buying the stock have anything to do with the real reasons for our success? Or was the stock’s performance due to mere happenstance?

My uncle, who was a successful football coach, always wore the same brownsuit to the games. I assumethat he knewthat this suit was not the reason for his success as a coach, but he

still liked to hold constant every element and every process of his life, just in case it had some bearing onreality. It is easy to see how explanation can be very close to superstition.

Failure and Reminding

A common example of superstitious explanation is the method people use for selecting numbers in numbers-based lotteries. They count such things as how manypeople werein front of them as they stoodin line at the subway, or how many people in the subway car were wearing hats. Some people spend their off-hours during the dayin search of “significant” numbers.If an office employee mentionsin passingthat his car was towed and hehad to pay $270in old parkingtickets to get it back, it is fairly certain that any serious lottery player who hearsthis will scratch out 2-7-0 on his next lottery ticket. Even though (or perhaps because) the lottery is an entirely random process that can be explained only by the calculable probability of one in several million chances to win, people still have to look for “significance” or meaning in the numbers they select. Even in lotteries people attempt to explain their successes and failures. They look for regularities even where they don’t really exist.


Sometimestheseregularities are critical to find. We often have to make a decision about something whichis, in essence, a prediction. And we wantour predictions to be accurate. How do we make these predictions? Often we use reminding and explanation. Here is one of my favorite examples, this time taken from my own experience: I am frequently invited to lecture and choose those opportunities that have some nice feature associated with them. So, whenI was invited to lecture

in Puerto Rico, I agreed to do it in the winter and scheduled a week’s vacation immediately following the lecture. The night after the lecture I drove to a resort town, checked into a hotel, and took a walk along the beach. I was upset to see a sign on the beach which said DANGER. SWIMMING PROHIBITED. STRONG UNDERTOW.I had, of course, intended to swim



The Natural Creative Process

and was upset to find out that I had selected a hotel with an unswimmable beach. The next morning I took another walk and sawa different sign, this one at the end of the hotel property, saving DANGER. DO NOT GO BEYOND THIS POINT. END OF

HOTEL PROPERTY. On walking back to my room, I passed the part of the beach with the NO SWIMMING sign and sawten or twenty people swimming in that area. I found myself thinking of this road sign in Connecticut: These signs appear everywhere on the Connecticut highways. Theyinitially startle a driver who has never seen them, but you get used to them after a while and learn to ignore them. The roads with these signs are not closed at all; in fact, they are usually full of traffic.

Further. these signs appear on almost every major highwayin


Clearly, every driver in Connecticut must explain these signs to himself at some time or other. He must do so because he is making a prediction about whetheror not he will be able to continue without getting arrested or stuck in a hole. After

Illustration 1

Failure and Reminding

he discovers that nothing dire occurs when he ignores these signs, he can just continue to ignore them, or he can wonder

why the sign wastherein thefirst place. Being the wonderingtype,I had constructed an explanation for these signs. I decided, whether rightly or wrongly I don't know, that the signs were placed there to get the state of Connecticut off the hook in case of an accident as a result of unfinished construction on the highway. The signs were an attempt to limit the liability of the state in case of accident. In any case that was my explanation.

And whywas I remindedofthis sign in Puerto Rico? Because I had constructed the same explanation again. I had realized that these signs weren’t to be takenseriously. I had predicted that I would not drownif I swam in the oceanatthatspot. This prediction was based on the fact that the ocean wasfull of nondrowning swimmersandthat I had now seen two DANGER signs put up bythe hotel, neither of which had made great deal of sense to me. Theonly reason for the signs, I figured, was to limit the legal liability of the hotel in case of accident. And so, having constructed an explanation, and having used that explanation as a label before, I was reminded. Of course, I had already explained the circumstances in Puerto Rico. I understood that the hotel didn’t want to be sued if someone drownedand predicted that I could swim there safely. What was the use of the reminding? In onesense, it was to help me makea decision. But the mind is more economical than that. It doesn’t like to do things that have no lasting import.

The mindnaturally wants to learn from its experiences. The mind provides memoriesto think about, in the form of remindings, so that one can come up with newideas, newthings to think about, new conclusions to draw. Whatis the conclusion

that should be drawn from comparing the hotel and the state of Connecticut? Should the signs of all large institutions be ignoredP How about only those concerning potential risks? The mind demandsa new generalization, but at the same time,

the mind will do you the favor of reminding youof this new



The Natural Creative Process

generalization later, when it is appropriate, so that you can continue to modify and hone yourbeliefs. This part of the process occurred about two years later, whenI was living for a time in Paris. I saw a sign at the end of the tracks in the Paris subway placed nextto a flight ofstairs leading from the platform to the tracks below, whichsaid DANGER OF ELECTROCUTION. DO NOT GO DOWN THESE STEPS.

Myfirst thought was to ignorethis sign, since I had decided to ignore the danger signsofall large institutions that were placed thereto limit legalliability. But, it occurred to me that that was not the intentof this sign. This one was for real. How did I know?I didn’t. I just made a prediction. And where did that prediction come fromP Well, I had grown up in New York City and ridden the subways quite often. I recalled a numberof electrocuted-by-the-third-rail stories, and I assumed that they applied in Paris as well. Of course, J had no needto go downthosesteps, so the decision was easy to make. But it was difficult to stop thinking about the general issue of which signs to ignore and whichto pay attention to. And it is reasonable to assume that moresigns will cause me to continue to wonderaboutall this in the future. The understanding cycle neverstops.

Anomaly + Explanation-= Creative Thought

Understanding depends upon not understanding. Andit follows that creativity depends upon having failed to understand. Creative thought becomespossible only whenthere is something anomalous to think about. In order to cometo know, one must want to know. In order to want to know, one must find

things one needs to know. You can’t look for explanations, for newideas, or for new generalizations unless the old ones have been found inadequate to account for some anomaly. The ironyofall this is that the mechanismsthat one needs to learn in orderto be creative are already there. We are used to not understanding; indeed we have been doingit since we were children. As children we had to get used to recovering from understanding failures. We could cope quite well when we found things confusing, anomalous, and in need of explanation. The trick to becoming morecreative as an adult is simply to do consciously whatasa child you could do without thinking about it. And of course, as an adult you can begin to apply this creative thinking to areas where the payoff is bigger. One way to become morecreative is to find anomalies

where you hadn’t seen them before. To be creative in an area, you mustlearnto find anomalies in that area and make expla-


The Natural Creative Process

nations of those anomalies. New ideas will start flowing. What does it mean to try to find anomalies? It means taking the experiences of a normal day and turning them around, treating themas if they were new. It means discovering why the normal day wasn’t normalatall. l‘inding anomalies is the exact opposite of following scripts. In following a script, one does various actions because onehas always done them and because oneis expected to do them.For example, in a restaurant, you don’t usually ask whytheinstitution of tipping exists. You just leave a tip becauseit’s partof what vou have learned to do in restaurants, provided, of

course, that vou weresatisfied with the service. The scriptis there to get the waiter paid for his service. And usually when one follows a script, one can avoid having to speculate on the origins of that script. Thus, we need not think about the custom of giving tips; the advisability of this method of paying emplovees; or the relative merits of the European system of paying for service whether you liked that service or not, versus the American one, where you might withhold a tip if the service were extremely poor. On the other hand, if you went through vour dayactively looking for anomalies, it might occur to vou that the phenomenonof tipping is anomalous in some way. Finding anomalies doesn’t always require somethingto be overtly crazy or absurd. By itself, nothing is or is not intrinsically anomalous. Anomaly depends onus, on ourpointof view, on what our expectations are. We can decide to see nearly anything as anomalous. When wedothis, we effectively take active control of the understanding cycle, employing it in situations where previously it operated only unconsciously and passively. To find the world anomalous, you need only ask a question about the normal course of daily life, instead of just accepting it. Asking a question brings on more questions, and can cause seemingly unrelated things to come to mind during the course of speculating about them. These unrelated things can be the source of creativity since the examination of old thoughtsin

Anomaly + Explanation = Creative Thought

new contexts is a large part of what creativity is about. Any subject will do as a starting point. The fact that everything can be anomalous means that we can be creative about almost everything. To find anomalies, we use ourtheories and beliefs about what people do and whythey do whattheydo in order to explain particular situations.


One of the most important types of anomaly we attempt to understandin daily life is the anomaly of other people’s behavior. When a person does something that we cannot under-

stand, we demand an explanation from him or her, or we

attempt to explain it by trying to figure out what the person must have believed in order to behave the wayheorshedid. To be unable to understand, in this context, means that we cannot imagine whatthe belief is that might be held, or if we can, we cannot imagine why he would hold such a belief. Explanation, then, in this context, meansfinding a belief, or a belief that is behind a belief. Wondering why someone did something can mean wondering on variety of levels all at once. Different anomalies trigger different questions. Consciously or not, most people attemptto create theories about the reasoning that drives the decision-making processes of the people andinstitutions that concern them.In this way, people are being creative all the time. They are continually upgrading andrevising their own individual models of human behavior, continually explaining why things have happened the way they have. Our ready-made answers about particular events or actions are meant to account for previous anomalies

we have noticed and asked questions about. In order to understand someone’s actions, we consciously or unconsciously ask ourselves the following questions: Whatresult do they expect from their action? Whatplan is their action a part of?



The Natural Creative Process

What goal do they have in mind? What do they believe that would cause them to have that goal? These questions are so basic because most actions by an individual, group, or institution ordinarily fit into the following paradigm: Belief




Plan Action

I¢xplanation involves attempting tofill in the missing piecesof the belief-goal-plan-action chain. When we don’t understand what someone was trying to accomplish, we attempt to figure it out. When we don’t know why someone would have an odd goal, we need to figure out the kinds of things he wants in general. Wedo this all quite naturally, without thinking much about it, when confronted with the actions of those we want

to understand. Creativity depends upon our selection of the things we choose to explain. If we explain why the man atthe door wants to hand us areligious leaflet, we may learn about him or about people of his general category by thinking about suchissues. The same kind of thinking, when applied to a consumer’s behavior, might lead to the design of new consumerservices. When applied to a country’s behavior it might lead to new political theories. Creativity lies in applying what youalready knowin anew context or arena. But in order to do that, one

must become aware of what one does naturally all the time, without thinking about it. Making our natural unconsciouscreative processes into conscious creative processesis the name of the game.

Anomaly + Explanation = Creative Thought

Our Natural Creative Explanations

When someone does something wedid notanticipate, either because we simply did notpredict it or because we predicted something different, we need to explain it. We ask ourselves if this is something that we would originally have expected them to do. When wehearthat John was angry so he wentfor a ride to cool off, if this is something he always does, we have very

little to explain or be concerned with. If this is something he has never done,orif it is something he has done before with disastrous effect, we might indeed worry. Knowing what to concern ourselves with and whatto ignore is part of understanding a given individual. Weseek to understandthe reasons behind various decisions that are made by others. When we understand them to be completely predictable in principle—that is, when werealize that we could have predicted them if we had only thought about it—we can go on to other concerns. We neednotrevise our theory of that person or that institution. But when we cannot quickly explain someone’s action, when the answeris not in our memories, then we mustconstruct an explanation.

We must attemptto find out why our theory was inadequate or incomplete. Usually there is no “correct” explanation. What wearereally saying to ourselvesin these situationsis that we would not have acted that way ourselves, so the person whom wecare about must hold some belief we don’t ourselves hold. In finding out whatthis belief is, we either just want to know whatit is or we want to influence a change if we believe that the belief in question is wrong. The technique involved in finding such beliefs is not all that difficult in general, as can be seen by examining more data from the radio station WHCN: If you could live anywhere, where would it be? 1. Right here in Connecticut because I like having all four seasons.

The Natural Creative Process

2. Boulder, Colorado. That’s where my manis. 3. I want to live in a sand trap at the third hole of Golf Acres.

4. I'd live in New England because it has everythingin it. It has all the culture, tradition, history. ©. A tropical island with a mountain for skiing and a beach for swimming. 6. I'd like to live in an enchanted castle with goblets of wine, joints of beef, and wenchesat hand. Essex, Connecticut. I could dock my yacht there. 8. Hawaii. It’s still in the U.S., and I wouldn’t want to go out of the U.S. I’d like to stay here.



9. Bristol, Connecticut. That’s where I live right now, and

I loveit. 10. NewYork City. It’s got a lot of class. 11. Estonia, but I can’t because it got taken over by the Russians.

12. | think I'd like to live in Disneyland so I would never have to face reality. Assume that these people are friends of yours and they have just answered vour question. It is easy to see that the beliefs inherent in these answersare readily inferable. Each of these peopleis telling you something about himself, abouthis priorities in life, about his value system, and about how he makes decisions. Since most of these people do not live where they said they wouldlike to live, they are also telling you something about how they make decisions and why. With that in mind, let’s look at some of their answers. Con-

sider. for example, the first one. This person believes that weatheris a major factor in deciding where you live. So does the person who said he wanted to live in Hawaii (number eight). The woman in numbertwobelieves that love oughtto be the determining factor, but she can’t believe this too strongly or else she'd be there. The people who gave answers three. five, and seven believe that recreation is a very high priority, although here again, not the highest. The person who

gave answer numbereleven presumably believes being with your own peopleis the highestpriority, but not at the price of the loss of one’s freedom.

QUESTIONS AS PART OF THE MODEL Wetend to ask ourselves questions continuously about the actions that we see others do. We wonder about why people are doing what they are doing. In a way,it is as if we were asking the following questions every time weseeor hear about someone’s action: Is this an action that this person ordinarily does? Is this an action that I would do? Is this an action that will yield a result that is clearly and directly beneficial to the actor? Is this action part of a plan that I know to be a plan of the actor’sP Is this an action that might be determinedto be effective in achieving a goal that I know this actor has? Is there a belief that I know that the actor holds that explains

this action?

Wheneverweobserve anaction, we ask questionsto seeif that action makessense. But actions do not makesense absolutely.

We cannot determineif actions make sense except by comparing them to other actions. Making sense, and thusthe idea of an anomaly in general, is a relative thing. Relative to what? Naturally the answeris, relative to events in memory that we have seen before. For example, in a world where everyone walks around


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with his thumb in his mouthit is not necessary to attempt to explain why a given individual is sucking his thumb. In a world where no one does this, we must explain why a given individual has his thumb in his mouth. Wearesatisfied, as observers of actions, when the action that we observefits into

a familiar explanation pattern we have found in memory,has familiar consequences that we can determineto be beneficial to the actor, or is part of an overall plan or view of the world

that we could have predicted from our model of the world and of people’s behavior. A thumb-sucking adult is not a particularly challenging anomaly since known explanation patterns easily come to mind. We can explain it by pointing to the advantages of thumb-sucking; by diagnosing the man as being in a second childhood; or we can make a connectionto the idea of being sick or injured, and assumethat he hasjust smashed his thumb with a hammer or burned it on a hot stove.

Sometimes the process of asking and answering the questions associated with the model is thwarted by expectation failure—the standard script was not followed, the stock answer to the question really doesn’t fit. At this point we have an anomalous situation, and the attempt to explain the anomaly can result in either a new fact—aplan, goal, or belief that one did not know that a given actor had—orelse the decision that the action is unexplainable, at least until more is known. This “inexplicable” action or event will then go into memoryto be called up, hopefully, at some future date when some connection is made using the techniques of remindings and tweaking remindings described elsewhere in this book. Whenanactionfails to fit a known explanation pattern, we focus on the consequencesthat will result from the action and attempt to explain it in terms of motivation. If those consequences are beneficial to the actor then nothing needs to be explained, since there is no anomaly. If those consequencesare not obviously beneficial, then we need to find out why the action has been attempted in the first place. This requires ascertaining what goals an actor has, what plans he believes

Anomaly + Explanation = Creative Thought

will effect those goals, or what beliefs he has from which a goal may have been generated.


To make the modela little more concrete, consider how we employ it to understand the action in the following story: Mary had forbidden her seven-year-old son John to eat cookies close to dinnertime. John kept whining for a cookie even after he was asked to stop. John finally went over to the counter and grabbedat the cookie jar, accidentally knocking it over and causingit to fall on the floor and shatter. Mary smacked John. How would weexplain this event? What model of how people behave would we rely on? What assumptions would we rely on in understanding this event? Whatbeliefs, goals, and plans would weattribute to the actors in this event? What questions might we need to ask? The understanding of this event can be broken downinto the following underlying structure: BELIEFS

1. Children should be taught what behavioris unacceptable.

Mary believes that children must learn what thay should and shouldn’t do. 2. Parents are responsible for their children’s upbringing. Marybelieves that she must teach her children about behavior. 3. Pain teaches avoidance of the behavior that led to the pain. Marybelieves in negative reinforcement, andshe thinks painis a good negative reinforcer. GOAL Punish John. Mary wanted to punish John.



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PLAN Cause pain to John. Mary believes that pain is a punishment. ACTION Mary smacked John. Marvybelieves that hitting is a way to cause pain.

Someof the explanations of Mary’s behavior seem like good

explanations, and some of them seem stupid or obvious. But, in fact, such judgmentsare entirely in the eye of the beholder. Beloweach item in the diagram, I have given an explanation of Mary smacking John that might have been madewiththat particular belief or plan in mind. In other words, if someone asked, Why did Mary smack John? any of the answers shown would be acceptable in principle, although someareclearly better than others. Usually there is no “right” explanation in these cases. What we are really saying to ourselves in these situationsis that we would not have acted that way ourselves, so the person about whom we care must hold some belief we don’t ourselves hold. Either we just want to know whatit is or we wantto influence a change if we believe that the belief in questionis wrong. When Mary smacks John and someonesays, I don’t understand, I need an explanation, the explanation will focus, in general, uponthebeliefs inherent in the action, although they can focus anywhere on the diagram. In other words, possible explanations focus on each and every item shown, somebeing more reasonable than others. The most interesting explanations are those that refer to a belief that we do not actually agree with. When an explanation focuses upon something that we not only agree with, but believe that evervone agrees with, it seemssilly. To assert that Marv believes that hitting is a way to cause pain seemsabsurd as an explanation. It is an explanation at a mundanelevel; its truth is trivial to us. To say that Mary believes that she must

Anomaly -+ Explanation = Creative Thought

teach her children about behavior seemssilly also, unless we can imagine people whobelieve that all matters of children’s upbringing oughtbestbeleft to servants (as wealthyaristocrats of Europe once believed). Issues that matter in our culture, such as whetherhitting children is a good idea, can also seem silly when explained, because we always wanta deeperexplanation than what wealready have. We know that Mary must believe that. We want to know why she believes that, what her evidence is, and so on. The main point about the models of others that we build is that they are not fixed or standardized. They changein response to the events that wefail to understand. As we begin to explain events to ourselves or to get explanations from others, we add those explanations to our model. When werefuse to change a model of a piece of the world that we have been relying upon,it is usually becauseit is a script.


We are always trying to place the actions of others into a framework that renders them sensible. When those expectations fail, we recognize an anomalyorfailure. To understand further, we must ask questions abouttheir actions. Weare, in effect, under the impression that anything that anyoneelse does, if it isn’t what we would have donein thatsituation, is

probablya little bit crazy. Other people have different plans,

goals, beliefs, and attitudes than we do.

People don’t ordinarily tell us why they do whatthey do,so we are in the habit of attemptingto figure it out. When we see someone performing a given action, we attemptto fit it into our ownsenseof the plans andgoals of whichit is naturally a part. Normally we can do so easily, as people have rather standard sets of goals and standard sets of plans to achieve those goals. When we cannot easily do this, we become confused and need an explanation. Quite often, humor exploits this lack of explanation.



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Anomalies and Explanation in the Wild: Monty Python

Consider a sketch taken from the Monty Python movie The Meaning of Life. In this scene, paraphrased below, two men dressed ina tiger suit are encountered by British soldiers in the jungle in the early twentieth century. They demand to know why the men are dressed as they are, and the men give one explanation after another trying to satisfy them.

QUESTION: Why are you dressed up ina tiger suit?

EXPLANATIONS: We are on a mission for British Intelligence. Thereis a proCzarist Ashanti Chief... . Weare doingit for an advertisement for Tiger brand coffee. Somebody important did it fifty years ago, and wearerecreating the incident. Godtold us to do it. We are completely mad. We are inmates of a Bengali psychiatric institution, and we escaped by making this outfit out of cereal packages. It is because we are thinking of training as taxidermists, and we wanted to see things from the animal’s point of VIEW.

We found the tiger suit in Cairo and are transportingit to Dar es Salaam. This scene is interesting becauseit lays bare the basic mechanisms of the explanation process. First, we must determine the anomaly to be explained. The British soldiers find being dressed up in a tiger suit in the jungle to be anomalous, but they clearly find it anomalous in a particular way. The observers cant figure out what plan wouldcall for dressing in a tiger suit.The soldiers couldn't think of any explanation for whythis

Anomaly + Explanation = Creative Thought

was a reasonable plan, so they had to ask the two men to explain. If one cannot figure out how anaction that someoneis doing might be part of a plan to achievea goal,it is natural to assume that there is an unknownplanor that the actors involved are behaving irrationally. The responses here implicitly refer to those assumptions. The original question to the menin thesuit is really something like, Whatis the plan that you have in mind here, or are you simply crazy? Their answers can bereconsidered in this light:

QUESTION: Why are you dressed up in a tiger suit? Is there a reasonable plan underlying this seemingly irrational action, or are you simply doing something crazy? EXPLANATIONS:

We are on a mission for British Intelligence. There is a proCzarist Ashanti Chief. . . . We aren't really crazy. Weare spies. Spies sometimes have to act crazy as a subterfuge for what they are actually doing.

We are doing itfor an advertisementfor Tiger brand coffee. Wearen’t crazy, we are actors. Weare pretending to be

something weare notfor the sake of making a point. The point is selling something. Somebody important did it fifty years ago, and weare recreating the incident. Wearen’t crazy, we are actors. We are pretending to be something wearenotfor the sake of making a point. The point is a historical tribute.


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God told us to do It.

Weare not responsible for our actions. Someonetold usto do it. We did it because that someone was God, so you can't argue with that. We are completely mad. Weare crazy.

We are inmates of a Bengali psychiatric institution, and we

escaped by making this outfit out of cereal packages.

We are crazy, but what weare doingisn’t crazy because it is a subterfuge for an understandable purpose. It is because we are thinking of training as taxidermists, and

we wanted to see things from the animal's point of view.

We aren't crazy, weare trying to get a new point of view

on something important to us. We found the tiger suit in Cairo and are transportingit to Dar es Salaam. Wearen't crazy, we are doing somethingsensible. We are doing it in a crazy way, however. What constitutes an explanation here? What wouldresolve the anomaly of finding two menin a tiger suit in deepest, darkest Africa? Behind every anomaly is an underlying assertion, and a good explanation must addressthis assertion. If the assertion that underlies the anomaly to be explainedis that the actor is crazy, then the explanation must addressthatassertion. Irom the point of view of the Monty Pythonsketch, the possibilities that would explain or resolve the anomaly can be summarized in four ways. The menin thetiger suit can: 1. Admit their craziness (which they do in two ofthe explanations).

Anomaly + Explanation = Creative Thought

2. Show the benefits of walking aroundin a tiger suit (which they don’t do; such an explanation might be that walking in a tiger suit in the jungle is an excellent way of losing weight). 3. Explain whythis act is really an important goalin itself. 4, Say why whattheyare doing isn’t whatit seems. (This is the one they use mostoften.) Let’s consider another anomaly: In a store in Vermont, I noticed a sign saying that they would close the next day for inventory. This seemed anomalous to meas it was the middle of their busy season. The underlying assertion hereis that the store owneris crazy. Heis in business to make money, and he is doing something that will cause him to lose money. What would constitute an explanation? An explanation must address the underlying assertion that the behavioris crazy by showing whyit is not crazy. Therefore, the store owner must admit to being crazy, or mustbe discoveredto actually be crazy, or else the plan of closing must be seen as a way of making money. The possibilities are that: 1. 2. 3. 4.

The store is owned by a crazy person. Closing the store gives some beneficial result. Making moneyis not the highest priority of this store. The closing isn’t really a closing atall.

The only otheralternatives are either to reject the initial claim or to show howtheinitial data were wrongly perceived. The actual explanation of this story is that the store was part of a national chain that was headquartered in Ohio, whereit was most certainly not the busy season. All the stores in the chain did inventory at the same time. I never found out why, but assumedthat it had to do with taxes. Thus, for me as an

explainer, the basic principle behind the anomaly was unchanged. This business did indeed care about business, but this was how it had to cope. To provide one more illustration, consider this snippet which appeared in The New York Times: After dashing down



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the longflight ofstairs to the subway, a woman just missed her train and was exasperated. A guard informed her that she shouldn’t worry as he felt a local was coming soon. Here again, the underlying assertion is that the guardis crazy. Any explanation that would be accepted would therefore have to respondto this assertion. The relevanceofthe four categoriesis as follows: 1. We could find out that the guard really is crazy. 2. There is no plan here. 3. The guard might not care about properly informing people. 4. His craziness regarding feeling a local may not be crazy— maybehe really can feel one; if so, we need to know how.

The first three categories generate questions aboutthe sanity of the guard. Andit is quite natural simply to assumethatthe guardis crazyas the British soldiers did in the Monty Python story. But the question that will lead to a satisfying answerin this case comes from category 4. Assuming that the guardis not crazy. we must formulate the question, How canthe guard feel a local coming? We know,therefore, before wehearthe expla-

nation, what form the explanation will take. We expecta sensible statement about how onecanfeel a local. As long as the facts given make sense—thatis, as long as the facts areorat least plausibly appear to be facts, and we can be madetosee how they would cause the behavior in question to be possible—we will accept them as an explanation. The explanation was simple enough: The guard stated that you can always tell which train is coming by the strength of the breeze down the platform. The local gives off a weak breeze, the express a strong one.

People Watching: Goal-Action Anomalies One of the most interesting kinds of anomalies is the kinds posed by people watching. Goal-action anomalies occur when

Anomaly + Explanation = Creative Thought

we cannot explain the connections between a person’s ostensible goals and his actual behavior—when what a person says he wants doesn’t square with what he seems to be doing, or when what a person does seemsto have no detectable goal. Seemingly goalless behavior is the essence of weirdness. At Yale there was a student tradition of crashing a certain architecture lecture wearing gorilla suits. Visitors on the day of the gorilla-suited students would wonder whatit was all about,

rather like the British officers who encountered the tigersuited duo in the jungle. Students would explain, “Oh, they do that every year.” I never heard anyone explain that there was a specific joke or connection to anything the lecturer had done or said. Whatis my explanationofthis “anomaly”? If there was originally a reason, it has been lost to history and doesn't matter any longer. The students continueto do this stunt because it’s fun and the previous class did it. College students are crazy—ask any college dean, anywhere, for a more detailed explanation. The most challenging kinds of goal-action anomalies to explain are those situations where someonesaysheintends to do one thing and does another. Naturally, the most commonexample of this can be found in observing politicians. People of my generationrecall hearing Lyndon Johnson claiming in the 1964 presidential elections that he would “never send American boys over to Vietnam to do a job that Asian boys ought to be doing.” Was Johnson lying? Did he just change his mind? Both of these explanationsare too simple. We can adapt someof the questions from our psychological modelof others’ behaviorhere into a sort of goal-action anomaly detector:

1. 2. 3. 4. do.

What goal was operating? What belief generated that goalP What is my way of achieving the stated goal? Whyis this difficult to achieve? What does the actor really want?



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Besides having the goal of saying whatever he neededtoin order to get elected, it might be the case that Johnson never intended to get involved in Vietnam, or that he had some quite different intention in 1964, or one that developed later. My point here is not to blame or excuse Johnson, but to show how Johnson's campaign was anomalous. Politicians, once elected,

often do the opposite of their campaign promises. We often detect this same anomaly when wetryto analyze the behavior of family members—the guy whosaysheloveshis family but gambles his paycheck away; the woman whoworries about the health of her family but feeds them corn chips and orange soda for dinner.

Another Reminding Finding an action anomalous means that one cannotfind a place in memoryin which such anaction would naturally fit. The anomalies we experience also act as indices in memory and serve to bring up old memories that might be useful in allowing us to make newexplanations. The new explanation that comes to mind is an important form of creativity. Reminding plays the role of serving us up with old memories to compare to new memories. Often these remindings are anomalous in exactly the same way. Consider the following: In New Havenpolitics there are often strained town-gown relations. The past mayor was Yale-affiliated. The current mayor ran on a more anti-Yale platform, but after his election he established better relations with Yale than his predecessor had. He even had the place of his inauguration changedto a Yale hall. This reminded X of President Nixon’s anticommunist stance andhis desire and ability to makevisits to, and establish better relations with, Russia and China.

Nixon's behavior was just as anomalous as that of the newly elected New Haven mayor. With two similar anomalies, X was able to make a connection. X can safely predict that politicians will do the opposite of what they say they will do. You may

Anomaly + Explanation = Creative Thought

have already been reminded of the Johnson case here, in which case you can see how being remindedofsimilar previous cases can be putto use to explain goal-action anomalies. Faced with memories that are anomalous in the same way, we look for an explanation that satisfies both. A deeper explanation might be that sometimes politicians who are clearly identified with a particular position are the best people to help fix a problem in that area because they will not be accused of really being a commiein Nixon’s case, or of really being a Yale man in the mayor of New Haven’s case. This leads one to the conclusion that if one wants to improve relations with an enemy, one should choose someone whoclearly hates that enemysince he will be above suspicion and will be the best negotiator. This might be a naiveorsilly explanation, but it is worth considering in othersituations. In any case, such reasoningis the kind of thinking that anyone can do. Newideas that explain the behavior are easy-to come by. Of course, such generalizations can be quite wrong, and clearly no explanation is right in all cases. But creativity requires us not to worry about such things too much. To be creative one mustbewilling to speculate, to improvise, and to

settle for less than 100 percent. One must be willing to come to wrong conclusions as well.

The Anomalies of Being a Foreigner There is no better way to give yourself a stimulating dose of anomalies to ponderthanbyvisiting a foreign country. When we visit a new place, certain things immediately tell us that this new placeis different. Illustration 2 (page 146) is a picture of a fairly typical street corner in a particular city in the world. Can you figure out wherethis picture was taken? How would you go aboutfiguring out such a thing? I am notlooking for clues that are dead giveaways,such as linguistic cues. My point here is that the obvious things in this picture, namely the banners hangingoverthestreets, and to someextent the archi-


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tecture of the buildings, give away something about wherethis picture was taken. The first thing that maystrike the Americanvisitor as anomalous here is the presence of all those banners. Banners ofthis sort are extremely commonin the country wherethis picture was taken. If you have traveled to this country you might have noticed banners such as this, and if you had been concerned with noticing anomalies you might have wondered whybanners are so typical in that country and not so typical elsewhere. The picture was taken in Milan, Italy. What questions should we be asking here? For foreign anomalies. we have a standard set of questions:


1. What is the reasoning behind the anomalous behavior? Why does this behavior occur in this country more than in others? 3. What does this behavior tell us about the national character of this country?

Illustration 2

Anomaly + Explanation = Creative Thought

4, Whatdoesthe lack of this behavior tell us about our own country? 5. Is it a good ideaP 6. Could it be adapted to our own country? The goal with foreign anomalies is to relate them to what one already knows. Now, I may havepicked a rathertrivial phenomenon about which to ask such important questions. There may be something profound about this phenomenon, or it may be random anduninteresting. How can you knowuntil you askP Anomalies aren’t always easily resolved. Sometimes there are no answers, and sometimes there are thousands.

Answersare usually oflittle or no value anyway. Theideais to generate, and think about, questions. Let’s consider another photograph (page 148), also taken in Milan. This is another Italian phenomenon.A clearly talented man has spent a good dealof time re-creating a well-known painting. He has chosen to doso on the sidewalk, using chalk, on a cold December day. Why? This is, in essence, a child’s question. Any child walking by such a scene would ask his parent aboutit. The answer could perhaps yield profound observations about the state of the Italian economy, about the breadth of talent that is unsupported in Italy, about the transient natureofartistic creation, or about the innateartistic abilities and artistic appreciation of the Italian people. An Americanis pained to notice the ephemeral quality of the work. Such effort for something that will last only until the next rain. Why does he do it? What does his doing it tell us about his philosophy of life? It is from such questions that one can begin to pursue different lines of creative thought. IIlustrations 4 and 5 (page 149) were taken in Nimes in the

south of France. They were taken in a Roman amphitheater that is in a remarkable state of preservation. In the first photo we can see a figure, but it may not be so obvious what he is doing. Wealso see a circle traced on thefloor of the stadium. As we get closer, in the next photograph, we cansee that the figure is a small boy and that he is dressedas a bullfighter (note



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IHustration 3

the sword. He is practicing bullfighting (albeit without the bull). The circle on the dirt floor in the first photo seems now to have been made by his cape. Ihave allow ourselves to think about this photo, we begin to wonder about a number of things.An American might wonder Woballhehting is common in southern France as well as in Spain. Ele might wonder if bows in southern France dream of bot, bullighters justas bovs in America dream of being baseboll plavers. Phen he might wonder why this bov has chosen boo practice in the Nimes arena. Are real bullfights held there? Ho nucht wonder about why the bov has chosen to practice in the arena when any field might do as well. And of course, there are the usual questions about Rome and why people felt compelted to build so many arenas and how they were able to do


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so and whythey have held up so well overtheyears. It is easy to begin to wonder about how our stadiums mightlook in two thousand years and whether our civilization will still be around. Obviously, what appears so anomalous to us in a foreign country appears banal and mundaneto those whoresidein the country. A visitor to that culture can wonder about such an anomaly and learn something about the country that he is visiting or about his own country and himself by comparison. In other words, a foreign anomaly helps one to better understandthe scripts of others and, therefore, one’s ownscriptsas well. The possibilities for wondering are tremendous. They come from seeing an anomaly, or seeing many anomalies, andattempting to explain those anomalies. Oh yeah, it’s just a kid playing in his local stadiumwill do as an explanation, but new

ideas will not come from it.

Rules and Regulations: Institutional Anomalies

Institutional anomalies occur in one’s ownsociety. They represent everyday occurrencesthat are presented without explanation, for which the thinking person feels obligated to construct an explanation, and in so doing learns about the assumptions that control the world. Il already discussed myfavorite institutional anomaly, namely the Connecticut road sign legally closing roads that are quite open. Of course, Connecticut isn’t the only state that puts up odd signs. Illustration 6 is one from New Mexico: This sign was posted near the Mexican border. I therefore assumedthatit refers to not picking up people who mightbeillegal aliens. Such signs exist near prisons in California where, I assume, oneis being discouraged from helping prisoners to escape. In either case, it is questionable whether the government would more easily accomplish its purpose if it made clear its reasoning.



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UI, WERENERS TU ataaed ner ie i

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Illustration 6

The questions that pop up whenweseeaninstitutional anomaly are as follows: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

What are the goals of the institution? Whose interests are they looking out for? Does this institution know howto doits job? Are there any flaws in the reasoning of this institution? Could this institution learn to do its job better?

Another of myfavorites is a sign that can be found on the streets of New York City that says: “DON’T EVEN THINK OF

PARKING HERE.” Thereexist, of course, NO PARKINGsignsall over Manhattan. But in someplaces, signs such as those above appear. Why? Obviously, the city government is telling vou that it has an order of priority of punishment for violating its parking rules. It concedes that it cannot enforceall its rules. And thenit proceeds to tell you which parking rules matter


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most. Why one matters over another, and whythecity concedes that it cannot enforceall its laws, are some of the things to think about after having spotted an anomaly. To start the thinking: process, one has to first notice the anomaly.

Anomaly Games

Some anomalies are just fun to find and think about because explaining them is an exercise for the mind. When we encounter something strange, we can wonder, Howdid it come to be like that? lexplaining howthings turned out the way theydid can allow us to better understand the world, although often the answer isn't of great importance once we've figured it out. Thinking begets thinking, so let’s begin looking at some anomAles,

Hhaistrations 7 and 8 are pictures of license plates on cars in Rome: It may not be obvious from the photograph, but these license plates are different. The plate in the top photographis made of a single piece of metal, and the word Romais written on it in white. The bottom oneis madeof two pieces of metal: the main plate, and a small insert attached to the frontofit.

The main piece has Roma written in orange, but no number; the license number is printed onthe insert. The anomalyis not an important onebut it is there nonetheless: Why are there two different kinds of license plates in Italy? (This phenomenonis not limited to Rome.) One piece of data which is obvious from the pictureis that the two-piece plate ison a newercar. The one-piece plates are thwavs on older cars. So it is reasonable to conclude that the

Italian government used one-piece plates for a long time and

then recently decided to switch to two-piece plates. The ques-

tion then is. Why did they switch? One could also infer from the data that the government gave people with old cars one-piece plates and people with newcars two-piece plates. This is quite silly. of course. But it is always wood practice to create silly explanations. Thev don’t always

Illustration 7

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The Natural Creative Process

turn out to be wrong. Wearetaught to belogical andscientific in our reasoning. But if such scientific reasoning paralyzes one from pursuing obvious, but not logically supported conclusions, one will never be creative. Creativity requires occasional, often quite small, leaps of faith. Whenasking questions about why people do something, one ought to assume that one is dealing with sensible people as opposed to irrational ones. Given the assumption that the choice of two-piece plates was notarbitrary, the new question we want to ask is, Why are two-piece plates better than onepiece plates? Whenin doubt, look for more data. Onepiece of additional data can be found in the bottom photo by looking veryclosely. Notice that the small part of the two-piece plate does not have on it only the license number.It also has somethingto theleft, the top part of which says RM. RM is an abbreviation for Roma. (This can be confirmed bylooking at plates from othercities and seeing that, in fact, cars from Milan with two-pieceplates have MI in orange on the top part and a small MI in white in the upperleft corner of the insert.) What doesthis tell usP One

Illustration 9

Anomaly + Explanation = Creative Thought

thing it could indicateis that the governmentis trying to make sure that numbersthat were intended for Rome cars are actually on Romecars. Of course, they wouldn’t have had this problem before when everything wasall one piece, so our question remains as before. Illustration 9 gives us a new piece of evidence. This is another type of license plate, one where the Romais onthe left. It is used on cars that have room for a longer and narrower plate. It wouldn’t fit very well on the other two cars, nor would their plates fit on this one. I looked aroundfor an older version of this type of plate, but couldn’t find one. All the longer tvpes of plates were of two pieces. Now, there mayexist one-piece plates of the long type, but people I asked about this not surprisingly had noideaatall about it. They had never thought aboutit. However, an examination ofillustration 9 does lead to a

possible hypothesis. Notice that the numberpart of the plate in illustration 9 is identical to the oneinillustration 8. With the old-style plates, the government would have had to produce two types of plates to deal both with cars needing long narrow ones and with cars set up for shorter and wider ones. By using a single type of insert on different backings, the government figured out a way to produce only one. Of course, they still have to produce two types of the Roma plate, but this would be mucheasier to do since these can be mass-produced in a way that individual numbers on each plate cannot. Also, it is possible to have a private concern sell the Roma part while the government sells only the number part. I never bothered to check out the details of all this, becatise it in no way really matters to me. The above wasjust an exer-

cise, something to do while I was bored one day. But, and this is the important point, such speculation canlead to something interesting. In fact it did. As I was taking these pictures, people asked me what I was doing. The driver of the Mercedes was a chauffeur and, as he and I were waiting for the same person. we talked about what I just explained here. He was relieved


to hear that I was not taking pictures of how the Italians had again done something funny and stupid, which is what he assumed that any American would be thinking. Actually, many other countries in Europe produce two kinds of plates, but the Italians have figured out a methodto produceonly one. He was pleased to hear this, and I had another anomalyto think about: why he assumed Americans would try to make light of things done in Italy.

There are manv other kinds of anomalies to think about. Historical ones are good food for thought. For example, illus-

tration TOs a picture of a hilltop town in France called Les Baus. while dlustrations 1] and 12 showsomecliff dwellings in Vrizona built by ancient Indians. Why did people build their

homes in such places? What can wefigure about what life was like in those times? Of course. | don’t mean for this to sound like a high school history book. but the point is that to the extent that one speculates about such things, one can learna lot without actually looking up anv facts at all. The facts are the

IHustration |]

Ulustration 13

point only in history courses. The anomalies themselves are the point if one wants to be creative. While we are on this theme, look at illustration 13. This

massive building is the Milan railwaystation. Why so massive and ornate? It looks like a castle rather than a station. What does this tell vou about the importance of railroads at the time it was built. the grandiosity of the Italian people, or the attitucles of the government at the time? Of course, not everyone thinks of such things when he catchesatrain in Milanorin his hometown. But as Yogi Berra was purported to havesaid, “You can observe a lot just by looking.” The same is true of natural phenomena. On page 160 we have pictures of various natural wonders found in the southwestern part of the United States. How were they created? Such anomalies provide one witha sense of history to be sure,

Anomaly + Explanation = Creative Thought

but also a sense of time and evolution. Questions about the forces that caused them andthat maystill be active allow one to begin to construct answers that are hypotheses, any one of which may be novel and creative. Most will not be new, of course. Most will be bad answers where experts have better answers. But as most experts know,the expert answers of one century often turn out to be quite wrong in the next. No one

knowsall the answers. Thetrick for thinking is to decide upon the questions.


The ability to notice anomalies implies the ability to ask appropriate questions whenever expectations fail.When wefind out what is anomalous, wealso have abasis for creating the expla-

nations that can help us understand those anomalies. In general, there are at least three kinds of things that wwe

need to explain: outcomes, reasons, and events. We discussed

trying to figure out and explain people's reasoning in the beginning of this chapter. Nowlet’s look at predicting outcomes.

Outcomes: Predicting What Will Happen Weare constantly seeking to predict outcomes. By outcomes I mean theresults of the activities of humans, animals, or even

natural forces. One commoncaseis that of gambling. Gambling can be done quite randomly or with a coherent theory behindit, but in either case a betsignifies an attemptto predict an outcome.

I should note that gambling is only an exaggeration of the general phenomenonofbusiness decisions. Whena shoestore decides to locate in a new shopping mall, or when a restaurant decides to add some more expensive wines to its winelist, these are also attempts to predict outcomes. When someone buys a house for himself and his family he is attempting to


Hlustration 14 Tlhustration 15 ~

Anomaly + Explanation = Creative Thought

predict outcomes. Even when he decides upon the proper schoolfor his child he is attempting to predict outcomes. When he buys a lottery ticket and chooses the last three digits of the check numberon his weekly paycheck, this person is attempting to predict an outcome. Essentially, the predicting of outcomesinvolves the creation of a theory and the decisionto allow one’s fortunes to rise or fall on the quality of one’s powers of prediction. Because the predicting of outcomesis so significant a part of what wedo in our daily lives, a very important aspect of our ability to make explanations is embodied in our attempts to figure out whya given prediction went wrong. People are, in essence, theory creators. Their theories mav not be very elaborate or especially scientific. People create theories about how certain events will turn out, and if they are wrong, they attempt to modify those theories by incorporating the new datainto the old theory. Of course, people are not all that logical, so they easily forget old data or conveniently rework the evidenceto fit the theory. They are by no means perfect theory-makers. They try to make theories about what horse will win, about whatstock will go up, about what philoso-

phy of child raising works best, about who provides the best

education, and so on. Whenthesetheoriesfail, it is reasonable

that the person whocreated the theory would attempt to explain why. Perhaps the best domain in which to consider the question of outcome-driven explanationis that of sports. People who are interested in sports tend to attempt to predict what team,

person, or animal is going to win a given event. Their involve-

ment with that prediction may be heavily emotional, as with a rabid fan of a particular team; it may befinancial, as with a

bettor on a horse race or a football game;or it may be simply theoretical, as with an analyst who believes that he understands the factors involved and can therefore determine the outcome.

Whena prediction turns out to be wrong, we must adjust. The belief that generated the predictionis called into ques-



The Natural Creative Process

tion. But of course, people do not abandontheir beliefs on the basis of one failure. There is no reason that explanations have to be derived solely from experiences entirely germane to the problem at hand. Often we find ourselves drawing analogies from one domain of knowledge to help us in understanding an entirely different domain. It may be that the reason that Mets pitcher Dwight Goodenlost a gameis the same as the reason behind a recent drop in stock-market prices. Of course, this seems a bit silly, but one is always reading about how the Democrats win elections when the American League team wins the World Series or some such nonsense. There is a difference between random correlationsof facts and genuine explanations derived fromdifferent domains.Itis possible to better explain one’s error in predicting a horse race by considering one’s failure to make accurate predictions in the stock market. Although these two things mayhavelittle in common, the person doing the predicting may makesimilar errors in each case. The person mayfind an explanation forhis problems in the stock market which can be applied to his betting errors; maybe heis too impulsive or he alwaysbelieves what he reads in the papers and finds that whenheacts on that information it is too late. In order to bring his analysis of his stock market behavior into contact with his mistakes at the prediction of horse races, he must relax the constraints on his labeling in memoryso as to allow stock market information and explanations to appear while he is thinking about horse racing. Relaxing these constraints will allow him to recognize that if he has been following the advice of the handicappers in the newspapers, that advice maybe too late also, but in a different sense of the term.

The advice maynot be too late to predict the race, but it may cause the price that the winning horse pays to go downbecause too manypeople have followed the handicapper’s advice.

Anomaly + Explanation = Creative Thought

Making Plans as Predicting Predicting the futureis, of course, a hazardous occupation, but

to someextent weall engagein it. By attempting to assess what might happen we can avoid danger, and wecan take advantage of possible opportunities. In the process of understanding or explaining the actions of others, we can try to determine what beliefs are generating current goals. Then we may be able to figure out what goals will be generatedin the future. We mustoften attempt to determinethe belief underlying the actions taken by an individual whose decisions mightaffect us. We watchthat person’s actions because we wantto take advantage of opportunities and avoid risks. Here are some more “man on the street” interviews from WHCN: If you hadit to do over, would you vote for Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter? (asked in 1981 after Reagan had been presidentfor a short time) 1. I'd vote for Ronald Reagan five moretimesif I could. I think he’s the best president I’ve seen. He’s really going to help out the middle class. 2. Definitely Ronald Reagan.I think he’s trying his hardest to help the country, and I think he’s boosted morale an awful lot, and we need a hero, and I think we have one now. 3. Jimmy Carter or anybodyelse except Ronald Reaganbecause his plans to cut taxes and a lot of other things are gonnaaffect me and they’re gonna affect my roommate and it’s really hitting home. 4, I think I'd vote for Ronald Reagan becauseI like what he’s doing with our defense budget and after what happened in Iran, Jimmy Carter looked pretty bad. He madeus look pretty bad. Voting in an election is an attempt to predict the future. We attempt to figure out what people will do in the future by



The Natural Creative Process

explaining what they have done inthepast. If we explain the Iran crisis by saying that Jimmy Carter was weak, then weare also predicting what will happen in another situation that would require presidential strength. Naturally I don’t know what action or statement of Ronald Reagan caused person number one here to explain it by saying that Reagan really wants to help the middle class. But the fact that person number one did come up with that explanation explains why he votedfor him. Similarly, from the point of view of explanation if not of belief, person number three has explained Reagan’s plan to cut taxes as demonstrating that Reagan’s intent is to hurt the middleclass. In general, predicting outcomes is a hazardousaffair. It is difficult to be right, and most people pursue the same methods of reasoning even whenthey havefailed with those methods before. Nevertheless, the quest to make accurate predictions is an important one,andit is one that can be aided bylearning to formulate the right questions to ask whenthings don’t go as planned so that relevant explanations can be created.

Events: Understanding What Happened Sometimes we encounter events that we cannot haveanticipated, that we never thought about onewayoranother, but

which once seen, seem quite odd. Here we have notheorythat has been directly violated. Also, we are not monitoring the behavior of particular individuals or institutions so as to better predict their next move. We feel the need to explain an event when wecan’t figure out exactly what the states and actions that led up to that event might have been. One of the best events for illustrating the explanation process is, of course, the Swale case, which will be taken up in more detail later on. Strange events like the Swale case often spur us to creative wondering. In wondering why something happened that we had no reason to expect would happen, we can often stumble upon new ideas. This takes

Anomaly + Explanation = Creative Thought

place in the following way. First, we find ourselves wondering why something has occurred. Welook for a set of beliefs or rules that would explain this event. But often we don’t have such rules. (If we did, we probably wouldn’t have beensurprised by this eventin the first place.) In that case we must find rules from someother domain that mightfit the case at hand. When weask a new question in a domain in whichit has not previously been asked, interesting things occur. For example, imagine that over a period of three months,six major plane crashesoccur. People who travel by plane tend to worry aboutsuch things. Theyare, quite naturally, afraid that they will be on the next one that crashes. Theyalso try to explain the crashes. There is, of course, a strong desire to ex-

plain them away. People want the answer to be that the crashes were random andare not generally interested in the

underlying knowledge to be gained from examining them

carefully. In some way,they do notreally want an explanation. To explain air crashes, one would start by looking for a generalization that would explain all of these unforeseenand inherently unpredictable events, from which predictions could be made aboutthe real chances of an accident occurring on another flight. This approach quickly produces paranoid generalizations. It is quite difficult to ascertain the correct generalization (if indeed there can be one), and this makesit easy to concludethat the crashes are a plot of the commies(particularly when they shot one of them down), or of the Arabterrorists (especially when they admittedto hijacking one of them). A generalization that any reliance on humancontrol or involvement in complex technological systems inevitably introduces a small, random distribution of total system failure might really obtain in this case, but it wouldn’t satisfy most air passengers. Suchscientific-sounding explanations are hard to formulate for crashes, and are in any case really only quasiscientific. They find the common threads in a few of the crashes and chalk the others up to chance. If two of the planes had mechanical trouble, good explanations of this type might be that mechanics don’t care about their work anymore orthat



The Natural Creative Process

the planes are getting old. These may be quite accurate for a set of particular cases. As stated earlier on, generalizations from only a few comparable events, far from being a bad thing, are actually quite significant and can be creative. Creative explanations which mav or maynot betrue can be usefully transferred from one domainto another with creative results. In any case,creativity requires attempting to create explanations. When eventsare confusing and unexplained, trying to come up with someexplanation for them is better than not trying atall.


Of course, it is possible to list anomalies and types of anomalies until the cows come home. Myintent in this book is to both discuss the nature of creativity and to provide the reader with sometools for enhancing his or her own creativity. With that latter goal in mind, then, let’s consider what tools might follow from the discussion.

Tool 1. Assume everything is anomalous until proven otherwise. What this meansis rather simple to explain. How can wefind anomalies? Certain things just pop out at us—wefind ourselves wondering about them. But if that were happeningto youall the time, you would be so busy constructing explanations that vou probably wouldn’t be looking at this book. To begin to be more creative, therefore, you must begin to find morethings anomalous. One can do this arbitrarily. When someone does something ask yourself why heis doing it. When a newstore opens in your neighborhood, ask how they could possibly make moneyat what they are doing. When a newbuilding appears in vour town, ask why anyone would build such a thing and why it was designed in the wayit was. By this ] do not mean that vou should criticize what you see without really trying to

Anomaly + Explanation = Creative Thought

understand it. Explaining anomalies meansreally trying to understand why something is happening the wayit is. The next step is to propose an alternative.

Tool 2. Propose alternatives to everything. AS soon as you see an anomaly worth pursuing, propose an alternative. (Of course, according to tool 1, this can be an

arbitrary nonanomalous thing simply being seen temporarily as an anomaly.) For everything you find potentially anomalous announce, I wouldn’t do it that way, I would do it this way. Nowit is clear that such behavior is considered antisocial in many quarters, so be careful how often you do this and with whom. You might just talk to yourself about your idea, but discussion of even nonseriousalternatives is an important part of the creative process, as we shall soon see. Tool 3. Reject standard explanations. It is very important, in orderto find an anomaly and in order to propose new ideas as alternatives, to reject the standard explanationsout of hand,just to try out new ones. Try saying, That can’t be the real reason, every time an explanationis proposed to you. Again, saying this aloud can cause you trouble, so be careful. Thetask is to try to propose a new explanation every timeoneis offered, especially when the oneoffered is standard and generally accepted by everyone. Tool 4. Pretend you’re a foreigner. Pretend that you don’t understand whyanythingis done the way it is, and you’d like an explanation. Pretend you're a Martian who has just landed in your town, and you are watching people do what they do. This will force you to ask a great number of dumb questions andsee if you can find satisfying answer. The process will surprise you. For example, think of people waiting three daysinline to buy tickets to a Van Halen



The Natural Creative Process

concert, or a traffic jam of large cars with one personeach,all streaming into Manhattan or Pasadena. How would you explain such activity to someone whodidn’t share all yourassumptions? How would youjustify the reasons you would give for their behavior? Are there alternatives at a level you have never questioned before? Of course, employing these tools will not make you wellloved, but then this is not a book on howto be well-loved. And unfortunately, creative people are not always well-loved, except by those who admire creativity. And side pointhereis that the very people who attemptto socialize us by asking us not to-question everything and everybody are exactly those people whostifle creativity. Creativity is inherently, almost by definition, antisocial.

The Importance of Questions

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS Is creativity something mystical? No. Creativity is a function of questions. Questions are not mystical. They come from confusion or curiosity or failure or success. Moreover, the questions that begin the creative process are rarely more than reasonable next steps along a normalchain of thinking. Asking why an apple fell on your head or what material might conduct electricity in a vacuum is not an especially mystical process. But failing to ask such questions eliminates the possibility of discovery. Our knowledge is biased by the questions weask. It is futile to search for answers unless weare asking the right questions. Often one cannot even understand the answers that others have discovered unless one has posed the question oneself. You cannot simply tell people the answers to questions they haven’t asked. They won’t be able to hear the answers. People must learn to ask questions, to really want to know the answers, before they can begin to makeuse of the answers. Children naturally pose their own questionsall the time.


The Natural Creative Process

Whenthey themselves have posed the questions about what it is they want to know,they can use the answers. Right now whenwe educatechildren, wetell them answers to questions they didn’t ask. Of course, one can learn from being told the answer, but creativity depends upon wanting to know. The hardpartof creativity is generating good questions, and this is whyscientists value a good question more than a good answer. A good questionleads to great discoveries and creative solutions. Creative people have a great many more questions than answers. Answers makeus able to go on with business, whereas questions force us to pause and consider what weare doing.For a society in a hurry, answers are more important than questions.

For a society concerned with innovation, questions are more important than answers. But wait, you say, don’t the questions that we pose eventually lead to answers? Ultimately, aren't answers what we want? Surprisingly, the answerto this is no. Of course,if there were a specifiable number of answers to the questions of the universe, if there were one and only one meaningtolife, if there

were oneand only onetruereligion,if there were oneandonly one true morality, then what we would need would bethose answers. We would want to know thefacts and be done with it. But life isn’t so simple. Today’s truths are tomorrow’soldfashioned opinions. Welive in a constantly changing world,a world in which, if we depend upon others for the answers, we can be sure of getting yesterday’s answers. Creativity is the ability to come up with new answers, but as I have said, this means being able to come up with new questions. Answerstend notto last, despite our reliance upon them. The right thing to do with your moneyyesterdayis not right today. The right way to prevent war yesterday may have nothing to do with the world as it currently exists. To learn the answers, then, is to learn what worked before. To learn the questions means figuring out what to do now. Ofcourse,the

answers you comeup with maynotlast, but with any luck they might lead to new questions.

The Importance of Questions

Whatwereally require is new ways of looking at things. Innovation requires new perspectives. A question invites a new perspective. How can welearn to ask good questions? How can wealter the attitudes in us that prevent us from asking new questions? To begin with, we must understand the problem more fully, and we must explore what good questions are and how they function to makeuscreative. In chapter 3 we examined someofthe perils of script-based thinking. We can now improveuponthose observations byrelating them to the role that questions play in creativity.

Answers Make You Feel Good

Havingall the answers is one way of feeling good about the world and about yourself. But that is not what this book is about. Creativity doesn’t always feel good, partially because it’s difficult, partially becauseit’s risky and opentocriticism, and partially because not every answeris easy to live with. Consider the following testimony from a young person whoseintellect was recently stimulated by a new set of questions, allowing him to transcend a quintessentially script-based lifestyle and attitude: Life used to be so easy. There always seemedto be an answerto everything. Everything fit into place—getting upat 7:00, going to school at 8:00, coming homeat 4:00, doing homeworkat8:00, and

finally going to bed at 11:00. In mytightly scheduledlife, I left no time to reflect. In these past four months, however, I have been

forced to think. It hasn’t been easy.

What could this student be referring to? What amazing event has transformedhis life in the last four months? Heis referring to the fact that his class has been studying the Holocaust for a semester in a curriculum entitled Facing History and Ourselves. He has recently dealt with a great many difficult questions and has wrestled with possible answers to



The Natural Creative Process

them. Thanks to this questioning process he has become a more alert and intelligent person. He is learning how to make choices and decisions; how to predict the consequences of his actions and accept responsibility for his own decisions. The quotation is from a book entitled Child Abuse in the Classroom. According to this book, edited by Phyllis Schlafly, this student is an abused child. Why? How? The book goeson to explain: For responsible personsin authority to disturb thestability so well expressedin the first two sentences of the student’s responseis a serious matter.

Schlafly, who is one of the world’s great spokespersons for foolish consistency and for script-based thought, implies that this child has been abused. Is encouraginga child to think for himself a form of child abuse? The context, namely the history of the Holocaust, makes the accusation of child abuse even

more absurd; Schlafly’s book advocates a stern authoritarian approach to education that is reminiscent of the educational philosophy of the Nazis.

Asking and Not Asking Questions In the preface I referred to a study revealing people’s general belief that a professor’s worst fear is being asked a question that he cannot answer. This says more aboutthe test subjects than it does about whether professors are actually afraid of being unable to answer a question. The subjects were merely projecting onto professors their own worst fear of being asked a question that they could not answer. Manypeople have a tremendousfear of questions, especially questions that raise taboo subjects or repressed ideas. Consider the following article, which appeared in The New York Times:

The Importance of Questions Erotica Is Discovered in Cracker Jack Box

SANTA ANA, Calif., Oct. 10 (UPI). John Iglesias tore open a box of CrackerJack for his two youngsons. Instead of a toy, there was a miniature sex manualinside. “I was shocked,” Mr. Iglesias said today. “I was thinking it was going to be little pages of cartoonsor little paste-on tattoos.” Mr. Iglesias’s wife, Lorraine, wrote a letter to Borden about the

incident. “It’s terrible,” she said. “I never saw anythinglike it. The kids really look forward to thosegifts in the box. Can you imagine the questions they would have asked?”

A good question is an irritant. But it is always a potentially valuable irritant. It’s like a grain of sand that gets inside a clam’s shell, and a clam insideits shell is a great metaphorfor someone with a closed mind, or a mind that doesn’t ask itself

- questions or face questions from others. Imagineall the questions that children in this country will never ask because of their parents’ overzealous moral andreligious beliefs, provincial attitudes, taboos, and superstitions.


Vinod Khosla (Part 2):

Asking Questions and Changing Assumptions Sun systems started in 1982 with a 68000-based workstation. It was a rather unique company becauseit was thought through from the beginning as a different computing environment. When westarted Sun, computer environments were symbolized by the VAX. We sawthat there were twoor three pieces of technology that had changed significantly, yet the assumptions that people used in building computers did not change along with this technology. This really goes to the heart of creativity. People assume things because they are true based on their environment, but when that environment changes, most peoplefail to raise the questions that should beraised. | always say, “Let’s keep asking the same questions.” Unless you do, you can’t adjust when the environment changes. In



The Natural Creative Process

our case, a central processor that used to costfifty thousand dollars each, suddenlycostfifty dollars. We have a rule of thumb in the computing industry: Take the cost of the processor, multiply it by between five and ten, and that’s the cost of the product that you could build around it. Meaning with the fifty-thousand-dollar processor we were thinking of

a product costing over two hundred thousand dollars. When the cost dropsto fifty dollars, you have a different ballgame. Secondly, high-speed networks became available. Previously, pro-

cessing power had to be used to do everything within a large mainframe. When high-data-rate networking became possible between machines, that meant that computers could share more tasks. The

Ethernet is twelve megabits per second, where we were used to 1200 baud. That’s more than two orders of magnitude difference. When these kinds of things change, you have to change your assumptions. Most people, and this is especially true in corporate environments, never ask questions because they do things the way they have done them before. And unless you ask the questions, you won't detect the impact of changes in the environment on your:

decisions. | have gone into some large planning meetings with other companies and asked a dumb question like, ‘‘Why are we having this product anyway?’’ and no one can answerthat. That’s a very basic question,

andit’s surprising how often you don’t get an answer,or how long they'll take before they answerit. Finally they'll say something like, “Because the competition hasit.”

In fact, | find that if you've asked the right questions, you don’t have to find the answers. By the time we’re done asking the questions, we know what we're after. So what came out of Sun wasa view that all the old assumptions about how to build a computerare invalid today. The computing envi-

ronment has changed, and you can no longer use the sameprinciples

for deciding what product to build. A few other things, like the cheap cost of memory, and bit-mapped displays made it possible to offer a completely different computing environment. The analogy | like to use is the difference between ships and trains to airplanes. All your assumptions about transportation change. For example, the cost structure changes. Your big question changesfrom, How do | feed these people and house these people for three weeks on an ocean crossing? to, How much does aviation fuel cost for a

The Importance of Questions

six-hour flight? That kind of change was possible when Sun came along. People have a certain way of thinking, and very few people realize how they think. So in a sense people very seldom ask the questions, What am | doing? How am | thinking through this issue? What do | want

to achieve?

Most people don’t realize that questions occur to them constantly as they read or see, and most of these questions remain unanswered. Adults tend to inhibit their questionsall the time, which may make them adult but probably doesn’t make them any smarter.

On theother hand,children havenoself-editing mechanism to stop them from asking the questions that occur to them. Asking questionsis an inherently playful activity, and children are inherently playful. Think of the last time you talked with a four-year-old who hadjust discovered the effect on adults of

the word Why? Imagine if children could question adults

about their behaviorall the time, and adults had to ask themselves what they were doing and why. Whatactivities might we changeas a result? To find out, all we haveto dois ask the right questions. The reasons that questionsare inhibited are manifold. Often we just don’t have the time. While watching the news on TV, we canstart to think about the ramifications of something we have just seen, but then some new piece of newsis reported upon, causing us to forget our current questions or miss the next newsitem. In dealing with other peopledirectly, we don't always have someonetoask,orit is impolite to interrupt them, and so on. Even while reading a newspaper, which we can do at our own pace, wehavedifficulty asking questions because there is no oneto ask.



The Natural Creative Process

QUESTIONS IN READING AND UNDERSTANDING What I wish to focus on here is not the reasonsor forces that inhibit our questioning activity, but the questions that we do ask, even if we are unaware of asking them. Nowhere doour own “dumb questions” comeinto play morevisibly than in the process of reading. As we read a story or article, we assumethat basic questions will be answered by whatfollowsin the text. The questions we ask are directed at ourselvesas well as the text we are reading. Whenwe finish an article, we are aware only of whatever unanswered questions we have. The myriad questions that were asked and answeredare forgotten, which is what makes our minds at onceso efficient and so opaque. Whencertain basic questions fail to be answered, weare shocked. Rememberthelast time you begananarticle where the second or third paragraph had been cut out by mistakeat the printer’s? The reason it was so obviousis that you wereleft hanging. Rememberhow your questions immediately bubbled up unanswered? Whatis behindall this? In such a case, the normally smooth operation of the understanding cycle that operates when you read a newspaper has broken down, and your questions now jump to higher levels. Instead of unconsciously asking and answering questions that go with the flow of the article, you now find yourself asking a question about the actual typesetting and composition of the article. The flow has been interrupted, and vou must jumpto a level of questioning that will allow you to cope. Questions start the process of creativity, and creative explanations cannot be found without first learning how toask the right question. Questions come in when expectation failures occur. An anomaly is in essence a kind of question which causes us to seek an explanation. Wefail to understand because our expectations have been violated; we attempt to under-

The Importance of Questions

stand by formulating a question, the answer to which will result in a new expectation. The next time, we won't fail to understand if we can ask the right question.


In order to get an idea of how reminding andcreativity are related, I am reproducing below the beginning ofa story that was printed in The New York Times. I read thestory to a class of graduate students, one sentence at a time. After each sentence, I asked them to write down any questionsthat occurred to them at that point—thatis, questions which had to do with the story; I excluded questions such as, Why are you making us do this? Then I havelisted the first three lines of the story followed by the questions that they asked: JERUSALEM,April 13. A 16-year-old Lebanese was captured by Israeli troops hours before he was supposedto get into an explosives-laden car and go on a suicide bombing mission to blow up the Israeli Army headquarters in Lebanon,accordingto Israeli officials

and an account from the youth himself. Why would someone commit suicide if he were not depressed? Whydoesthe newstell us only about Lebanese truck bombers? Aren’t there anyIsraeli truck bombers? These kids remind one of kamikaze pilots in World WarII. Are they motivated in the same way? The teen-ager, Mohammed MahmoudBurro, was captured byIsraeli soldiers in a raid on a southern Lebanesevillage on Feb. 23.

Whyis it that every Arab seems to be named Mohammed? HowdotheIsraelis know where to maketheir raids? How do Lebanese teenagers compare to U.S. teenagers? It is believed to be the first time that a trained suicide car-bomber has been seized alive.



The Natural Creative Process

Why hadn’t they been caught alive before? What dothe parentsof suicide bombersthink of their children’s training for this job? Is there a political group organizing the kids? This story reminds one of Oliver Twist. Is there a Lebanese Fagin around who organizes homeless kids into suicide bombers?

The students’ questions reveal that a great manyof the questions asked in the normal process of reading a newsitem are based on remindings and that those remindings involve broad hypotheses or theories about the nature of the world. The reasonsfor a particular reminding to occur depend uponprior knowledge and theories which a person may not even be aware of. Let’s consider three examplesofthis: 1. These kids remind one of kamikaze pilots in World War II. Are they motivated in the same way? 2. This story reminds one of Oliver Twist. Is there a Lebanese Fagin around who organizes homeless kids into suicide bombers? 3. What do the parents of suicide bombers think of their children’s training for this job? Some of these questions are answered in the course of the article. But, quite naturally, many are not. It would be a gross omission for a feature article about a suicide bomber to fail to address the motivations behind his action. We would think such an article was poorly written or prematurein its reporting. On the other hand, we wouldn’t naturally expect the article to give us a lengthy comparison with kamikaze pilots. It is crucial to recognize that the writer of a newsarticle plays a significant role in determining many of the questions we will be led to ask. Yet the questions that reporters typically anticipate are also likely to be the least creative questions because the reporter is interested in the facts. This rules out

The Importance of Questions

most questions aboutlarger issues or theories. The reporteris prone to speculate on occasion, of course, but such specula-

tions are unlikely to be printed unless they are grounded in some quantifiable reality. The great joy of reading creatively is that one’s idle remindings have no such requirements. The Oliver Twist idea may be totally unfounded, but it just might not be. New ideas and solutions to perplexing problems comefrom just suchidle remindings and idle speculation about the relevance of those remindings.

Reminding-based Questions Are Creative When questions are driven by remindings, they can be very creative. Considerthefirst reminding here.Is there a relationship between kamikaze pilots and Lebanesesuicide car-bombers? This is an unanswerable question, which in my way of looking at things, makesit one of the best kinds of questions. The answeringof it isn’t anywhere nearas interesting as the asking ofit. In order to ask it, my student must have created the internal question, Have I heard about anythinglike this before? He must have tried to characterize the story he was hearing in terms of concepts such as suicide that causes destruction of one’s enemies. We can assumethat, in his mind,

the label suicide that causes destruction of one’s enemies

would have been the name of kamikaze stories that might have been stored in his memory. Thus, thinking of a certain kind of label for one story caused him to find otherstories with the same label. In short, to trigger remindingsthat are useful in understanding what one readsor sees or hears about, one must adopt a point of view that was previously used to understanda similar story. One must use the same concepts, or indices, to process

the new story as one used to process andstore the old one. Whatis the value ofall this? Instead of one unusual thing to think about, you have two, and maybeeachcanhelpin under-



The Natural Creative Process

standing the other. How? By providing data from which generalizations can be drawn. These questions, then, can be seen as coming from theat-

tempt to match two pieces of data which seem quite similar. The question, How are kamikazepilots like Lebanese suicide car-bombers? can be transformed into other questions that reflect specific hypotheses such as, Is the Moslem religion in any way like the Japanese religion? or Were kamikaze pilots very young? or Are the Lebanese kidsreligious fanatics like the kamikazes were? Remindingsare the source from which new hypotheses can be generated. Consider the Oliver Twist hypothesis thatchildren are being used because they are homeless and underthe influence of an evil old man. This is just a hypothesis without any real foundation whatsoever. Such hypotheses are more often wrong than right, and thus we don’t often express them. But the mind continues to come up with them nevertheless. Why? Because such remindingsare the source ofourability to understand andare grist for the creative mill. The last question about howtheparentsfeelis also a reminding, though less obviously so. One wonders, whenhearing about children’s actions, about one’s own childhood, or one’s own

children. We are remindedofa set of standard beliefs that we hold aboutchildren andparents, and these nonspecific remindings guide our attempts to understand newinformationrelated to these beliefs. Thus, this story also reminds us of ourselves,as

do moststories. This time, though, we wonder about how our ownchildren could everget into such a fix, and from there draw conclusions, right or wrong, about the kind of parenting these children must be getting. The correctnessof these conclusions is very importantfor creativity because when wefindthat our initial hypotheses are wrong, as indeed theyarein this case since the article reveals that the boy becamea suicide carbomberto protecthis father from blackmail, we now have new opportunities to reconsider ourinitial assumptions. Of course, script-based peoplerarely changetheirinitial assumptions,but more creatively inclined people do.

The Importance of Questions

WHAT ARE THE QUESTIONS TO ASK? In order to discover what might be anomalous about an event or an action, we have to have been asking ourselves a set of questions about the nature of that action. Anomalies appear when the answers to one or more of those questions are unknown. It is then that we seek to explain what was going on. It is then that we can begin to create an explanation. People have powerful models of the world. Through these models, which are based on the accumulated set of experiences that a person has had, new experiencesare interpreted. When the new experiencesthat a person perceivesfit nicely into the framework of expectations that have been derived from experience, an understanderhaslittle problem understanding. But new experiences often do not correspond to what we expect. In that case, we must reevaluate whatis going on. We must attempt to explain why we were wrongin our expectations. We mustdo this or we will fail to grow as a result of our experiences. Learning requires expectation failure—the recognition that there is an anomaly—followedby the explanation of that expectation failure. As we observethe actions of various entities in the world around us, we ask questions: Whatis our neighbor doing? Why is the bank teller I see every day suddenly askingfor I.D.? Is this a new policy? What is the Libyan army doing in Chad? Why? The questions that are required for the normal understanding of other people’s behavior can indeed be broken down into a few main groups.

Generating Questions

There really aren’t that many different kinds of questions to ask. If this seems an odd thing to assert, consider that most of our questions about the world are transformations of three



The Natural Creative Process

basic questions, which,in turn, correspond to threebasic types

of things that we try to explain:

Reason Questions: Why did he do that?

Used for explaining the reasoningof others, as in the radio interviews in chapter 2. These questions are posed in manydifferent forms. For example, you can ask of a terrorist incident, Whydid they do that? or you can ask, Whatdo terrorists hope to gain from their actions?

Event Questions: What caused that event to take place? Used for explaining the causal chain of events leading up to an event. These questions can include ones such as, Why did Swale die? Why did World WarII start? or Why did the Metsfail to win the pennant?P Outcome Questions: What will happen? Used for explaining why something happened the wayit did as opposed to another way, so that the event can becorrectly predicted next time. These questions can concern a variety of different events that people care to predict. The answers to them are not causal chains. That is, we don’t care to know thata horselost because another one won. Wewantto knowourerrorin reasoning so that we can bet on a better choice in the next race. Thus we might ask, Why did that stock go up? and really mean, How can I find another onelike that one? or we might ask, Whydid the Giants lose? and really mean, How do I know they won'tlose next time?

Even thoughthereare only three types of questionsto ask about an anomaly, there are thousandsof waysof transforming or reformulating those questions.It is the transformation ofthe question from one which merely wondersinto onethat points the way to a helpful answerthat constitutes the trick in asking questions. Questions are usually unanswerable withoutbeing transformed.

The Importance of Questions

Transforming Questions Our original question about people’s reasons for doing things, Why did he do that? can be transformed into the following questions that one oughtto ask in order to better understand why someoneis doing something: What good does he think will come from his action? What’s his planP What’s his goal? Whatdoeshe believe about the world that would make him have such a goal? These are neither a standard nor a uniquesetof useful transformations. They are someof the possible useful transformations. Transformationsare as limitless as are the possible contexts of an anomaly. The question Why did things turn out that way? can be transformed into the following questions: Whogains from this event? Wholoses? Could this event have been a mistake? Whatcould have been doneto makeit comeoutdifferently? What circumstances could have been changed that would have madeit turn out differently? What exactly were the chains of events and states that led up to this event, so that it could happen again? The question How will things turn out? can be transformed into the following questions: Whatpattern of actions and states has occurred before that is identical to this one? Whatusually occurs when this action occurs? What could happenafter this action occurs? Did this kind of thing work the last time?



The Natural Creative Process

Anyonecould protest that the precedinglist is a bit arbitrary. But that is my point, almost. There is no unique, correctlist of

questions to ask. These are simply the kinds of questions one must ask when oneis faced with an anomaly.It is for each of us to transform these general types of questions into truly effective questions using some of the paths and techniques suggested in this book.

Reasons: The Question of Human Behavior Let’s consider only one domain of anomalies and explanations: explaining anomalous humanbehavior. Consider the question Whyis he doing that? This is the essential question when we see a fellow human drawing on sidewalk. First of all, we don’t necessarily mean he. We could also meanshe, you, I, we, and so on. We can bereferringtoinstitutions like IBM; or to the U.S. government; or to a segmentof society at large, such as the Italian national character. Already this seemingly simple question can be unfoldedinto thefollowing: Why has an actor—an individual or an institution—decided to, happened to, couldn’t help, gotten in the habitof, performing a given action? Since this questionis a little cumbersome, if somewhat more precise, let’s continue to talk about the question Whyis he doing that? Strangeas it may beto say so, we already know the answer to this question. We do not knowit specifically, of course. We know the answer generally. People understand a great deal about the general beliefs, reasons, plans, and goals that other people have. Wepossessa set of stock explanationsthattell us, for example, that one general answer to Whyis he doingthat? is that the action he did was part of his overall plan to get something he wants. Another general answeris that he believed that the results of his action would havepositive benefits for him.

It seems obvious to assert that people do things to get what

they want, yet weoften lose sight ofjust this fact. The very first

The Importance of Questions

question to ask when you see someonedoing something anomalous has to do with his or her plans and goals.

FORMULATING GOOD QUESTIONS Now I wantto use a fresh example and focus on the questions themselves and howtheyare formulated. My goalis to take apart the question-formulating processin orderto discoverthe creative strategies that we employ muchofthe time, without tremendouseffort. Whatfollowsis part of a story from The New York Times about a terrorist attack: An Arabic-speaking gunmanshot his wayinto the Iraqi Embassy here [Paris] yesterday morning, held hostages through most of the day before surrendering to French policeman and then was shot by Iraqi security officials as he was led away by the French officers.

WhenI originally read this story, I found myself thinking that it was rather strange that the Iraqi security guards had

shot the terrorist after he had been capturedby Frenchpolice.

I expected no such thing. As I have said, expectations, especially those derived from things that interest you, guide understanding. Recently, I read this Arabic-speaking-gunmanstory to someone who was remindedof howIsraeli security guards at an El Al counter in France once shot a couple of Palestinian terrorists as they took weaponsfrom their bags on the groundsthat if they waited for French police to arrest them, the French would more than likely be too nice to them (from theIsraeli point of view). This reminding wasn’t highly relevant. But in the absence of such a reminding, a reader has an uneasyfeeling aboutthis story. I was quite fascinated by it when I read it. wanted to know whythe gunmanwasshot. I was surprised by the ending of the story, but that is really not what is so interesting about it. After readingit, I found myself speculat-



The Natural Creative Process

ing aboutit. I wondered whythe Iraqis had donethat. I began to create hypotheses: Mavbethe Frenchintendedto release the Iraqi. (This is the Palestinian remindingcase.) Maybethe Iraqis were afraid that this guy would say something damaging to them. Maybe they were afraid that he would be used as a cause célébre by somedissident group. No matter whatthe true answer,thereis reason to believe that

the Iraqi security guards had some underlying motive.Thatis, some explanation of this story is needed. Whenwesee something in a story that we could not have anticipated, we can safely assumethat the event underconsideration had somejustification or purpose. We do not simply assume that expectation failures are random events not to be further bothered about. When the unexpected event involves a plan on the part of other people, we wonder about their motives and intentions. Understanding requires a healthycuriosity. To really understand this story onehas to care about the motivations of people and the specific plans used byterrorists, police, governments, and so on. We needtojustify the actions of the characters by developing a hypothesis for what motivates them. We must have a set of questions that are always ready to go. For example: Whyis this character doing what he’s doing? Whatare his plans? What's his intention? Understanding this story means wanting to know whythe Iraqi gunman wasshot. And in wondering aboutit, we should begin to speculate about it, to hazard some guesses. When we say that we have understood something, we mean that we

The Importance of Questions

have been ableto find an explanation that we have previously stored, or that we have successfully constructed an explanation of an event for which we had no relevant prior experience. To understand something thus meansto beable to re-cognize (literally, rethink) it as something that has been cognized (thought about) before. Wesay to ourselves, Yes, I have already explained this before, so I won’t have to explain it again. Understanding meanshaving already explainedit, and being able to access that explanation. Whenaneventsuchas the Arabic-speaking-gunmanstoryis novel and hasn’t been previously explained, the issue becomes: What questions are extant in my memory, and how dothose questions relate to the explanation that is required in this case? Understanders, on occasion, can look for complicated, in-

depth explanations. However, in order to get in-depth explanations you haveto have beenasking in-depth questions. The question of whythe security guards did what they did can be answered at a rather simplistic level. For example, we might wonder about whatthis eventtells us about the nature of security guards or about the nature of the political relationship between Irag and France. We might wonderaboutthe increasing acceptability of terrorism in embassies throughout the world, or about the feelings and attitudes of people who have been held hostage. Each of these questions, once posed, causes us to construct

an explanation that has that question at its base. The question, once posed, biases the answer. Whenthereis a difficulty in understanding, the questions that are already present in our minds will direct the explanation process. Suppose, for example,that the Iraqi security guards who did the shooting werethe ones held hostage by the gunman. Then certainly retribution would have been a reasonable explanation for the subsequentshooting. So it seemsfairly important to pose the question of whetheror not that wasthecase before deciding upon an explanation of the event. Issues such as what the actors may have beenfeeling or what the gunman’s fellow travelers might have doneto relatives of the guardsare rele-



The Natural Creative Process

vant here. In other words, in order to understand fully, we

haveto call to mind knowledge of what revengeis about. Or we haveto be able to speculate that the action by the guards might be viewedas a heroic action within the Iraqi culture. Perhaps when guards behavein this fashion they are considered to be heroes of the revolution. In order to make interesting explanationsit is necessary to have the capability of asking interesting questions. The explanations that you create for yourself depend upon the questions that youask. It is the question that is key here, not the answer. So, the question is: how do you pose the question, Could retribution have been a factor? Unfortunately, we seem to have a vicious cycle here. The only way one could possibly pose a question about whether retribution might have been a factor is to have had the idea that retribution might be a possible explanation. If we are to ask questions, we must have some idea where these questions come from.

Where Questions Come From Questions can come from manyplaces. One standard source of questions is the remindings of old events that you wonder about and don’t fully understand. The Arabic-speaking-gunman story, if no certain explanation were arrived at, would become a set of questions which maydrive the understanding of anotherstory related to those issues. That is what reminding is really all about. Consider the question, Are there any other instances of this bizarre behavior that might help me better understand that story? This kind of underlying thematic question might lie around passively for years, waiting for an answer. You are always looking for the answerto it, but not consciously. Other types of questions are derived from an attempt to follow the course of the story while gathering the basic facts and data that are there to be derived from the story. These are the basic journalistic sort of who-what-when-where questions.

The Importance of Questions

We know howto ask these very well and do not need to be taught to ask them. Theyare a part of our normal everyday understanding capability. Anotherset of questions come into play when the expectations generating the normal run-of-the-mill questions begin to break down. These questionsspecifically address the possible reasonsthat a given expectation mayhavefailed. For example, upon reading this story you might want an explanation for: Whydid the security guards break the rules of the capture script? We attemptto see if we can reconsider an event to see if various standard scripts or patterns that we know about might have been active. This means generating more questions about what events the gunman might have beeninvolvedin previously, what the guards werelike, who paid them, whatinstructions were given to them, and so on. Therole ofall these questions is to generate new questions. A reader, having hypothesized that this situation might be a case of retribution, will begin to generate new questions based on that assumption. The hypothetical explanation is used to match against the current situation. To the extent that it matches, that match generates questions about whether the match is appropriate; whether the circumstancesareverydifferent; or whether some other explanation should be sought.


Understandingis not an all or nothingaffair. Understandingis gradual, on occasion partial, and most important, subject to

wide variation depending upon one’s interest. Understanding is a mixed-modeprocess, involving focusing on only a portion of what one is reading, mulling on that portion, wondering about it, and then returning to the text with new ideas and questionsthat will serve to control the subsequent understand-



The Natural Creative Process

ing of the remaining text. Understanding depends uponexplanation, and explanation depends upontheability to formulate questions. Questions, explanations, and remindingsare part of the basic understanding cycle, and are also the basic tools of creative thought. Creativity depends upon theability to formulate the right question at the right time. We have to want to know somethingin orderto learn anythingat all. We have to ask a question in order to get an answer. Understanding is question-driven. To understand we must be able to ask questions, to wonder about the things we are reading or hearing about. We mustbe able to take phenomena that are out of the domain of our prior experiences and find remindings of two types. We mustbeable to find remindings from our own experiences that are quite close in spirit to the experience that we are currently processing, or when no personal remindingsare available, we can access the explanations of others, in the form of proverbs or general words of wisdom, and try to make them fit. In a sense,the first kind of reminding is a shortcut, an easy method of processing a newsituation by finding a very closely related old experience to contrast against the current one. Whenthat pathis not opento us, usually because such a memory simply fails to come to mind, then we must take a more active role. We mustfind related explanation patterns that we have gleaned bylistening to others and allow those explanation patterns to drive the questioning process. To put this another way, we must fry to be reminded. In order to understand, or create, one has to have the desire

to knowthe answers to questions that are generated during the process of understanding. That meansthat if you are going to read a terrorism story, you have to have some questionsthat are driving the process. In other words, there has to be some reason that vou have begun to read this story in the first place—namely, to answer the background questions that you have about a subject, the answers to which you know will interest you.

Whydoes one read a story in the newspaper? When one

The Importance of Questions

reads a story like the one about the Arabic-speaking-gunman, oneis not just readingit to find out what happenedin the Iraqi embassy in Paris, one is reading it for some set of personal reasons having to do with one’s cares and concerns about the world. Otherwise there’s no reason to read thestory. Whenthestory about terrorism comesby, you have to have had in mind questions suchas: I wonder why there’s so muchterrorism today? What’s going on in Paris? I wonderif I can find some new material for a joke in tonight’s monologue?P Howcan I better cometo understand the worldsituation by seeing what is going on with terrorism? I feel the need to know about blood and gore. Give meall the details so I will know how toactif it happens to me. There are all kinds of reasons to read a newspaperstory. It might seem, at first glance, that a person can pick up a newspaperandjust read thearticles to kill the time or amuse oneself or whatever. What happens then? Actually what is going on thereis that you are letting your background questions take over. There are things you always want to know or always are curious about—hundreds of them, maybe thousands. You don’t haveto be thinking of them explicitly when you pick up the newspaper. Theyare thereall the time, ready to be answered. Questions arise from the fundamental desire to know. And wanting to know implies having an active knowledge-seeking mechanism thatcan be frustrated whenit is not fed frequently enough. In other words, wealso wish to eliminate boredom. Boredom is a paucity of questions, or if questions are pres-

ent, a paucity of information from which one could derive answers. One advantage of boredom is that it may begin the process of generating more questions simply because oneis

bored, without any outside stimulus. In any case,it should be

clear that the capacity to be bored and the capacity to ask



The Natural Creative Process

creative questions are very muchrelated. When wesee a news storv for the second time, our needis to retrieve its earlier occurrence from memory, so we can usetheoriginal experience for comparison. If the newstoryis identical to the old, or if the new information it providesis rather paltry or uninteresting, we get bored. Why? Because no new questions are raised and because there seemsto be nothingto learn, nothing to think about as a result of the new experience.

CONCLUSION Creativity means asking questions. To become morecreative

one mustlearn to generate questions. In order to answerthose questions, one must learn to transform those questions into ones that are answerable and whose answers themselves bring new questions to mind.It is that simple, andit is that difficult.



Asking Questions and Tweaking Answers

THE STANDARD QUESTIONS AND THE STANDARD ANSWERS One wayto explain somethingis to look for an explanation that one has used before and that worked well, and try it again. We

do this all the time without noticing it when weusescripts. We don’t try to explain why the restaurant expects to be paid for

their meal. We don’t even think aboutit. We just accept the standard explanation that that is how restaurants work. Or if we do think aboutit, we accept a more complex, but equally standard, explanation about the nature of business and free enterprise.

Whenever something needs to be explained—thatis, when there is no script available to explain somebody’s action—we ask a question to ourselves about why the person did what he did, the answer to which constitutes an explanation. When the

waitress flings our order at us, we are out of the script. When this occurs, we must create an explanation from scratch. But there is really no such thing as from scratch when it comesto the mind. We always rely on what we already know. Wasthe


Creativity Tools

waitress angry at us because of the way we acted? Does she rememberthat wefailed to tip her last timer Did she just get into a fight with the chef? All of these explanations come from the script in some way. When werely upona script, we are

doing as little thinking as possible. But when wethink very hard in an attempt to come up with a new explanation, we are

still manipulating old explanations in an attemptto find one that fits, however loosely. We cannot explain something new without comparing that new experience to something old. We understand even the most novel things in terms of what we have already understood. If one part of our experience is inadequate for a new understanding task, then we must hope that another part of it will be adequate. To understand something complicated, we have to improvise with the full range of resources at our disposal. It is nice to have the right tool for the right job, but in the end wehaveto rely on those tools we do have. The creation of a new explanation always involves the adaptation of an old explanation. Or to put this another way,true creativity always depends upon andrelies uponthefull range of what you already know.Thereare no really new ideas, there are just adaptations, reformulations, additions, and context

changesto old ideas. If creative explanation depends upon prior, more mundane explanations, the trick to learning to be creativeis to learn how to play with old standard explanations so as to make them fit new current situations. Learning to be creative means learning to find and change what you already know. The search for relevant and useful old explanations and the modification of those explanationsto fit the currentsituation can be achieved only by asking a question. To getold ideasto come to mind for use in new places, one must pose just the right question to oneself. In this light, creativity means no more than the application of a technique or rule where one would not expect to applyit.

Asking Questions and Tweaking Answers

Explanation Questions in the Swale Case

In the death of Swale we have an anomaloussituation. Our scripts do not function to explain the event. Young horses do not usually die. The initial unconscious stage of the understanding cycle has been unable to cope with thetask of explaining the death of Swale. Nowthat we have an anomaly, what do we do with it? The first task is to search consciously for the old explanation patterns (XPs) that we would normally think of as adequate for events of this type. This is accomplished by asking explanation questions (E.Qs). The secondtaskis altering the old XPsin the course of examining all the experiences that the Swale case remindsusof. EQsare just standard questions that one can learn toask, which ought to be asked every time some event needs an explanation. XPs are standard answers to those questions. These standard questions and standard answersarethestarting point for a kind of mentaldialogue with oneself from which creative explanations can be found. Of course, if you asked exactly the same question every time, you would get exactly the same answer and everything would be explained in the same way. Different explanations are found by adapting the standard explanation question of the case at hand. Recall that in chapter 6 wesaid that thereare basically three kinds of questions you want to ask when you needan explanation. These were: Reasons:

Whydid he dothat?


What will happenP


Whatcaused that event to take place?

Within each of these categories there are aspects to focus on that cause the question to become morespecific. These are:



Creativity Tools

Aspect 1. Place in belief-goal-plan-action-result chain Aspect 2. Prevention

Aspect 3. Retribution Aspect 4. Group Behavior Each of these aspects serves to focus a question in a given way. Not all the combinations work to create sensible questions, but many of them do. So, for example, focusing on Why did he do that? and aspect 2 might produce the question, What action was he trying to prevent by doing the action that he did? Focusing on aspect 3 might produce Whataction wasthis action done in response to? The point of creating questions in this wayis that such questions focus inquiry in the search for an explanation in a way that might not be obvious at first glance. For example, the question, Was Swale’s death an inevitable result of how racehorses are treated? can be derived by focusing on aspect 4 (group behavior) applied to the outcome question What will happen?(whichis, How could that event have been predicted? for past events). Similarly, by focusing on aspect 1 (goals) applied to Why did he do that? you can derive the question for Swale, Why did Swale decide to die? Now this may seem a

rather silly question at first glance, but in fact such silly questions can cause creative thoughts to occur. It seems unlikely that Swale’s death was a suicide, but a writer of fiction might be able to have fun with such an idea. If you want a creative answer, no question is too absurdto ask.

Having said all this, here are some questions about Swale’s death that, when asked, cause oneto start thinking in a reasonable direction: Reasons + Place in Chain:

How will Swale’s death benefit others?

Outcomes + Retribution:

Is Swale’s death related to Swale’s other activities, e.g., his winningall those races?

Asking Questions and Tweaking Answers

Reasons + Prevention:

Is Swale’s death the result of Swale’s being the victim of some counterplanP

How will Swale’s death benefit others? This is a reasonable questionto ask andit starts us thinking in a useful way. Wecan at this point create some convoluted plan that might have resulted in Swale’s death. The trick here is the correct characterization of the event. Is it a death, a horse death, a racehorse death,or a valuable object theft? The

point is each of these might be a label that would cause a preestablished explanation pattern to come to mind.For example, there is a movie called The Killing about the killing of a racehorse as a subterfuge for a robbery at the racetrack. People have been reminded of that movie when discussing Swale when the idea of horse death for profit comes up. It is in the creation of such characterizationsthat labels are thought up, and indices bring old ideas to mind that just might be relevant.

Is Swale’s death related to Swale’s other activities, e.g., his winning all those races? Here webegin to focus on the whole of Swale’s life. Swale was not only a horse, he wasalso a racehorse, a superstar, an athlete, a male, an individual who worked about once a

month, an individual who was on a regulartraining schedule,

someone who was not in control of his own life, and so on.

Each of these labels can serve as the name of an XP (explanation pattern) or bring some event to mind, to which Swale can be compared. The more you get reminded, the more XPs come to mind, the more potential explanations are at hand. And while dumb remindings can always be dropped, when a good reminding pops up, it can be worth its weight in creative potential.



Creativity Tools

Is Swale’s death the result of Swale’s being the victim of some counterplan? This is not only a reasonable question, but one that many people comeupwithafter thinking about the problema little. The two explanation patterns I cited in chapter 1, namely that Swale was killed for the insurance money, and that there was a plot by a rival horse owner, comeeasily to mind, but only after this question has been asked. In other words, it is this question that brings those XPs to mind. This is a question that naturally comes to mind while the others comeless easily. Why?In a world of constant suspicion and counterplanning,it is not terribly surprising that we haveall learned to ask questions about plans that have bad consequencesfor others but good consequencesfor the planner. Thetrick in explanationis to keep in mind that the other questions oughtto be asked as well.


Tool 1. Focus on consequences of actions. Using the consequences of an action as a guide to whoor

what may have caused it is tricky. The apparent consequences may not be the important consequences to whoever was responsible for the action. If an action has bad consequences for somebody, for example, one would wantto ask questions about: beneficial results, painful results, prevention, physics, enablement, patterns of connection betweenstates and actions, future behavior for coping, future behavior for avoidance. When Mr. Smith is found dead, ask who benefits

by his death. Every detective knowstool 1. But we don’t employ tool 1 as often as we might, perhaps for fear of being labeled paranoid. When the electricity goes out, you might ask who benefits by its going out. This might just turn out to

Asking Questions and Tweaking Answers

be a reasonable question when the powerfor an entire region goes out. Tool 2. Focus on the reasons behind an action.

Wehaveto try to homein on the goals and plans that the actor or institution may have.It is only by making assumptions about a person’s beliefs and intentions that we can decode the real reasons for doing what he does. We mustalso ask about what kindsof goals are associated with these beliefs, and what common or unusual plans might be in the service of those goals. Questions here must focus on: beliefs and intentions, general plans, goals, specific plans, goal priorities, action sequences, history, predictability. Often, the most obvious reasons are not the actual reasons. Here again, every detective ought to know that just because Jones did it, we can’t assume that the obvious motive was the actual motive. When the owner of a baseball team, whose primaryinterestis in making money,fires his manager, it may not be becausehethinks that anew manager will win more games. He maythink that the publicity about the firing will stimulate interest in the team and hence,ticketsales.

Tool 3. Look for known patterns of actions, to which a given action mightrelate. The available information aboutan actor in a given eventis rarely sufficient material to generate EQs (explanation questions) and XPs(explanation patterns). One should focus beyond the level of a particular event to its context, and beyond an actor to the groups or institutions he may be a part of or subscribe to. Questions should focus on: group membership, group goals, group characteristics, patterns of behavior, usual plans, reasoningof the group, reactiveness of plans, changesof behavior, prior intentions, prior reactions, replication. When a normally sweet person suddenly turns into an ogre, look for “ogre patterns.’ Did he join a group that encouragesthis be-



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havior? Did he have an experience that changedhis beliefs? What other changeslike this have happened?

Which Questions Should We Pursue? One important task in making use of explanation questionsis deciding which questions to pursue at length. What questions are worth considering here? Are the most obvious or standard questions the most worthy of serious wondering? Some questions derived from looking at someofthe aspects applied to the question types here seem absurd when applied to the Swale case. Someare impossible evento state; andin still others there are sensible questions, if you relax your definition of sensible a bit. Almost any question, if pursued carefully enough, can vield something interesting to think about. Useful ideas sometimes come from taking odd questionsseriously. What are the standards for whatis interesting? How do we decide whatto pursue? The degree to which a questionis significant or interesting depends mainly upon whatoneis interestedin,silly as it may sound to assert this. Nothingis intrinsically more orless interesting than anything else. Interestingness is perhaps the most relative aspect of the events and experiencesin ourlives. For a veterinarian, the most interesting explanation question in the Swale case might be somethinglike, What was the colorof the horse’s urine that morning? For detectives or insurance investigators, and for people in general, the mostinteresting question would be, How will Swale’s death benefit others? This is a key question becauseit leads us to think of individuals or institutions that might have had a motiveto do awaywith Swale. Theeffort to answerthis question will generate a candidate set of actors who might fit thebill. Since this question is so standard for detectives and police, the answerto it is standard as well. The standard answeris the foul play hypothesis. The foul play hypothesis is simply a stock explanation pattern that we invoke in various stereotypical

Asking Questions and Tweaking Answers

situations, one ideal version of which is obviously the sudden death of a very valuable young racehorse. Such stock XPs are stored in memory together with their corresponding stock explanation questions. Foul play is an XP indexed together with this question.It is not the only XP indexed along with this question, but it is perhaps the most readily available explanation pattern for such an event. There are several standard explanations includedin the foul play hypothesis, such as rival owner, beneficiary of insurance policy, and so on. This question also points to a great many other XPsthat are less obvi-

ously standard than Killed for the insurance money.

Most people who watch TV a lot or read murder mysteries know that this is one of the most hackneyedplots ever. Killed for the insurance is a standardpartof the foul play XP indexed under this question. One might well ask: Where is the creativity in this process?

Where’s the Creativity? Are the explanation questions that immediately occurto us as interesting really what we should be the mostinterested in?Is whatfirst occursto us really the most worthy of further wondering? Or should wepayattention to the odd or stupid-sounding questions? It might appear creative to come up with the idea of wondering if someone was holding a large insurance policy on Swale’s life, but this is such a commonlineof inquiry in murdercases that it would have to be treated as an application of a stock explanation pattern. The unsettling fact is that the process of creative explanation is very similar to the process of uncreative explanation. Each process relies upon the same basic mechanisms. Creative and uncreative thoughtboth involve the task of asking explanation questions andcalling up explanation patterns. Oneof theprimary purposes of having standardized EQs and XPsis to allow us not to think too hard about the answers. Wetake a standard set of questions, which for the mindare really a standard set



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of search techniques, and we attempt to establish which of these questions make sense in the current case. Some questions are foundto besilly or irrelevant, and others are discovered to be quite useful. We know from ourdiscussionofscriptbased thinking that coming up with a standard,tired, worn-out answer doesn’t have much to do with creativity.


We don’t really learn much from the process of answering questions. This is because some questionsare designed notto teach us anything. If I ask you, “Who wasthe first president of the U.S.P” you can find the answer and tell me. The answeris right there. You don’t know exactly how you perform this feat. You don’t know wherein your head youlookto find the answer or how exactly you got there, but you can doit easily enough. What did you learn from this featP Not much. Why not? Because you didn’t have to think! You just used the standard answer, and thereis literally nothing to do with a standard

answer. What can you do with the answer George Washington? It just sits there, like a piece of lead. If a question has an answerready-madeforit in your head (or in the head of whomever you're talking with), how creative can it be? Whatif I ask you a different question, such as, “How do you feel about dogs?” Suddenly, you have no oneplace to look. The answer to such a nonstandard question can’t be found using the same sort of memory search that gave you the discrete answer George Washington, unless, of course, you are a fa-

mous dog catcher, dog breeder, or dog expert whois interviewed so often on the subject that you actually havea rap or formulaic answerfor this. You might come up with somegeneral impressions aboutyourfeelings toward dogs,andif I asked you to do so, you could probably talk to me about dogs and your experiences with them for quite a long time. If you loved dogs vou might tell me about a certain dog that you loved. If you

Asking Questions and Tweaking Answers

hated them, you mightrecall the experiences which caused you to feel that way. Whyis this question so different? This question is different because it doesn’t have a formulaic answer in the same way as Whowasthefirst president of the U.S.? There is no XP waiting thereto be called up, and that’s good! The question invites thinking and wondering. As I mentioned earlier, a good questionis anirritant, like a grain of sand inside a clam’s shell. Most questions aboutattitudesor feelings require you to search your memory in order to find many different experiences, each of which might give you something to talk about and also something to think about. Perhapsthis is why people don’t like to be asked questions about attitudes or feelings or fears—they aren’t easy questions to answer. Psychiatrists and psychoanalysts get paid fabulous fees just for the service of discreetly and gently asking their clients some otherwise easy-to-ask questions. These questions encouragethe patients to explore their feelings and attitudes toward their parents, dreams, lovers, and other such mysteri-

ous things. A good psychoanalyst is keenly aware of when his or her client is merely offering up some formulaic answer that has been covering up unexaminedfeelings for years. Psychotherapists are, in a sense, good at giving their clients something to think about by asking them questions. What we needis the ability to give ourselves something to think about by asking ourselves questions. What does it mean to give yourself something to think about? What exactly does it mean to wonderabout something? Among other things, it means taking some episodes from memory and beginning to think about why they happened, what their effects were, what your attitudes toward them were, and so on. Wedothis kind of thing when wethink about our lives, our goals, our families, our friends, and so on. One

can entertain oneself just by wondering about something. Wonderingis asking yourself a question, devising explanations, and remembering old explanations andstories. Wonderingis whatcreativity is all about, regardless of the domain in which we do the wondering.It is perfectly creative



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to come to a new realization about one’s girlfriend or teacher—tofinally understand what they want from you and why. This may not be creative thinking within a context that wins Nobel Prizes. But it is exactly the same process.

The Supermarket Model of Memory Think of your memoryas a large grocery store, such as Super Stop and Shop. If you ask a grocery boy whetherhe has BonZani’s cream of mushroom soup, chancesare he won’t have the answeron thetip of his tongue, because he doesn’t knowall the brands of soup in the store. Your question will make him think of whatever soup boxes he remembers opening that morning. But asking, “Whereis the canned soupsection?”will get you an answer. Asking the right question will lead you to new and useful pathways. Good questions are ones that lead you down interesting pathsin the pursuit of answers. In the Swale case, the question, Whatkindsof things do I know aboutthatresult in early death? can activate a set of labels in memory. When we look for standard XPs that might answerthis question, certain patterns come to mindeasily, such as killed for the insurance,or suc-

cessful too fast too young, or raised under poorliving conditions. These patterns have a commonlabel, under which they can be found—namely,early death. Theyare,in a sense, on the sameshelf in the Super Stop and Shop,orat least the question helps us discover that they could be on the sameshelf. In a way, the mindis like a very fluid and multidimensional Stop and Shop, in which every item on the shelf has a label that reads, This can also be shelved with X, Y, and Z. The mindis

stocked with a great many things we don’t even remember having stocked it with. All the items in the mind can be reached or activated mainly through the process of formulating questions. Questionsallow usto find things we canuse,but didn’t even know wepossessed in our memories. You can go to the supermarketfor cannedsoup,andfind ten otherthings you need but hadn’t thoughtof.

Asking Questions and Tweaking Answers

So what do wedoin the case of Swale, once we havepiled up a great many stock questions and answers? Is there anything else we can do, or are westuck with the boring foul play explanation pattern? Whatis the missing trick here?


The process of wondering about some eventcreatively, that is to say, beyond merereliance on the standard EQs and XPs, involves taking the situation and tweaking it into relevance. The first step in tweakingis to allow XPs and remindingsthat are less obviously relevant into one’s consciousness. One must focus on irrelevant, or less obviously relevant questions, which will cause less obviously relevant XPs to be brought to mind. A creative explanation evolves from tweaking the remindings and XPsthat arise from explanation questions. The second step is to modify or transform the odd-sounding XPs using other knowledge available to us until they have some coherence. Accordingto this view,then, creativity is defined in a four-step process, the steps of which can be summed up in commandments ofsorts: 1. Formulate the standard EQs. Generate good questions. 2. Search for XPs. Find the stock explanation patterns that answer the question.

3. Follow upall remindings. Treat all remindings as potentially relevant. 4. Tweak irrelevant or absurd XPs and remindings until they make somesense. If the pattern does not fit, force it to fit by constructing outside circumstances that would makeit work.



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Creativity requires the ability to go on with an absurd question or absurd answerto see whereit will lead. In other words,

we shouldn’t quit the questioning process when it seemsto be yielding only ridiculous patterns. Tweaking the odd patterns into relevance may be the most important aspectofcreativity that there is. Creativity means keeping an open mind about possible candidates that do not obviously apply. Creativity is thus a function of one’s ability to generate candidate explanations and to attempt to tweak them into relevancy. There are two kinds of standards of relevance: therealistic and theartistic. The creative process is the samein bothcases,

but the result is regarded differently. With a standardofrealis-

tic relevance, the final explanation sounds plausible from a rational point of view. With a standardofartistic relevance,the final explanation is not necessarily true in any absolute sense; rather, it is true with respect to whateverart form is setting the standard—perhapsas a joke, perhaps as a metaphor,perhapsas the basis of a novelor workof art. Sometimesfun turns into a serious new thought. Sometimes play turns into good work. Wecan learn about our own assumptions andprior beliefs only by examining what wereject as nonsense, or wrong. We normally reject explanations that seem irrelevant and consider only certain explanations first. Yet it is crucial to pay attention not only to the explanations that we treat as most plausible or relevant, but also to those that we treat as least plausible or

relevant. The potential for creativity lies in how we deal with the least relevant questions and the least plausible explanations. By reinitiating the question-asking process using rejected or borderline material, we can come to new conclu: sions. In this way, all our explanations and remindingsare the raw material of creative thinking. Thereis creative potential in every question that can somehowbeturnedor tweakedinto relevancy. People whoare creative often say and do seeminglyirrelevant things. They rely upon their irrelevant thoughts as a meansfor generating relevant ones. They don’t use thestan-

Asking Questions and Tweaking Answers

dard patterns, whichis why creative people are oftenirritating to their less creative fellows. Thinking about seemingly irrelevant thoughts is one of their sources of creativity. The difference betweencreative and uncreative thinking is a matter of which explanation patterns come to mind and howlong seemingly wrong patterns are entertained as viable hypotheses. This is the reason that creativity can be taught. We can train ourselves to ask interesting questions and to search for interesting explanations. The creativity of the question-asking process is relative to the originality of the explanation patterns which that process bringsto light.

Tweaking Remindings in the Swale Story As we saw, one wayto wonderaboutthe Swalestoryis to think about the effects that Swale’s death could have on various people. One explanation question, or EQ, is: Who will benefit from Swale’s death? Most people whoask or are asked this question will think about inheritances and insurance beneficiaries. They think of moneyas a benefit, and they can easily find the pattern, killed for the insurance money. That pattern is linked to the EQ, Who benefits monetarily from a death? It may seem odd that our memories work this way, but thereis every reason to believe that they do. As with the question about our first president, merely answering a stock question with a stock answeris not creative in any sense. But manipulating and wondering aboutthe standard answerto the standard question can be quite creative. Instead of simply finding the answer, Someone whowill get moneyas a direct result of the death, and linking that to the standard XP,killed for the insurance money, we can do more. We can manipulate the explanation pattern. We can bring to mind an XP andcreatively misapplyit. That is, we can look for answers that one doesn’t usually think of in this connection, answers that are seemingly original. In order to creatively misapply an XP,thatis, in order to find


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a seemingly wrong XPas an answerto our question, we must

first generate additional questions about the XP. For example, one odd-sounding question to ask here might be, Whatkinds of benefits are there, in general, and how canI relate those benefits to a death? This is a question at a higher level of generality than weareusedto. It is a question about the whole concept of there being such a thing as benefits from a death. Instead of asking a specific question for which wewill find one and only one answer, thus making us capable of focusing on only one possibility, we must ask a more generalquestion.This has the advantage of allowing us to focus on many morepossibilities. This new question compels us to think of all the kinds of benefits that there might be, in general, from a death,in order

to use each of those benefits in turn as indices from which new patterns may be found. Weneedto look for a set of basic XPs in which someactor or agent obtains benefits from a negative event, such as a death, enough to make him atleast believe he

is happy. A few such benefits mightbe:



wo TO ote &


Getting a lot of money(this is the standard one we have already dealt with) Becoming successful in your work Falling in love Having someone you care for become happy Curing adversity (such as an illness) Making a new friend Having a pleasant sensual experience

Achieving a goal

It is possible to achieve a goal because someoneelse has failed to achieve it. This is the XP backed into victory, a common XPin sports (in winning the championship of a division in a sport), and in work situations where someoneis promoted because someoneelse was fired or quit. The XP backed into victory can be used to generate the hypothesis that a rival

Asking Questions and Tweaking Answers

owner had Swale murderedas a wayto enable his horse to win an upcoming big race. Similarly, backed into victory can call to mind another XP

whenthe positive benefit is fall in love, namely the XP fall in love on the rebound. Thenice thing about fall in love on the rebound with respect to our purposeshere is the obviousirrelevance of it. What could it have to do with Swale’s death? This is the creative aspect of tweaking. Once a seeminglyirrelevant XP has been found,it maybe possible to tweak it into relevance. There are no rules for tweaking in the sense that there are no proscriptions about what you cannotdo.All remindings are potentially fruitful.

For example, even thoughfall in love on the rebound was

generated with respectto a plot against Swale, it need not be used that way. Once the pattern is in memory, it would be perfectly reasonable to think that Swale died of being lovesick

after being the victim in the fall in love on the rebound XP.

The problem hereis only one of evidence. Itis fine to suggest this, but there is no evidence to supportit, and it would seem absurd to say that Swale died of lovesickness. Nevertheless, it

is from such absurd ideas that stories are generated. I don’t knowif it would be a very interesting story, but one can certainly begin to think of a story in which a racehorsedies of love before the big race. Where do such ideas come from? From applying an XP in the wrongplace and tweakingit so thatit

becomes coherent.

TWEAKING AN XP We can establish a first tweaking rule that encourages the open-mindedattitude that good tweaking requires: Tl. Don't be rigid about set membership. To find a candidate XP for a horse,forget that he is a horse and you will find more candidates. To find an explanation for the behavior of a memberof any category, make believe that



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he is a memberof another category for a while and see what comes to mind. The next step, after assuming that Swale was an alcoholic, Swale was a professional criminal, Swale pushed himself too hard, Swale was raised in poverty, and so on, are active pos-

sibilities, is to test each one to see whatits difficulties mightbe.

To do this, one must find a set of conditions under which the

XP might be reasonable. Let’s look at a couple of these XPs and see howthis might work. An XPis a pattern of events that we are familiar with,to-

gether with the usual effects of that pattern of events and

connected to otherpatterns that we know about. For example, let’s consider two patterns, Poverty brings early death, and mobkilling: Poverty brings early death is a pattern that says, in essence, that people may die young because they have no money,eat poorly, become unhealthy, die. Linked to that pattern are prior situations that used that pattern such aslives of immigrants and people in Africa, as well as a reason thatis thecase: The body cannotbe poorly treated early on without eventual repercussions. This, then, is what is in that pattern, and any

concept in that pattern maycall that pattern to mind. Mobkilling has a sequenceofactionsthat defineit: join gang, commit crimes for gang, step on toesofrival, rival seeks re venge, ending in the untimely death of a gang member.We recall prior explanations and examples such as: The Untouch-: ables TV show, gangland slayings in New York, horse’s head

scene in The Godfather, as well as the reasoning behind the

pattern: to take revengefor a prior killing or other unpleasant: ness with the intention of using killing as a method of commu: nication or warning.

The key part of the XP, for the purposesof misapplication, | is the sequence of events that the XP describes. It is clear : immediately that the step no money whichstarts the process : in Poverty brings early death is very unlikely to be truefor Swale. Racehorses are rather well treated from birth. So, if we are lookingfor a realistic explanation, we caneither ‘

Asking Questions and Tweaking Answers

look elsewhere or else we can suspend the condition that we don’t like. This is tweaking rule number2: T2. If a condition is clearly false, ignore it temporarily, make it true later if the rest works out. Using T2 allows us to assumein any case that Swale’s problem wasthat he ate poorly as a youth andthathis body suffered for it later. There is no reason to believe this, of course, but let’s

not let that deter us. Assumingthat welike this line of reasoning, the problem becomesoneof creating a scenario whereby the unrealistic condition might have been true. There are many waysto do this: We can assumethat Swale had aneating disorder as a youth; perhaps he knew a female horse who was poorly fed and to whom hegaveall his oats, and so on. The point is that, especially if we wantto create an artistic explanation,it is possible to keep alive a clearly absurdline of inquiry by using T2. T2 has a companionrule therefore which is: T3. To make an unworkable condition viable, add a

new question and explanation pattern to the entire situation.

This means, in effect, that one must ask the question, Why

would Swale not have had the right food when he had access to good food? Thus, we mustfind candidate indices andrelevant XPs, such as disease prevents action or donate to a good cause to use to explain why one would think he had eaten well when actually he hadn’t. It is possible to make any XPviable if you want to, but you may have to resort to numerous suspensions of reality. This may cause an explanation to becreatedthatis so fanciful that itis absurd. But creative explanations can be created by suspending reality for a little while—thatis, as long as it takes to fnd a good explanation that would actually be realistic. Now let’s look at the next XP. In mob killing, the conditions



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in the event sequencethat defined the pattern are even more absurd, on the face of it. Surely, Swale wasn’t a memberof a rival gang. Further, one can, of course, construct a story in

whichthere are horse gangs, butthis is solely an artistic explanation, and probably not a very good one of those. So wecan safely abandon this line of inquiry. Or can we? Oneofthe important points about XPs is that they contain within them pointers to others episodes in which they have applied. This leads to rule T4: T4. XPs are one source of remindings. Use them when you are stuck as a way offinding new XPs to tweak. The difficult part of the explanation process is finding the XPs to consider. Herethetrick is to not abandontheoriginal XP without allowing oneself to think about that XP in the context of the original index, in this case horse death. I have listed as an exemplar of the mob killing XP, the horse head

scene from the movie The Godfather. From this point, we can

reconstruct an explanation wherein Swale is now seen as an object of revenge between rival gangs.

Finding Additional Patterns



The key to inventing creative explanationslies in intelligently

indexing the explanation patterns. If everything we would :

ever want to explain about Swale were listed under hore: death that would be nice, butit is unlikely to be the case. The 3 only people with a highly developed memorystructure in dexed under horse death might be veterinary medical examin : ers (there may be such a thing—I don’t know) or paleobiolo- 4 gists who look at fossil horse species to find out why they3 becameextinct. As I havesaid, one way to explain something unusualis by.7 reference to something different for which thereexists an ex }

planation. So one way to find a candidate set of explanation 4

Asking Questions and Tweaking Answers

patterns is by changing the eventthat is to be explainedinto one thatis like the original event butis different enough that it might bring up a newideathat is relevant. In this way we have the possibility of finding additional explanation patterns that are not connected to the indices at hand but might be relevant. Thus, for example, we might know of an XP that relates to cars or elephants. We might wanttotest it to see if it might relate to a horse as well. Therefore we attempt to change the event that needs to be explained into another event that we can explain. T5. Transpose objects that are alike in function. A horse is transportation, and so is a car. Perhapsrulesrelating to the “death” of cars might be relevant. We cantry this in any of the EQs. For example, death of cars plus the question, Whatfactors caused this event that might happen again? would index explanation patterns that we mighttry to apply to horses. It happens that in mycarthereis a hose that popsoutfairly frequently. I don’t know whatthis hose’s function is, but | know what to do whenthecarfails to go. I put the hose back in place. This is my own personal explanation pattern for car “death.” I was remindedof it while thinking about Swale and considered for a momentthe ideathat Swale’s hose had disconnected and no one putit back in time. Such a hypothesis can

then be checked for credibility, of course.

16. Transpose objects that are alike in behavior. Suppose that we considerracehorsesto belike star performers, in that they both constantly exert great effort for short periods of time and can becomeextraordinarily rich and famous. This makes the question, Is the actor a memberof any group that is known to do this anomalous behavior? relevant, ‘and we might be remindedof star performers who have died young, such as Janis Joplin and John Belushi. This reminding


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enables the proposal that Swale died from overdosing on drugs taken to relieve the pressures and boredom of stardom and available because of wealth. This is actually a fairly important reminding because, while the idea that is directly derived from it is basically foolish, one does begin to think about drugs. In the context of racehorses, drugs are actually a realistic concern. Perhaps Swale didn't elect to be a drug addict, but is it such an absurd hypothesis to consider that the reason that Swale was such a good racehorse was that he was drugged and that those drugs got him in the end? I am notinterestedin the facts here, of course. This

is just a hypothesis. What is important about it is that it isa hypothesis that was generated by taking somefairly mundane steps, but yet it is somewhat novel. Should Swale remind you of Janis Joplin? Maybe notimmediately, but explanation patterns can cause that reminding to occur. And that kind of reminding can be the sourceof a certain kind of creativity. As I mentioned earlier, in a seminar that I was running on explanation, one of the students was reminded, while discussing Swale’s death, of Jim Fixx. Jim Fixx was the author of a book on the health benefits of joggingthat was widely read and respected.Theironyis that Jim Fixx died while jogging at a comparatively young age. This kindof re minding can be very valuable forits ability to bring to mind questions, in this instance, of the possible health hazardsimposed by excessive running. By asking in the question, Is Swale a memberof some groupi for whom early death is normal? weare trying to learn some: ; thing new that will both explain the event under consideration 3 as well as tie together one or moreunrelated facts into some !; kind of explanatory whole. Thus, for example,if it were the $ case that many three-year-old racehorses die, we would want to realize that and use that fact as an explanation of Swale’ death. If Swale was a memberofa class of actors for whom it is knownthat they die young or that they are subject to heart 4 conditions, then Swale’s death is explained in the sense of *

Lys aa ssate


Asking Questions and Tweaking Answers

explanation that we are discussing. So we might have a rule that says that finely tuned running athletes suffer more physical problemsthan others. And it might comefrom the Jim Fixx reminding. In order for the student who was remindedof Jim Fixx to have that reminding, he would haveto havecreated class of actors into which he could place Swale and into which he had previously placed Jim Fixx. Then, having indexed Jim Fixx in the same way that he indexed Swale (presumably with something like early death), he would be reminded. The value of the reminding is to start the process of creating a new rule incorporating both events. We mightalso like to understand whyathletes who run have heart problems. Or we might wantto investigate the issue of whether these problems could have been predicted better. Thus, we might want to examine other athletes with heart problemsto see if taken together they mightall have something in commonthat enabled a deeper understanding of the general phenomenon.So,is early death a factor in athletes in general, or just runners, or just dark-haired athletes? Such hypotheses must come from somewhere.If there are no available explanation patterns, then hypotheses such as these can arise by looking for convenient groupingsof events. The irony here, of course, is that creativity depends upon not having an available answer. Thatis, if no explanation pattern is available, there is more need to be creative to find an explanation.

The use of the rule T6, Transpose objects that are alike in behavior, can be applied in multiple ways. Thus, one could find the Janis Joplin reminding by seeing Swale as a successful performer whodied youngorby seeing Swale as a drug addict. In the first case, we have the early success brings early death pattern. In the secondcase, we have the addictionbrings early death pattern. Either of these patterns can be used in the Swale case to come up with something relevant. The trick in the first is to be able to suspend belief on the issue of how Swale could



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have decided to obtain, and have beenable to ingest, drugs.

Using rules T2 and T3, we can decide to believe the rest of the XP. Thus, we are faced with resolving the problem of the suspended belief. The trick is, again, to find an XP that will resolve the new EQ. So for the EQ, Who could have helped Swale with drugs and why would he doit? we get a few obvious patterns: dope peddler hooks youth, friend can’t prevent self-destruction, and evil person uses another in schemes of his own. The third one of these allows us to toy with the idea that Swale actually was a drug addict, because someoneelse,

perhaps his trainer or his owner, found some reason to do this to him. Of course at this point, one should be reminded that, in fact, horses do take drugs, and one can consider the

realistic explanation that Swale was a great racehorse because he was on drugs and that the drugs finally took their toll. It is unlikely that one could give an exhaustivelist of tweaking rules since there is no reason to suppose that one can

delimit the possible methods of reminding. The purposeofthe tweaking rules here is to bring to mind a new event from which one can derive a working XP that can adapttheoriginally proposed XP into onesuitable for the situation. Creative explanation is dependent upon intentional reminding. Tweakingis a kind of intentional reminding. When weare faced with the problem of explaining something, and noeasily fitting XP exists, we try to adapt another, superficially unsuitable XP to the current situation. However, during the process of adaptation, alternative XPs that are moresuited to adaptation may develop. The process of creative explanation is one of search. Weare searching for XPs to adapt. Creativity depends upontwo primaryfactors: a set of methods for being reminded, and a set of methods for adapting remindings in such a wayasto fit the new situation. One must also have a creative attitude, which in this process manifests itself in the ability to keep alive obviously errant remindings or obviously irrelevant XPs long enoughto seeif theyreally

are useless.

Asking Questions and Tweaking Answers


After one has asked the right question, there are two tasks that are crucial to creativity: finding patterns and tweaking patterns. We have devised a set of tweaking rules for manipulating a pattern after onehas been found.In simple English, these are all rules that give advice on howto take a standard explanation pattern, maxim, or proverb and applyit to a new situation. These rules can be summed up moresuccinctly as a set of tools for creativity. I. To hell with the facts. If you can’t come up with a good explanation, make believe that the things involved in whatyouare trying to explain were different than they were,andtry to explain thatfictional state of affairs. Then adapt the explanation you were reminded of to the current case. You can’t explain Swale dying? Explain a car notstarting and then see if that might be relevant. You can’t explain terrorism by Palestinians? Makebelieve that they areall from Massachusetts and try to explain that. You can’t understand why your friends have decided to split up? Could you explain it if they were your enemies? 2. To hell with reality. If the explanations you find yourself coming up with fall apart because your explanation violates the laws of physics, or of society, keep on going. Assumethat the sacred truths you know are right are actually wrong and see whatfollows from that. The killer would have to have leapt ten feet straight up in order to get away? Assumehecould doit. John was the only one who could have doneit, and he was fifty miles away at the time? Assumethat he wasn’t fifty miles awayatall or that



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he can transport himself instantly from place to place. He neededa special kind of material made only on Mars; assume he hadit.

3. Be reminded of anything. You must be reminded at whatever cost. You must get old explanation patterns to come to mind. Try thinking of anything atall that will allow something different to pop into your head. Then try to adapt what has to come to mind to the situation.

Can’t think of a college to send your daughter toP Openthe phone book under the classifieds and see what restaurants soundlike colleges. Want to know whatto do about your exboyfriend who has just called? Turn on the television and watch a situation comedy. Should you buy a new house? Read a novel. Does this advice makesense? It does, because new patterns will come to mind, new thoughts, newsituations. Just trying to argue whythose newpatternsareirrelevant to yourparticular situation will bring new ideas to mind thatare relevant. 4, Use everything you get. During the course of the explanation process, experiment and be flexible. Keep in mind that anything that comes to mind can be useful, even if all you are doing is thinking about why it’s not useful. Any thought that comes to mind can be used as fodderto mull on. Wondering about whetheryou should take a newjob, and you find yourself thinking of eating cookies? Maybe you should go into the cookie business. Why not? Just arguing why not maytell you about what you should do. You should be studying for a test andall you can thinkofis a new girl youjust met? Call her and ask her if she knows anything aboutthe subject. If she doesn’t, teach her and learn from teaching. Need a newidea for a new product for your company? Read

Asking Questions and Tweaking Answers

an old product manual, and see what you wind up thinking about. Doesall this work? Explaining something meansthinking aboutit, and thinking begets more thinking. You can’t be hurt by thinking too much.


Planning with Explanation Patterns


Human conversation revolves around shared experiences. This is true particularly where advice or planning helpis involved. Good advice often consists simply of making connections that the other person can't see. One persontells another person about a problem, and theother, having been reminded, will relate his or her most germane experienceto the first. But what if you don't have a germane experience? Whenpeople don’t have their own experiencesto relate to one another, they tend to give each othertried and true wisdom. And, while it might not be great fun to listen to clichéd advice, for our purposes here, real use can be madeofsuch banalities. Explanation patterns are, in effect, fodderfor creative processes. In order to have XPs to tweak creatively, we must have XPs come to mind for consideration. There are

many sources of such XPs, but one of the best is proverbs. A proverb is a precompiled, culturally shared experience

that is useful in some way. We canthusoffer advicein the form of standard wisdom that may not be from our ownpersonal experience but is generally agreed upon to be wise. Such ad-

Planning with Explanation Patterns

vice is sometimes received with funny looks. Consider this example: A womanwastelling me about a job opportunity that she was trying to arrange for herself. She had asked her employers to arrange a job for her in a new place whereshe wasgoing tolive temporarily. The people she talked with seemed amenableto this idea. But most of the senior managers who could makethe final decision wereall away until the end of the summer, and myfriend was leaving before that. One day this womanheard that oneof the senior managers had been joking with another employee aboutherjob opportunity and appearedto think it was a very good idea to arrange some work for her in her new location. She asked my advice on what she should do. “Make hay while the sun shines,” I said, and told her

to go see him right away.

How doesthis phrase cometo be in my, or anybodyelse’s, vocabulary? Having grown upin thecity, I could have no views about why one should make hay in the sunshine, although I could make some guesses aboutit. Yet it seems that some good old farm wisdom had workedits way downinto the everyday vocabulary of an urban professor. While listening to this woman’s story, I analyzed what she said in terms of her goals andher plansto achievethose goals, and then integrated that analysis with my knowledge of how people in various situations are likely to behave and with my beliefs about what plans workbestin varioussituations. I thus decided that she had to take her opportunity whenit arrived and that as long as the person in charge was thinking about her favorably, it would be a good time to ask. This muchis fairly obvious. The next thing I had to do wasexpress myadvice. This proverb represents this woman’s problem as a choice between two distinct plans: to act now andto actlater. It talks about the right timing of an action. In myview the preconditions necessary for her to accomplish herlarge goal were present now. I had an intuitive idea of what advice she needed, and suddenly



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this proverb occurred to me, so I said it. Proverbs are a kind of explanation, and thus also a type of XP. How was I able to find the proverb to express myintuitive idea? What was it about my friend’s predicament that reminded meof the proverb? What label in my memorycould I have used? How did I know that this proverb was going to be at all understandable to my friend? How do proverbs come to mind? Or, to put this question back in the realm ofthis example, what were my thought processes in this conversation? What thought processes are used in order to apply such an explanation pattern? Let’s compare the saying of Make hay while the sun shines, discussed in this chapter, and the XP from chapter 7: Swale waskilled for the insurance money.Both of these are mundane XPs, readily recognized and understood by most people who share the American culture and language. Let us review the questions one would have hadto ask oneself in order to come up with these answers. The appropriate question in each case mightbe: What should someone do whohasthe choice betweendelaying an action and performing that action when the conditions are seemingly right for performing that action? Who would gain money from the death of someone? It seems obvious from looking at these questions that the answers are almost built into them. There cannot be muchof a trick in finding the XP that relates to them since that XP looks just like the question. The pattern in each case would startout, one would assume,with the premise of the question and then provide an answer. Such answersare readily retrievable by the mind: just saying unexplained death, and rich, brings the insurance pattern to mind. Similarly, just thinking of the choice between do it now anddoit later, when conditions favor do

it now, ought to bring the make hay proverb to mind.If we want to think of new andinteresting XPs, we have to concentrate on generating interesting questions to begin with.

Planning with Explanation Patterns

The labeling scheme that the mind employs mustrely heavily upon the abstract concept behind a proverb of this type. The question myfriend asked was, What should I do? In general, one finds answersof either of two types. Wesayeither, Consider this other case that is quite like it as an example to guide you (expectation-failure based reminding), or Followthe generally accepted wisdom on the subject (culturally shared reminding).

WHAT Is A PROVERB? A proverbis a type of explanation pattern. Because of thatit has two aspects of interest to us. First, by looking at lists of proverbs we can begin to see what some explanation patterns look like. Second, since the problem in creativity is to find XPs when we needthem,by looking at proverbs we can begin to think about the labels that the mind mightuse to store and later retrieve proverbs. Giving proverbial advice is a rather stereotypical way of applying an explanation pattern in everydaylife. At certain times, an event which wearetrying to understandtriggers the reminding of a proverb. Proverbs indicate someof the labels the mind uses in organizing memory. Proverbs can beseen as the labels of various cubbyholes in memories, in this case culturally shared memories. When werecall a proverb, we effectively represent our experiencesin termsof indices that relate to planning.

Planning with Proverbs Planningis, after all, a creative act. When we comeup with a

new plan,it is an act of creativity in the same sense that coming up with a new explanation is creative. It should not be surprising, therefore, to discover that just as all new explanations are really derived from old explanations,so it is with new



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plans. People formulate plans by attempting to adaptold plans to newsituations. In planning, the object is to find old experiences and use them to guide in the planning of new ones. That is, the best plan is one that has been used before and that has been found effective. The trick in planning is to be reminded well. If you are remindedof an effective plan, you can useit. A major problem in creativity, then, is to be reminded of the right pattern, be

it a pattern of planning or a pattern for explanation, at the right time. In order to use an explanation pattern, one must first be reminded of it. One doesn’t feel reminded of the proverb exactly. It is more like the proverb comes to mind. Also, one is aware whenthis proverb comesto mind that the reminding is not unique to oneself. It is reasonable to assume that the person youare talking to knowsthe proverb andwill readily appreciate the wisdom init.

A Look at Some Proverbs

Let's take a look at some proverbs, then, keeping two things in mind—whatthese particular XPs look like, and how they might be labeled so that they can be foundlater. Thereare,of course, a great manykinds of proverbs. For example,there are explanatoryproverbs. (The proverbs I am usinghereare taken from a book of Yiddish proverbs, Kogos, 1970.) The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. When the stomach is empty, so is the brain. If the student is successful the teacher gets the praise. A second wife is like a woodenleg. There are also observational philosophical proverbs: Bydaythey’re ready for divorce, by night they’re readyfor bed.

Planning with Explanation Patterns

Bones without meatis possible; meat without bones is not possible. Whena poor man makes a wedding,the dog getsthe shivers. If everybody looks for pretty brides, what’s to becomeof the ugly girlsp But in this chapter I wantto concentrate on proverbsthat give planning advice. Some examples of these are: When you beata dog, besure to find stick. The just path is alwaysthe right one. It’s a good idea to send a lazy man for the Angel of Death. If one has nothing to answer,it is best to shut up. If you comefor the legacy, you often have to pay for the funeral. If you invest in a fever, you will realize a disease. If you dance at every wedding, you will weep at every funeral. If you stay at home, you won’t wear out your shoes. It’s good to learn to barber on someoneelse’s beard. If all men pulled in one direction, the world would topple over. I have selected these proverbs precisely because they may not be familiar to everybody. The question is, when would you want to say one? What does one haveto think about in order to be reminded of a proverb atthe right time? Each of these proverbsrefers to an implicit goal. Some refer to possible problems with the normative plan to achieve that goal, others with what to pay special attention to in the plan, and still others with how to choose betweenplans. In order to get ourselves to think of these proverbs, we must be thinking in terms of plans and goals. These proverbs can be neutralized in order to see better what their indices are. Once we get beyond the metaphoric way in which a proverbis put, we can look at the goals and plans in terms of which the proverbis actually stored in mem-



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ory. This assumption means, for example, that we don’t re-

memberthe first proverb in terms of haymaking, but in terms of planning. We are reminded of Make hay while the sun shines when weare thinking about whatto doin life, not when we are on a tractor pulling a hay baler. Any proverb can be reduced to a culturally neutral, context-independent statement about planning. This neutral proverb would be an abstract description that serves to bring a specific proverb to mind. For example, When you beat a dog, be sure to find a stick becomes Whenyou tackle a dangerous situation and decide to take action, be sure to prepare for the side effects. The just path is always the right one becomes When making a choice, bad side effects will be avoided if the choice is based on doing the morally right thing. Looking at these proverbs in this way makes what was once unrelated seem quite similar. Both are talking aboutside effects of the choice of bad plans. This group of proverbsI will call side effect proverbs since they deal primarily with the side effects, direct or indirect, of people’s plans. Let’s reduce the rest of the proverbs in this group to their culturally neutral meanings. It’s a good idea to send a lazy manfor the Angel of Death. Whatis this proverb about? Let’s ask some questions. What does the Angel of Death mean here? Something very bad no doubt. What does the lazy mansignify? Certainly, a lazy man is someone who mayfail to get his job accomplished. So we have a plan that the plannerisn’t so sure he wants to accomplish, and the actor in the plan whoisn’t so goodatgettinghis job done. Wecanseethat this proverbrefersto the side effects of deliberately choosing an otherwise bad plan in a situation that is already bad. It implies that the side effects of a bad plan are good if you didn’t want the plan to work. Or, to putthis another way, if you want a plan to work, avoid choosing one with bad side effects. If one has nothing to answer, it is best to shut up. How do we analyze this one using a vocabularyof plansandsideeffects of plans? Are thereside effects to talking when you havenoth-

Planning with Explanation Patterns

ing to say? Nothing good,that’s for sure. Looked at this way, we can seethat this proverb discusses the side effects of doing something when one doesn’t know whatoneis doing.It says, in effect, that the side effects of acting are often worse than those of not acting.

If you come for the legacy, you often have to pay for the

funeral. Legacies are good, no? Then whatcan this proverb be about? Paying is bad. If it results from an expectation that something goodis going to happen,then one should avoid such false expectations. So this proverb is moredirectly about side effects. It says in effect that there are side effects to seemingly positive events that can be quite negative.

If you invest in a fever, you will realize a disease. What does

this one mean? Try analyzing it in terms of side effects and plans. Jf you dance at every wedding, you will weep at every funeral. This oneis abouttheside effects of emotional commitment. If you stay at home, you won’t wear out your shoes.

Figure this one out for yourself. My analysis is number7 in the list following. It’s good to learn to barber on someone else’s

beard. I especially like this one. What does it say about plan-

ning? Myanalysis is number9 here. [f all men pulled in one direction, the world would topple over means two different things. First it means that there are bad side effects to even seemingly wonderful actions. Secondly, it means that things that seem bad often have goodside effects. These are basically two sides of the samecoin. In culturally neutral terms, these proverbs have said the following things aboutside effects: 1. Whenyou tackle a difficult problem, be sure to prepare for the side effects. 2. When choosing a plan, bad side effects will be avoided if decisions are based on doing the morally right thing. 3. If you want a plan to work, avoid choosing one with bad side effects. 4. Theside effects of acting are often worse than those of not acting.


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5. There areside effects to seemingly positive events that can be quite negative. 6. If you think that an event might be negative, stay away because it could have even worse side effects than you might have anticipated. The side effect of feeling pleasure is to feel pain. Theside effect of taking a chanceis that you mightlose. 9. Theside effect of learning is the possibility of mistakes, so avoid the morecostly ones while learning. 10. There are badsideeffects to even seemingly wonderful GON



11. Things that seem bad often have goodsideeffects. Oncestated in culturally neutral terms, proverbsallow us to examinethe features that might be usedfor labeling explanation patterns of all kinds. The abstractions or generalizations embodied within these proverbs contain within them something very special. They contain the features that are used in composing labels to the patterns. The challenge in making creative use of remindingis to find the set of indices that will bring to mind the right pattern at the right time. Consequently, let us assumethat the languageneutral proverbs shown hereare the only ones that we have to consider.

Proverbs: Crystallized Human Experience

The reason that such abstractions occur cross-culturally is simple: The analysis of events and experiences in terms of plans and goals is at the core of being human. Proverbsare humanplans in crystalline form. The actual chunk of crystal is shaped differently in each language, but the crystal structure is always the same. The general planning tools that humans use appear to be language-independent. These same generalizations can be found in manydifferent languages and cultures. All humans need explanation patterns that are good

Planning with Explanation Patterns

for planning, and the most common and universal ones become embodied in proverbs. The proverbial advice of our culture is impossible to avoid. It seeps into our unconscious andis recollected whether we accept it or defend against it. We make use of proverbial XPs in spite of ourselves. We have a cultural and intellectual need to use such indicesor abstract concepts. If we want to be more creative, we can try to use these mechanisms actively, to search our own headsfor proverbs and proverb-like XPs that might prove useful. We need to think of our minds as wellindexed books of proverbs and allow our natural reminding process to provide us with as manyalternatives as possible.

Making the Mind a Useful Book of Proverbs The real problem is not creating XPs, but finding ready-made cultural XPs when they are needed. Whatare the key ideas that would have allowed the author of a proverb book to make that book useful to someone who hada problem for which he needed advice, or to find an explanation for a phenomenon that he sought to understand? How could we write a truly useful index to a book of proverbs? Any lesson to be learned from examining proverbs must have relevanceto the general problem of the application of an explanation pattern. Thousandsof explanation patternsexist in memory, and eachis indexed accordingto the kind of explanation that it represents. In order to be reminded, we mustposethe right question to ourselves, one that naturally elicits a relevant pattern. The issue for us is, in what languageare such questions formed? By this I do not mean a language such as English. Rather, I am saying that if we know what units the mind uses and we use those units in our question, we might get the kinds of answers we need. Consider the proverb Make hay while the sunshines from this perspective. What question might I have asked my-



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self that would have elicited such an answer? And, more im-

portantly, what are the memorylabels used in such a question? I said earlier that the question was something like whether one should act noworactlater, where the conditions for acting nowarefavorable. The premise is that Make hay while the sun shines exists in memory in some other format than its normal linguistic expression. Its form, in terms of language-neutral memorylabels, must be something like Choose acting now over acting later when the conditions for acting now aregood. This abstraction has a name in memorywhichis, of course, the

proverb in English that expressesit.


The language-neutral proverbs wehavedistilled from the proverbs here show that weare able to think about events and situations in terms of plans, side effects of plans, intended consequences of plans, and so on. Proverbs about planning must be indexed under particular problems in planning in order to be found when needed. Problems in comprehending the intentions of the powerful must be indexed undersituations where that kind of thing comes up. In other words,indices must be problem-oriented. If one were to attemptto establish all the possible configurations of the indices we have been using, with appropriate choices as to which of two plans is the better under which circumstances, it would seem reasonable to assumethat there

would exist, in many cultures, proverbs for all of them. Orif they did not exist, we could predict that they would beinvented (with a language andstyle that reflected the culture). Thatis, in a farming culture we might expect that the language about planning would be couched in terms and ideas that relate to farming. The point, of course, is that all the possible configurations can exist in the head, in principle, and that these serve as the basis for memory organization. And, since our purposein ex-

Planning with Explanation Patterns

amining them hereis to find out how to retrieve them from memory, knowing whatthe indices are that the mind uses would be very helpful.

Figuring Outcomes Using XPs

The major value of an XPis its use in explanation, of course, and one of the chief kinds of explanation, as we have seen,is

the prediction of outcomes. Therefore, one would expect to find many XPsin areas of knowledge that involve prediction. So in orderto see the use of XPs in a real domain, let’s look at

the problem of attempting to predict football games. The claim is that the way experts predict football gamesinvolves attempting to invokethe right XPin theright situation. That is, an expert wants to be reminded of an XP and attempts to remind himself of it intentionally so that he can use that pattern for predicting an outcome. The reason we care about this from the point of view of creativity is simple enough: If one can learn to ask questions in the right language, that is, one that conformsclosely to the form and labels normally used by one’s memory,then one can moreeasily retrieve useful patterns from memory.Solet’s see how this looks in action.


The reason I have chosen football betting as the domain of discussion of proverb-type planningis that it is closed, in the sense that not every XP could possibly applytoit, it is simple in the sense that there just aren’t that manylabels, and it is frequently driven by just such XP-type reasoning. Of course, it has the disadvantage of not being very creative, but right now we wantto focus on how XPsare brought to mind by asking the right question based upon findingtheright label, and football betting applies well to that issue.



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The texts that are reproduced here wereall taken from the sports page of the New York Post. They are short articles about upcoming games wherethe writer is giving advice on which team to bet on. The bet he suggests is not based on which team is better than the other but on which team will win with respect to the point spread. This is an idea that bookmakers have invented to even out uneven gamesbygiving the weaker team additional points for the purposesof the bet. The articles are full of jargon and may be incomprehensible to a reader who cares nothing for football or football betting. Two key words to know are give and take. Give means to bet on the favorites even though you must add points to your opponent’s score. Take is advice to bet on the underdog. Gallo’s college football analysis Bv Greg Gallo Boston College (2-3) at Rutgers (0-2-1) Early season grind—BYU, Temple, Maryland, Pitt, Miami in suc-

cession—has exhausted Eagles on verge of collapse. Winless Scarlet Knights, who scared Florida and Penn State, can wadein and

deliver KO punch at Meadowlands. Go Rutgers.

The explanation used hereis that teamsget tired from playing tough gamesand teamsthat don’t win but comeclose against good teams will win against weaker teams. There is an XP that he is using here that applies to a great many other domains besides football. This XP is: 1. Hopefulness sustains, while exhaustion weakens.

Such a pattern can be used to explain why certain people can continue against all odds while others tend to quit.

Planning with Explanation Patterns

South Carolina (2-2) at Pittsburgh (1-2-1) Gamecocks, a pre-season Top-20 club, have come unglued. Joe Morrison’s D vs. Georgia wasa sieve, allowing low-scoring Dawgs 30 points! Watch hot and cold QB Congemi burn Carolinafor last year’s 45-21 pasting at Columbia. Give the points.

The Gamecocks (South Carolina) have lost after they were expected to win. Thus, they are likely to lose because 2. Failing people’s expectations can be devastating. Furthermore, it is also the case that: 3. If your expectations are too high, you are bound to be disappointed.

In the analysis of the gameitself, the authorrefers to revenge for last year’s defeat. This is a big factor used by bettors. The XPs being used are: 4, People who were humiliated want revenge.

5. The motive of revenge can enable a weaker combatant to beat a stronger one. 6. Motivation is a stronger factor than ability in a battle. Princeton (1-1) at Brown (1-1)

Onepoint loss to Yale in opener makesthis one a mustfor Bruins if they want to makerun at Ivy crown. Brownies offensive wallop too much for Princetonians. Give.

This prediction refers to the XP we labeled 6 above. It relies upon: 7. People perform better than they otherwise might when

they feel that they have no other choice. (Known popularly as Their backs were against the wall.)



Creativity Tools Michigan State (2-1) at Iowa (3-0)

Hayden Fry’s No. 1 Hawkeyes haven't forgotten last year’s 17-16 loss (as 12-point favorite) to Spartans in Iowa City. The defeat put Hawksinto tailspin that eventually cost them Rose Bowl berth. Won't matter that Yarema returns at quarterback for MSU. QB Chuck Long and Bayside’s RB supreme Ronnie Harmontrigger lowa’s fourth-straight rout. Give.

There really is nothing new in this one, since yet again the author relies on the revenge XP, which is obviously one ofhis favorites. Actually he was quite wrong aboutthis one. Michigan State almost won the game, and in any case cameclose enough to make the people who bet on them winners. Any bettor, when asked about why that happened when Iowa seemed the better team, would have responded with twostandard XPs: 8. Sometimesit is easier to do well when no one expects you

to. (The pressure was off.) 9. People play up to the level of their competition. In football parlance, They wereupfor the game, and Everyone wants to knock off number one. Whatis the task confronting someone who wantsto predict howa football game will turn out? He must figure out which XPs apply and choose between them. To do this, he must be able to recall the appropriate pattern. Planning depends upon havingthis storehouse of XPsavailable, and that means being able to be remindedof the right XP bya situation. Make haywhile the sun shines mightwell be the right advice, and you might know the proverb,but it would be of no use if voufailed to recall it when you neededit. So one serious problem in creativity, even the mundanecreativetask of the simple prediction of outcomesdescribed here,is recall. You must know the XPs, and you must be able to recall them when they are appropriate. What we wantto doin orderto bring the appropriate pat-

Planning with Explanation Patterns

tern to mindis to recall its name or whatI call its mental label. To put this more clearly, we have a pattern which I have called the revenge pattern. Once one has thoughtof the concept of revenge, the pattern comeseasily to mind.Thatis,if I tell you that revengeis a factor, you could recall the pattern and predict that the team that has the revenge motiveis likely to win. If I tell you that the fans in the stadium of team B are particularly rabid, you would recall that pattern, assuming that you knew it in the first place, of course, and be able to determine if you wanted to apply it in this case. In each of these situations various ideas tend to characterize the relationships between the teamsor to characterize various aspects of the teams absolutely. These characterizations are what bring the XPs to mind andit is thus those characterizations that interest us. One canlearn to analyze football games if one has the patterns and the questions to ask that will reveal those patterns. Of course, one’s analysis will only be as good as the patterns that one has learned. In this closed domain of football, then, if

one learned to ask exhaustively the questions given here one would windupwitha set of patterns from whicha final analysis can be made. But let’s forget football and ask whatall this has to do with real life. The answeris that in any creative endeavor—whenever oneis called upon to decide to do something, or to come up with an analysis of something, or to come up with a new explanation of what has happenedor a prediction of whatwill happen—theprocessis the same. One mustaccess the relevant patterns. If a relevant pattern comesto mind,it can be altered, as we have seen, to makeit appropriate for the currentsituation. The trick is to be remindedofit in the first place. To do that, one mustask the right question. Andin orderto ask the right question, one mustbe ableto think of the relevant mental labels. In the domain of football, for example, we have revenge, exhaustion, the homerecord,and so on. Once one has

begun to think about such things, the relevant question to ask, and the pattern that answersthat question, will come to mind.



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Thetrick is to think of the ideas of revenge, exhaustion, and the homerecord asideas that are relevant to be thought about in the first place. In this regard, creativity is a function of finding mentallabels. You cannot think creatively without the basic data of creative thinking. One wayto find this data is to ask questions. Andin orderto ask reasonable questions, one must know what things to ask about. The hard partof creativity is to be able to think up a relevant label to use to bring to mind otherwise irrelevant remindings. The trick in creative planning, then, is very simply to learn the applicable patterns and analyze the situation at hand in an attempt to determine what patterns apply. Football may not be a very creative domain, although many people certainly would like to know howto pick a game correctly. But there are areas where these same techniques can lead to quite creative results, as we shall see in the next section.


One way to see how proverbs and tweaking function in the creative process is to try to solve an inherently difficult or unsolved problem. Consider the problem ofinternationalterrorism, which has been approached manydifferent ways by many governments. If a person came up with a novelsolution to this problem, we would consider him creative indeed. So let's give it a shot, using the methods wehavedescribedso far. The first step in creative explanation is to find the thing that needs to be explained, the question that needs answering, the anomaly that has gone unexplained. To this end we will attempt to answer two standard questions: Whyarethe terrorists fighting? and How can they be stopped? These questions seem trivial because we have ready-made answers for them: Terrorists fight to get what they want, namely, enforcing their ideology on the world, and Terrorists can’t be stopped altogether except by turning the world into a concentration camp.

Planning with Explanation Patterns

But weare notgoingto settle for the stock answers. These initial questions must be transformed into a set of EQs by taking the standard EQsand adapting them. The EQs we used for the Swale case are not, as I said, some special group of questions, but merely a perfectly functional sampling of useful EQs. Here weshall use some of the EQs we discussed when talking about Swale and someothers that were generated by looking at various aspects of the three basic question types. Whatfollowsis therefore an adaptation of these questions to the current situation, with XPs indexed under them. The XPs

that are indicated there are just ones that came to mind as| wrote downthe question. The creative process meansgetting those XPs out of your own headin orderto think about them, But that is really fairly easy to do, assuming you know them, if you have asked the right question in the first place. Of course, some of these XPs are pretty standard, but that is not the issue. The issue is whether any of them are creative atall. One goodideais all you usually need. How does terrorism benefit people? War brings plunder; revenge brings happiness; recognition brings importance.

How dothevictimsget into thesituation in the first place? Vacations bring risk; travel brings risk; homesickness causes disturbed behavior; change upsets routine. Do the victims make an error of some kind? Bullies pick on cowards; people whoare into symbols pick victims who are symbolic.

What events tend to precede terrorist acts? Full moon arouses werewolves; revenge. What other groups behavein a similar manner? Nations at war; marital disputes; professional infighting; office politics; children’s disputes; revolutionaries.

Whydo such groups behavethat way? Jealousy; inability to share; dominance problems; arrested development; general unhappiness.



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What makesthis particular group behave differently from other groups? Poverty; lack of control of ownlives; political oppression; pawns in the games of others; religious differences; true-believer mentality.

Whatgeneral plans do groupsthat the actors belong to have? Moslems—kill infidels; Lebanese—fix country; young people—let off steam; young people—beidealistic.

Whateventis terrorism trying to prevent? Violence disturbs status quo; violence brings repression, which brings revolution; fanaticism disrupts boredom.

Why is there so much terrorism now? New breeding grounds; frustration over lost wars; loss of power of Arab bloc because of oil price drops; new fanatics gain power;

religious resurgence in Moslem world.

Does terrorism support some goal that isn’t obvious? Somebody gets rich through terrorism; someone gets power

through terrorism.

These XPs all came from my ownhead as I thought aboutthe situation. Obviously, a great deal of the creative processis hidden in the ability to think up XPs at the right time. One method for doingthis is to try to see the originalissueasifit were somethingelse. For example, here, by consideringirrelevant features that precede eventsthat are dastardly, the idea of full moons and werewolvesoccurred to me.Suchsilly ideas are the stuff of which creative explanations are made,of course.


Obviously, a key problem hereis generating the XPin the first place. But, as we saw with the football example, such XPsare usually quite abundant and easyto learn. The problem isjust recalling them. Whatkind of useful strategies could we devise for generating XPs when we want them? Let’s consider the list of XPs again, but this timein a differ-

Planning with Explanation Patterns

ent way. This time, I have chosen a book of proverbs which have beenclassified under various major and minor headings. Here are the original explanation questions again, this time followed by the major and minor headings and proverbsthat correspond to the EQs, listed under them, that I found to be relevant from The Penguin Dictionary of Proverbs. Notall the EQs had proverbs that were relevant, of course. Here again, one can see that the trick is in the labeling. In this case, the proverbs in this book were classified under headings that forced me to decide whetheror not they were relevant to the case at hand. In other words,hereagain, I had to decide what ideas best related to the issue of terrorism seen from anypossible perspective. The key points here are two. First, I was able to find proverbs in the book that seemed to answer the questions I had raised. And second, with little tweaking of those proverbs, some creative answers doarise: How doesterrorism benefit people?


Hethat is down needfear nofall. Adversity is the touchstone ofvirtue.


Adversity makes a man wise, not rich.

What motivates the terrorists?


Covetousnessis the rootofall evil. No mischief but that a woman or

a priest is at the bottom ofit.

When the weasel and the cat

make a marriage,it is a very bad presage.


Poverty is the mother of crime. He that is suffered more than is fitting will do more than is lawful.



Creativity Tools What are the motives of the institutions that back terrorism?


Pouring oil on the fire is not the way to prevent it.


The stick is the surest peacemaker.


If you want to see black-hearted people, look among those who nevermiss their prayers.

Whatare the policies of those institutions?


Ask andit shall be given to you. He that demands, misses not, unless his demands befoolish.


Better to rule than be ruled by the rout.

It is better to be the hammerthan the anvil. War—tactics:

Cities are taken bytheears.

What are the goals of those institutions?


No penny, no paternoster.


He who squeezes in between the onion and its peel picks up the stink. Keep notill men companyunless you increase their number. Fish begin to stink at the head.

What plans are those institutions carrying out?


Fear is stronger than love. There is no remedyfor fear butto cut off the head.

Planning with Explanation Patterns


For a flying enemy make a golden bridge.

Whatdid this institution decide was most important?


Faith will move mountains.


The more one knowsthe less one believes.


"Tis action makesthe hero.


The good intention excuses the bad action.

What will this institution do next?


You mayplay with the bull until you get his horn in youreye.

Danger makes men devout.

Whatother groups behavein a similar manner? Crime:

Show mea liar and I will show thee a thief.


Some have been thought brave because they wereafraid to run away.

Having been reminded of these proverbs, by whatever method,the issue is whether they can be adaptedto be of use in understanding terrorism and perhapsfinding a solution for it. In other words, can one makeuse of these proverbs in such a way as to create a new idea from them? Considerthe following proverbs taken from the abovelist: Adversity makes a man wise,notrich. Covetousnessis the root ofall evil. No mischief but that a womanora priestis at the bottom ofit.



Creativity Tools

He that is suffered more thanis fitting will do morethanis lawful. Pouring oil on the fire is not the way to preventit. It is better to be the hammerthanthe anvil.

Cities are taken by theears.

No penny, no paternoster.

He who squeezes in betweenthe onionandits peel picks up the stink. Fish begin to stink at the head.

The more one knowstheless one believes. Action makes the hero.

You mayplay with the bull until you get his horn in youreye. Danger makes men devout. Somehave been thought brave because they wereafraid to run away. Within most proverbs lies a suggestion of what to do to fix the situations to which they refer. Here, then, is where the second part of the creative process comesin. After finding an XP (and proverbsare very standard and usual XPs), one begins to adapt it. This may require using it solely as a vehicle for finding other, more relevant XPs. In other words, an XPis,in

one of its most important roles within the process of creative explanation, a source of labels of future remindings or of other XPs.

The creative process requires finding these XPs and tweaking them. That having been said, let’s look at each of the proverbs here to see what new ideas they might suggest: Adversity makes a manwise, not rich is a referenceto the effects on the victims of terrorist acts. From this it is easy to come up with the idea that people whosuffer from terrorism become wiser because of it, but while this may well be true, it is rather useless as is. However, supposethat wereversedthe problem here. Oneof the goals of explanation is to find rules

Planning with Explanation Patterns

of the world that seem to workso as to be able to adapt them to one’s own circumstances. Using the tweakingrule, If a rule applies in given situation, try reversing its actors and objects and see what happens We comeupwiththe idea that perhapsif the terrorists would suffer some more adversity, they would get wiser. This brings to mindthe idea, using the XP divineretribution, of hijacking or kidnapping some of them for a change. Is this a creative ideaP Of course.It is new,in the sense that it was just thought up. It doesn’t really matter if someoneelse has already thought it up, or if it is totally without value. The pointis that the creative process worksin exactly this fashion. Find an XP that is relevant, tweak it, and presto, a new idea. That is what

creativity is all about and, most importantly,it is a process that is well within your control. It is easy to do. Using Covetousness is the root of all evil, we get the simple idea that the reason the terrorists do what they do is because they want something, and we can assume that money and powerare two primethings that people tend to want. As we said, one of the purposes of the search for XPsis to find appropriate labels that reference other XPs.In this case, since we are looking for plans of action, those two can cometo mind. Thus, two plans come to mind here, connected to covetousness, namely, give them what they want, or convince them they can’t have what they want. Thus, we now havetheideas of giving a large grant to the PLO,in exchange for an agreement to stop terrorism, or giving Israel nuclear weaponsto use in

their retaliation for terrorist attacks. Crazy? Perhaps, but creative ideas are often crazy. Just don’t dismiss it so fast. Even if it is a bad idea, working with it for a while might just lead to other ideas. The next proverb, No mischief but that a woman or a

priest is at the bottom of it, is of interest because it brings

up two rather unusual new indices. Using the tweaking rule



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Whenever you have a character in an XP, try changing the character to a different one within the sameset, in order to find a reminding or relevant rule We can begin to think of mothers, teachers, and so on, and for

priests, we can think about any clergyman. This latter attempt to think of a Moslem clergyman might bring up Ayatollah Khomeini, giving us the idea that killing Khomeini would end the terrorism. Again, this is probably somewhatof an obvious solution, but it might not have been so obvious hadthere not been such an obvious memberof the clergy involved.

This next one, He that is suffered more than isfitting will do more than is lawful, is simply a realistic explanation. If taken

as a call to a plan, one gets the idea to attemptto eliminate the suffering. From here it is an easy idea to come up with the standard solution of a Palestinian state. From there, using this tweaking rule,

Rather than the obvious object, change the obvious into another object which also satisfies the rule We can comeup with manyreasonsthat they maybe suffering: poor housing,lack of sanitary conditions, etc. Any one of those would produce some suggestions; for example, perhaps we should build a luxury housing development for them to end their suffering. From Pouring oil on the fire is not the way to prevent it we get the idea thatit is the intention of the leaders of the terrorists not to prevent troubles. Now we needa reason that they would want a constant state of troubles. This is quite close to the heart of the matterin reality, and many XPs cometo mind, including an XP from thesixties that I recall, namely, Social unrest brings revolution. There is also another old standard here: Little man benefits from war between two big men. These are not creative explanations, of course, just realistic ones. Next, we have two attempts to explain the theorythat ter-

Planning with Explanation Patterns

rorists operate under. The first, /t is better to be the hammer than the anvil, giving a philosophy of life of downtrodden people, and the second,Cities are taken by the ears, giving the operating philosophy that underlies propaganda warfare. Again, suggested solutions are to get to the heart of these issues. In the first, one might think of ways to makethe Palestinians more proudof their own positive achievements. In the second, one might decide to fight a war of words in Lebanon, using stronger methods than are nowused. Thislatter, which one can call the 1984 XP,is often used as the excuse for creat-

ing a totalitarian state.

The next set all deal with whois behindit all. The first, No

penny, no paternoster, suggests that the clergy is behindit all and they can be paid off in money. The second, He who squeezes in between the onion andits peel picks up the stink, suggests that the people surroundingtheterrorists are so corrupt that one mustget them first. Here that might meanSyria, Khaddafi, or the PLO leaders. The third, Fish begin to stink at the head, says exactly that. The next, The more one knowstheless one believes, suggests that the problem with theterrorists is primarily that they are true believers, and that there is a standard remedyforthat,

namely education. So perhaps weshould open a free university for them, or else give them all scholarships to come to the United States. Action makes the hero suggests that the terrorists need to be heroes. Thus, one solution would be to give them another opportunity to be heroes. Using the XP that Opportunity makes heroes, we must provide the opportunity. Perhaps we

should start a war that theyall could fight and beheroesin. Or, on the other hand, using Some have been thought brave because they were afraid to run away, we havethe suggestion that the terrorists would really just like to run away. Maybe we should launch a rescue operation to retrieve them from their leaders. And,finally, we have tworather realistic commentaries on

it all. The first, You may play with the bull until you get his



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horn in your eye, suggests that it will all go away of its own accord, and the second, Danger makes men devout, suggests that there is no way to preventreligious fanaticism as long as people feel themselves to be in danger.


To come up with new ideas, use old ideas as a_ basis. Creativity is not such a mysterious process. It depends upon having a stock set of explanations and some methods for finding them at the right time and for tweaking them after they have been found. Creativity can be enhanced if we learn lots of patterns, how to search for those patterns, and howto adapt those patterns to situations for which they were not originally intended. Weordinarily don’t think of search or the adaptation ofold patterns to newsituations as being very creative. Surely there is nothing mystical about those processes. It would seem that creativity lies elsewhere. But I don’t believe this to be the case. Only the proverbial XPs were pursued as objects of creative explanation within this chapter to avoid the tedium of giving endless silly explanations for a very complex problem.In particular the XPs that I thought of prior to mentioningthe proverbs were not pursued. However, there wereall kinds of creative possibilities there. For example, seeing terrorism as a children’s dispute implies that the disputants need to be taught to share, which is quite relevant and perhaps suggests an experimental homeland for those Palestinians and Israelis who would like to prove a point. Also, the analogy to a marital dispute suggests a marriage counselor, another point that could be tweaked into somethingrealistic. Wehaven't solved the terrorism problem, but we havegenerated a great manyideas and possible explanations. We have shownthe mechanistic ease with whichcreative solutions and creative explanations can be found simply by misapplying the patterns inherent in proverbs. Creativity does notlie else-

Planning with Explanation Patterns

where.It is not mystical. It lies within the provinces of search and adaptation, and is heavily dependent upon reminding. One can learn to doit.




If it is really true that XPs can be useful when applied in different contexts or in seemingly irrelevant contexts, then we should be able to solve or at least shed some light on the problem of world terrorism by analogy to football. Take the XPs that I derived from football betting and see what they have to do with terrorism. Here are the nine XPsfor football again:

3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

Hopefulness sustains, while exhaustion weakens. Failing people’s expectations can be devastating. If your expectations are too high, you are bound to be disappointed. People who were humiliated want revenge. The motive of revenge can enable a weaker combatant to beat a stronger one. Motivation is a stronger factor than ability in a battle. People perform better than they otherwise might when they feel that they have no other choice. Sometimesit is easier to do well when no one expects you to.

9. People play up to the level of their competition. Can you see what any of these might have to say about terrorism? Number9 gives someinteresting advice, and number 6 is very accurate when applied to terrorism. Does this prove that terrorism is like football? Not really. It shows how reasoning in any area can be applied to any other, sometimes with interesting results. For example, think about numbersI,



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4, and 7 applied to terrorism, and see whatadviceis suggested. I especially like number7 becauseit leads to someinteresting questions. Do the terrorists feel they have no other choice? Howmight we give them a choice? Those aren’t bad questions to consider.

Wandering the Patns of Thought: Some Questions

We haveseen that one important goal in learning to be more creative is to learn how to makeuse of remindings. The source of a great deal of our creativity is our ability to think of an idea from one context and applyit to another. Finding an explanation pattern and tweaking it into relevance to an area for which it wasnotoriginally intendedis the mentalactivity that is at the heart of creativity. If you can easily come up with a range of possible XPs to think about in conjunction with a problem that requires some creativity, one of those XPs may possibly be a source of new insights into the problem. Most people already know a tremendous numberof patterns. The problem is finding a good one, especially a not so obvious one, when you needit. The trick, then, is to be remindedof the right pattern at the right time. Of course, one doesn’t usually decide to be reminded. Remindingsjust sort of happen. Mygoalis to provide you with methodsof changingthat. It is possible to control the reminding process consciously, at least to the extent necessary to enhance yourcreativity. In order to control reminding, one must understand what natural mechanisms the mind uses when it is reminded; be-


Creativity Tools

comeconscious of those methods; and do them deliberately.If vou can learn to put the reminding process within your control, you will gain conscious access to whatis, for most creative people, one of their main sources of the unconscious—the it-just-sort-of-came-to-me-out-of-the-blue type of creativity. Learn to remind yourself, consciously and intentionally, and creativity can follow.


Have you ever found your mind wandering? Of course you have. You were in class hearing about algebra, and suddenly vou were thinking about Halloween. Yourboss wastelling you about the deadline for the next project, and you were thinking about an upcomingbirthday party. Or perhaps you wereina conversation with someoneandall of a sudden you found yourself remembering a time that you climbed a tree when you were six years old and werescared to death. All this wandering seems to be out of your control. You don’t seem to be deciding where your mind should go. Is the mind random? Dowejust go from thoughtto thought without reason? Of course not. Well then, what exactly is happening when the mind wanders? Whydoesit wanderin the first place? And more importantly, is there somepattern to the wandering? Are there some naturalpaths that the mindtakes when, for whatever reason, it begins to wander? The reminding behavior we exhibit naturally followsa set of paths. Since we effortlessly follow these paths without knowing it, it stands to reason that if we consciously knew what the paths were, we might be able to direct the process when we want to. So the question is, What paths are there? The mind does not wander without reason. As we discussed earlier, reminding is a very valuable phenomenonfor learning. Sure, it would be nice if we heard every word that the teacher said to us or that our bosses told us. But such complete attention would also negate the possibility of creativity. We would do only exactly what we were supposed to do, and creative

Wandering the Paths of Thought

thought probably wouldn’t be oneof ourassigned tasks. To be creative you must allow your mind to go whereit wantsto.

Reminding by Following Mental Paths

Whenthe minddecidesto take off every now andthen,it does so in an attempt to better understand whatis being toldtoit. Mentalassociations occur because the mindis lookingforinformation. We have shown how bringing other examples of a phenomenonthat youaretrying to understand into consciousness will help you understand the new one by comparison to the old one. Of course,in order to get these examples, one has to look for them in one’s memory,albeit without knowing one is doing so most of the time. And sometimes one runs into something one wasn’t expecting. If we want to consciously mind-wander,then, one wayto doit

is to find out how the mind wanders. We do not suddenly find ourselves thinking of watermelons after hearing something about our mother,unless our motherespecially liked watermelons, grew watermelons, served us watermelons,looked like a watermelon, made a fortune in watermelon futures, or some-

thing like that. In other words, there has to be some connection. In order to get from A to F in your memory, one hasto pass through B, C, D, and E, consciously or unconsciously.

Wecanfind ourselves thinking about an event that occurred when weweresix, but wedid not get to that event in one leap. Usually there was a path. If you find yourself thinking about something odd, go back and ask yourself what thing you were thinking about immediately before that, and before that, and so on. Or go back to where you know you were—a book, movie, or such—and ask what thought came from thatspot, and retrace your thoughtsteps in a forward direction. Thereis a path that was followed, and if you are curious enough aboutthat path, you can usually retrace your steps and find out whatthat path was. The rules by which this mental path is constructed also appear in the course of a conversation. Similarly, conversations



Creativity Tools

seem to have their own flow to them, and can wander off

course just as one’s thoughts can wander. Often two people will find themselves discussing something and will wonder exactly how they got onto that topic. Sometimes neither of them wantsto be talking about the subject that they are talking about. Thereagain,it is possible to retrace the steps of the conversation and find out what led to what and exactly how vou got there. Wehave done quite a bit of work on this subject in our laboratory at Yale. We have watched conversations unfold and we haveasked people to let their minds wanderandto retrace their mental steps after a certain period of time. In theresults of these experiments, we have founda set of rules thatall people seem to follow. These rules allow oneto get from object to object by posing certain questions. In other words, the mental process of asking oneself questions and answering those questions allows one to movefrom object to object in memory. Here are these rules and questions for objects. The premise is simple enough. If you are thinking about an object, and you ask yourself the questions here, a new object may cometo mind. The intention of the questions is to cause such a new object to come to mind.In unintentional reminding, the questions are asked and answered unconsciously. This is the way the mind moves from object to object searching for new memories to work on. Consciously knowing these questions and answering them allows the same process to unfold. And, as we havesaid, bringing new objects to mind for consideration in a new wayis an important part of creativity. Object Rules 1. Where From

Where did you get an XP Is it difficult to find an XP?

2. Function

Whatdo you do with an X? Why would someone want an X?P

Wandering the Paths of Thought

3. Enablement How did you manage to get an XP How did you get the resources to get an X? 4. Habits Are you in the habit of Xing? How doeshaving an X fit in with other behaviors? Is this the start of a new trend with things like X? 5. Associated Objects What would go inside that XP What goes with that XP What does the X go inP 6. Results What did you do with the old X? How do youlike being in state Y that results from using XP 7. Problems Might it not be a problem to have an X? What does having an X say about you? Is it dificult to keep your XP

Action Rules

Objects are not the only things worth thinking about, of course. We can be thinking of a thing and be reminded of another thing. We can also be thinking of an event and be reminded of another event. And, the cross-combinations are

possible, too. Objects remind us of events, and events remind us of objects. It is easy enough to go from object questions to event questions. Action Rules 1. Next Event

Whathappenednext? Whatusually happens next?



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2. Preceding and Enabling Events How did you happen to be Xing? Whatled up to Xing? How were you able to XP Associated Objects How washe able to X without a YP Whom did he X with? Wheredid he XP? How did you get a Y that enabled you to XP Whatdid you X withr Other Actors Whoelse Xes? Associated Actions Whatotheractions usually go along with Xing? Physical Results Do you wantstate Z to come from Xing? Why would one want Z to be the caser How does Z help the actor? Whoelse does Z benefit? . Scripts

Whatpattern of actions must have been occurring? Whatelse was going on? Reason Whydid X take place?

. Alternative Plans

Why wasn’t Z done instead? Whatother action achieves the same aims? Whydo people make the choices they do? Whataretheside effects of the chosen plan orits alternatives?

10. History What was going on when you heard about XP How often does X occur?P Whatcausesthings like X in general? Ll. Mentalor Social Effect Did you like Xing? Whatdifference does Xing make? What would happenif everybody Xed?

Wandering the Paths of Thought

Using These Questions to Be Reminded

How can weusethese questions to be remindedconsciously? Will this set of questionsstart the creative process flowing? The answer,I think,is simply yes. If each of these questionsis asked systematically about a subject that oneis interested in pondering, then a great many questions are generated about that subject. Questions are the experimental machinery of creativity. Not all these questions need to bedirectly, or easily, answerable. Notall of them should even be answered. Sometimes just the right question is all you needto start you thinking on the right path. Here I have taken three simple questions. These questions are representative of those that are askedin daily life. The first is a questions about a life decision that is at once mundane, because everyone makessuch decisions, and special because such decisions are very important to us when we make them. The second is a question of what I would call everyday creativity. Many people who design things are creative in a certain way. Many of us are in a position where if we are creative we are rewardedfor it. We wouldall like to invent something new, or do something in a new way. The second question, therefore,relates to this kind of everydaycreativity, for which Nobel Prizes are not awarded, but for which raises

are given, respect is earned, and pleasureis gained. The third question falls into the category of recognized creativity. That is, when someone does something newartistically, or scientifically, much recognition is received. The rules for it are no different than they werefor the other two, but the rewards are certainly greater. Whatfollowsis a look at these three typical questions, systematically pursued by asking the questions given above. The results, as you shall see, are still more questions. Some of these questions, once generated, can provide someinteresting and potentially creative answers. Thecreativity is in the questions, however. As we havesaid, the answersare easy by comparison. The point here is that these questions are generated bysystematically going through eachrule in turn.



Creativity Tools

The Initial Questions 1. Should I marry Mary? (Marry)

2. What improvements can we makeon ourlatest toaster? (Toaster) 3. What new screenplay should I write? (Screenplay)

Object Rules 1. Where From Wheredid you get an X? Is it dificult to find an XP Marry Wheredoes one get candidates for marriage? — Wheredid you meet Mary? — Is that situation difficult to replicate? Toaster Wheredotoasters come from? ~ Where are they made? Where are they bought? ~ What else can be made there? What else can be bought there? ~ What do people need that they can’t get in either place? ~ Whatdoesthis tell us about toasters? Screenplay

Where did the last idea come from?

Wheredid the last play take place? - What circumstances were critical for the creation of that play that should be repeated? What should be avoided? What other place might be fun to go,or think about going to? Where do people whowill see this play fantasize being? Whereare they frightened of being? 2. Function


What do you do with an X? Whywould someone want an X? Marry Whydo you need a wife? ~ Why do other men have wives? - Whydid the people you know get married? — How did it turn out? — Did their wives fulfill the function in their lives that they thought they would? Toaster Whydoes anyone buya toaster? —- Whycan’t they maketoast a better way, or a cheaper way, or a cleaner way? + Whatare the advantages of this way? Whatare the disadvantages? Can these be fixed? ~ What other products would sell the

Wandering the Paths of Thought

way toasters have that have the samekindofprice, function, and relative need? —~ What do you do withtoastafter it is made? What do you do with the bread beforeit is toasted? - Can more functionality be added that does someof these things? Screenplay What do weneeda screenplay for? Who would go to the movie madefrom itP What movies do people like? What movies are popular these days? What kinds of movies aren’t being made these days? Whyaren’t they being made? 3. Enablement How did you manageto get an XP How did you get the resources to get an XP Marry How wereyouable to find Mary? What about you attracted Mary? Doyoustill have that quality? Is it the quality that should have attracted her? ~ Do you have the moneyit takes to be married? ~ Can you afford a new apartment,furniture,etc.? Toaster Howdoessomeoneafford a toaster? Would he be able to afford a new fancier version? Would hebe attracted to a much cheaperversion?Is toast still popular? Is something else replacing itP Screenplay Do I know how to write a new screenplay? What experienceshave I hadrelevant to writing one? What experiences have I had that I could write about? Whatwill I need in order to write one? How do I get what I need? Whatdid others need whohavewritten one? Who wrote a successful one, and did

she have resources available that I don’t? How could I get those resources for myself? 4, Habits Are you in the habit of Xing? How does having an X fit in with other behaviors? Is this the start of a new trend with things like X? Marry Have you been married before? If so, is your decision to get married this time for the same reasons as it was before? Do you tend to want to get married at certain junctures in your life? > Are you getting married becauseit is what people do at this stage of their lives? > Are your friends getting married? Is marriage the fashion, or is marriage to Mary interesting in its own rightP



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Toaster Do you usually design new toasters? What other newtoasters have been designed before, and how have they done? ~ Do people whobuytoasters buy them as part of another set of appliances? Could some group that always go together be packagedas one unit? > Is there a newtrend in people’slives that has them eating a different kind of toast or a replacement for toast? Screenplay What kinds of movies are people seeing these days? Does this trend reflect something that is going on in the outside world? What newthingis going onin the outside world that might be the start of a new trend? — Are peoplestill in the habit of going to movies? Whoactually goes? - Whydo theygo? Can a movie be written that relates to why they are going to the movies? — Can a movie be written that relates to new habits that these people are developing?

5. Associated Objects

What would go inside that XP What goes with that XP What does the X go in? Marry §Whocomesalong with Mary? Doyoulike her parents? Is she very close to other people you would haveto get along with? Does she generally find people you don’t like to be interesting? — Is there an object, such as a houseorcar, that she

comes with that you don’t like? Toaster Whatis the state of bread manufacture?Is the bread getting better or worse? Can it be improved upon to make people eat more toast? ~- How about butter? Would better butter cause people to eat more toast? ~ Would an improvedtoaster in some wayrelate to improving the quality of bread or butter? — What about kitchens? Can they be improvedso thattoastersfit in a better placeP Can we design an unobtrusivetoasteror a placefor a toaster that is better than on the kitchen counter? Screenplay Are there any plays or books worth considering from which a screenplay could be written? How about current events? — Is there a set of other movies that a new one would fit in with? — Is there a new form of movie that doesn’t belong in a movie theater? What other places could a movie be shown in? How would such a new place changethe form of the screenplay?

Wandering the Paths of Thought

6. Results What did you do with the old XP How do youlike being in state Y that results from using X? Marry If you were married before, what happened to ruin that marriage? Could it happen with Mary? What would you do to avoid the bad effects of the previous marriage? ~ If you weren’t married, were there difficulties with a previousrelationshipP ~ Did you enjoy the long-term relationships you had before MaryP Toaster What would people do with their old toasters if a new one were invented? ~— Is there some badstate of affairs that results from using current toasters that could be eliminated in a new one?P Screenplay What state do moviegoers like to find themselves in after a movie? What screenplay could help bring this about? 7. Problems Might it not be a problem to have an X? What does having an X say about you? Is it difficult to keep your XP Marry Whatare the standard problemsof marriage? Whatwill being married be like? How will your friends feel about you? Will Marystill like you? ~ Are you prepared to be a married person? ~ What would that mean to you? Toaster Do certain kinds of people own toasters? Could the image of owning one be upgraded or downgraded for a good effect? Should toasters be made harder to keep (easier to steal perhaps)P What problems are caused by owning a toaster? Screenplay Do you really want to be a movie writer? Are there problems keeping your position in that field?

Action Rules

For the action rules, let’s consider three questions again. For continuity, wewill use oneof the old ones, but we also add two new ones:



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1. Should I take an offer for a job? (Job)

2. What improvements can we makeonourlatest toaster? (Toaster) 3. Howcan I get my child out of a bad situation? (Child) 1. Next Event

What happened next? What usually happens next? Job ~—Whatkinds of things happen after a job change? Whatgood and bad comesfrom the new job? Whatlost opportunities or bad feelings result from having left the old one? Toaster Whathappensafter toast is made? Whatis the next thing that one ordinarily doesP Can this be added to the toaster in some way? Child Whatevent usually occurs after the bad event he is experiencing now? CanI start to prevent this event? Is the next event really so badP 2. Preceding and Enabling Events Howdid you happen to be Xing? Whatled up to Xing? Howwere you able to X? Job Howdid you happento be considering a new job? Were vou showing signs of becomingtired with the old one?Is that obvious to others? Will that happen again in the new job? Why does it happen? ~ What do you wantfrom life that the old job can't give you? Toaster Whyare you thinking about designing a new toaster? What is the problem with the old style? Is there some other goal that is really the issue? Child Howdid your child begin to do this bad thing? Why was he able to do it? What would have prevented it? Why didn't that happen? Could it happen now? 3. Associated Objects

Howwas he able to X without a YP Whodid he X with? Wheredid he X?

Howdid vou get a Y that enabled you to XP

What did you X with?

Wandering the Paths of Thought

Job Does this new job provide some new equipment or environment that you need? Whydidn’t the old one do that? Is the location better? Will you be able to do things you couldn't do before? How did you get this offer? Could you get another, better one? Toaster Whataboutdesigning new breads, new kitchens, new condimentsfor toast?

Child Whatparaphernalia doesyour child need to do this thing you don’t likeP Where did he get it? Where did he get the resources to acquire it? Can his access to those resources be stopped?Is what heis doing better than something else he might doP 4. Other Actors Whoelse Xes? Job What kinds of people change jobs? Does job changing help people’s careers in general or hinder them? What are some examples? Toaster Are there other things that make toast? Are they better or worse? Why? What kind of person makes toast? Child Whatotherkids are in the same mess? How did they get into that mess? Whatare the similarities between those kids and mine? Whatare thedifferences? Can I exploit the differences? Can I exploit the similarities? What generalization can I make that I hadn’t noticed before? o. Associated Actions Whatother actions usually go along with Xing? Job Whatelse occursafter job changes? Dothey tend to cause house changes? marriage changes?affect the life of one’s children? Does such a change also cause mental changes that might be good or badP Toaster (We’ve done these before.) Child Can I tell what will happen with my child by observing other new problems that he has? Are these part of the original problem? What other changes have occurred with him? What was happeningpriorto myrealization of his new situation?



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Do you wantstate Z to come from Xing? Why would one want Z to be the case? Howdoes Z help the actor? Whomelse does Z benefit? Job Whatbenefit comesfrom the job change? Whyis that benefit important? Howwill that benefit help? Whoelse gains from the change? Whosuffers? Toaster Whoneedstoast? What else would do just as well? What benefits does toast giveP Could these be obtained in other ways? Could anotherprocess be invented that when applied to bread enhanced it in some better way than toasting does—by adding vitamins or a new flavor or something? Child Is it possible that your child is doing whatheis doing for someoneelse? How can youinfluence that person? What does yourchild really derive from what he does? Could he derive this in another way? 7. Scripts

Whatpattern of actions must have been occurring? Whatelse was going on? Job Is this change part of a job-changing thing that always goeson at this time with people like your Should this trend be resisted or encouraged? Toaster What other morningscripts are there? Could toasting be madepart of them or beputin a different place? How could breakfast be changedin general? Child Whatother teenagescripts are going on? Can another be substituted that is less damaging? 8. Reason

Whydid X take place? Job Whyare you thinking about this now? Has anything happened that seems unrelated but really is related? Toaster Whydesign a newtoaster at allP Whatis really driving this thinking about new toasters? Child What does your child really want? What does he feel about things? Whatis he trying to say to youP

Wandering the Paths of Thought

9. Alternative Plans Why wasn’t Z doneinstead? Whatother action achieves the same aims? Why do people makethe choices they do? Whatarethesideeffects of the chosenplanorits alternatives? Job Do youreally need a job? Can’t you find another way to get money? Could you steal some? Could you get someone to give you some? Could you survive on less? Toaster Maybe toaster designing is a mistake. What else could you design that would serve as well? Child Whyshould you help him out? Let him doit himself? Why did he get into that situation in the first place?

10. History

What was going on when you heard about X? How often does X occur? Whatcausesthingslike X in general? Job Is there some reason that you were offered this job now? Will there bea better offer later? Why did they choose your Toaster Whyweretoasters inventedin the first place? Did people always eat toast? Why did they start? Why do people like hot things better than cold things? Child Do children usually get themselves into such situations? Did I? Is this a stage children go through? 11. Mental or Social Effect Did you like Xing? What difference does Xing make? What would happenif everybody Xed? Job Do you like working? Does your work havesocial value? Does the new job have moresocial value? Is what you do worthwhile? Do yousatisfy a need? Toaster Do people enjoy making toast? What would makethe process more enjoyable? Is the difference between toast and bread that great? What would make the difference greater and more valuable? — Could the process be madenutrition enhancing, for example?



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Child Is parenting enjoyable? Is fighting your child’s battles enjoyable? Could someone else do itP Are you helping him?

Looking at Toasters

Have we really done anything here? Is there any valueinall this questioning? Toasters are a dull topic, but if someone had asked youto think about improving the toaster—if that were vour job—and youhad followed the preceding questionsin a search for more questions in the waythat I did, here are some of the questions you would have beenleft with: Where do toasters come from? Whereare they made? Whereare they bought? Whatelse can be madethere? Whatelse can be bought there? What do people need that they can’t get in either place? What doesthis tell us about toasters? Whydoes anyone buya toaster? Why can’t they maketoast a better way, or a cheaper way, or a cleaner way? Whatare the advantages of this way? Whatare the disadvantages? Can these be fixed? What other products wouldsell the way toasters have that have the samekind of price, function, and relative need? What do vou do with toast after it is made? What do you do with the bread beforeit is toasted? Can more functionality be added that does some of these things? Howdoes someoneafford a toaster? Would buyers be able to afford a new fancier version? Would they be attracted to a much cheaperversion? Is toast still popular?

Is something else replacing it?

Wandering the Paths of Thought

Do you usually design new toasters? What other new toasters have been designed before, and how have they done? Do people who buytoasters buy them as part of anotherset of appliances? Could some group of appliances that always go together be packaged as one unit? Is there a new trend in people’s lives that has them eating a different kind of toast or a replacement for toast? Whatis the state of bread manufacture? Is the bread getting better or worse? Can it be improved upon to make people eat more toast? How aboutbutter? Would better butter cause people to eat more toast? Would an improvedtoaster in somewayrelate to improving the quality of bread or butter? What about kitchens? Can they be improvedsothat toastersfit in a better place? Can wedesign an unobtrusivetoaster, or a place for a toaster that is better than on the kitchen counter? What would people do with their old toasters if a new one were invented? . Is there some bad state of affairs that results from using current toasters that could be eliminated in a new one? Do certain kinds of people own toasters? Could the image of owning one be upgraded or downgraded for a good effect? Should toasters be madeharderto keep (easier to steal perhaps)P What problems are caused by owning a toaster? What happensafter toast is made? Whatis the next thing that one ordinarily does? Can this be added to the toaster in some way? Whyare you thinking about designing a new toaster? Whatis the problem with the old style? Is there some other goal that is really the issue? Whataboutdesigning new breads, new kitchens, new condi-

ments for toast?



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Are there other things that maketoast? Are theybetter or worse? Why? What kind of person makes toast? Whoneedstoast? What else would do just as well? What benefits does toast give? Could these be obtained in other ways? Could another process be invented that, when applied to bread, enhancedit in some better way than toasting does,

by adding vitamins or a new flavor or something? What other morningscripts are there? Could toasting be madepart of them or beputin a different place? How could breakfast be changed in general? Whydesign a new toasteratall? Whatis really driving this thinking about new toasters? Maybetoaster designing is a mistake. What else could you design that would serve as well? Whyweretoasters inventedin the first place? Did people always eat toast? Whydid theystart? Whydo people like hot things better than cold things? Do people enjoy making toast? What would makethe process more enjoyable? Is the difference between toast and bread that great? What would makethe difference greater and more valuable? Could the process be made nutrition enhancing, for example? Of course, the preceding set of questions is boring to read, but it wouldn’t be if you really were assigned the job of creating a newtoaster. Someof the questions herearecritical, and having asked them, all kinds of possibilities for creative answers arise. Someone whois charged with thinking abouttoasters ought to be thinking aboutrelated issues such as appliances in general, bread and butter, images of buyers, market conditions, price, added functionality, eating habits, and so on. Of

Wandering the Paths of Thought

course, people in marketing and advertising know these things. And whatis it that they know? If they are doing their job well, they know howto ask the questionslisted here. But,

and here is the important issue, they don’t know what they know. They don’t know exactly which question to ask, or which ones they should have asked. They have no system for asking questions. That is what was provided here: a system for asking questions that will cause you to be remindedof related issues that will bring to mind further questions that will yield creative thoughts. The questions here about toasters may look like the kinds of questions that businessmen concernedwith newproducts oughtto be learning to ask. But are the questions about children, love, jobs, and screenplays also specialty questions that one mustlearn to ask in those areas? No, of course not. The

point is that all these questions are the same. They are the same because good thinking transcendsparticular specialties. The mind works the wayit works.It is the same mental apparatus whether we are talking about an advertising man or a playwright. The questions here represent the paths our mind naturally follows when weare notin control of the way our mind wanders. So creativity is left to the people who can be moresystematic in their mind wandering. And how canyoulearn to be more systematic? Learn to ask the preceding questions, and let them lead you to new questions. Ask each of these questions about some topic that is on your mind, and you will start the creative juices flowing. New ideas do comefrom looking at things this way. Tryit and see. TYPES OF QUESTIONS The questions of most significance to the creative process can be broken upinto four broad levels that reflect different levels of understanding anddifferent levels of sophistication. These levels are:



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1. 2. 3. 4.

Self-centered Factual Theoretical Creative

This grouping means that one can want to know only about whatdirectly pertains to oneself; one can wantto attain a basic grasp of the facts of the world; one can look to attain a coherent understanding of how and whythe world functionsas it does;

and onecan look for new andinteresting hypotheses and theories of things, with the intent of being creative. This hierarchy reflects both the degree to which these types of questions must be learned, as well as the relative amount of time we devote

to questions at a particular level. We don’t needto be taught howto ask the self-centered questions, and this is the most basic and therefore most frequent type of question weask. At the top level of creative questions, we do need to learn some strategies and wetendto practice this type of questioningless frequently.

Considering Plans and Goals

Questionsarise naturally from one’s interests and one’s goals. In other words, questions themselves have goals, andit is these goals that drive the questioning process. The goals of the questions we have been considering hereareall to help explain something better, or to explain something in a new way. Let's briefly consider what goals a personis likely to have in approaching the task of explanation. What kinds of explanations do people look for and why? Earlier we discussed the goals of explanation in some detail. A summary of what we discussed there yields the following seven goals that underlie explanations: 1. To establish if the actor has something coherent in mind whenall signs are to the contrary. (Plans)

Wandering the Paths of -Thought

2. To find the natural context for a given event in the beliefaction chain. (Context)

3. To find new predictive rules for the behavior of a given individual. (Individual Prediction)

4. To find new predictive rules that hold for a group. (Group Prediction)

5. To add new facts to one’s personal data base. (Facts) 6. To get new rules for operating in the world by copying those of others that seem to work. (Copying)

7. To find universal truths that hold across wide ranges of phenomena.(Truths)

These goals generate different types of questions depending upon the level of understanding that oneis trying to attain. Let’s examine howthese goals can direct the question-asking process at each of the four levels of questions.

Level 1. Self-centered Questions Level-one questionsare the questions that no one needs to be taught to ask. They reflect an attempt to understand with a self-centered orientation. Whenlookedat in plain terms, they appear paranoid andsurvivalist, which is what they are. Since each level relates to the goals of explanation, one wayto get a feel for the kinds of questions that ought to be asked, in a systematic way,is to consider each goal and a question it might generate at a given level. The seven goals shown here, when combined with basic humanself-centeredness, generate questions that one asks naturally, that are essential to being alive. No onereally has to be taught to ask these questions. Young children ask them all the time, but doso less as they get older. LEVEL 1. SELF-CENTERED


Whydid he dothat? (What’s in it for him?)



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Whatare his intentions toward me?


Whydoesthis matter to meP


Is this actor a memberof a class of actors who will treat methis

way? FACTS

Whatdid he do exactly?


Can I learn to do thatP


Is this going to happen again in the same way?

The above questions are fairly easy to learn to ask. Some of them are so basic to everyday survival that no real learning of them is necessary. We already know them, but each is an important part of starting the creative processes flowing. For any given event you must learn to ask whytheactoris doing it, what its effects on you might be, why you should care about it, what generalizations you can draw about theactor,

whether you can learn to copy what he did, what exactlyit was that he did, and whether this was an instance of a general phenomenon.

Level 2. The Bare Facts and the Arguments

The second level of questions, factual questions, are to some extent taught to us in the course of a standard education. Not everyone learns to ask these questions because not everyone gets a decent education; however, learning to ask these questions is what a basic educationis all about. We learn to ask them over a range of different subjects. We learn how to acquire facts at the very basic level, which wecall here the journalism questions. We learn to judge the coherence of the arguments of others, the argumentation/rhetoric-type of factual ques-

Wandering the Paths of Thought

tions, this time by applying our explanatory goals with the aim of establishing the clarity of a line of reasoning.In other words, we cangatherfacts, and we can gain an understanding of how facts are connected. LEVEL 2. FACTUAL—JOURNALISM


Whydid he doit?


Whodid it? Where did he doit? Whendid he didit? Whatdid he do?


Whatis the past history of this actor that accounts for his action?


Doeshe belong to a groupthatacts this way?


What newtrendsare there in the world?


Is this a start of something wewill see again?


Whatis the overall intention or ideology behind his action?

It might seem asif the goal of these questions is to become a journalist. After all, newspaper articles pretend to answer such who, what, where, when, and why questions. But why answer such questions in a newspaperarticle? Understanding an event means understandingall the various aspects of that event. One must act as if one were going to report on that

event to a friend, which requiresfilling in the blanks for him or her. Factual or journalism questions are one level of complexity higher than self-centered questions. To getall the data, you mustbe looking for all the data, and this requires factual or journalism-type questions. We must ask about the details of every event we hear about,just to find out if what we are hearing is coherent, possible, consistent with



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what we have previously thought, and related to other issues and problems that we might know about. Part of comprehending any given event consists of filling in the blanks about that event. We know that events have actors, actions, locations, times, and reasons, and we should wonderabout each when we

are trying to understand. Sloppy thinking meansfailing to consider one or more key elements or aspects of an event. Such failures occur when you ignore a piece of the journalistic-level data that was anomalous in some way, significantly different in some way, or happened to relate to a generalization or expectation failure that your mind was in the process of making. Simply put, we must ask questions that go beyond mere relevance to ourselves. More mature questions mean going

from questions about whataffects us to questions about a world

of which weare not the center. Thus, we must becomeinter-

estedin history, the extent to which what weareseeingrelates to other instances like it; generalizations about whoelse acts the way the actors we are observing act; predictions about whether what we have nowjust seenis a new pattern which is likely to repeat itself; and the overall ideology or intentions of groups which mightincludethe actors, so that their actions might be seenin its natural context with the correctattribution. LEVEL 2. FACTUAL—ARGUMENTATION/ RHETORIC


What evidence would support that argument?


What counterexamples are there to that


What would have to be true in orderfor that to follow?


What other generalizations like this are




Wandering the Paths of Thought


Whatotherfacts mustbe true if the premise is true?


What analogous arguments might there be?


Whatfollows in generalif all that he saysis true?

Argumentation/rhetoric questions have the sameintention as the journalistic questions, namely filling in the blanks that have been left out by a speaker whois speaking telegraphically. Yet these questions do not comeas naturally as the factual/journalism type questions. Asking the above argumentation/rhetoric questions requires strategies that we are not

normally taught in school, or by our parents. Rhetoric and argumentation hasn’t beenseriously taught since Plato’s time, when Socrates showed the value of asking such questions. There are a few good English teachers, history teachers, and the like who will allow students to debate issues, formulate

hypotheses, and see what kind of reasoning worksin a variety of circumstances. Learning to ask questions suchas these is quite important, at least for understanding what people are saying to you in more than a superficial way. Wearestill not at the levelof truly creative questions, but we are getting there. Answering these questions can betricky, and one can be fooled by bad argumentsif one is paying only scant attention. Many a demagogue and shady politician has been able to convince people who wereafraid to ask such questionsto give them powerthat they probably shouldn’t have had. The questions that one must be thinking aboutin this context are questions about the legitimacy of an argument. When someonetells you his point of view, you must ask about the evidence that that point of view is based on. You must ask yourself if you can think of any counterexamples. You must consider what other things would also be true, in terms of analogies or just other points that would also follow from the premise. You should ask if you have heard this kind of argu-



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ment before and what you found out aboutit over a period of time.

Questions such as these are very importantfor the careful evaluation of what people are saying to you. Any good educational system emphasizes learning how to evaluate and produce arguments in a mannerof the kind I am talking about. But if for one reason or another you have not learned to ask such questions, each time someonetells you an opinion or makes an argument, you will be at a loss and will not further your own arguments or knowledge.

Level 3. Understanding and Coherence

Third-level questions are questions about the theory behind an event. Such questions can be quite general, or they can express the point of view of a particular field of inquiry. People are rarely taught to ask third-level questions, and many people have failed to achieve this level of understanding at any time in their lives. These questions form the basis of a fundamental analytical mind. Scientists and scholars learn to ask these questions, but they often so engross themselves in the answerto any oneof them that they forget to continue asking any more. Nonscientists, if they are to be good thinkers, must learn to ask them, too. LEVEL 3. UNDERSTANDING/COHERENCE


What information am I missing that would make these events coherent? What plan was being pursued that, had I knownit, would have madea given action predictable? Why would someone do something one way when another way seemsbetter? Why was any given planned state of the world done the way it was?

Wandering the Paths of Thought CONTEXT

Whatother event do I have in memorythat is like the current one? How do we determinethe ultimate cost and benefits of an action? How can someone whohasasserted a fact have come to knowthatfact? Whom would he have to know in order to know thatP

How could hepossibly bein a position to have

cometo know that? Where was he when he found that out?

Whatkind of analysis could he have used in orderto be ableto figure out that kind of thing? INDIVIDUAL PREDICTION


Whattheory of that event would I have had to have in order to have correctly anticipated that outcome? What results normally follow from a given action? Whatdo various states of the planned world tell us about the people whodid theplanning? What do the various states of the physical world tell us about the rules that govern our lives? Whatother eventslike the current one would

cause meto rethink a basic hypothesis?

What would make me believe that a given action makessense (whenit doesn’t seem

to right now)P Whatstates of the world would have been

necessary in order for a given event to

have followed naturally from them? COPYING

What else would be different if this were truer



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What goodstrategies can be copied from a given event? TRUTHS

Whatelse in the world is like this?

These types of questions are much closer to the kinds of questions that one mustlearn to ask in orderto be creative and that, often enough, one doesnotlearn to ask during the course of a standard education. Wearestill not quite at the level of questionsthat will consistently produce creative explanations. These questions are basically concerned with comprehension. In order to find anomalies we must begin to analyze the world around us. This means being able to question each aspect of what wesee and hear that might provide us with anomalies to consider or expectation failures to explain. It also meansattempting to explain anomalies and expectation failures that we encounter. Level-three questions are the questions of both anomaly detection and explanation. Whenan incoherencyis noticed, when things don’t immediately makesense, the first thing to wonderaboutis whatinfor-

mation was left out. After all, information is alwaysleft out. A good speaker or writer tries to leave out information thatis readily inferable. But if you cannotinfer it, you must ask about it. You also must ask about events that would have made something predictable. Often, what appears to be a confusing or out-of-character action by someoneis really quite sensible if vou understandall the premises upon whichtheir actions were based. You must ask what you didn’t know about someoneelse that you should have knownthat would have madehisactions comprehensible. You must ask about why people have chosen the plans they have, the goals they have, and how they developed the beliefs behind those goals. Doing this causes many incomprehensible actions to become comprehensible andallows you to build up a more sophisticated world model. It is always important to compare whatyou see to what you

have seen. Weare remindedin this way and thusfind new data from which to make newgeneralizations. It is also important to

Wandering the Paths of Thought

understandthe ultimate effects of an action, benefits for particular individuals, resultant effects on the world, and so on. These

are the things upon which explanation questions are based and thus ultimately relate strongly to creativity as we haveseen. It is also importantto think about whata personis nottelling you and mayhavehadnointention of telling you. What does someonehaveto know, where doeshe haveto be, what did he

have to have done,in order to know something or make something happen? Whatdoeshe haveto wantor needin order to take a given action? Whena political leader makes a decision that is not obviously in his best interests, it is important to ask about what else might be going on that you weren’t told about. Did someone get paid off? Was there some kind of outside pressure applied that would be persuasive? Of course, you can’t ask these questions if you don’t have a good model of people’s beliefs and goals in the first place. We must constantly reexamine our own beliefs. We can do this by carefully looking at the beliefs of others and also by making sure that our own premises about how the world functionsstill hold water. We mustask ourselves, from time to time,

what new facts would change our minds aboutthingsif those facts were suddenly found to betrue. Lastly, we should act as if every experience can be learned from, especially our experiences with failure. Every failure is a potential lesson to us. We must ask what we can learn from a given situation that might have direct impact on our own lives. Sometimes, such questions can enable us to create new strategies for ourselves. Copyingold plans and modifying them to fit our ownsituationsis, after all, the basis of creative action.

Level 4. Creativity

Fourth-level questionsare really those upon which the essence of creativity hinges. These can be very basic or very complex. They can appearto go right to the heart of the matter, or they can seem momentously irrelevant. They can behighly special-



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ized to a certain field of inquiry, or they can apply onefield of inquiry’s standard set of questions to anotherfield of inquiry to which theyare notordinarily applied. Questionsat this level tend to force contact or connections where no oneelse has been able to do so. People who ask these questions are often looked uponas poachers on other people’s intellectual or professional turf. But those who refuse to poach in this way,at least some of the time, will never be creative.

Whatfollows is an attempt to make these questionsas generic as possible, but bear in mind that questionsat this level are muchless easy to generalize about than are questionsat the previous levels. LEVEL 4. CREATIVITY


How can wecast a given action in such a way

that it appears to be something other than whatit is?

How can we get someone to support some-

thing that he otherwise would not? How can I devise a plan that would help fix an errant plan that I have observed? CONTEXT

Whatothersituations can I set up that have the properties of the one underconsideration, so that I can stress the absurdity of the original? Whatothersituations can I set up that have the properties of the one underconsideration, so that I can stress the validity of the original? Whatothersituations can I set up that have the properties of the one underconsideration, so that I can find the generalizations that hold between the twor What would happenif I juxtaposed the contextual place for one thing with that of another?

Wandering the Paths of Thought INDIVIDUAL PREDICTION


Whatevidence can be ignoredin attempting to create a theory of what someone will do nextP How can I see one person I don’t understand as an instance of someone whom I do understand? Whatcategories for groupings that are used by most people can be seen to beineffective and in need of change? How can a grouping be formedthatwill have more predictive powers than we now have for present groupings?


What cherished assumptions, held by. many people, ought to be reexamined? How can a question that is unanswerable be recast in answerable form?


How do certain people build up successful rules for coping with the world? How and whydoother people avoid those rules? Do they succeed as well? How can you know whichrules of the world to copy and whichto rewrite?


Are there anytruths in the world? How does one go about proving ultimate

truths? Whatis the value of a temporarily held generalization? Creativity comes from asking the right questionsat the right time. There can be nolist of right questions to ask, on principle. There should always be some new wayoflooking at things on the horizon. But in essence, that’s what these questionsare. They are an attempt to force new ways of looking at things. Asking them turnssituations around so that they can be reexamined from a different perspective.



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The essential point to be made aboutcreativity questionsis that they usually have the property of changing an unsolvable problem into a solvable one. Problems are transformed in some waybythese questions, so that the result is something better known or better understood than the original. If you can't figure out why Swale died, maybe you can figure out why another horse died, or why your car stopped, or why a man killed his rich wife. These questions are useful for forcing the issue of perspective on a problem solver. Thus, recasting a problem or situation into a solvable one, or an unappetizing situation into an appetizing one, or a frightening situation into

a friendly one, and so on, is very important for achieving a variety of goals. It also can be seen as being quite creative. The active search for newplans by adapting old ones and the active intent of finding generalizations so that one can learn more from newsituations one encountersare therefore also important parts of the creative process, and these questions are designed to facilitate those operations as well. Mixing things up that don’t belong often hascreative effect. Taking a solution from one domain and attemptingto forceit to fit another can yield interesting and often quite surprising results. Also, just taking two wildly different things andtrying to relate them to each other can cause newideasto percolate. In general, doing oddthings with serious intent can force new

ideas to the surface. Newideas can be found experimentally, by just mixing A with B to see if an explosion occurs. Scienceisn’t all careful mathematics. Sometimes it is just random discovery. Other times it is painful trial and error. In any case, one has to be willing to try something new,just to see how it works. Sometimes this means being willing to ignore sometruths that one is just certain of, just to see what would bethe case if they weren't true. Just looking for what could be changed, what might be changed, and whatshould be changed,and following through on the logic of whatever initial proposal you might come up with, can yield new ideas.

Wandering the Paths of Thought

CONCLUSION Creativity means asking questions. To be creative, to think, you must be aroused by what you perceive. You must wonder. Muchof this wonderingis fairly prescribed. We know whatto wonderaboutat a certain basic level. After that, we are taught what to wonder about. Beyondthat, there is a level at which we wonderabout truly new things. But whether neworold, we needto learn certain tricks about how to wonderandat what level to wonder. Muchof our wondering is quite natural, of course. We don’t need to be taught to ask, Whyis the sky blue? But we unfortunately often are taught to stop asking questions that Mommy or Daddy can’t answer. So in effect this chapter has been an attempt to reverse the processof inhibiting questions that may have beeninstilled by your parents, your friends, your school, your government, or whomever. It maybe fairly difficult simply to memorize these questions and ask them willy-nilly whenever the moodhits. So what should one do? Pick a favorite question and begin to ask this question where you didn’t do so before—maybeat school, at work, with your parentsor friends. Try it out. Play with it. After a while, try another. Creativity comes in small steps. It isn’t a very long step from questions to answers.


Question Transformation

THE QUESTION TRANSFORMATION PROCESS Some questions are simply the wrong onesto ask. A question maybe at too high a level. Asking how you could berich,or happy, or at peace with the world will probably yield no constructive answer. The trick in asking questions is to find the ones that have already been answered. Standard questions usually come with standard answers. The main thing to learn in orderto be able to come up with answers is to transform initial questions into ones for which answers are available. Why do we wantto transform a question? To make a question easier to answer, to make a question more specific, to make a question more general, to make a

question more useful, and so on.

Question Transformation

CYRUS: A COMPUTER MODEL OF THE QUESTION TRANSFORMATION PROCESS This book has been devoid of any discussion of computers, except for someof the interviews. This is perhaps remarkable, given that it has been written by a computerscientist. But one computer program written at my laboratory is of particular interest with respect to the area of question transformation. This program was called CYRUS, and was written by Janet Kolodner as part of her Ph.D. thesis. Its job was to answer questions aboutthe experiences of Cyrus Vanceas hetraveled around the world in his role as Secretary of State. To do this, the program hadto invent and reinvent categories in memory in which to place newstories as they becameavailable. Since one could not easily anticipate everything that Cyrus Vance might ever experience, these categories had to be created dynamically as new stories were received. Whenanswering a question about Cyrus Vance, CYRUS had to be able to reformulate the question in its own terms. That is, CYRUS knew whereit had stored givenstories and if it was asked a question, it had to determine exactly which storyit knew about was germaneto the answer and whereit might find that story in its memory. Because of this, CYRUS wound up doing something which was quite interesting. The question-answering module in CYRUShadto be written in such a wayas to enable it to take a question, determine whetherit could answer that question directly, and if it could not, it would have to transform that

question into a question that it believed it could answer. This question-transformation process is a crucial aspect of understanding. To illustrate what I am talking about, consider some input and output from CYRUS. Whatfollowsis a sequence in which CYRUSwasaskedaninitially unanswerable question and then made a sequence of transformations of that question which allowed it to come up with the answer.



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Has your wife ever met Mrs. Begin?


Yes, most recently at a state dinner in Israel in May, 1977.

In this case, CYRUSdid not have the information containedin

its answerin its memoryin any form. Nevertheless it was able to answerthe question.It did so by transforming the question into a series of questions, as follows: Ql. Did your wife ever meet Mrs. Begin? Q2. Where would they have met? Q3. Under what circumstances do diplomats’ wives meet? Q4. Under what circumstances do diplomats meet? A4. Onstate visits to each other’s countries. At international conferences. A3. When they accompany their husbands on these visits. Q3a. When did Vancego toIsrael? Q3b. When did Begin go to the U.S.? A3a/A3b. Various dates can now beretrieved from memory. Q3c. Did their wives accompany them on any of these trips? A3c. A trip where this happenedis found. Q2a. During what part of a trip would wives meet? A2a. During a state dinner. Final revised question: Wasthere a state dinner on May24, 1977, during the diplomatic visit that Vance madetoIsrael

with his wife?

Answer (Al): Probably on May 24, 1977, in Jerusalem at a state dinner at which they were both present.

Question Transformation

The question-transformation process is a way of getting an

answerable question from an unanswerable one. Theoriginal question is unanswerable becauseit gives no help as to where in memory wemightsearchfor the relevantfacts. Through a series of transformations,this original question is changed into one aboutthe dates of diplomatic visits and state dinners, both of which the program knowswereused as categories in which to store information. CYRUS seemed smart because it could answer questions. Actually,it is fairly easy to get a program to retrieve facts from a data base and thus answer questions. Anyintelligence attributed to CYRUS should be because it could ask questions. The question-transformation process—changing an unanswerable question into an answerable one, and knowingthedifference between the two—is at the heartof intelligence.


Often it is easy enough to formulate a question, but transforming that question into onethatis either answerable or to which the answeris useful can be quite difficult. Thus, it helps to know somerules of thumb for question transformation. Here, then, are some of the kinds of transformations that there are:

I. Narrowing Questions are often difficult to answer because they are too broad. In order to attack broad questionsfruitfully, it is necessary to learn how to narrow them. This can be demonstrated

easily with respect to questions that are fairly straightforward to answer. For example, if I ask you if you have ever been to

a big city where there is a subway and good restaurants, you would haveto think for a while about whatcities you had been to and whethertheir definition in your mind was the same as



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in mine. You mightfind yourself asking me, Does Boston qualifvP But, if I had asked you if you had ever beento Paris, the question would be much simpler to answer. Why? The reasonis thatit is hard to search for something in your memoryif you don’t know exactly what you are looking for. The idea behind narrowing transformationsis to change questions that have no real referent, and thus no easy answer, into

specific ones that have easy answers. In other words, when faced with a question thatis too broad, one mustreplaceit with a more specific version. Now, this new question will not be identical to the old one. It will merely be easier to answer. For example, consider the question Should I get married? This is an essentially bad question to ask, although people ask themselves this type of thing all the time. Such a question is inherently unanswerable and must be replaced, by narrowing, into one such as Should I marry Jane? That question is far easier to answer. If there is no Jane for whom it makes sense to narrowthe question in this way, then the question is inherently unanswerable. What football teams do you like? should be changed to Do you like the Giants? And Should we make a joint venture with an electronics firm? must be changedinto Should we make a deal with GEP Narrowing transformations are employed when a given question has no specific referent. In other words, when someone asks you your opinion abouta subjectthatis not specifically defined in the sense you might not besure if you saw one,that everyone else you knew would agree that you had seen one, you must transform the question until the referent in question has that property. 2. Level Raising

In contrast to the above transformation type, sometimes questions cannot be answeredbecause they are too narrow to begin with. Asking why John did something maybe too narrow a question and thus impossible to answer. But John can be seen as an instance of somelarger picture, a group of which heis

a member, for example, for which there are XPs available.

Question Transformation

For example, suppose that you are asked to explain why John has hit Mary. The reasons may be myriad. Nobody does something for only one reason. But on the other hand, whoever asked you probably does not wanta treatise on the psychological history of John. How do you answersuch a question? One wayis to raise the level of the question so that something can be learned from whatwill undoubtedly be a superficial answer. A question such as Why would someone who was a memberof group X hit someone? might be easier to answer. Of course, this depends somewhat on the anomaly that oneis trying to resolve. One can level-raise inappropriately. Thus, if John is a man, a Canadian, a pacifist, a shoe salesman, and red-haired,

it may makesenseto level-raise to ask why a pacifist would hit someone, whereas it would not to ask why a shoe salesman might hit someone. Of course, as we have pointed out, it is sometimes such inappropriate questions that yield the most interesting answers from the point of view of potential creativity. 3. Goal Precedence

Often questions that people ask themselves aren’t the questions to which they really want answers. They ask how to do X whenreally they don’t care about X atall, but about something that doing X would entail. Thus, in this type of transformation,the intentis to find the real goal and pursueit directly. Whenpeople arelost and ask for directions, they often make the mistake of asking a question that would have been better asked had it been transformed properly. Thus, they might ask where the turnpike is when whatthey really want to knowis the best way to New York. Or they might ask where thelocal McDonald’s is when they really want a cheap, fast restaurant. In answering a questionit is often necessary therefore to make a goal precedence transformation, the intent of which is to cause the answer to cometo mindthatis the onethatis really being sought. This kind of transformation must be done frequently when giving advice. Of course, doing this entails knowing whatgoals



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might precede which othergoals for the advisee. The question isn’t whether you should be a doctor when you finish school, but what goal being a doctor would satisfy that being a lawyer wouldnot. A friend of mine once asked meif he should take on the job

of being the sole support of his parents. Obviously, asked this way, the answeris no. That question was equivalent to asking if one should do something which would be mostly painful. The issue was what the alternatives were. The answerin this case was that he would neverbeableto see them again. Looking at the question that way madethe answereasyfor him. The initial question he asked needed a goal precedencetransformation. He neededto think about which goals preceded which other goals. He knew that the goal of being in contact with his parents was higher than the goal of avoiding unpleasant fiscal and psychological responsibilities. Put that way, the question was easy to answer.

4. Target Directed Often, especially in love and in business, people lose sight of the forest for the trees. You can find yourself analyzing the best path to follow toward a given goal whenit turnsout, on further reflection, that the goal that you are pursuing isn’t the realgoal at all. How to get Jane to like you may seem very important at the time whenthe real question may be how to get anybody to like you, or howto getBeth, the true object of your affection,

to like vou. Often mychildrenare in the position of having a big battle with another child over turf of one variety or another. Children fight about whois friends with whom, or who controls

whichactivities, or who sets the trends to be followed, and so

on. Anyoneof these issues can cause various battlesto flare up, the solution to which seems very importantat the time.Itis often quite difficult to remember to focus on the war instead

of onlyon the battle that is being foughtat that time. Children

have to learn that they will lose occasional battles and that they

Question Transformation

must keep their ultimate goals in sight. Of course, especially in the case of children, they must often attempt to find out whatthe ultimate goals are. Target-directed transformations are intended to reorient a question into the real question that is behind it. The question is not, How do I get John to stop taking my toy? but, How do I get John to be myfriend? Of course, it is easy enough to see that sort of thing with children, and somewhat more difficult to see it in yourself. When you are having trouble getting Jane to like you it might be that the right question is, Do I really want Janeto like me? Andif a business deal seemsdifficult to complete, perhaps the relevant question is, Do I really want to have a long-term business relationship with these people? and even, Do I really want to be doing this type of business? The issue here is not to be overly psychoanalytical. But sometimes we have difficulty accomplishing things that we really don’t want as muchas wethink we wantthem. Theright question to ask is what you really want. Of course,this is difficult to pose and difficult to answeras well. Thus, target-directed transformations should be employed any time that you have difficulty getting what you want. Attemptto find outif there is another target that you would rather have, and go afterit. do. Focus Changing Focus changingis actually one of the simplest transformations to do, althoughit is surprising how many people fail to do it when necessary. People often find themselves wishing that various states of the world werethe case. They wish it was warm, they wish they wererich, they wish they were well liked, and so on. The relevant question to ask is, obviously, Whatcan I do to make that state of the world come about? Since this is obvious and not very helpful, there is another aspect to this transformation. Let’s assumethat getting somethingto be the caseis possible



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in principle. If you wish you were invisible, for example, there may be verylittle that asking the right question can do for you in that regard. But let’s assume that what you want is possible. In that case, the question is, What do I have to do? A better way to ask this is, How much do I have to pay? The assumption hereis that there is always some price to pay. You maybeable to get someonetolike you, for example, but at the cost of having to be someone you don’t wantto be. You may be able to be warm, but the price may be a plane ticket to the Caribbean that you decide you can’t afford. The correct question to ask then is, What will it cost to get what I want to happen? Thisis the intent of the focus-changing transformation. Theideais to learn to ask aboutcosts of actions that lead to desired states rather than to bemoan the lack of the desired state. 6. Analogical Mappings Whena problemis difficult to solve, one of the best strategies for solving it, as we have been saying over and over,is to see that problem as if it were a different one. Thus, one of the primary formsof question transformation, especially with the intent of asking questions whose answersarecreative, is that

of analogical mappings. The premisein analogical mappingsis to ask howa givensituation is like another one. Thus,if a given problemis intractable, think about a different problem, think of its solution, and ask howthatsolution can be applied in the current case. The question is then, What other problem like this one have I seen before, and howis its solution relevant here? Or, in other words, whena questionis too difficult, trans-

form it into another question whose answerhas already been found.

7. Consequence Following One wayto transform a question is to examine the consequencesof an action carefully. Instead of asking if something

Question Transformation

is a good thing and should be done,ask if the secondary effects of the desired action are good things, too. Sometimes good things lead to bad things, and vice versa. The idea in this transformation, then,is to ask about the consequencesof the consequencesof the consequencesinasfull detail as is possible. Then one can work backwards to see other means by which the same consequencescan beachieved, butthis time perhaps withoutthe otherside effects. In other words,alternative plans can be developed if one tracks the consequences of an action far enough.Also, plans can be abandonedif the consequences, after having been fully thought out, are not desirable. 8. Precedence Tracking This is the opposite of the above. Here we want to look at other facts that might have led up to the event we are now looking at. Thus, if you want to know whysomething has happened,you canlookatits immediate causes. However, you can also look at the causes of the causes and so on. Pursuing such lines of reasoning often brings a perspective that makes the entire range of events more comprehensible. 9. Pattern Recognition

Instead of looking at a question directly, we can examineit in terms of where it might fit in a pattern that we already know about. The easiest way to understand somethingis, as we havesaid, to see it in terms of something that has already been understood. Saying, Oh yes, it’s just the old phone-inthe-shoe trick helps to make it seem moresensible. The pattern-recognition question transformation is intended to cause one to look for additional patterns, especially those that might not ordinarily have been considered. In other words, the idea is continually to ask, And what other pattern of actions might this action normally be a part of? Many actions can naturally fit into a range of normal patterns. Finding the least usual pattern in which to place an event can often lead



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to fairly creative points of view. Thus, asking about what patterns an event can be part of and rejecting the obvious answers can befairly useful. 10. Historical Perspective It often helps to find out about whatelse was goingon,or has gone on, to see where what youarelookingat fits in. Seeing everything as an instance of something brand-new will obviate important generalizations. When a new eventoccurs,it is important to ask what else has been seen that waslike it and if those two events might have a commonexplanation. Thus, one wants to change the question, Why did this event occur?into, Whydid these two events occur? wheneverpossible. Focusing on the commonality between events allowsone to concentrate on certain key aspects of an event. Patterns do tend to repeat themselves, of course. We have been advocating having and relying upon a repertory of patterns for use in creative reasoning. One wayto dothisis to try

to relate newthingsto old things, not to explain them awaybut to find new generalizations that hold between them. Of course, one cannotfind such things unless one looks, so the historical-perspective transformation is quite important.

Using the Tools

Each of these transformations can be applied whena question is under discussion. Of course, some transformations will be

morefruitful than others, but the main pointis that new questions can be derived, and where new questions appear, new answers may notbe far behind. To see what I meanhere,let’s reconsider the question asked earlier, How can A and B get along? Each transformation can be applied to this question: Narrowing: issue XP

How can A and get along with respect to

Question Transformation

Level Raising: How doentities like A and B learn to get along in general? Goal Precedence: What goal is the inability of A and B getting along preventing from happening and how can that goal be achieved in other ways? Target Directed: What do A and B really want, and can they get it andstill get along? Focus Changing: What would A and B haveto give up in orderto get along? Can they be convincedto givethis up? What wouldit cost? Analogical Mappings: What other cases do I know of wherea failure to get along was solved? What method worked there? Could this be applied in this instance? Consequence Following: What are the long-range effects of not getting along to A and B andto others? Can A and B be shownthe long-range effects of their actions and thus be convinced to get along? Can an outside party who is being damaged be convinced to step in? Is somebody benefiting ultimately from A and notgetting along, and can his situation be changed? Precedence Tracking: What has led upto this state of affairs? Pattern Recognition: What pattern is this event a part of? Can events be predicted that normally follow fromthis pattern? Canthis event be seen as part of another pattern? Historical Perspective:

What other events that are like this

do I know about? What do the two events have in common? Can something be learned from them that might allow the prevention of this state of affairs in the future?

Recall that the reason for transforming questionsis to generate a longer series of pragmatic questions, each of which has the possibility of provoking more XPs to come to mind. Thus, by continually asking questions, we enlarge our available stock of XPs, any one of which might cause us to look at a problem

in a new way. Many question-transformation types, then, are also a form of rule of thumb on how to be reminded. Thatis,

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they havethe intention of causing us to think about something related to what we are worrying aboutthat might be useful in its solution. Thus, transformation types can pointto the following concepts:

Question Transformation Tools Tool 1. NARROWING: Change the original question into a narrower one. Tool 2. LEVEL RAISING: Bring XPs stored under general headings andbeliefs to mindbyraising the level of generality of the question. Tool 3. GOAL PRECEDENCE:If you are stuck on one type of goal, there is a good chancethat useful patterns might be organized underothergoals that are relevant to the same problem. Makethereal goal drive the question. Tool 4. TARGET DIRECTED: Makethereal target be at the center of the question. Tool 5. Focus CHANGING: Focus on costs and decisions. Changepassivity into activity. Changestates into actions. Tool 6. ANALOGICAL MAPPINGS: Pretend you have a different problem. Tool 7. CONSEQUENCE FOLLOWING:Try looking at something other than whatyou werelookingat. The moredata, the greater the possibility of having something cometo mind. Tool 8. PRECEDENCE TRACKING:Lookatfacts that led up to the event you are considering.

Tool 9. PATTERN RECOGNITION: Consider different perspectives on wherea given event might fit into an overall picture.

Tool 10. HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE:Tryto find where the event you are looking at fits into a larger scheme.

Question Transformation


Not every question that people commonly ask of themselves ought to be asked. Many of these questions are inherently impossible to answer. We might wonderif we will ever meet the man or womanofour dreams,but asking this of onself or of someoneelseis basically useless. So there are right questions and wrong questions. Part of the question-transformation process is knowing which questionsare right, in the sense that it is possible to find answers to them, and which are wrong,in the

sense that a reasonable answer cannot be found. Consider some questions that people commonly ask: CAREER PLANNING:

What am I interested in?


Will the plane take off on time? Will I meet someone wonderful? Will they like my proposal?

All these questions are the wrong onesto ask. You can’t plan a life very reasonably by pursuing them.If you could, we might all become professional baseball players or sun worshippers. Yet we continue to make importantplans by asking the wrong questions. It is important to learn howto transform ouridealistic questions into pragmatic questions.

Will the plane take off on time? is the wrong question, but for a different reason. It is wrong because you have no control over the outcome, and if you can make noalternative plans, there is then no point in asking it. Understanding the difference between questions within your control and questions that are relevant whenthings are out of your controlis important.

Wish-fulfillment questions such as, Will I meet someone wonderful? and, Will they like my proposal? must often be transformed into answerable planning questions. It is not important to know if you are going to meetyour true love. The



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question is how. The planning might center around the question, What kindsof situations can I put myself in that will cause me to meet the kind of person I tend to like? In the business example, there may be ways to make them like your business proposal rather than blindly wishing for it. Recognizing when wish-fulfillment questions can be transformed into planning questions can be very important.

Transforming the Idealistic into the Pragmatic

As a generalrule, idealistic questions must be changed into pragmatic questions. This can be accomplished by using the transformation tools described above. It is, of course, quite

tempting to dream about eliminating poverty, establishing world peace, or changing the educational system of the United States. But when dreamsget confused with plans, trouble begins. There is a big difference between the question, How can we eliminate poverty in America? and How can weeliminate the poverty of John Jones? My claim is that the first of these questions is inherently unanswerable, and ought to be asked only as a preliminary to transforming it into a set of more pragmatic questions.

For example, a narrowing transformation must be performed onidealistic questions until they are not about everyone but about someone. How do we ensure world peace?is, according to this reasoning, unanswerablealso. It must be narrowedwith respect to a country. Of course, asking, How we might ensure world peace with Russia? is only marginally more answerable. Thus, after idealistic questions are narrowed, they must be subjected to other transformations as well. Which transformations apply depends upon what the original question is, of course. Here again, there is no right

answer, or in this case, no right question to ask. By using targetdirected transformations, we must ask about how to make

agreements about peace with Gorbachevasan individual. By

Question Transformation

using goal-precedencetransformations, we mightinquire as to what we must do for the Russians to make them stop being hostile. By using analogical mappings we mightask about how Hitler could have been stopped without a war and so on. The point is that idealistic questions can be transformedinto pragmatic questionsby first narrowing them andthenapplying any of the other transformations.

Transforming Questions about Outcomes outside Your Control into Questions about Outcomeswithin Your Control It is important to learn to recognize the difference between whatis in your control and whatis not. Questions about outcomesthat are not within your control must be either ignored, or if an answeris really desired, must be transformed into questions about outcomeswithin your control. One of my favorite examples of these kinds of questionsis the question of whetherthe plane youare onis going to take off on time. While it is, of course, nice to know if the planeis going to take off on time, there isn’t much you can do about it if you are a passenger. In general, there are two questions worth asking in this domain. First, Can you switch to another plane? and second, if the answer to the first question is no, then, Can you find a way to make yourself more comfortable or happy during the waiting period? Thus, questions about outcomesoutside your control should be transformed into questions about alternative actions that might lead to the same result and questions about new goals that can be pursued while other goals are on hold. Thus, goalprecedence transformations, focus-changing transformations,

and target-directed transformations apply. The point is that questions about outcomes outside your control can be transformed into questions about outcomes within yourcontrol by using goal-precedence,target-directed, and focus-changing transformations. Or the advice in a nut-



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shell: when things are out of your control, find out whatis in your control and work on that.

Transforming Wish-fulfillment Questions into Planning Questions

Wish-fulfillment questions really only differ from idealistic questionsin that they are aboutyourself rather than about the world in general. In this respect the outcomeinvolvedis usually more within your control. Thus, it is possible to make actual plans to achieve the goals involved in the wishes. Thus, any wish must be transformed into a plan that achieves the goal entailed by the wish. Let’s consider, for example, the wish to have satisfying career. Young people often find themselves in a position of having to make a decision about a career, and the proper path to that career, and quite often, they make both deci-

sions badly. Usually that is because they have asked the wrong questions.

A typical question in this regardis, for example, Would I like to be a lawyer? Asked this way, it is an example of a wishfulfillment question. This must be transformedinto a planning question. But we are not talking here about a plan to be a lawver. One could construct such a plan andstill not knowif it is the right plan. Thereal issue is what the goalis. Thus, the initial question must be transformed into a question about goals, questions about plans that would achieve those goals, and questions about the difficulty, cost, and enjoymentof the actions that comprise the variousplans. With this in mind,let’s examine the question of choosing to be a lawyer moreclosely. Let's make the assumption,for the sake of argument, that no one really wants to be a lawyer. That is to say, no onereally wants to, in the sense that it would make him profoundly happy to do so—fill out forms, dot 7’s and cross t’s, wear threepiece suits, and say yes, sir, and no, ma’am, to judgesall day long.

Question Transformation

People becomelawyersfor reasons other than their finding the daily actions of a lawyer intrinsically interesting. If such actions wereintrinsically interesting, then we mightfind people whospenttheir leisure time doing the very sameactivities, just for fun. Of course, such people might exist, but by and large they are rare. No, people become lawyers because they think they will earn a great deal of money; because they think that that profession engenders a great deal of respect from other people in general; because they enjoy the powerthat a lawyer has; because they think that being a lawyer canlead to more powerful positions in society; and sometimes because they believe that lawyers are helpful membersofsociety. Thepointis that the goal of being a lawyeris really not a goal at all. People don’t wantto be lawyers, they want to have what they can see that lawyers have—namely, money, power, and respect. They don’t want to do what lawyersdo, in most cases, but pragmatically prefer practicing law as opposed to something more noxious, such as writing parking tickets. (Of course, whatI have said hereis not only true of being a lawyer. Many doctors are not doctors because theyreally care about improving health care, for example.) In order to ask questions about what one wantsto doinlife, then, one has to break those questions up into two types of questions—onetype havingto do with what goals one has and how best to achieve those goals, and the other having to do with what types of activities are the most enjoyable to do on a day-to-day basis, given the alternatives. Planning questions, which are actually transformed wishfulfillment questions, use goal-precedence transformations and target-directed transformations. The questions about what one enjoys doing in life do not comedirectly from wishfulfillment questions. They must be asked whenevera longterm decision has to be made. All this is a long way of saying that if one wants to decide what to do in life, one ought to ask whatis fun to dothatit’s possible to get paid for, and one ought to ask what jobs tend to satisfy one’s life goals best. Or, in the terminology we have



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been using, wish fulfillment is transformed by goal precedences and the identification of actual targets, and at least some of the goal precedences oughtto relate to whatis challenging, stimulating, or at least fun to do.

Transforming Critical Questions into Plan Construction by Copying Questions

A useful variation on transforming questions about one’s own problemsis copying other’s plansor strategies as a shortcut to generating answerable questions. To makethis work, one must not overly analyze or condemntheideas or successesof others. It is often more valuableto learn howto copysuccessful behavior and adaptit for your own use. You must learn to transform critical questions into plan construction by copying questions. There is, of course, a tendency among people to be verycritical of the new. Wehavediscussed this at length, and thereis no need to say more aboutit here. The adviceis simple: stop criticizing and start copying. Wheneverweare presented with new ideas, new theories,

newplans, or whenever wehear about the successes and failures of others, we tend to be verycritical. We were taught to behave this way in school and,certainly, intellectuals behave this way when faced with opposing points of view. Of course, it is all very nice to show how smartyouare by having thelast word, but from the point of view of question transformations, one is better off listening to people to find out what they have to say that might be of use than to find out what they have to say that might be wrong. The suggestion here is that the question, How canI find the fatal flaw in whatheis saying? might be more usefully transformedinto,Is there somethingof value in what hehassaid or done that I ought to copy? The premise is that the plans of others and the explanationsof others are yet one morepossible set of XPs that can be adapted for one’s own use. I have emphasized how important havinga large library

of XPs can be. If you transform critical questions into plan-

Question Transformation

copying questions, more XPswill becomeavailable to you. The more XPs you have, the more creative you can be. To summarize, then, the following unanswerable questions must be transformed into the following answerable questions:

Idealistic questions

~ Pragmatic questions

Questions about outcomes

-— Questions about outcomes

outside your control

within your control

Wish-fulfillment questions

- Planning questions

Critical questions

> Plan construction by copying questions


Whenit comes to sorting out problems with people’s desires, goals, and motivations, question transformation is an indispensableskill. The following are three of the most asked questions relating to goals and motivation: Q1. How can I get someoneto do what I want? Q2. Should I do X in order to gain Y from it? Q3. How can person P and person Q get along? Considerthe following general question: How can I get someone to do what I want? Let’s call the someone John and the action we want him to do bletch. This question is a very importantone that occurs constantly.

Difficult as it may be to admit it, we spend a great amount of time just trying to get something from others. Posed in such a way, this is a fairly useless question—it is not immediately answerable. Aside from the fact that we haven’t specified the action, such a question would be mucheasier to answerif it had been posed in the following terms:



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Tl. What’s in it for Johnp T2. What kind of natural resistance might John have to bletching? T3. How can I get John to see bletching as frumping? (Assume bletching is not liked by John and frumping 1S.)

T4, Is John more likely to bletch under different circumstances? (How do I change the circumstances?) These transformed questions are much easier to answer than Ql, and their answers can serve as solutionsto theinitial problem. The original question is, in fact, unanswerable without

these transformations. How do wegenerate these questions from the original? Theset of transformed questions were developed from the first question using some transformation rules that are easily taught. We can give them the following general names: QT1. The Opponent Benefit Rule. What’sin it for the opponent? QT2. The Opponent Enablement Blockage Rule. Whatprevents the opponent? QT3. The Action Apparition Rule. What will make the opponent see A as not-A? QT4. The Opponent Motivation Resistance Rule. Whatsituation will make the opponent do a desired action?

Wecan take a closer look at how such rules operate. Obviously, the trick is again labeling. One needsto learn to call up such rules at the appropriate time, and the appropriate time is determined by certain key features in the original question. For example, the above question has an implicit opponent. That is, you are trying to get John to bletch and he presumably doesn’t want to bletch. To try and think this problem out more carefully then, instead of just asking yourself, Howdo I get John to do bletch? you would use questiontransformation rules.

Question Transformation

QT1. The OpponentBenefit Rule

Transformed question: How will John benefit from bletching? QT2. The Opponent Enablement Blockage Rule

Transformed question: What kind of natural resistance might John haveto bletching? QT3. The Action Apparition Rule

Transformed question: How can I get John to see bletching as frumping? (Where John dislikes bletching but likes frumping.) QT4. The Opponent Motivation Index: opponent, desired action

Transformed question: Is John morelikely to bletch under different circumstances? (How do I change the circumstances?) Now consider a second common unanswerable question,

Q2. Should I frumpin order to gain murfness from it? We can make use of the following QT rules: QT5. The Historical Precedence Rule Transformed question: Is it clear that murfness will result

from frumping, i.e., Does murfness usually result from frumping?

QT6. The Result Evaluation Rule

Transformed question: Is it clear that murfness is really a gain? (Is murfness valuable? Howr) QT7. The Action-Result Rule

Transformed question: Is it possible that bletching might result in murfness and that bletching might be easier to perform (haveless cost)? QTS8. The Real Goal Rule Transformed question: Is murfness an end in itself, or is murfness something that just enables glimping?(If so, can

glimping be pursued directly?)



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QT9. The Ultimate Antecedent Rule

Transformed question: Whatis the real goal behind frumping, bletching, and murfness? Let's consider the third typical question. We have actually seen it before in another form when welooked at terrorism. Instead of Arabs andIsraelis, let’s use individuals:

Q3. How can person A (John) and person B (Sam) get along? QT10. The Historical Understanding Rule Transformed question: What past history prevents their getting along? and How can the past be covered up? QTI11. The New Mutual Goal Rule Transformed question: What new mutual goal for John and Sam would make them work together? QT12. The Inherent Feature Rule

Transformed question: Is there an inherent feature of John or Sam that causes the problem?If so, then, Can this fea-

ture be changed? or Can this feature be masked?

Nowlet’s consider some examples of question transformations.

NARROWING. Example: Instead of asking how the Arabs and Israelis can get along, ask how they can get along on one specific issue that is somewhat simple, such as the opening of a particular border. LEVEL RAISING. Example: Instead of asking why Johnis on drugs, see if any group he belongsto is involved with drugs and find out whythat groupis involved. GOAL PRECEDENCE. Example: When youseethat Johnis doing something odd, makesure thatit is something odd for him. It might be a script for him and thusa lot less easy to explain. Example: When Maryfails to get all A’s in high

Question Transformation

school, something shereally wanted to do, it might turn

out that she didn’t wantit as much as you thoughtshedid. Find out what else she wants. TARGET DIRECTED.

Example: When IBM refusesto sell

some products in some markets, it may be that they are crazy, or it may be that their goal isn’t really to sell that product as muchasit is to take care of the future of the company in some way. Example: When your boss refuses to promote you, and chooses someone worse than you, it may makesense to ask what the other guy has on the boss.

FocuS CHANGING. Example: Whyare there suicide carbombers? Maybe the car-bombers value something else more than their ownlives. ANALOGICAL MAPPINGS. Example: Instead of asking yourself how to fix someone’s problem when hetells a problem to you,ask yourself if you have ever had a similar problem. For example, when someonetells you how he was dumpedbyhis girlfriend, tell him about the time when you were dumped. CONSEQUENCE FOLLOWING. Example: When hearing of someone’s good fortune,it is tempting to think bad things about the fortunate one. Instead, ask yourself what the fortunate one did to becomefortunateandtry to copyhis plan. Precedence Tracking. Example: When youfind out who wonthe big race, don’t try to explain it away. Instead, try to find out what the people who correctly predicted the winner were thinking and learn from their predictive rules. Historical Perspective.

Example: Don’t ask why an odd

thing occurred. Try to be reminded of somethingjust like

it. Then comparethe two. It is easier to explain two things than one.



Creativity Tools

Question transformation is a type of remindingtrick, oriented toward transforming current problems into new ones, while the more usual reminding tricks are oriented toward bringing newpatterns to mind to try to apply to a current

situation. A reminding is oriented toward solving the original problem, but in a novel way. A question transformation can start by changing the original problem completely and finish by answering what you thought was an unanswerable question.


Ask questions. If the answers you get aren’t useful, change the questions you asked by using the transformations I suggest here. If the answersstill aren’t useful, try to be reminded of something and formulate new questions about the relevance of the reminding. But you must keep asking.



Ten Questions. about Innovation


Not so long ago I was asked to speak about innovation and creativity before an audience made up of the chairmen of various corporations in the United States and Italy. They wanted to make their people morecreative in order to promote innovation in their companies. I prepared list of questions to ask aboutcreativity which I shall present here. I also attempted to answer those questions. Although it is the answers that my audience and you,the reader, will focus on, it is really the questions that matter. Did I ask the right questionsP Whatfollows are what I feel are some good questions to ask aboutcreativity and innovation. I. Who prevents it? The first question to ask about innovation is, Who or what prevents it from springing up as it naturally tends to in an environment of freedom and individual initiative? The first answeris that today’s business practices and traditions, especially in large corporations, conspire against creativity. Big companies don’t want anyone to rock the boat, and this is

communicated to every level of management through the


Questions and Answers

daily operations of the companyand evenin formal ways such as job descriptions; hiring, promotion,andfiringpolicies; office procedures manuals and house rules about who can do what, whocanstart projects, alter them, or scrap them. Large companiescreate veryrigid and conservative internal systems and hierarchies because they cravestability and continuity. They crave safety andbelieve that safety lies in not taking a chance. There is a much more important reason that innovation is difficult in large companies. People join big companiesin order not to rock the boat, in order not to be creative. What do I

meanbythis? I mean very simply that many people desire to join the largest and safest companies that offer them the most benefits and security. They hear of the big names and they wantto get on the gravytrain because it guarantees a known quality of lifestyle. These people aren’t risk-takers when they come aboard, they don’t tend to think for themselves, and their course through the tomblike labyrinths of the corporation isn’t going to make them any morecreative. Large corporations attract the least creative people who can do thejob. A large bank was thinking of making a contract with my company to write some software for them. The bankitself owns a very large computer companyfor its data-processing needs, and when the managers of this company heard of the possible deal with my company,they sent their own computer people to talk to us. I knew from the moment the meeting began that these executives felt challenged by the fact that their parent bank wanted to go with an outside company on a very new type of product. The first question to ask in such situations is usually something like, What are the motivations of these people? The short answeris that their motivationis to save their own skins. What’s in it for me? can be the number one attitude preventing innovation. Yet the best question to ask in this particular instance was, How do wegetthese guys to feel that they’re a part of this innovative team, too? To get this contract, we would have to do morethanjust make a flashy presentation. We would have to modify our proposal to make it more palatable to these managers whofelt passed by in the innovative process.

Ten Questions about Innovation

Whoelse prevents creativity? Venture capitalists are one of the prime repressors of creativity. Much has been written aboutso-called vulture capitalists (venture capitalists who take more than they give), whose perceivedrole is to take as much from an inventoras possible, but that is not the problem I am concerned with here. My concern is money,too, butit is not moneyfor the inventor as much as moneyforideas that concerns me. Whensomeonehasa truly original idea in this country and he tries to get a company financed in order to develop that idea, heis usually stopped from doing so. We havetheillusion that venture capitalists are ready to put moneyinto new ideas,

but as we haveseen, venturecapitalists are anything butrisktakers. They do not wantto take a chanceoflosing their investors’ money. Consequently, they tendto follow other risk-takers’ successes. After Apple had already shownthat it could build a cheap personal computer, the venture capitalists began to invest. And then, most of them didn’t invest in Apple, of course. They began to invest in competitors of Apple. Later, we had a shakeout in the computerindustry. This came as no surprise to people in the computer world. Who neededall these different kinds of computers? It was hardly even clear that anybody needed any home computeratall. But the venture capitalists, sheep that they are, followed one after the other, investing in any personal computer that camealong. What’s the problem here? Whocares if venture capitalists lose their money? Myclaim is that the society cares. As long as we are under the impression that new ideas cannot be funded,wefail to seek funding for them. But the actual maxim amongventurecapitalists is that ideas that are marginally different from somethingthat has already worked (assuming that those ideas are backed by standard business people whowill run the companyaccordingto tried and true methods) will be funded. In fact, today’s inventor is worse off than at any time in our history. Years ago inventors found rich patrons to finance them. Then big business took over. Then the governmenttook over. Now the venture capitalists have taken over, but they



Questions and Answers

have taken on only the appearanceof taking over. Risk-taking is what innovationis all about, and mostventurecapitalists will freely admit that they don’t take risks if they can helpit. 2. Who wants to innovate?

The short answerto this is: people who are unafraid offailure. Consider another boardroom story. My companyproposed a new product to a large companythat would allowits clients to do business on their home computervia the telephone. Again, the companyhad been working alone on various problems of this system and had cometo us only because we said we could solve all the problems their own experts had concluded were impossible. This in itself is a good example of poor attitude. But the story has moretoit. Oneby onetheydiscussed the “impossibles,” and my people and I showed them quickly and simply how the problems could besolved, or that they wouldn’t even be problemsif we organized some element differently. Some of the problems weren't computeror software problems, but simply organizational and managerial problems. My people don’t know any more about business and management than these people. They just have a better attitude toward new ideas and new

theories. But more importantly, they weren’t afraid of being wrong. In the end, the answeris that very few people really want to innovate. Why should someone who worksfor a big company wherehe has a nice safe job want to innovate? Therisk of making a mistake and angering higher-ups seems much greater than the potential reward in a big company.If big companies are the wave of the future, and given the rate at which big companies acquire smaller companies these daysit would certainly seem that they are, then something must change. Big business must learn to plan beyond a two-year cycle. No one can come up with a newideaandreally work it into something marketable in two years. Ten years would be more like it. But even ten years is not enough.

Ten Questions about Innovation

Why?Because, unlessit’s profitable no one wants to build it at all. We must get beyondthe idea of immediateprofitability in innovation. Big companies mustallowscientists to play with ideas, for their whole lives perhaps, without having even the potential for products. Indeed there are a few, precious few, big companiesin the U.S. that do exactly this. But there must be more. Many manypeople wantto innovate. Someactually

can. But very few are allowedtotry.

3. Is the most creative approach to a problem a scientific approach? One problem with allowing scientists to just think in company-sponsoredlaboratories is that one must worry about exactly who gets that privilege. As soon as wetry to establish a set of criteria for who gets to play science, we tend to lose a great many interesting scientists. Scientists are, after all, as

rigid and lacking in the desire to take risks as the rest of us. What? yousay.Is this possible? Actually scientists never let the outside world see them at their most petty—namely, when they are reviewing each other’s grant proposals. If an idea hasn’t been proved, most scientists will not grant other scientists the opportunity to try to prove it. One has to show why something will work in order to be able to work onit. Further, one has to use the currently agreed-upon paradigm of research in order to be considered eveneligible for a grant. Scientists are at least as rigid as everybodyelse. Well then, how does innovative science get done? The sad fact is that most scientists have never done anything innovative in their lives. They simply follow the rules, in this case the rules of science, and do what they are supposed to do. Truly importantscientific breakthroughs often have to be done by some very unorthodox methods. Edison and the electric lamp is a good example of what I’m getting at. Edison tried and failed to make a lamp with hundreds of compounds before he came up with one that



Questions and Answers

worked. There were manyscientists at work on the problem of electric light, but they wereall trying to make anelectric lamp based on their theories of electricity, metals, and lamps. They wanted to feel 100 percent right about the theory before they tried anything in practice to see whether it worked or not. They weren’t willing to try things and be wrong. Edison just sat there wiring things together to see what worked until something worked, and then he began to explain it theoretically. Edison would never have gotten a federal grant, or backing from a venturecapitalist, if his plan was to try everything that he could think of until something worked. These days we support only those who do things the “right” way. 4, Is the most creative and innovative business strategy market-directed or product-directed? You can't do marketing studies on something brand-new.If I call you up and ask if you could use a widget, what would you say? You don’t know what a widgetis. You’d probably hang up on me. Most businesses get established somewhere between these extremes, in old areas and fields where they attempt to improve on existing systems or products and to compete with many others. Small product-directed companies usually start out with an inventor or entrepreneur with an idea whosucceeds in getting a product outinto the real world, or at least the design for one. When the timeis ripe, he may be lucky enoughandpersistent enough to cajole some venturecapitalists into financing his company, at which point his business could take off. As the months and years go by, the market swells and then competition appears, whenall the unimaginative folks out there simply make a cheaper copy of what the original company is making. Whenthe market levels off, the original company,as well as

all the copycats, can easily be caughtwith its pants down. What do we do next? is a question that is asked word for word in

Ten Questions about Innovation

many a small business that has.hadits first success andis starting to see the marketfor its new product level off. Companies build a great new piece of software, and then they begin to ask what they should build next. But this time they ask the question differently. When someonewith a new blockbusterideais starting out, it is usually the idea itself that drives him. The idea to make a computercheaply is what’s important, or to makea piece of business software that is usable—that’s the motivation. The fact that money can be made? Ohyes, but the idea is first. Whathappensafter companies based uponanideaare successful? They often start coming up with ideas on the basis of what they think will sell. And surprise! That is when the company starts losing money. No one knowswhatthebigseller of the twenty-first century will be—in computers, in automobiles, in telephones, what-

ever. But the ideas that are behind those inventions of the future are probably around now.Ideas don’t spring up from nowhere. The groundhasusually been laid years before. This is why we mustinvest in ideas and not in markets. Companies who wantto innovate must learn to invest in a good idea that they cannot possibly see the marketfor. Being an idea type person, I can tell you that I have had a great manyideas that no one wantsto invest in. Some of them may be good and somebad,but I have onein mind that cannot fail. The technology to doit is already in place, people needit badly, and it won’t be too costly to build. But can I get the moneyto build it? No. And why not? Because marketstudies have shown that no one would buyit. I am sure that market studies would have shown that no one would buy a word processor in 1960. How were word processors built? They were built initially by computer scientists in governmentfunded labs because they were needed to type in computer programsin an efficient manner. No marketing person would have allowed them to be built. We have got to stop relying upon marketing directors to monitor innovation. They are not doing a very goodjob.



Questions and Answers

do. Who else prevents creativity? Actually, I have often thoughtthat the biggest preventorsof creativity are the other people you expose your ideas to— spouses, relatives, friends, students, and teachers. What do I

meanbythis? Probably the biggest single problem in the creation of newideas is their premature public hatching. For example, every now and then I have a newidea which I work out in a sketchy manner. I then call a meeting of my graduate students to present the idea, or I presentit in a class whereI was supposed to talk about something else. And every yearI have to give a small speech to myfirst-year graduate students telling them that they are not allowedtocriticize my ideaat this early stage. They are usually dumbfounded by this. No professor ever says anything like that. Academicsis a kind of game, wherein someonepresentshis ideas and everyoneelse tries to rip them to shreds. What do I want from my graduate students? Well, first I want them to listen. Second, I want to hear myself present the idea. It is a way of forcing myself to be coherentin a waythat simply thinking about something usually does not accomplish. Third, I want them to try to add to the idea. I don’t usually completeall the loose ends of a thought in one presentation. In fact, for most good ideas, the completion of the thought virtually never occursatall. Ineed mystudents to run with the idea a while, to turn it over and try to build uponit. Manyhotshot students have been convincedthatit is a mark of brillianceto find the first flaw in an argument and gofor the jugular. Many ideas presented by people who cannottell the audience to shut up, or whoseegois little fragile, will die an early death. It is very difficult to have the confidence to pursue an idea to see whereit leads, if you have been told by very wise people that the ideais fatally flawed. Our university system teaches that ideas are either right or wrong. The trophy goes to the scholar who provesan idea the wrongest the quickest. But this is completely wrong. As I have said more than oncein this book, there are no answers, only

Ten Questions about Innovation

questions. Thecritical issue for a new idea is whetherit asks, and attempts to address, the right questions. If it does, even if the idea is fatally flawed, the pursuit of the idea can lead to other interesting ideas and newinsights. The reason forthis is fairly simple. As we saw earlier, pursuing an idea means finding explanation patterns and attempting to adapt them to newsituations. This process naturally entails being reminded of new patterns along the way. Thus, even wrong ideas, pursued in the hope of answering the right question, can lead to right answers. It is the questions that matter, not the answers. The answers must berefined and modified as they are developed, in any case. Thus,

the process of refinement and modification must be encouraged, as long as the question being answered was the right one in the first place. More often than not, when presented with a new idea, we

try to show whyit should not be pursued. Killing a line of inquiry is a very nasty thing to do, yet we do it to each other all the time, and usually feel quite proud of ourselves as a result. That philosophy of scholarly argumentativeness belongs to a time when facts were facts, and when menofreligion were the only knowersand discoverers of facts. Now we know enoughto know that there aren’t manyfacts. Thus we must develop new means of communication about new ideas in order for new ideas to be created and survive. 6. How can large corporations promote innovation?

Oneof the biggest problemsfacing creativity today, outside the school system’s penchantforstifling it in young children, is in how wefinance newresearchers.It is important to find the people in a society whoare the innovators and give them room to innovate. But where exactly does this happen? When someone whocan innovateis identified, who gives him the opportunity to innovate?

My graduate studentsareall under an impression about the world that is quite wrong. I mention it here because, I suspect,



Questions and Answers

most people have the same impression. Graduate students are interested in attaining a Ph.D. becausetheyseeit as a license to do research. And,in fact,it is a license, but getting a license doesn’t mean getting a job, and there are very few real research jobs. Whohires new Ph.D.s? In general there are three answers. First, of course, we have universities. Graduate students often

believe that they should become university professors so that they can do research. And, of course,this is quite true, for the

very small numberof professors who can get jobs at the few universities where the teachingloads are light enoughtopermit them to find the time to do research. Even then, for most

fields of scientific research, governmentgrants are required, and not everyonecan get oneof them,naturally. So in the end, some university professors get to do research,especially those whohavepersonalities that allow them to hustle for grants and run large laboratories while still being able to think, but most do not. The second option is government-sponsored research labs. In some fields of research these laboratories are like being in heaven. There is plenty of money and equipmentanda great manydifferent and interesting problems to work on. Theyare heaven for people whoseresearchinterests happen to coincide with the interests of the Defense Departmentor other government agencies with a special mission. But these laboratories do not let people just come and think. They let researchers come to work on a specific problem. If the problem thatinterests you doesn’t happento be onethat the sponsorofthe lab is interested in, too bad.

As I have said, such a methodof fundingscientific research can be disastrous. It presupposes that the right questions have all been asked, and have been asked by government bureaucrats at that. If someone is going to decide officially which questionsshall be asked,it would benice if that someone were

interested in science first and defense second. However, it seems clear that no such personexists in any case. Doing good research means asking one’s own questions. The government

Ten Questions about Innovation

should provide the moneyandstay away. But,of course,that doesn’t happen very often in the current system. Well, how about industry? Every now andthen, especially in computerscience,a large company announcesthattheywill open a major researchlaboratory devotedsolely to ideas rather than products. Computerscientists flock to these places where they are often given a few years of latitude in which they can actually just play with whatever idea theyare into at the moment. And as Alan Kay,a scientist at Xerox PARCforover ten years and now an Apple fellow, remarked, “By the time a companyis large enough to set up a long-range research center, it’s too large to listen to it.” In computerscience, big companies that do long-rangeresearch are not taking much ofa risk. Any good idea in computer science has the potential of being a product, and no companyhasto insist too muchthattheir scientists keep themselves solely to practical ideas. For a while these companies look like heaven to my graduatestudents, but one by one these labs changecharacter and begin to get more product-oriented. These companies are in business to make money,afterall. There are exceptionsto all this, but the exceptions are few and far between. By andlarge, it isn’t easy to be a full-time researcher. One has to pay some price—teaching, defenseorientation, or product orientation being three of the most common pricesto be paid. Whatshould we do? Take a longer-term picture. In a world more and more dominatedbylarge corporations, these companies must devote a decentpercentageof their budgets to the free-form funding of research. Let them hire good people and not concern themselves with whetherproducts will ever come from the efforts. Products will come, no doubt, or maybejust

ideas will come. Large corporations should have to put something into the system that they rely upon. Let the government make rulings about corporate research programsthat regulate exactly how much must be spent on nonproduct-oriented research. Everyone,including the corporations, would be better off forit.


Questions and Answers

7. Why are people script-based? Wouldn't youreally like someoneto tell you what to doall the time? Weall deny that we want this, but we do love to have it. We demand of those whotell us what to do that they be right all the time about whatis best for us. When they are not, we are not very forgiving. Why do welove scripts? Because scripts keep us from having to think. Nowit may seem odd to say that people want to avoid thinking, but I believe that to be the case. It is so much easier to have someone else think for you. I don’t meanthis facetiously at all. We want to be told what foods go with what wines, what colors go together in what we are wearing, and how to behave when someone wants to be ourfriend. We want to be told this because it is easier than having to figure it out for ourselves each time. The accumulated years of history in any culture are nothing more thana groupof people’s collected wisdom on howtolive. Often the rules derived from that wisdom take their shape in terms of religious injunctions on whatto eat, how totalk to God, howto treat one’s parents, and so on. Such rules makelife

easier to live. We needn’t start from step one each time we face a newday. There are rules, and we can consult the wisdomof the ages. Unfortunately, we do not usually learn that that is what we are doing whenwefollow the rules of a culture orof a religion. Too often suchrules are presented to us without the reasoning that was behind theminthefirst place. The Japaneselearn that they must take their shoes off at home, but not why. The Jews learn to cover their heads, but not why. Thelist of such things is endless. And the problem? The problem is that things change and rules are slowto change. More importantstill, one can get used to having someoneelse do one’s thinking. Or worse yet, one can be stopped from doing what one wants to do by someone who is invoking a rule that he has been taught applies to a givensituation whenthat rule is simply no longer applicable. We want to live by the scripts we have learned. But we must

Ten Questions about Innovation

learn to abandon them at will. Perhaps schools should give courses on what to do whenscripts fail. They certainly give enough courses on howto follow thescripts in the first place. 8. Whyis creativity easier in the United States? First, of course, we must consider whetherthis is actually a

reasonable question.Is creativity harder outside Americar The much larger number of Nobel Prize winners, particularly in science areas, as well as the high percentage of new high-tech products which are American, would seem to indicate thatit is. But why should this be? Certainly no one would claim that Americans are genetically superior. Then whatis it? It seems clear that there is a climate in which creativity flourishes and a climate in whichit does not. For example,it is a very small thing indeed,but to think, one mustbe comfort-

able. American researchers rarely wearties, tend to have comfortable offices of which they are the sole occupant, and in general, live in a much moreinformal atmospherethan their European and Japanese counterparts. Is this sufficient reason? If they all got better office space would they be morecreative? I doubtit, though it wouldn’t hurt. What else might be the problem? Too much democracy might be one problem. Soundsstrange, doesn’t itP But scientific ideas cannot be voted upon for correctness. And large numbers of my European colleagues live in an atmosphere wherethat is almost the case. Students vote for who should be president of the university and what professors should teach what subjects in many universities in Europe. Students have lifetime jobs as students and are not concernedwithsatisfying their professors. The result? It becomes acceptable to consider yourself as the equal of your professor in many ways. And whatis wrong with this? Can’t creativity happen this way, too? I don’t believe so. Creativity is very difficult. One must sweat over ideas and go through a fair amount of pain working them out. Competition and a desire to succeed help one in overcoming obstacles in the path of creativity. But if there is no motivation, if one can be a student forever, and if



Questions and Answers

one cannot easily become a professor—both situations are more the case in Europe than they are in America—it is not so hard to understand whycreativity is hampered. Actually, these are all nice reasons, but I do not seriously believe that they are the ultimate reasons that creativity flourishes moreeasily in America. America has two things that Europein general does not have: first, as a culture, Americans are inherently risk-takers; second, we have no real history. Let me explain what I mean by each of these things. Since the vast majority of Americanscan recall one or more ancestors who were not born in America, most Americans

personally know many people whohavetorn upall their roots and taken a shot at an entirely new life. The concept of complete and radical changeis accepted in America, I believe for that reason, more than it is in Europe. Recall my premise that creativity tends to come from failure. Something has to go wrongin order for one to feel the needto fix it. And when one learns to ask the right question about fixing whatever is wrong and one proposesa solution, one has to be encouragedto pursue one’s idea. My claim is that the learning cycle, the cycle of failure-question-explanation-generalization is simply more common in America than it is in Europe or Japan because Europeansand the Japanese have an even greaterfearoffailure than Americans. People are less afraid to fail in America and theyareless afraid to propose something newas an explanation for the failure. Whyare theyless afraid to propose something new?This has to do with history. To Europeanintellectuals, Americans often appear very uncultivated. Americans are unlikely to know manylanguages, are unlikely to be very familiar with both classical literature and even English literature, especially if they are scientists, and Americans frequently are ignorant of basic facts of history, geography, and international politics that any European intellectual would know. Of course, there are manyexceptions to these generalizations, but it isn’t hard to get a Europeanintellectual to admit that he believes this about Americans.

Is it true? For the most part, American intellectuals are less

Ten Questions about Innovation

educated than their European counterparts, especially outside their main fields of interest. My claim is that that is part of America’s strength. No, I am not claiming that ignorance fosters creativity. I am claiming something somewhatdifferent. Earlier I discussed something I labeled the reinventing the wheel syndrome. Europeans know so muchhistory, and they consider knowing history to be so important, that they are frightened to death to admit to not knowing something. Thus, if they have a newidea,they are frightened that someoneelse might already have had this idea. Europeans spend a great deal of time trying to makesure that they haven’t reinvented the wheel. One way they do this is by reading a great deal. Another waythat theydothis is by avoiding subjects that are too open-ended whereit might not be clear if a new idea was a contribution ornot. All this is an elaborate method of making sure that they never take a position which would makeit possible for them tofall Hat on their faces and be embarrassed in front of their colleagues. It is easier for a European to make a new contribution in mathematics, for example, whereit is

clear what constitutes a new idea, and exactly how valuableit is, and that it can be proven to be correct, than in computer science, where the possibilities are more open-ended and where many newideas die an early death. Am I suggesting that creative people don’t and shouldn't read? No,notatall. I am suggesting that creative people spend less time worrying about whetheror not they have reinvented the wheel and how theywill appear to their colleagues. I am suggesting that the ego concerns of Americans lie elsewhere than those of Europeans. Americanintellectuals are personally concernedthat they will not be able to create at a fast enough

pace to keep up with youngerscientists who are advancing upon them. European and Japanese intellectuals concern themselves with whether they will appear to be ignorant and lose face in front of their colleagues. Andthat difference in attitudes accounts for a great deal of the difference between America andthe rest of the world. An American professor on hearing a lecture that confused him is quite likely to say, “I don’t understand,” and have that mean,



Questions and Answers

“It is vour fault that I don’t understand; you had better figure out what you mean.” His European counterpartis morelikely to be worried that his lack of understanding was due to some fault of his own andthus sit quietly and say nothing. And asI have said, the person whoasks the question wins the game. 9. What can governments do to increase creativity and promote innovation? Investing in education would be a nice place to begin. Fostering competition in a safe, creative environment would be another.Since I have talked some aboutthelatter already,let’s talk about the formera bit. How can we change education? Earlier I discussed some specific issues with respect to what to teach. Now let’s talk about howto changethe system. Education cannot improveif it is in the province of book publishers to decide what should be taught and howit should be taught. Of course, publishers don’t admit to having this power. They would claim thatit is the school boards that decide whatto teach andthat they,the publishers, merely implement their decisions. Nothing could be more wrong. The school boards may dictate whether junk food can be used in stories, or which general brandof history should be taught, but they do not dictate, for example, the general method of teaching. Whena book publisher decides to emphasize syllabification as an important methodto learn in reading, no school board votes on this. They just buy the text that contains that unit. And more importantly, the general concept of programmed learning, where education is virtually one standardized test after another taken at one’s own pace, has beeninstituted by the book publishers because it meansthat the school needs an entire series of books that follow one from the other. The justification is that ultimately this all will lead to passing the SAT with flying colors. Programmedlearning is a disaster educationally. Children must learn to think for themselves, to ask their own questions,

Ten Questions about Innovation

not to constantly be answering the questions of someoneelse. There is no room in programmed learning for children to explore, to question, to create, or to fail in an interesting way.

They never haveto explain anything to themselves. Learning must be open-ended. In programmed texts one can never learn more than the facts that are on the printed page. One cannot hypothesize, one cannot make a conjecture, and, due

to the competitive attitude that children tend to adopt oftrying to get through the bookthe fastest, even the opportunity to wondergetsstifled. The solution? Put someoneelse in charge of education instead of the book publishers. Who? How aboutthe universities in each state? How about the federal government? Evencorporations might be an improvement. Whoeveritis, that entity will have to spend serious money to develop reasonable materials. For example, computer software can now be developed which would improve education tremendously. Venture capitalists won’t invest in the creation of such software because there is no marketfor it. (No one has bought very much ofit yet, have they? Oh,is that because it hasn’t been very good? No matter, venture capitalists can’t reason very well.) Big corporations won’t invest because such software will cost a great deal of money, and big corporations are not in the charity business. How about the government? Sounds reasonable, but then whataboutall the politics involved in whogets to dictate what happens? I suggest that the federal government and private foundations find the moneyfor it and give it to the states. Let each state compete for who cancreate the best new cducational material. It might work—who knows? 10. Why is there so much interest in the subject of creativity? Maybe wehave beguntorealize, as a society, that we are losing what we once had. Maybe we haveall taken one too



Questions and Answers

many multiple-choice tests. Or maybe we are beginning to worry about how standardized everyone from business executives, to investors, to professors, to bureaucrats has become.

Anyway,just wondering about what to do aboutit all is a good thing to do. Why does everyone care all of sudden? I don’t know. Maybethat’s the wrong question. Let me close this chapter with a newspaperarticle that I read in The New York Times recently. It is not about creativity or innovation; it is about baseball: A Place in the Sun, On Japanese Terms

There are 23 foreign baseball players in Japan, and none have been here longer, or are more respected bytheir peers, than the Lee brothers. They have been ableto stay so long not only because they hit well but because, they say, they behave acceptably. They do not threaten. They do not boast. And they almost never assume that their relationship with their teams—and by extension, the country—can be as anything more than well-paid outsiders. “I’m called the ‘tasuketo-man,’ just the helper,” Leron says. ‘Andthat’s

all I'll ever be on this team.” ‘The first thing I was taught when I came here was neveruse the word ‘American baseball,’ ’’ Leron says. “Japanese baseballis supposed to be different from American baseball, and they’ve succeeded in making it 100 percent different.” It is not enoughto hit well, the brothers say, but to hit well using the team batting stance. It is foolish to dive for a ball, becauseif the ball drops the player has risked and failed and is banished to the bench. It is not enoughto take batting and infield practice.It is necessary to drill, sprint and shag 1,000 fly balls without pause, because drill means consistency and the perfection of form. “I really feel sorry for the Japanese players,” Leron says of teams filled with talented players who are physical wrecks by the end of the season. “The key thing is this mold, this Japanese mold.”

Whatdoesthis article have to do with creativity? I leave that as an exercise for the reader.


Creativity in School



Recall that in the beginning of this book we discussed three children in a trigonometry class who were learning the Pythagorean theorem. Nowlet’s look at the question of whether or not to teach children this theorem from different point of view. Consider how we would go about teaching a computer to find the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle. There are basically two steps involved in teaching a computer to computethe hypotenuseofa right triangle. The first is teaching the computer to understand the English used in expressing this question. This is difficult but not really all that complicated because the English in that example is fairly straightforward. In fact, as long as twenty years ago, programs werewritten that could understand algebra word problemsfar more complicated than this one. The second step is the formula for answering the second question. Putting that formula into a computer program is so trivial that anyone with the slightest bit of programming knowledge could do it in a matter of minutes. Thus equipped, our computercould answerproblemsaboutrighttriangles (no more andnoless) endlessly.


Questions and Answers

Whatdoesthis tell us about education? It says that while the boy who had learned the formula was best equipped to solve the problem, and all future problems of the same type, he simplydid not have to think at all. He was thinking only in the verytrivial sense of that term that wealso ascribe to today’s computers. He was plugging in the numbers.If all we want our children to do is apply ready-made formulas or spout correct answers, we will end up with very unimaginative young people. Iam not against the learning and application of formulas where it is useful. The problem is to know the difference between the need to knowa formula and the needfortheability to reason within an entire subject area.

In an important way each of the three boys we discussed in chapter 1 made an unconscious decision about how creative he intends to be. The reason for this is that the schools have elected, again unconsciously, to reward the least creative tvpe of reasoning, namely, applying a ready-madeformula or rule.


In this book I have stressed the value of reasoning by reminding, and especially of reasoning by asking. We have seen how reasoning byrule application can lead to not thinking for oneself. Reasoning by reminding can be a very valuable tool in everydaylife. Learning the official rules of the game doesn’t always help whenit comesto reality. For example, take a case of real-life reasoning that weall have to do: Suppose you were asked which candidate for president was mostlikely to make peace, the saber-rattling hawk or the let’s-withdraw-the-troops liberal? You might respond that you were remindedof Richard Nixon. You might argue that he wasvirulently anticommunist but vet was the first to go to China. You might reason that maybe candidates tend to do the opposite of what theysay. This might remind you that Lyndon Johnson was the peace candidate during the early stages of the Vietnam War.

Encouraging Creativity in School

Reasoning by reminding must be encouragedin the schools. How should wedo this? In math class? In history class? In philosophyclass? Yes. There are areas in which weactually do teach this method of thought. When mathematicians prove theorems by relying upon prior theorems, they are doing something analogous to what I have been advocatingin this book. They find an old theorem andadaptit to the newsituation. This is what we must do in mathclass rather than teach formulas. Of course, some wise teachers do this already. But they teach the formulas as well. Forget the formulas, teach examples, and teach children how to reason from examples. This is done in law school, and in the celebrated Harvard

case-methodin business school. Must children wait until professional school to learn how to think? Let’s give first graders thinking tools for how to survive in the streets and for how to select a candidatein an election. By this I do not mean teaching the facts in these areas. There are no facts in these areas. Teach children about the prior cases and teach them to build on prior cases to reason about new cases. Children already know howto dothis, of course,since as I havesaid, this method

is quite basic to normal human thoughtprocesses. What do we have to teach the children then? We mustteach them that this methodof reasoningis all right. We must teach them baseline cases to rely uponin different areas of knowledge. At Harvard,

that’s what they are learning. They are learning the cases and how to reason about them. Cases can be taughtin any subject area at any time. Whynotstart in first grade? The reliance on formulaic thoughtthatis stressed so heavily in the schools these days is quite dangerous. Simply learning a rule and applying it would never convince anyof us that a person or a computer was very smart. We don’t award the notion of intelligence so easily. In order for a computer to convince us it was intelligent, it would have to do something much more complex than simply apply a formula in the right situation in order to come up with the right answer. It would have to come up with the formula on its own,or at least have someinsight that it was not directly taught. Why then do we



Questions and Answers

demandless of children who have considerably more native intelligence than computers? Weshould teach children what a formula is, and just how formulas can be useful, but never teach them an actual formula.

Let them invent E= mc?on their own. Impossible? Notreally.

The trick to real invention, of the kind Einstein did, is to be

asking the right questions. If we present children with the right questions, deriving the formula is comparatively easy. These arguments do not apply solely to mathematics, of course. In daily life, there are a great many rules like the Pythagorean theorem. These rules are called proverbs or clichés, depending on their presumed profundity. Whena person takes vitamins every day he maybeliving (consciously or unconsciously) by the rule that an ounceof prevention is worth a poundof cure. Or when a child walks away from people who are taunting him, he may yell back, Sticks and stones may break my bones but nameswill never harm me. Muchof our lives are governed by “rules” such as these, and it is neither right nor wrong to be so governed. At times these rules form perfectly sound advice. The problem for the creative reasoner is being able to reason when there are no rules available or whenthe available rules are for some reason inappropriate. Of course, what I am really advocating is teaching children to ask the right questionsin the first place. I have claimed that the child who wasn’t paying attention at all in math class was the best off of the lot. He really didn’t know whereto start and he was figuring it out by asking himself a set of questions to guide his reasoning. This is, of course, what the ghetto kid was doing in the bicycle example as well. Now the questionis, What are we doing whenwearejust figuring it out?

THE VALUE OF FIGURING IT OUT Howdo we get a computerto figure it outP Weask this question here not because the issue of getting computers to think is intrinsically important, but rather because by reference to

Encouraging Creativity in School

that question we can begin to see the complexity of the processes involved. What would it mean to give a computer the rules for figuring something outP What would those rules look like? What kind of background knowledge would a computer have to haveso that it could figure things out? Most important, of course, is how people figure things out. Whatdoesourboy haveto knowin orderto reason his way out of trouble or in order to figure out the answer to a questionin mathematics? As partof the answerto this second question, we

must examine whyit is better, in the long run, to figure something out than simply to recall the answer. Oursystem of education stresses the learning of the formula, as I have said. It seems obvious that the reason to learn a formula is the same reason that we have for writing a computer program to follow a formula. Werely on formulas to the extent that we ourselves embodytight repetitive procedures, to the extent that we needto use a formula again and again. In the computerage, muchofthis need for humans to operate formulaically has vanished. There can belittle justification for learning any formula as long as there exist machines that can slavishly do these computationsfor us. There is an exception to this, of course. Having hand calculators available to us is no reason to fail to learn to add. Why?

Because we needto understand suchbasic principles in order to reason for ourselves. In order to reason by asking, we must haveat our disposal the basic questionsto ask. In other words, we must know howto add to understand multiplication, we must understand multiplication in order to understand division, and so on. But a formulais not a basic tool of asking. It introduces no new concepts, but merely applies someold ones. Schools have been teaching formulasfor a long time now.In the computerage, teaching children to do what computers can do makeslittle sense. Rather, we must teach children to do

what computers cannot do. Andif in the future computers equal the achievementsof these children, if creative thought becomes formulaic in nature, then at least the equation of people with computerswill be on a higher plane thanit is now.



Questions and Answers


How,then, do weteach creative reasoning? The first thing we have got to do is to get over the idea that there are right answers to questions. Our boy on his bicycle who was being threatened and decided to go to the middle of a baseball game didn’t need the right answer, he needed an answer. There may have been other better answers, but the one he selected

worked and that’s what mattered most at the time. Further, in the geometryclass, the boy who had thepossibility of learning the most from the experience was the one who tried to figure it out from scratch. You can be sure, however,

that few teachers would concede that he had donethebest. Doing well in school doesn’t necessarily imply learning the most from each given day. Doing the best means giving the answers. In school we expect answers to questions. We wantfacts. We ask, Who discovered America? and want the name Columbus,

not some hedging about Vikings, or comments about American Indians. Weare a fact-orientedsociety. Schools, as they are presently constituted in the United States, have one primary purpose educationally, and thatis the effective performance of their students on standardizedtests. Thereclearly are other functions of schools, such as keeping kids off the street, providing a mechanism for social assimilation, teaching children a commonset of facts about the world,

and introducing students to the need to get along within a bureaucracy(thatis, schoolitself). Underlyingall of these functions should be the ability to reason and think. This clear and unifying focus is usually lost in the attempt to score well on tests.

Children are taught from the very early grades that there are right answers andthat they will be rewarded for getting as manyof them aspossible. And whatofourcreative bicyclist? He may well fail in school because, although he can figure things out for himself, he will get the wrong answera great

Encouraging Creativity in School

deal. He may do poorly on standardized tests and feel very frustrated in school. What should we do? Weshould learn about what it means to think. Schools cannot teach thinking if they don’t know whatit means or howto do it. None of us have been taughtto think (at least not in school), so very few people really can think very creatively. Probably the most significant thing one can say about thinking is that it is inspired by questions. In manycases, as in the bicycle example here, these questions can comefrom thereal needs of everydaylife. So, if one is frequently asked questions, or to put it another way, if one frequently comes uponsituations that are out of the ordinary and that pose problems, one will get lots of practice in thinking. The school situation could be an acceptable format for the asking of questions, but as long as formulaic answerssatisfy the questions, then the questionsare not of any use. Further, questions to whichthereis one and only oneright answerare of no use in stimulating thinking. To think, one mustlearn to justify one’s answersin frontof a severe and respectedcritic. This can be your spouse, a teacher, or even your child, but it must be someone whois willing to argue with you. It is necessary to be able to justify your answer. If you cannot, you have not answered the question. Learning to think in a creative, stimulating fashion requires learning to be inquisitive. Specifically: 1. You must be asked questions, either by yourself, by others, or by situations you encounter. 2. These questions must be outof the ordinary. If you have been asked this question before, so that answeringit requires no more than mentally looking up the answer, the question won't help you think. 3. Someone whom yourespect must evaluate your answer.



Questions and Answers


In education circles today, there is much discussion of the student learning problem. Simply put, how doyou getstudents to learn subjects that they don’t care about? A typical example of the student learning problem is high school physics. Very few high school students seem to be excited bythe traditional introductory physics curriculum. As a matteroffact, this is not a problem that seemsto occur in our experience with either graduate students, on the one hand, or young children ages two througheight, on the other. Why? At these opposite ends of the educational spectrum, there seemsto belittle in common, except the most important factor: they want to learn. They enjoy thinking about new concepts. Young children and Ph.D. candidates are both excited by ideas. They want to know stuff. They love asking questions. They find learning intrinsically satisfying. Whatcurrently motivates most of our high school students? Grades. Scores on standardizedtests. Class rank. Getting into the college of their first choice. Students not headedforcollege maysimply wantto graduate, to get a diploma. Thus, the grade often becomesthe endinitself. The refrain of, Is this going to be on the exam? usually means, Do I haveto payattention to what you’re saying? So what? Shouldn’t a high school student still want to learn physics to make an (orjust to pass) Maybe, but these are all extrinsic motivations. Students tend to learn better when motivatedintrinsically than when given extrinsic motivation.

Whatgoes onin a physics course? The studentlearnslots of formulas and rules to recognize whento apply which formula. If there is a laboratory associated with the course, the student gets an opportunity to witness that the formulasare pretty accurate, except, of course, if the student makes a mistake. Then the formulastill must be correct, and the student knows

that his experimental technique is poor (and sois his grade,

most likely). What does the student learn? He learnsto reason

Encouraging Creativity in School

by rule application. As I have argued here, this approach to thinking is basic, but limited. What the student does not learn is to be creative. The problem-solving paradigm obviates creativity. Furthermore, this rule-application approach to teaching science has a fundamental premise which is unfounded and even damaging, namely thatscientists know what the right answeris. This assumption of correctness and precision in physics and other sciences is very misleading and one that is readily questioned by actual practitioners. The idea that all the answers are knownis morehorrifying yet. But students actually believe this about physics, about psychology, you nameit. Whydo they believeit? Because no matter how many times a good teacher might denyit, heis still teaching as if he knowsthe answers. Hehasto do that if he gives exams which have the usual questions and answers on them. In many ways,

it is exams, especially standardized exams which are easy to grade because all the answers are precisely one thing or another, that are the real cause of our problems in education. An alternative can be foundin literature or philosophy course. In these fields, the notion of a right answerhas largely been discarded. Whatis the right interpretation of Hamlet? What is freedom? What can be known? Philosophers often delight in arguing the same question from two opposing points of view (or three or fourorfive points of view). The archetype of this style of reasoning is the great philosopher Socrates. Socrates didn’t give his students answers. He gave them questions. In doing so, he taught them howto ask questions themselves, and howto think.

Discussion-based teaching has become widely accepted in

English, history, and other humanities. In these fields, there

is much less concern with the student learning problem, and we submit that this is not merely a coincidence. The interactive nature of discussions provides the student with greater

involvement in the material and, most importantly, with in-

trinsic motivation. The problem-solving paradigm typical of physics is more remote. Imagine, then, a Socratic dialogue about physics. The teacher would not bethereto write a proof on the blackboard



Questions and Answers

demonstrating the veracity of some formula. The instructor would raise questions about physical phenomenaand stimulate the students to ask questions of their own. The students shouldn't be handed the accepted wisdom without first understanding whyit is importantin the first place. To the student, the question should be, Why does the world behavein this way? It is much better for the subject matter to stimulate the students to investigate and ask more questions than to provide merely extrinsic goals that prompt the studentto ask, Is this going to be on the exam? Great, but how do you teach students to ask questions? There maynot be an answerto that question, butit’s a good question. (That is something I say to my graduate studentsall the time in class. They hate it whenI do that.)

Computers as Teachers of Reasoning through Asking

Earlier, we discussed the need for teachers to stimulate students to ask questions. Wefeel that in many ways, computers are well suited for this role. Computer programs can capture knowledgein restricted domains and reason aboutthat knowledge. Computers can relate prior experiences to new situations.

What we ask of our computer teacheris to stimulate the student to ask questions. The basic cycle for the interaction would be: 1. Computer poses difficult question—for which there may be no right answer.

2. Student generates a hypothesis. 3. Computer responds with a counterexample from its data base of remindings. Then the student must revise the hypothesis, and the cycle continues. Note that a central part of this processis the failure to get the right answer. The computeris continually trying to

Encouraging Creativity in School

point out holes in the student’s answers. We maintain that a computercan get awaywiththis, but a teacher in a classroom can’t. The reason is simple, but compelling: the computeris not judgmental. Children recognize that there is no social stigma attached to being corrected by a computer(especially if everyone is treated that way). However, children are very sensitive to the attitudes of teachers and other students. No child wants to continually be singled out as unable to answer a question. The computerhasgreaterlatitude. Its interaction is private. The other students aren’t awareof the mistakesthat any otherchild has made. Neither is the teacher. Computers offer students a great and important luxury: the opportunity to fail. People rely on past experienceto understand newsituations. Previous episodes provide predictions which can be applied to new cases. Sometimesa prediction does not work, thatis, the

world does not always behave the way you expectit to behave. It is these expectation failures which provide an opportunity for learning. These failures should stimulate the person to explain what went wrong. These explanations can then be used to locate other previous experiences that may be related. The explanation and associated remindings then are incorporated into the knowledgebaseof prediction, and help to prevent the person from repeating the failure. This process of fail-explain-remind-form new generalization is basic to learning. Our educational system can capitalize on this underlying cognitive mechanism by,in effect, providing opportunities for the child to make mistakes and fail, without the stigma normally associated with negative reinforcement. Computers provide a one-on-one teaching environment whichis free from the intimidating effects of public scrutiny.

New Problems: Computers in the Schools

The following story appeared on the front page of the Sunday New York Times, December 9, 1984:



Questions and Answers

School’s Use of Computers Disappointing

After investing heavily in microcomputers, public schools in the NewYork metropolitan area are finding that theyarestill far from achieving the academic revolution expected from the new technology. ...

Computers have arrived in classrooms across the country amid very high expectations. In the past twenty years, we have witnessed the dramatic and exciting developments in computer hardware,resulting in the wide availability of powerful machinesat a small fraction of the cost of the decades before. These new computers were going to change the waychildren were taught and start a revolution in learning. An observer of the current state of computers in education will realize that most of the learning from computersthat has occurred is by the teachers and administrators who have learned that computersare notliving up to their early promise. Computers have not transformedtheschools into a technological forum of learning. The schools arestill having a hard time teaching the bread-and-butter subjects of reading, writing, and arithmetic. It turns out that the only subject that absolutely requires the use of a computeris learning about the computeritself—hardly a surprising result.


The substance of the problems of computersin the schoolsis summarized accurately in the excerpt from the article in The New York Times cited above. Computersare used largely to teach computerliteracy, and have neglected the principal areas of the school curriculum. Little is being done to use computers to enhancethe regular curriculum. The biggest problem is the lack of adequate software for other subjects. The available software doesnot fit well into the existing curriculum.

Encouraging Creativity in School

Schools lack means of identifying good software and training teachers to useit. Most computerizedinstructionis routine drill and practice, which is proving not to beeffective. School software does not fully utilize the power of the machines, but instead mimics other (less expensive) media, such as books or overhead projectors.

In spite of these discouraging developments, weare optimistic about the future possibilities of computers in the schools. Today, almost all primary and secondary schools use computers in the classroom.Aside from the disappointmentdueto the lack of adequate software, there have been positive experiences. Teachers have realized that when appropriate software is available, computer exercises can be used to reward advanced students or to deal more patiently with slow learners. The problemsof our schools today are tremendousandtragically underrated: poe

Children are not learning the basic skills. 2. Children are bored in school. 3. Schools often treat children as a mass instead of as individuals.

4. Children don’t get enough personal attention from their teachers.

5. Many teachers get bored and frustrated and_ stop caring.

These are major problemsfacingsociety. It is trite but true to view our children as society’s major natural resource. Children must be nourished, encouraged, and educated. The problems wefind in the schools arethen notjust the schools’ problems, but society’s. Computers can providea solution, at least in part, to many of these problems.



Questions and Answers

Computers can be used by almost any child, no matter how hyperactive or lazy or disturbed. Children have demonstrated an amazing affinity for computers—given the proper software. Computers are fun—orat least they can be. Computers can treat children individually. A child can have his own computer teacher who keepstrack of his progress. A good computer program can monitor the

mistakes a child has made and focus on those particular problems. Computers can be programmed to teach far more thoroughly andinteractively than textbooks. Not only can the computer program ask questions, but the child can ask the computer questions in return. The child can get prompt and meaningful feedback. Computers can be excessively patient instructors. They don’t get bored or frustrated with students or with teaching. They need not punish or ridicule a student to make him feel inadequate—though current poorly designed educational software does just that. One could probably make those same arguments on behalf of some exceptionally gifted teacher. Most of us have been lucky enough to have been exposed to such an inspirational and dedicated instructor at least once in our lives. Would that all teachers could belike that. The problem is that such teachers are quite rare and cannotbe replicated veryeasily. It may well be that exceptional software will be very rare, but fortunately, it can be duplicated in mass quantities and made available to every school in the country. Once we build a stable of star computer software, we can begin to realize the dream of providing outstanding instruction to every child. Furthermore, while we may bemoanthefact that the star teacher is a rarity, we should also recognize that soon any teacher maybescarce. Weare basing this prediction not ona hope that computers will replace humans, but rather on the

Encouraging Creativity in School

plain fact that fewer and fewer people chooseto go into education as a career. School superintendents and principals are quite aware of the problemsof attracting and retaining good teachers. They realize that they will have to turn to the technology to keep up with the demand.In effect, education will becomeless labor intensive and morecapital intensive.

Learning through Discovery

Computers makeit possible to learn through simulations. The user can makedecisionsthat changethestate of an imaginary world. In this environment, the child can experiment with impunity. The child is then more involved in the action and has to think about his decisions and their consequences. This approach can be applied to the entire school curriculum—not simply for math problemsorspelling drills. A history program should allow the student to simulate political decisions and view events occurring in a causal sequence. A geography pro-

gram should let the child explore a region and discoverits traditions, economy, and so on. A student might manipulate the economy of a country at a micro or macro level and discover the underlying explanations for consumerdecisions and nationalfiscal policies. A computer chemistry lab should allow the student not only to perform experiments for qualitative and quantitative analysis, but also to manipulate molecular models of the results. A biology program could perform simulated genetics experiments instantly without waiting the few days required forreal fruit-fly results.

Motivation, Interest, and Entertainment

Remember when learning was funP Have you ever seen a group of kindergartners or first graders when they have just started school? They are eager to learn, excited to learn, even desperate to learn. Whatis it that we do to them to cause them



Questions and Answers

to get into the state of being grade-hunters or troublemakers? Howdo wedrive that desire to learn out of them? Or more importantly, how do westop doing it? The program should be so enjoyable that the child wants to use it for its own sake, perhaps neverrealizing that it’s educational. By involving the child as muchaspossible, the program requires his attention. The program should be so much fun that the child is highly motivated to learn. Hereit is important to stress the range of rewards available with graphics, music, and interactive choices. We want the child to enjoy learning. As wehave discussed earlier, intrinsic motivation is more ef-

fective than extrinsic.

Familiarity Breeds Expertise

Children have considerable knowledge about the world, and this knowledge should be brought to bear in learning new material. The programs should always try to present the subject in a realistic and familiar context to provide a suitable groundingfor the child. The more concepts that the child can bring to bear increasethe facility the child will have in learning the new concept. This is especially important in teaching abstract concepts such as algebra or molecular chemistry. Here, the simulation and discovery approach can be bestapplied. The child is then directly involved in the subject through a concrete context. Thetasks,illustrations, and rewards in the program must be suited to the age and cognitive skill level of the intended user. Programs designed for preschoolers should require the simplest of tasks, and provide appropriate rewards. Programsdesigned for more mature children can require more complex manual or cognitive tasks. Furthermore, the rewards should be matched to the subject matter. For example, money rewards make sense in economic or business contexts.

There must be a reason for everything that happens, and a reason for every action required of the child. The dramatic

Encouraging Creativity in School

action of the program mustnotbearbitraryat any point in the program. The child must not be distracted from the educational task by trying to figure out why the program behaved in somestrange wayortrying to second-guess just exactly what the program is expecting the child to reply. The child’s attention should not be diverted from the basic involvement with the program.It is important that the universe of actions embodied in the program beconsistent. The program should always be responsive to the child’s progress. When the child makes an incorrect response, the program shouldinstructas well as correct the child. If the child has demonstrated competence, he should not be required to recapitulate previous material. The positive response following a correct answer should always be more rewarding than the negative response for a wrong answer.It is important that the child not be encouraged to choose the incorrect answer simply to get a morestimulating response. Most computerized instruction is one-sided: The computer asks all the questions. This is especially true of drill-and-practice programs,butis also characteristic of other kinds of software. The opposite extreme, wherethe userasksall the questions, is more common in interactive help systems or information retrieval programs. A teaching situation is best conducted as a combination of the two—both the student and the teacherinitiate questions, and respond to questions posed by the other. Computer programs which havethis ability are referred to as mixed-initiative systems, and educational software should strive for this type of productive feedback and interaction.

It is not possible to step twice into the sameriver, as Heraclitus stated. Knowledge is a river, and educational software should reflect the fact that there is always something new and different to discover. The program should embodya diversity of possible approaches and outcomes. Each timethe child uses the program,it should provide a fresh instantiation. The more open-ended the program, the greater the opportunity there will be for the child to explore and learn.


Questions and Answers

Maxims To summarize, we must teach studentsto:


. Create explanations, not to accept explanations. . Reason by reminding, not by formula application.

3. Learn sets of cases, not the rules that have been ab-



stracted from those cases. Know whatthe questions are, not what the answersare. 5. Engage in dialogues about subjects they don’t understand. 6. Make hypotheses about subjects they don’t understand. . Discover answers by experimentation with hypotheses.

It therefore follows that the educational process should be: 1. 2. 3. 4,

An active process, not a passive one. Student initiated, not teacher initiated. Interactive with an environment. Free of the fear of failure.

And, finally, a child must acquire certain skills and assets. Most

important of theseare: —_—

. Learning to characterize a variety of data (Classification). . The acquisition of a storehouse of situations, explanations,



and general information (Pattern Acquisition).

3. Learning to adapt old explanations to new situations (Adaptation).


It seems just to end a chapter with a question whenthe point of that chapteris to question. No, it doesn’t have to be computers. Computersare not better teachers than one-on-oneintelli-

gent, caring humaninstructors. And perhapsit is even possible

Encouraging Creativity in School

to teach the right way in today’s classrooms. The problem is that we have beenteachingstudentsto learn the facts in order to pass the exam. This will be a very difficult habit to break without taking someradicalstep. We must teach children to ask questions. We must teach children to use their remindings for original reasoning. We must teach children to recognize anomalies. We must teach children to make up their own explanations. How do we do this? We simply cannotdo it by giving standardized exams. As long as we have such examsstudentswill direct their energies toward doing well on those exams. And theskills I am claiming must be taught, cannotin principle be examined by standardized tests, at least not until artificial intelligence has really arrived. The solution? As I am fond of saying to my students—that’s a good question.


Ten Maxims to Remember

I have stressed that being creative requires having a creative attitude. What does that mean? It means learningto think the way creative people think. Creative people are often quite annoying to be with. They don’t do a good job of conforming to the rules. They ask annoying questions. They reject trite answers. They often seem to besocial misfits. WhyP Why must people whoare creative also be misfits? Does being creative naturally entail being just a little bit crazy? Does being creative also mean being obnoxious, irritating, and exasperating? Yes and no.It certainly doesn’t follow that being obnoxious, irritating, and nonconformist makes you creative. One could easily be all those things and never havea creative thoughtin one’s life. If one constantly refuses to play by the rules of society, then one will be seen as a misfit. Not playing by the rules of society is, to some extent at least, what I mean by creativity. If one did only what one was expected to do, one would not be considered creative. The words creative and unexpected have a great deal in commonin ordinary usage. People are considered creative if they have done something different from what was expected. Of course, sometimes such different behavioris just consid-

Ten Maxims to Remember

ered weird. Thereis a fine line between the two. Whatis weird today mightbe considered highly creative tomorrow. Theopposite is also true. Often arbitrary societal standards determine whois recognized as a creative genius and whois considered bizarre. But that is not our problem here. Our problem is to encourage an atmosphere in which creativity can flourish. Whetherthe world will recognize your creativity is anybody’s guess.


The maximsI discuss here in no wayrepresenta difficult intellectual challenge. Most people do the kinds of things I talk about here from timeto time. Butthereis, in fact, a great deal of social pressure not to follow the maximsI suggest. Certain aspects of creativity can be a social challenge rather than an intellectual challenge. WhatI suggest doing hereis quite easy to do. The difficult part is changing one’s attitude toward one’s own ability to think. Someone who thinks that creativity is hard or impossible will never attempt to use the fabulous powerof his or her own mind. Maxim 1. Look for anomalies. Anomalies are wheretheactionis, creatively speaking. Seeing everything as being okay,all in order, everyone in his assigned place, is something that people are, in general, very interested in doing. We want the world to be functioning normally, so muchso that whenit doesn’t function weoften refuse to see it as such. When asked how weare, wesay fine, we expect to hearfine, we wantto hearfine. Now, this may come, in part, from an unwillingness to burden others with our problems and a lack of interest in the problemsof others. But it also comes from a genuine desire to see the world as being asit should be as opposed to howitis. Wedon’t wantto see racial prejudice, so we assumeit isn’t



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there. We don’t want to see unemployment, so unless we are hit with it directly in some way, we ignore it. We don’t want to think about sexual politics in the office, so it doesn’t really happen, except to other people. The opposite view is the paranoid view. Some people see everything bad in the world and imagineit all to be aimed at them. Asis usual with such extremes, the truth is somewhere

in between. All the evil in the world is not aimed at you, nor is everything functioning properly. The trick for the creative personis to identify those things that do not work and to begin to think about them. Whatdoes this mean in actual practice? It means wondering why the buses don’t run on time and seem to bunch upin groups. It means thinking about how the idea of tipping in restaurants actually influences service and how the system could be improved. It means wondering how well intelligence is measured by IQ tests and trying to think about whatintelligence actually is. It means wondering whether babies’ piercing cries are part of an apparatus that madethespeciessurvive, andif that is so, why don’t the babies of other animals have equally piercing cries? Everything is anomalous. Wereally understand verylittle. In orderto be creative, one mustbe creative about something. In order to find a solution for a puzzling problem, one cannot wait to be presented with the puzzling problem by someone else. You must think of the problem yourself. Thinking up a good problemis, as any scientist knows, an important step on the road towardits solution. But in order to think up good problems one must begin to notice anomalies. You must learn to wonder(or stop being afraid to wonder) why things work the way they do, and whether they should work that way. Wonder whypeople do the things they do and whatthe differences are between them and you. And wonder why you do what you do. You, too, are anomalous, to yourself and to others. Notice the anomalies and you can begin toresolve a few. Perhaps you will only come up with personally relevant and personally satisfying solutions. That is not so bad

Ten Maxims to Remember

after all. But you mightalso notice a problem that is of great significance that no one hadevernoticed before. Thepointis, of course, that one cannot knowfor sure that one has noticed

such a problem until one has played with the problem a while and attemptedto find a solution or an explanation. Good anomalies can age well. They needn’t be solved at first glance. Keep wondering about them and newinsights from other arenas may pop up whenyouleast expect them. When everything is explainable and orderly, it may be that you just haven’t looked closely enough. Maxim 2. Listen.

This may seem like odd advice. What doesit have to do with creativity? Creative people tell others their ideas. They don’t

have to listen to the ideas of others. Nothing could be further

from the truth. I have always consideredthe ability to listen, to really listen, to be one ofthe hallmarksof intelligence. Intelligent people listen carefully. Dumb people assume they know whatyou are going to say, or are so wrappedupin their own thoughts and problems they don’t care what you havetosay. One reason that it is important to learn to listen pertains directly to maxim 1. You can’t find anomalies if you weren't paying attention to what was going onin the first place. You must listen carefully to what others are saying before you can notice that they are not saying what you imagined they were saying. It is always helpful to pay attention to othersif for no other reason than that they might say something anomalous. Of course, there are other reasons to listen as well. It is

important to learn to follow the trains of thought of others. People don’t say everything that they mean or exactly what they mean. Peopletalk telegraphically, as if they were paying by the word. Theyuse as few wordsas possible andtell as few of the details of a situation as possible. It may not seem this way when some long-windedtypeis going on and on about something, but even heis leaving out the little things that he be-



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lieves you can figure outfor yourself. When hetells you he met somebody, for example, he doesn’t mention that that person was wearing shoes and socks, because he knowsthat unless he says otherwise, you will assumeit and such facts are not worth mentioning.

But because peopletalk telegraphically, you must constantly fill in the blanks. One must think about whatfollows from what was said. One must think about what wascertainly true in order to believe what was said to have occurredactually occurred. One should think about whythe speakeris telling you whatheis telling you. What are his goals? What does he want from you? Whatis hetelling you about himself? What is he telling you that he doesn’t know heistelling you? Thinking about such things and listening at the same time is tricky. One mustlearnto listen carefully in two senses. One must learn to hear whatoneis being told and whatoneis not being told. Thethird reasonto listen relates directly to creativity. Without information constantly coming in, new patterns, anomalous facts, and so on, won’t begin to get stored in one’s memory. You can’t know whatstory, event, attitude, or pattern may be relevant years later when you need an idea. Listen to the stories of others, and the job of creativity is made that much easier. The creative mind needs data from which to work. Other people will gladly provide that data. You mustlearn to let them. Maxim 3. Find data.

When an event seems anomalous, and you intend to hypothesize aboutit, don’t just start off dry, with no other data. Before you makea theory (and a theory can be about anything, not just about something ‘“‘scientific’’), look to the

world around you, ask yourself what is happening, then ask what is really happening. Appearances may be deceiving. Whatlooks like data and brute facts can turn outto bereal fiction. Decide something is deceptive and then try to find

Ten Maxims to Remember

out whatit is all about. This sounds paranoid, but it doesn’t have to be. Weprefer to have a theory before we have any data. This isn’t such a badthinginitself, but it can prevent a great deal of interesting things from emerging. How? How can a theory that we have in our minds interfere with brute reality? A theory determines what wetreat as data, what wetreat as reality. This means that if you wait until your theory sounds good and coherentbefore looking for data to prove or disprove it, you may thoroughly insulate yourself from reality. You may end up like Don Quixote, chasing after an imagined army.This relativity between theory andreality is inescapable and is the reason that so manyscientists are obsessed with their own theories. You should begin to gatherreal-world examples and lookat them in many different ways before you form your theories. You must try to examine the assumptions on which your view of events is based to eliminate any unquestioningly accepted hypotheses that may prevent you from coming up with a new and better explanation. Don’t be too officious about theories, and don’t let people be officious with you! Don’t get caught upin the rules. Many people will react to your new and different ideas and explanations by sayingno andbyasserting that things are not your way but their way. Don’t let them force you into abandoning your ideas, but instead follow your ideas through and submit them to your owntests and assumptions and see what they will bear. More important than the theories themselves is the data that these theories are based upon. Keep looking at the world to find out whatis going on in it. The more you know about what has happened,theeasier it will be to predict what will happen andtheeasier it will be to formulate a sensible theory of why it happened. But first one must havethe facts. Be assiduousin collecting them. The more you know, the more you can create.



Questions and Answers

Maxim 4. Classify, and invent new classifications. The ability to place things in categories is a fundamental aspect of intelligence. When welearn a rule about dogs, for example, how to make friends with one who seemsthreatening, we learn that rule from a few cases. In other words, we

gather some data about a few dogs, and then we makea generalization that we assumeapplies to all dogs. Of course, we are not shocked if there are some exceptionsto our rule; westill believe in the rule anyway. The key elementhereis in the notion of a category. Wetalk about the idea of a dog as if that idea were well-defined, when,

in fact, dug is just a generalization which may or may not be at the right level for any given fact that is stored underit. Let me explain. Yousee vourfirst dog and someonetells you it’s a dog. Or someonetells you it’s Fido, or it’s brown. The next dog you see might cause you to think it’s another Fido, or another brown, or another dog. The next cat you see might also be another Fido, or another dog. Afterall, the word dog might have been animal, so the cat might be a memberof the same category as Fido. It takes many instances of many dogs, cats, and other

animals to learn the correct category names. But the names

are never ultimately correct. There are, of course, standard

agreements about whatis a dog and whatisn’t. But category namesare arbitrary at best. Their real valueis in the generalizations they capture. If you have experiences with two red dogs that are both frightening for you, it makes sense to create a new personal categoryof red dogs that carries with it the admonition to stay away. Of course, there is a potential trap here. If you create a category that doesn’t have an explanation behindit, you learn nothing from the category. Animals create categories of things to stay away from, too. The difference between us and them is supposed to be that our categories have been explained. That is, we know whythat category makes sense because we created the explanation behindit.

Ten Maxims to Remember

As we growolder, weare constantly refining our notions of whatdefinesa given category and weare noting exceptionsto categories we havealready created. When exceptions occurin pairs, it is time for a new category. That is, when a prediction madebya given categoryfails, it is necessary to correct it. At the heart of good classification is the explanation of the predictions of old categories that have turned out to be wrong. That is, we can create hypotheses and later discard them. Wediscussed this notion earlier when wetalked about expectation failure. Learning comes from multiple expectation failures of the same type. We rememberfailures and attempt to correlate those failures with other events that have failed in the same way. This is the basic method of category formation, and it is also the basic mechanism of learning. Fail,-explain failure, be remindedof old data, make new generalization that capturesfailure in the original, and in the old data as well—this basic cycle characterizes our normal learning mechanisms. The point here is that this cycle can be consciously controlled. What we are doing unconsciously, when wearereminded,is attempting to create new categories. We can also attempt to create new categories consciously. We can form

new categoriesat will. We can find similarities and make predictions that any twosimilarities constitute a group and that a third will come along just like the other two. Such categories may well be wrong,of course, but as we havesaid,failure isn't

to be feared. Categories are mini-theoriesofa sort, and it is an important part of the creative process to create new theories and abandon them with ease. The mind doesthis quite naturally of its own accord.If you do it consciously as well as unconsciously, you can harnessa bit of the creative process and make it work for you at your will. Of course,part of this process entails abandoningold categories that others have established for you. Systemsof categories and hierarchies also embody preestablished theoretical assumptions aboutreality that may prevent one from discovering something new.Ask yourself what the real purpose of any preestablished classification system or indexing system is. Why



Questions and Answers

classify? Whyin this particular way? These are important questions.

You should learn to be a clever indexer. Indexing is important for recall. Look at what’s interesting about an event, a newspaperarticle, a commercial on TV,a politician. Don’t just dumpevery new experienceinto its normal category. Immediately ask how does it not fit into the category. Remember things by what makes them different as well as by whichstandard or established categorythey fit into. Indexing new experiences in your mind allows your memoryto function dynamically. If you can rememberthings you had forgotten, or things which you ordinarily wouldn’t have in a given circumstance, then you have succeeded in turning your mind into a source of new data. Maxim 5. Make rash generalizations. Technically, you need only two events to make a generalization. If you have one weird, anomalous, unexplainable experience, rack your memory and tear downold categories to see if you can find anotherpiece of data, another event. If you can, you are ready to makea rash generalization. With your wild and new data, your heretical set of categories, and your dynamic memory, you are ready to makerash generalizations to accountfor the data. You must develop hypothesesin orderto generate questions.

Normally, we are taught not to make rash generalizations. Don’t jump to conclusions, you haven't enough evidence. Well, often one nevergets enough evidence. As soon as you see two instances of a thing, assumethatall future instances will be like that, assume that the two instances define a range of instances far granderthan the two of them, and announceyour conclusion to anyone whowill listen. Of course, people will think you makerash generalizations and will criticize you for it. You will have to defend yourall too new hypothesis. And youwill learn while doingso if it makes sense or not. Don’t be easily talked outof it. Find evidence where you can and argue

Ten Maxims to Remember

your case. Welearn from having to defend our pointof view, whetheror not that point of view is correct. Wealso learn from havingto find data to support a hypothesis, especially if we have to change our hypothesis to account for the new data. The idea behind making a rash generalization is not to be right, but to be thinking. The idea is not to comeup with newcreativeideasat the first try, but during the process of elaboration, defense, conjecture, refutation, and re-

categorization, one might be reminded and begin totally new processof creative adaptation of an old pattern. The idea is to keep thinking. Keep that creative process running, and eventually it will come up with something. Of course, you may say a few stupid things along the way, but that is a small price to pay.

Maxim 6. Explain. As we haveseen,peopleare natural theory makers, constant explanation generators. When we learn something, it’s because we have invented an explanation for it. We have explained it to ourselves. We haveasked ourselves a question and

answeredit. Whenyoufind something “wrong” or “different”

or “weird,”it’s time to concoct an explanation, and most importantly, a new explanation. The core of this process is the recognition of, and creation of, satisfactory explanations. Top-down explanations are cases where wealready have some theories and expectations of why things happen. What we are doing in those cases is attempting to correct failed expectations. Bottom-up explanations are cases where we don’t have a theory of why something might occur, and we have to build it from other parts of our knowledge. Swale’s death was anomalous because we didn’t have a theory that young racehorses drop dead. Had Swale been an old horse, we wouldn’t have been surprised to hear of his death. Both types of explanation are at the core of the creative process. We must correct bad theories, and we must create new theories. As we havesaid, these things are more easily



Questions and Answers

done by relying upon old explanation patterns than byattempting to explain something from scratch. But in either case, one must always be attempting to explain things. Explain things to your children, Don’t answer, ““Because

that’s the wayit is,” or “I'll discuss that with you when you get older” to a small child’s questions. Children are working very hard to create theories of the world, andit is critical to their

development to answer their questions at the point where they need to know.It is also important to your development to answer those questions. You will find yourself explaining things that you may notfully understand yourself. Find out whyyou don’t understand what yourchild is asking about and attempt to understandit better. See what wrong explanations you have accepted without thinking about them, and now attempt to build right ones. The explanation process is very hard, but it is critically important. If you want to create new things, you must beable to explain old things well. Maxim 7. Refuse to learn therules. Schools and authorities of one kind or another tendtotell us: Here are the rules, do them and you'll be okay. This attitude is death to creativity. Of course, the schools aren’t trying to makecreative children. The world doesn’t need a society of entirely creative people. It needs many people who will do what they are told and function as cogs in the giant societal machine. No one wants a soldier whois always thinking for himself. And no one wants a classroom of thirty individualists either. But that doesn’t mean that you or your child must be the cogs in the machine. To avoid this you mustrefuse to learn the rules. Of course, going against the rules just for the sake of doing thatis foolish if it is taken to the extreme. You mustpick vourspots for rebellion, be sure that you have reason on your side, and be prepared to take the consequences. The natural question, of course, is, What would happenif

everyone disobeyed the rules? This is a question asked by

Ten Maxims to Remember

people who obeytherules, naturally, so it really requires no answer. And, of course, wereally aren’t trying to cause chaos here. In general, people live by an arbitrary, externally imposed set of rules. One must learn to march to one’s own drummer, even if one has no intention whatever of being at all creative. But if one wantsto be creative then one mightjust have to refuse to answer every question in the math book whenthereis actual mathematics to think about. A child does not learn mathematics by learning to answerall the questions in the math text. Rather he is more likely to learn math by posing his own questions about whythings have turned out the way they have. He must worry about the systematicity in things; about the generalizations he can make; aboutthe categories he can form; about the explanations about why things work, rather than those about how things are done. My daughter, whois an excellent writer, consistently got B+ on each and every writing assignmentshe handedin while she wasin eighth grade. She looked at the papers of the children whogot A’s, andit wasclear to her that they followed a certain formula. Whensheasked the teacher aboutthis, he confirmed

that there were certain things that one had to do to get an A and she didn’t do them. She asked meif she should do them, now that she knew what would get her an A. Of course, there is no answer to such a question other than to do what youfeelis right. And Iam happyto report that after getting an A to provethat she could doit, she went back to her own wayof writing. Who wasto say who wasright? Does the junior high school teacher know the correct method of writing? Is there one? My daughterhas to find her own. And so does everyoneelse’s daughter. . Maxim 8. Reject old explanations. Ask why. While weare on this subject, why did the writing teacher think that he knewthe right method of writing? The problem with teachers, policemen, religious leaders, politicians, and so on, is that they are sure ofall the answers and are happytotell


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anyone whowill listen. But as is clear to anyone who thinks about most of the issues that such people areso sure of, these issues tend to be rather complex, without certain answers.It is always the most uncertain answersthat leaders are the most certain of. The solution? One must learn to ask why. One must ask why whenoneis told how to do somethingin school, when oneis told what to believe about religion, when oneis told whatto believe politically, and when oneis told what the lawsare. Lawsare constantly changing, yet weare told to believe that whateverthe law is, it should be obeyed. My favorite exampleof this is the law in the United States about speed limits. Wearetold howsafeit is to drive 55 miles per hour and how awful weareif we violate that law. Policemen love to harass speeders, as do judges. But in the same states, on the sameroads, whencars werelesssafe fifteen years

ago, the speed limits were 60, 65, 70, 75, and even 80. Suddenly what was safe is no longer safe. What happened? What happenedwastheso-called oil crisis. There was nooil in 1973, and then prices went up and suddenlythere wasoil. In an effort to conserveoil, speed limits dropped. But when the oil crisis went away, speedlimits did not go back to where they were. What’s more, whenthere was a glutof oil and perbarrel oil prices plummeted in 1986, gasoline prices did not follow. Whatwasreally going onP Of course, many explanations have been provided aboutthis, ranging from discussion of speeding in relation to accidentfatalities to issues of international cartels. My point is only that it is important to learn to distrust these explanations, not because someoneis trying to fool you, but because the standard wisdom might be wrong. Weget a great many explanations that clearly aren’t right. Of course, I would assumethat speed limits haveto besetat

some arbitrary point. But laws are usually just that—thatis, quite arbitrary. One can be chastised for not obeying a law because by so doing one is not showing respect for the arbitrary powerof the state. But one oughtnotbecriticized for being reckless or careless if one goes 65 miles per hour on an

Ten Maxims to Remember

interstate highway. Our leaders don’t always know what they are talking about. Andif they do, they aren’t always so honest with us. Asking why doesn’t change much, of course, but it

does help one understand.

Maxim 9. Let your mind wander. The virtues of mind-wandering cannot be overstated. Of course, yet again I am advising antisocial behavior, but that really cannot be helped. When onelets one’s mind wander, one thinksofall kinds of crazy things, some of which can be quite original. Dreams, for example, can be quite original. They are a kind of uncontrolled mind-wandering—uncontrolled by reality, that is. And while no one knowsthereal purpose of dreams, it is clear that they have very creative aspects to them. Maybe we dream things that weareafraid to think consciously. In any case, the process of letting one’s mind go whereit wants can be useful if where it wants turns out to be an interesting place to go. Of course, one cannot know where onewill end up before one takesa trip of this sort, so the only thing that can be advisedis to let yourself go, in this respect, from timeto time. Naturally, if one chooses to do this in math class, and the subject that one is mulling on is not math,one will fail to learn the lesson of the day. And this can have certain bad consequences. Butthis is no excuse for never letting one’s mind do whatit will. If you don’t give your minda little freedom every now andthen, it may stop wandering. Maxim 10. Fail early and often. Weend where webegan. Failure is a good thing. We learn from failure. Take a chance. Havean ideaandallow the possibility that it may be a bad idea. Makea prediction and survive being wrong, and perhaps you will take a chance on making another prediction some day. Weare taughtto fear failure,

but, in fact, we must encouragefailure. We mustalso learn not



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to denigrate those who havefailed unless we wantto inhibit in them, andin ourselves, the willingness to take risks. Having newideasis risky. Being creative is risky. Anyone whois willing to do something in a new way, anyone whois willing to propose a new theory, to suggest a different way of doing things, to mention that the current wisdom might be wrong, also has to be willing to fall flat on his face. And the more you have fallen on your face and survived, the less frightening is the prospect. Behind every success story, especially in the world of creativity, is a history of failure. Learning to fail is important because welearn from failure and we learn how to fail. Both are critical for creativity. The Eleventh Maxim. Reject all the above maxims. Whosays I know whatI am talking about? Maybecreativity isn’t open to changeatall. Perhaps weall have an amountof creativity that we get at birth and we can do nothing withit whatever. Can wereally enhanceourcreativity? That’s a good question.


Abstractions, 104, 105; cross-cultural, 230; in explanations, 114; and failure-based remindings, 113 Action Apparition Rule, 304, 305

Action-Result Rule, 305

Action rules, 255-56, 261-66 Adaptationskills, 346 Advice: proverbial, 222-23, 225,

226, 231; question transformation and, 289-90 Afghanistan, 114 Aggressive reactions, 73

Air crashes, 165

Alternative plans, questions about, 256, 265 Alternatives, proposing, 167 American League, 162 Analogical mappings, 292, 295, 296, 307; of idealistic questions, 299 Anglican church, 69 Anomalies, 24-27, 127-29, 137-59;

actively seeking, 26-27, 39-40, 349-51; behavioral, 129,

133-34, 184; detection and explanation of, 119, 159-66, 278; foreign, 145-50, 152-56;

historical, 156-59; humorand, 138~42; institutional, 150-52; questions and, 176, 181;

remindings and, 98, 116, 117, 144; of terrorism, 238; tools for finding, 166-68; transformation and, 183 Answers, 169-75; right, creative

thought versus, 334-35;

standard, 195-200; wondering

about, 240-47 Apple computers, 79, 313, 321 Appropriateness of actions, 71 Argumentation, 272-76 Artificial intelligence (AI), 44-47, 105, 347

Artistic creation, 147 Artistic relevance, 208

Associated actions, questions about, 256, 263 Associated objects, questions about, 255, 256, 260, 262-63 Assumptions: aboutbeliefs, 201; changing, 173-75, 180



Attitudes, 38-41: curiosity and, 61; fear of failure and, 56-58; questions about,

205 Australian aborigines, 70 Bank robberies, 63, 64 Baseball, 328

Beauty business, 41-44 Beliefs: assumptions about, 201; behavior and, 130, 135, 136;

goals generated by, 163; maintenanceof, 107;

reexamination of, 279; understanding, 118, 131, 132 Belushi, John, 30, 215

Biology, 343 Book publishers, influence on education of, 326, 327 Boredom, 191-92

Bullfighting, 147-48 Bureaucratic scripts, 67-68 Burger King, 58, 70, 102, 103

Business, 50, 52; changing

assumptions in, 174; innovation in, 311-28; management

Coherence, 276-79; of arguments,


College attendence, scripts for, 74

Computer Depot, 54

Computers, xii, 50, 78-80, 285, 312, 314, 317; artificial intelligence and, 46, 47;

assumptions aboutbuilding, 173-75; “crashing” of, 75;

educational use of, 327, 339-47; figuring things out with, 332-33; formulaic

thinking and, 331; personal,

313; research on, 321; as

teachers of reasoning through asking, 338-39; teaching geometry to, 329-30; venture capital and, 53-54 Computervision, 78-79

Confusion, 59 Connecticut, road signs in, 124-25,

150 Consequences: focusing on, 200-201; following, 292-93, 295, 296, 307

practices in, 55-56; predicting

Consultants, 66 Conversation: flow of, 253-54;

outcomesin, 160; resistance to new ideas in, 83-87; scripts in,

Context, 271; questions about,

66, 67

California, road signs in, 150

Casablanca (movie), 109

remindingsin, 95

272-74, 277, 281; remindings

that cross, 103-105 Coping, 76, 77

Categories, 354-55

Copying, 271-73, 275, 277-78, 281; of questions, 302-303 Corporation for National Research

Change: attitudes toward, 38-39,

Corporations, see Business

Case method, 331

Catholic church, 51, 69

324; in childhood, 80; resistance to, 66-68

Chemistry, 343

Child Abuse in the Classroom (Schlafly), 172 China, Nixon in, 330 Christianity, 69 Citicorp, 86 Classification skills, 346, 354-56 Clichés, 332

Initiatives (NRI), 50

Cuba, 114

Cultural history, 110 Cultural scripts, 69-71

Curiosity, 61

CYRUS, 285-87 Daily life, transforming questions of, 297-303 Data, basing theories on, 352-53 Data General, 80

Index Death,rituals surrounding, 68

Decision-making process, 129, 132;

in business, 160; rules for, 53 Defense Department, U.S., 50, 320 Defensive reactions, 72-73, 81

Democratic party, 162

Denicoff, Marvin, 44—47

Dickens, Charles, 92-93 Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), 80 Discovery, learning through, 343

262, 273-74; remindings of,

256-57 Expectation(s): anomalies and, 128; codified, 18; failure of, 57, 58,

97-101, 117, 118; questions and, 176, 177, 181; understanding and, 23-25, 101-103 Experience(s): connections

between current and past, 92;

in explanations, 117; labeling

Dreams, 361

of, 104, 110; learning from,

Edison, Thomas Alva, 315-16

of, 181; proverbs and, 222;

Education, 329-47; authoritarian, 172; computer applicationsin,

339-47; creativity stifled by, 4, 319; emphasis on right answers

in, 334-35; factual questions in, 272, 275, 276; formulaic thinking in, 7, 16-18;

governmentand, 326-27;

125, 279; new, interpretation

understanding, 118; vicarious, 109 Explanation(s), 14, 15, 28, 35, 40, 357-58; constructing, 36, 119; entertainment value of, 39; of failures, 97, 99; goalof, 120-21, 270-71; of human behavior, 129, 131-34, 136-37,

motivation in, 336-40;

145; humorand lack of,

60-61; reminding in, 330-32;

137-42; kinds of, 159-66; old, rejection of, 359-61; questions

overemphasis on successin, rules and, 358; questioning process in, 171-72, 278; script-based thinking in, 72,

and, 118-19, 176, 181; relevancy of, 208; remindings and, 113-14, 116-18; rightness

77, 323; and value of figuring

of, 123-26; of rules and regulations, 150; script-based,

things out, 332-33 Einstein, Albert, 51, 73, 332 El Salvador, U.S. involvementin, 63-64 EEMRACorporation, 44

Enablement, questions about, 255,

256, 259, 262 England, 117

Environments, changesin, 173,

195-96;silly, 152, 154;

standard, 26-27, 31-32, 64, 167; in Swale case, 197-200;

theoretical questions and, 278, 279; tools for generating, 200-204; understanding and, 101-103, 187, 190; value of, 121-23; see also EQs; XPs

174 EQs (explanation questions), 197, 201, 203, 207, 209, 215, 218, 239, 241

Facing History and Ourselves (curriculum), 171

Events: explanations of, 164-66;

Facts, 271-73, 275, 277, 281 Factual questions, 272-76 Failure(s): in category formation,

Era-based reminding, 111-12, 116 Ethernet, 174 Europeanintellectuals, 323-26 questions about, 182, 183, 255,

Extrinsic motivation, 336-40, 344

Factoring, xi

355; of expectations, 57, 58,



Failure(s) (continued) 97-101, 117, 118; fear of, 56-58, 60-61, 314, 324; learning from, 279; with new products, 83-85; opportunity for, 339; reminding based on,

112-13, 116; as source of

creativity, 59-60; value of,

361-62 Family members, anomalous behavior of, 144

Fault tolerant computers, 53-54

Fear(s): of failure, 56-58, 314, 324; questions about, 205; of

questions, 172

Feature-based reminding, 115, 116

Feature-intersection reminding, 116 Feelings: questions about, 205;

understanding, 118 Figuring things out, value of, 332-33 Fixx, Jim, 30, 31, 216, 217

Focus changing, 291-92, 295, 296, 307; outcomes and, 299 Football, xi, 233-38, 249 Foreign anomalies, 145-50,


Formulaic answers, 204-205

Formulaic thinking, 4-8, 28, 29, 36, 330-33, 336; in daily life, see Scripts; prototypes and, 12, 16-18 Foul play hypothesis, 202-203 France, 96; anomalies in, 147-48, 156; bureaucracy in, 67-68; terrorism in, 185-88, 191 Free market, 67 Function, questions about, 254,

258-59 Future, explanations and, 122

Galileo, 51 Gambling, 159, 162; on football, 233-38 Games, anomaly, 152-59 General Foods, 83-86

Generalization(s), 10, 28; anomalies and, 145; classification and, 354; creativity questions and, 282; cross-cultural, 230; about events, 165, 166; of explanations, 117, 119-21; factual questions and, 274;

historical perspective and, 294;

prototypes and, 13; rash, 356-57; simple, 100-101;

theoretical questions and, 278; in understanding cycle, 102, 103 Geography, 343 Geometry, 3-4, 7-8, 329, 334

Goal-based reminding, 115, 116

Goal precedence, 289, 295, 296,

307-308; for idealistic

questions, 299; outcomesand, 299; wish-fulfillment questions

and, 301, 302

Goals: anomalies and, 142-44; beliefs underlying, 163; of explanations, 120; of human behavior, 130, 135-37; institutional, 151; questions and, 270-71, 201; proverbs

and, 223, 227; reasons and,

183, 185, 201; transforming questions about, 303-308

The Godfather (movie), 212, 214 Government: education and,

326-27; research sponsored by,


Group prediction, 271-74, 277, 281 Habits, questions about, 255,

259-60 Haircutting, 41-43 Heraclitus, 345

High-data-rate networking, 174 Historical perspective, 294-96,


Historical Precedence Rule, 305

Historical Understanding Rule, 306 History: anomalies in, 156—59; computerteaching of, 343;

Index discussion-based teachingof,

337; factual questions and, 274; questions about, 256, 265 Holmes, Oliver Wendell, 121 Holocaust, 171, 172 Humanbehavior, modelof,

129-33; application of, 135-37;

questions as part of, 133-35,

Joplin, Janis, 30, 32, 215-17

Journalism questions, 272-74 Kahn, Robert, 48-50

Kamikaze pilots, 177-80

Khomeini, Ayatollah, 246 Khosla, Vinod, 77-80, 173-75

The Killing (movie), 199


Kolodner, Janet, 285 Korean Air Lines, 13 Kuhn, Thomas, 51

foul play, 202-203;

Language learning, 59-60

Humanities courses, 337 Humor, 31, 137-42 Hypotheses, 28—35; children’s, 10; generalization of, 119, 120; failure as source of, 60; making

and testing, 5; rash generalizations and, 357;

reminding-based, 180, 186;

and transposition of objects, 216 IBM, 80 Idealistic questions, 298-99, 303 India, scripts in, 77 Indices, 355, 356;

problem-oriented, 232-33

Individual prediction, 271-74, 277,


Inherent Feature Rule, 306 Innovation, 50, 52, 170, 171;

questions about, 311-28

Institutions: anomalies of, 150-52;

creativity reduced by, 5-6; expectations about, 18 Interdisciplinary research, 46

Intrinsic motivation, 336-40, 344 Investments, risk-free, 52-55 Iran crisis, 163, 164 Iraq, terrorism and, 185-88, 191 Israel, terrorism and, 177, 185 Italy, anomalies in, 146, 147,

152-56, 158

Japan: baseball in, 328; intellectuals in, 324, 325; scripts in, 70, 71

Japanese Air Lines, 13-14

Jobs, scripts for, 66, 75, 76, 82

Learning: of abstractions, 104; to

ask questions, 6, 169; cost to, xi-xii; expectations and, 181; from experience, 125, 279; failure and, 57-61; of formulas, 4,5, 7; memoryand, 98;

natural mechanism of, 96;

passive, 9; programmed, 326-27; reminding and, 109, 110, 252; of scripts, 20-22; in the unconscious, 95, 97;

understanding cycle and, 103; see also Education Lebaneseterrorists, 112, 177-80 Level raising, 288-89, 295, 296,


License plates, Italian, 152-56 Listening, importance of, 351-52 Literature, 337 Lotteries, 123, 161 McDonald’s, 70, 102, 103

Mainframe computers, 174 Management, 55-56

Mappings, analogical, 292, 295, 296, 299, 307 Market-directed strategy, 316—17 Marriage: rituals surrounding, 68; scripts for, 74 Mathematics, 8; figuring things out in, 333; formulaic thinkingin,

16-17; reasoning by reminding

in, 331, 332; see also Geometry




The Meaning of Life (movie), 138-41

Memory, 11, 14-15, 87; behavior

patterns and, 133, 134;

listening and, 352; “random,”

93; supermarket modelof,

206-207; unconscious, 92; used

for understanding, 97; wondering and, 205; see also Reminding(s)

Mental association, 253 Mental effect, questions about, 256,


Mental illness, 71 Mets, 162, 182 Mexico, 94-95 Microzene, 54

Military technology, 44 Mindstorms (Papert), 105

Mind-wandering, 252-55, 361

Money-making, 115 Motivation: in education, 336-40, 343-44; transforming questions about, 303-308 Munich accords, 114

Narrowing, 287-88, 294, 296, 307; of idealistic questions, 298 National Scholastic, 54 Natural phenomena, anomaliesin,


Nazis, 172

Network file svstem, 80 Networking, 174 NewMexico, road signs in, 150 NewMutual Goal Rule, 306

Newproducts, stress created by, 83-85 NewYork City: parking regulations in, 151; scripts in, 70; subway in, 126

Nicholas Nickleby (Dickens), 92-93

Nicaragua, 114

Object rules, 254-55, 258-61

Objects, transposition of, 215-18

Office of Naval Research (ONR), 44-47 Oil crisis, 360

Oliver Twist (Dickens), 178-80 Open-heart surgery, 81-82 Opponent Benefit Rule, 304, 305 Opponent Enablement Blockage Rule, 304, 305 Opponent Motivation Resistance Rule, 304, 305 Outcomes: explanations of, 159-63;

questions about, 182, 183; transforming questions about, 299-300, 303; XPs for figuring, 233-37

Packet-switching networks, 50 Palestinian terrorists, 185, 186,

219, 245-47

Paperwork, 47

Paradigm shift, 51

Paris subway, 126

Pattern acquisition skills, 346 Pattern recognition, 293-96 The Penguin Dictionary of Proverbs, 241 People watching, 142-44 Personal computers, 313 Personal history, 110 Philosophy, 337 Physics, 336-37 Picasso, Pablo, 73 Plans, 130, 133, 136, 270; alternative, 256, 265; copying and, 302-303; predictions and,

163-64; questions about, 271, 273, 274, 276, 280; side effects

and, 228-30; proverbs and,

225-26, 232-38; transforming wish-fulfillment questionsinto, 300-303

Plane crashes, 165

Plato, 275 Play It Again, Sam (movie), 109 Politicians, behavior of, 143-45 Pragmatic questions, 298-99,


Index Precedencetracking, 293, 295, 296, 307

Prediction(s), 126, 159-64; of events, 165; group, 271-74, 277, 281; individual, 271-74, 277, 281; questions leadingto,

182; XPs and, 233, 236 Problems, questions about, 255, 261 Product development, 83-86 Product-directed strategy, 316-17 Programmedlearning, 326-27 Protestantism, 69 Prototypes, 12-16, 29, 65;

hypothetical thinking and, 31, 32; in scripts, 18-19

Proverbs, 25, 27, 225-32, 332;

application of, 241-49; human experiencecrystallized in, 230-31; planning with, 225-26, 232-38; side effects, 228-30; as XPs, 222-25 Psychotherapy, 205 Puerto Rico, 123-25

Pythagorean theorem,3-4, 7, 35, 329, 332 Questions, ix—xii, 169-92, 269-83;

anomalies and, 128, 146-47,

176-77; relevancy of, 208, 238; reminding and, 98, 177-80,

257-69; script formulation and, 21; self-centered, 271-72; in Socratic method, 337, 338; standard, 195-200; standard explanation, 32; stimulated by computers, 338; theoretical, 276-79; tools for generating, 200-204; transforming, see

Question transformation(s): in

understanding cycle, 102, 103, 189-92; about XPs, 210; see

also EQs

Question transformation(s), 182-84,

284-308; analogical mappings

in, 292; computer modelof,

285-87; consequence following in, 292-93; by copying, 302-303; in daily life, 297-303; focus changing in, 291-92; goal precedencein, 289-90; about goals and motivation, 303-308; historical perspective in, 294; from idealistic to pragmatic, 298-99; level raising in,

288-89; narrowing in, 287-88; about outcomes, 299; pattern recognition in, 293-94;

176, 181; and answers, 169-75; creative, 279-82; creative

precedencetracking in, 293; target-directed, 290-91; using

era-based, 111; explanations

wish-fulfillment to planning, 300-302

attitude and, 40; in educational approach, 332, 335, 347; and, 118-19; factual, 272-76; failure-based, 57, 112;

formulaic thinking and, 7; formulating, 185-89; generating, 181-82; about human behavior, 129-31,

tools of, 294-96; from

Rappaport, Geoffrey, 41-44 Reading, questions in, 176-80

Real Goal Rule, 305 Realistic relevance, 208

learning to ask, 6, 35; negative

Reasoning: throughasking, computersas teachersof, 338-39; by reminding, 330-32 Reasons: focusing on, 201;

in reading and understanding,

264 Regulations, anomalous, 150-52

133-35, 154, 184-85; in

hypothetical thinking, 33-35; about innovation, 311-28;

reactions to, 81, 82; ordinary, 27-28; proverbs and, 231-32;

questions about, 182-85, 256,




Reinventing the wheel syndrome, 8-11, 325; reminding and, 12

Relevancy: of proverbs, 241; of

questions, 238; standards of, 208

Religious scripts, 68-69

Reminding(s), 11-12, 35, 36, 91-126, 251-69; action rules for, 256-57, 261-66; anomalies and, 144: comparative, 16-17; conscious, active, 97-98; context-crossing, 103-105; course of, 92-95; creative, 15, 91-92: in education, 330-32; era-based, 111-12, 116; examples of, 105-10;

explanations and, 113-14,

116-18; failure-driven, 98-101, 112-13, 116; feature-based, 115, 116; feature-intersection,

116; by following mental paths, 253-56; goal-based, 115, 116; at high level of abstraction, 105: hypothetical thinking and, 31, 32; intentional, 218; inventive

application of, 29; object rules

for, 255-56, 258-61; planning and, 226: proverbs and, 225, 231-32; questions and, 177-80, 257-69; tools for, 110-11, 116;

and transposition of objects,

215-17; tweaking, 207-11, 220;

in understanding cycle, 24-27, 101-103, 190; XPs and, 199, 224

Research, 320-21; interdisciplinary,

46 Result Evaluation Rule, 305 Results. questions about, 255, 256, 261, 264 Rhetoric, 272-76 Risks: American culture and, 324; innovation and, 315: investment decisions and, 92-59. 314, 315; willingness to take, 57, 59, 80

Rituals, 68 Road signs, anomalous, 124-25, 150 Robotics, 44

Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare), 103, 104, 113 Rule-application teaching method, 337

Rules, 5, 6, 83; anomalous, 150-52; bureaucratic, 67; for events, 165; formulaic thinking and, 6-8; for investment decisions, 53; refusal to learn, 358-59; religious, 68; for school, 72; of science, 315

Russia, 13-14, 114 Sandinistas, 114 Schedules, 47

Schizophrenia, 71 Schools, see Education Science: innovation and, 315-16;

paradigmsof, 51; rule-application approach to

teaching, 337; tests of coherence used in, 51-52; traditional, 45

Scripts, 18-24, 62-87, 195;

abandonment of, 87; anomalies and, 25, 26, 128; answers and, 171; break down of, 75-76; bureaucratic, 67-68; cultural, 69-71; failure of, 57-58; and

failure-driven reminding, 98-100; in growing up, 76-77;

innovation hampered by,

322-23; for jobs, 66, 75, 76, 82;

learning of, 20-22; old, disestablishment of, 56; questions about, 256, 264; and rejection of new ideas, 51;

religious, 68-69; thought based

on, 71-75; of traditional scientists, 45; understanding

cycle and, 23-24; for venture

deals, 54

Search techniques, 204 Self-centered questions, 271-72


Set membership,flexibility about, 211-13 Side effect proverbs, 228-30 Silly explanations, 152, 154 | Social effects, questions about, 256,


Socrates, 275, 337 Sources, questions about, 254, 258 Soviet Union, 13-14, 114

Spain, 94 Speed limits, 360 Sports: outcome-driven explanation in, 161-62; XPs in, 210, 233-37 Standardized tests, 334, 335, 337, 347 Stereotypes, knocking down, 48-50 Stock market, 162

Strategic computing program, 50

Success: with new products, 83-85; overemphasis on, 57, 60

Sun Microsystems, 78-80, 173-75 Superstition, 122—23 Swale, 29-32, 164, 182, 197-200, 202, 203, 206, 207, 209-19, 224, 239, 282 Tandem computers, 53-54 Target-directed transformation, 290-91, 295, 296, 307; outcomes and, 299; of

wish-fulfillment questions, 301, 302 Telegraphic speech, 351-52

Terrorism, 112, 177-80, 182,

185-91, 219, 238-50, 306

Tests: scientific, 51-52; standardized, 334, 335, 337,

347 Theoretical questions, 276-79 Theories: data for constructing,

352-53; creation of, 120, 121; predictions and, 16];

remindings and, 178 Top-downexplanations, 357 Transposition of objects, 215-18

Truths, 271-73, 275, 278, 281 Tweaking, 26; of proverbs, 241, 246; of remindings, 207-11, 220; tools for, 219-21; of XPs, 211-18, 244, 245, 251] Ultimate Antecedent Rule, 305

Uncertainty, 53-55

Unconscious, 97; learning in, 95,


Understanding cycle, 23-28, 36, 101-103, 126; anomalies and, 128; conscious activity in, 27-28; explanations and, 121; reminding in, 24-27; questions

in, 102, 103, 176-77, 189-92;

scripts and, 23-24; unconscious

stage of, 197 Universities: creativity stifled in, 318; European, 323-24; research in, 320

Usefulness, creativity harnessed for, 48-50 Vance, Cyrus, 285

VAX, 173

Venture capitalists, 50, 52-55,

313-14, 316, 327; unconventional financing and, 78-79 Vicarious experience, 109 Video games, 49-50

Vietnam, 16, 64-65, 114, 143, 144,

330 Voting behavior, 163-64

War: prototypical, 16; see also Vietnam; World War II

Weiss, Larry, 83-86

West Side Story (movie), 103, 104,


WHCN-radio (Hartford), 62-65,

131, 163 Winds of War (Wouk), 108 Wish-fulfillment questions, 300-303 Wondering, 103, 204-207, 283, 350, 351; about events,



Index Wondering (continued) 164-65; about human behavior, 129

249-50; for finding outcomes, 233-37; generation of, 240-48; proverbial, 222~26, 231,

World Series, 162 World War II, 177, 178, 182

transformation process, 288; remindings of, 251; tweaking,

Word processors, 317

Xerox, 321] XPs (explanation patterns), 31-32, 197-201, 203, 205-207, 209-11, 239-40; adaptation of, 302-303; crossing contexts of,

244-48; and question

211-18, 244, 245, 251

Yale University, 143-45; Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, 105, 254 Yiddish proverbs, 226