How to put your imagination to work to spark creative ideas
Excerpted from “Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work” by Michael Michalko, New World Library, 2011.
The human brain cannot deliberately concentrate on two separate objects or ideas, no matter how dissimilar, no matter how remote, without eventually forming a connection between them. According to his own story, Isaac Newton conceived of universal gravitation when he observed an apple falling and, at the same time, noticed the moon in the sky. These random simultaneous images inspired him to speculate on whether the same laws governed the falling apple and the moon orbiting the earth. This, in turn, led him to develop the laws of mechanics and establish mathematical analysis and modeling as the principal foundations of science and engineering.
Newton’s conceptual combination created new science. The same process can help you to get the ideas you need in the business world. James Lavoie and Joseph Marino, co-founders of Rite-Solutions, did just that when they needed an employee suggestion system that could harvest ideas from everyone in the company, including engineers, accountants, salespeople, marketing people, and all administrative staff.
They wanted a process that would get their employees to creatively invest in the company. The word invest encouraged them to find ways to invest. One association was the New York Stock Exchange.
Rite-Solutions combined the architecture of the stock exchange with the architecture of an in-house company stock market and created a stock exchange for ideas. The company’s internal exchange is called Mutual Fun. In this private exchange, any employee can offer a proposal to create a new product or spin-off, to solve a problem, to acquire new technologies or companies, and so on. These proposals become stocks and are given ticker symbols identifying the proposals.
As reported in The New York Times, “Fifty-five stocks are listed on the company’s internal stock exchange. Each stock comes with a detailed description—called an expect-us, as opposed to a prospectus—and begins trading at a price of $10. Every employee gets $10,000 in ‘opinion money’ to allocate among the offerings, and employees signal their enthusiasm by investing in a stock or volunteering to work on the project.”
This Is a Natural Way of Thinking
The result has been a resounding success. Among the company’s core technologies are pattern-recognition algorithms used in military applications, as well as for electronic gambling systems at casinos. An administrative employee with no technical expertise was fascinated with one of the company’s existing technologies and spent time thinking about other ways it could be used. One pathway she explored was education. She proposed that this technology could be used in schools to create an entertaining way for students to learn history or math. She started a stock called Win/Play/Learn (symbol: WPL), which attracted a lot of attention from the company’s engineers. They enthusiastically bought her stock and volunteered to work on the idea to turn it into a viable new product, which they did. A brilliant idea from an unlikely source was made possible by the new employee suggestion system.
We all have the gift to make associations like these. Psychologists have found that if you put people in a room with a contraption containing light bulbs wired to blink on and off at random, they will quickly discern what they believe are patterns and will develop theories for predicting which bulb will be next to blink. Our genius as humans is our ability to create elaborate architectures in our imaginations to invent patterns and make new connections.
Excerpted from the book Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work ©2011 by Michael Michalko. www.newworldlibrary.com
Michael Michalko is the author of “Creative Thinkering,” “Thinkertoys,” “Cracking Creativity,” and “ThinkPak.”
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