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Creativity- A simple change to multiply it

Creativity- A simple change to multiply it

Ever felt that you didn’t have the necessary tools to solve a problem or come up with a new idea? Maybe you thought you didn’t have the right information or you were missing something that was necessary to move forward. Perhaps you thought you weren’t creative enough. It brought back memories of teachers in school telling you that creativity is not really your thing.

When you think of a hammer, you think of using it as a paper weight right? You consider using it to pull out nails from a surface. Or using it as a weapon against burglars who barge into your home. Maybe you think of hanging it on the wall of your living room, (especially if it’s worn down and looks vintage), to give it that rustic feeling you’re going for.

The hammer can also be used to soften previously frozen red meat, break a crab or lobster to access the juicy tender pieces of meat. You can use it as a lock for a door, as a door holder, attach it to a door and make it a door knob, use it like a judge and bang it on the table when people in your home are too noisy or swing it around like a kettlebell and do some exercises with it.

But you didn’t think of those first did you? You thought of hammering a nail into a wall.

Psychologists call this functional fixedness. In providing labels they allow us to communicate ideas in a more efficient way. But this same labeling does something else. It makes it harder for us to mistake what it is, what it does, and limits the way we think about it. When you think of a hammer, you think of a hammer and its function. The most commonly used function. This holds our creativity back.

Functional fixedness can come in different forms. It’s seen when you go to the grocery store and buy different products for specific things. You buy detergent to wash your dishes, soap for your hands, detergent for your clothes, soap for your body, facewash for your face. Lots of products are specialists, focusing on one area and serving a specific purpose. Then there are products like hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, and baking soda that have multiple uses. They’re used for cleaning your house and clothing, as mouthwash, for treating cuts and wounds, and that’s a small sample. These are the generalist products. Sometimes they work better than the specialists.

Functional fixedness focuses on depth rather than breadth. This makes it similar to divergent thinking (many possibilities) and the opposite of convergent thinking (only one possibility). Functional fixedness works at times. But sometimes we need to let go of it in order to create new ideas and think in a different way. If not, we can get stuck in a rut. The rut is the place where our thinking and creativity plateau. They stagnate. While it’s not a good feeling, the rut allows for us to take a step back and reflect. It provides the opportunity to look at what we previously thought, in a different light. The benefit is that we often step out of it with new perspectives and a greater understanding of the issue.

We think of cars as forms of transportation. To move from one place to the other. But is that the only function they serve? John Paul DeJoria (founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems and Patron Tequila) started his company while living in a 20 year old Rolls Royce. You see people travelling in old Volkswagen vans that have been fixed up with beds, kitchens, and more amenities so they can live in them. They don’t pay rent. They pay gas and parking fees. They can move from place to place and change their panoramic view every day of the week.

You can use the car’s engine to power a home. You don’t even need to drive it. Is it efficient or practical? Maybe not. But the idea is to consider how something can be used in different ways. A bed can be used as a couch, a desk, a table. Attach some wooden planks, some wheels, some boards and get a horse to pull it and you’ve got a cart. Cut it into pieces and you’ve got cushions, pillows, or a bunch of small seats or foot rests. Cut it up and take out all the padding and soundproof your room, your home, and make a music studio.

“To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

I see this quote everywhere. It’s a perfect example of functional fixedness. The problem is we try to fight it by doing the opposite. We buy more tools and learn more things for each situation in our lives. We collect many tools for many things which leads to a heavy toolbelt we can no longer fasten around our waist. Sadly, most of these tools we never use or we never learn how. We need instruction manuals to understand what they’re for and forget why we got them in the first place.

Our homes end up with a bunch of junk we don’t need. Our garages full of things we used only one time or never because we didn’t like it, need it, or forgot about it as time passed. Our computers have a bunch of files and programs we don’t use. Our closets are overflowing with shoes and clothes we won’t ever use, we don’t like, and that don’t fit us anymore. We have an abundance of things we don’t need and we’re lacking what we do need.

We often fight one extreme by going in the opposite direction. But in doing that we end up with more of the same problems. Sometimes we have to add tools to our tool belt. Other moments, we have to subtract because we no longer have a need for it. They’re just taking up space. They can serve someone else better. We have to see functional fixedness for what it is. Sometimes it helps us and sometimes it’s limiting.

By subtracting, we end up adding to our life.

We can work on using what we already have for multiple purposes. We need to think of other uses for the hammer, so it can solve more problems and improve our creativity. Think of all the uses you can for what you already have. This will increase the functional value of what you already possess. You’ll be recycling what you have, turning it into something new, and getting more mileage from it.

Funny enough, that’s also how great ideas are born. But let’s hear it from someone who knew what he was talking about:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

-Steve Jobs

It’s useful to apply this to ideas and knowledge as well. This is the thinking behind the interdisciplinary approach to life. You’re able to take concepts from one field or subject and apply them to other areas that seem unrelated. Because you’ve developed deep understanding of the concept, you can see the relationships, the interconnectedness, and new applications available. This opens the door to original thinking. It’s another example of how knowledge can transfer from one area to another, serve multiple purposes, and provide different perspectives.

Consider how our language and the words we choose also influence how we think. When we think of “hammering something”, we don’t think of using a book, a rock, or the bottom of our shoe. We think of a hammer, especially when the word is in the phrase. To change the way we think, it can be as simple as changing the words we use.

In doing this we avoid putting ourselves in boxes and develop our ability to “Think different”.

The following strategies can help you get more from what you have and ten-fold your creativity:

  • Put it to another use. Think of all the ways something can be used (ideas and objects). All the purposes it can serve. Write them all down without editing. Just write everything you can think of until you can’t think of any more ideas. Set a time limit as well to add some pressure. Then go through the list and rate the ideas you came up with. The more you wrote down, the higher probability for good ideas. Now go and test them some of them.
  • Take an object or idea and break it down into smaller parts. What role does each part play and what else could it be used for?
  • Use the Generic Parts Technique (Anthony McCaffrey, UMASS Cognitive researcher). Break something down into parts and ask yourself if there is a use that is implied. If there is, keep breaking it down until there’s no implied use in the term. This could include the material, shape, the size. When you start to remove the functions of an object or an idea, you can start to notice other possibilities. McCaffrey says that most innovative solutions follow two steps. They notice an obscure feature and they use that feature to form solutions to problems.
  • Change the language or words. Use synonyms or completely different words to alter how you think about something.
  • Forget the rules and the instruction manual and create your own.
The benefits of stress

The benefits of stress

The benefits of stress don’t receive much attention. Maybe it’s our desire to move away from pain and towards pleasure. 

Stressful situations will build your stress tolerance. In, Antifragile,* Nassim Nicholas Taleb says the opposite of fragile, is antifragile. This means that as a system goes through stress, it will actually get stronger and become more resilient. Your body, for example, when going through a workout; the economy and the periods of recession or a business that goes through hard times and still manages to survive and become stronger.

When you go to the gym, you put strain on your muscles, you break them down, and they ache. This process causes them to harden and strengthen. If you want to keep getting stronger, you have to consistently put them under stress and lift heavier.

Taleb says tranquil environments create fragile systems. In a relationship, when you avoid disagreements and anything that causes a challenge, you may think you’re maintaining the harmony. But the moments of tension and challenges lead to growth and create shared experiences that can strengthen your relationship. What we do by trying to keep the peace, is create an emotional flatline which ends up creating a boring relationship.

Challenges and difficulties are a natural part of growth. Any time you choose to move forward there’ll be challenges. If you see these challenges as problems that can’t be overcome and panic, you won’t be able to enjoy the benefits. By going through the difficulty, we develop the antifragility that creates progress.

We have to embrace volatility instead of trying to reduce it. In The four-hour work week, Tim Ferriss says, “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” *

Putting yourself in uncomfortable situations creates stress, but it makes your comfort zone expand. Doing that will allow you to develop courage and the ability to take on bigger challenges.

While stress can have negative effects on your health, what determines the effect it has on your life, is your attitude.

Kelly McGonigal, author of The upside of stress,* studies stress and helps to bring awareness of the negative effects it has on our health. She did this until coming across a study of how stress could actually be beneficial to our lives. McGonigal investigated further and began to change the way she viewed stress.

These are some of her findings:

  • Your stress mindset is what determines whether stress will be helpful or harmful for you. What do you think of stress and how does it affect you, your relationships, and your health?
  • You have to understand the downside of stress, but if you focus on the upside, then you will gain more benefits.
  • A meaningful life is a stressful life. Often our level of stress is an indicator of how involved we are with everything in our lives.
  • Happy lives are not stress free and stress free people do not necessarily live happy lives.

What you believe about stress determines the results it will have on your life. If you see stress as:

  • Able to strengthen your willpower
  • Challenge you and help you push past your own limits
  • Part of the process of learning and growing
  • THEN, you’ll be able to benefit from it.

Stress can lead to worry and worry can lead to stress. What we worry about, often doesn’t occur.

Warren Buffett likes to ask, “Is it knowable and important?” *

  • If it’s not important and not knowable—> Don’t worry about it.
  • If it’s not important, but knowable —> It’s not important, so don’t worry about it.
  • If it’s important, but not knowable —> Don’t worry.
  • If it’s important and it’s knowable —> Prepare for it beforehand.


  • What are the areas that provide the most meaning\ value in your life? How much stress do they contribute?
  • Is the safety and desire to mitigate risk making this system more fragile or antifragile?
  • Are you building fragility or antifragility in your life?
  • What is causing you the most stress and why? Can it make you more antifragile?
  • Are you adding or reducing volatility in your life? What are the consequences or side effects?
Why Being Wrong is Good

Why Being Wrong is Good

You are partly wrong. You are partly right. Context influences your perspective and that of others. By listening to many points of view, you stand to gain a deeper understanding.

Humans have a tendency to pay attention to ideas that support what they already believe. It’s called the confirmation bias.

Charlie Munger, says that he “never takes a stance on anything unless he can argue the other side better than the other person.” That means he’s looked at the issue from a variety of different perspectives and understands it well.

Have you been in a situation where you argued about something you believed in, but the opposing point of view, was a complete unknown to you? This lack of acceptance that other perspectives exist, keeps you from seeing other explanations and possibilities. It also prevents you from learning.

After developing his theory of evolution, Charles Darwin shared it only with a few close friends; he was afraid of how it would be received.* During this time, he thought about all the things that would be questioned and challenged in his work. Darwin searched for disconfirming evidence and then prepared responses and explanations for each one. It took Darwin over twenty years to finally release his theory to the public and by that time he was prepared for the criticism he’d receive.

People who work in sales have scripts with responses to people’s objections. This increases their chances of closing a sale. A good salesperson will be able to continue a conversation with a customer, despite all their objections, and eventually convince them to buy. They do this by preparing responses beforehand to all the possible objections. To understand what those objections are, you must consider other perspectives, especially those that disagree with yours.

Paul Arden puts this in an interesting way in, It’s right to be wrong,

“Start being wrong and suddenly anything is possible.

You’re no longer trying to be infallible.

You’re in the unknown. There’s no way of knowing what can happen, but there’s more chance of it being amazing than if you try to be right.

Of course, being wrong is a risk…

Risks are a measure of people. People who won’t take them are trying to preserve what they have. People who do take them often end up by having more.

Some risks have a future and some people call them wrong. But being right may be like walking backwards proving where you’ve been.” *

Things to try:

  • Argue the other person’s point of view. Try this when you’re in a conflict.
  • Come up with different perspectives, research evidence for them, and be able to argue them.
  • Always consider the opposing viewpoint and study it. What can you learn from it? Does it help prove or disprove your beliefs? What did you learn that you didn’t know before?
  • Consider all the possible objections and then come up with responses for them.
  • Learn from your enemies. Get their opinion. You may learn something about them, or yourself that you didn’t know.
  • Question everything you believe. Ask yourself why you believe that and what evidence you have. Is it true?
  • Understand what people think and why they think that.
  • Be curious and willing to challenge yourself. Be flexible in your thinking.


  • Try using Byron Katie´s questions: *

1- Is it true?

2- Can you know that it is absolutely true?

3- How do you react when you think this way?

4- What would life be like, if you didn’t have this thought?

Making decisions

Making decisions

“It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”

-Thomas Sowell


What you want is waiting for you. You have to decide to go and get it. It’s easier to make a decision when we’re clear on our purpose. It may be as simple as asking whether this decision is taking me closer or further from what I want.

Other times, it’s not as simple.

Decide what you want. If you change your mind along the way, that’s fine. Making the choice to go one direction, beats waiting for the right moment, the right circumstances, or more information, to make the right decision.

The one who wins, is the one that can take any circumstances they are dealt and still play a great game.

Here are some reasons we make bad decisions:

  • We don’t have experience to draw from in the situation.
  • We have an immediate pay off that is positive and overlook the long term effects which are negative.
  • We don’t consider the consequences of what we decide.
  • We don’t know ourselves well enough. We don’t know our strengths, weaknesses, we have no clear purpose.
  • We are blind to our own biases and have few tools to approach different problems.
  • We don’t consider different options.
  • We don’t understand certainty, uncertainty, risk, reward, opportunity cost, and probability.

Here is what we can do about the above:

  • Study and learn from history about what works and what doesn’t. Read biographies of people who have gone through similar situations or who have achieved what you want and learn how they did it. Deconstruct people into strong skills they possess. Work on developing those skills. Stay curious and constantly search for ideas.
  • Consider the longer term consequences by asking “and then what” would happen if I did this? Do it a few times. Look for the potential problem areas beforehand.
  • Get to know yourself. Experiment a variety of things in life, in work, in relationships, in different environments. Travel. Then reflect on what you’ve learned about yourself through those situations.
  • Ask for feedback and different opinions from a variety of people to get more perspective.
  • Learn different ways to solve problems. Search for ideas.
  • Consider all the options you have and rate them.
  • Consider the certainty, uncertainty, risk, reward, opportunity cost, and probability in your possible choices.

In, Take the Risk,4 Dr. Ben Carson discusses four simple questions to ask yourself in order to make a decision. They are:

  • What is the best that can happen if you do this?
  • What is the best that can happen if you don’t do this?
  • What is the worst that can happen if you do this?
  • What is the worst that can happen if you don’t do this?

These questions provide a simple way to uncover and assess the pros and cons of your options.


  • What are the different outcomes and their probability of occurring?
  • What is the opportunity cost? The tradeoff you are making?
  • What is the best\ worst that can happen if I do it or if I don’t do it?
  • What are some of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make and how did I do it? What was the result of those decisions?
  • How can I improve the chance of being right in my choices?
  • What other tools can I use to make good decisions?
  • Am I being biased and is that affecting my ability to see clearly?
  • Who can provide good advice or help?
Pain and joy

Pain and joy

All the pain, the sorrow, and the discomfort we feel, makes us stronger. This is difficult to accept whenever we go through difficult situations. Often, we get stuck and see no way of getting out. We go around in circles, deceiving ourselves into thinking we’re going somewhere, when in reality, we’re headed nowhere.

To develop your ability to handle pain, first make the choice to be tough and to withstand the difficulties life throws at you. Then act the part. You must go through situations that force you to be a tougher person. This way, you develop the skill through real experience.

Pain brings with it pleasure. Sorrow and joy come hand in hand. Whatever happens, you can learn something from it and be better for it. How you respond to situations that affect your life, will determine whether or not they benefit you.

The guitar is made from the wood of a tree. Before it can be a musical instrument and produce beautiful melodies, the tree must be cut down, dried, cut into pieces and reshaped. The wood gets sanded, painted, varnished, and nuts and bolts are attached to it. All the parts are glued together and left to dry. The strings are placed and then tuned. Finally, you can play the finished guitar, and if you know how, you can make amazing music. The wood had to go through the pain of being chopped down, cut, sliced and carved, to get to the pleasure of making sweet melodies.

The four noble truths that Buddha taught were:

  1. The truth of suffering – There is suffering in life from the beginning to the end.
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering- The reason for our suffering is desire.
  3. The truth of the ending of suffering – Suffering can be ended by detaching from desire and attachment.
  4. The truth of the path to the ending of suffering – There is a path that eliminates suffering.*

If you are trying to avoid misery, you’ll end up experiencing misery. In order to put an end to it, you have to face it and accept it. We tend to shoot ourselves with two arrows, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, in No mud, No lotus.* The first arrow is a situation that causes us pain and suffering; the loss of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, the failure of achieving a dream. The second arrow, is due to our beliefs. We over exaggerate the pain and suffering and create a domino effect of negativity. As Hanh says, “we need to learn to stop shooting ourselves with the second arrow.”

First, you have to realize that happiness cannot exist without suffering. Both of these things are only momentary. They do not last forever. They are constantly working together.

Every day, as Hanh says,

“Every birthday we celebrate life, we also celebrate death and the passing of time. They are happening together, at the same time…The flower when it wilts, becomes the compost. The compost can help grow a flower again.”

The rain, the clouds, the sunshine are not the flower, but they are part of what helps the flower, become a flower. Without these, there wouldn’t be a flower.

Our suffering also comes from our resistance. As Osho says in, The art of living and dying,*

the pain often disappears if you flow with it.”

How can we do that?

  • When you feel pain or suffering, use statements like:
  1. “Such are things.”
  2. “Such is the way of the body.”
  3. “Hello my suffering, I know you are there.”
  4. “Good morning my pain, I see you. I am here. Don’t worry.”
  5. “This too shall pass.”
  • Locate the pain, sit in silence and just observe it. The more you look at it, the stronger the feeling and the easier you will see where it’s located. Oftentimes, it disappears after this. The cause of the pain may reveal itself to you. If it comes back, repeat the process.
  • Practice letting go. What would happen if you lost all the things you consider to be important and necessary to live your life?
  • Concentrate. Focus on the moment. If you find yourself focusing on the past or other things that are not occurring or going to occur, be thankful that you are not in that situation.
  • Practice meditation and breathing.


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