Sunday Review: Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques by Michael Michalko

I have decided to do a dead simple book review every Sunday.  Some of this is to just share what I’m reading.  Rather than go with some complex rating system a book will either be a thumbs up or a thumbs down.  Thumbs up means I highly recommend reading the book.  A thumbs down means read something else unless you have free time on your hands.  I will then do a one or two sentence at most comment on the book.
thumbs-upThinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques (2nd Edition)

Take Away: This book gives more practical brainstorming ideas than you will know what to do with.  Be prepared to do mental exercises to get the most out of this book.

Splitting a Problem Into Pieces Then Reassembling It

Another “ThinkerToys” exercise, by Michael Michalko. It’s been a while, but finding time to force the brain to think is hard to do. During the week I have attended several events and heard lots of people talking about community. So when tonight’s Thinkertoy came up I figured that I would tackle the problem of “Improving the Local Creative/Technical Community”.

Exercise: Cherry Split

“Who can determine where one ends and the other begins.” – Sun Tzu

The goal of this exercise is to break a challenge into separate pieces.  When this is done you can see new material that had before been part of something else.  Reassembling the pieces is slow and awkward, but when they do start to click back together entirely new concepts emerge.

To cherry split:

1. State the essence of your challenge in two words.

“Improving the Local Creative/Technical Community.


2. Split the challenge into two separate units.



3. Split each attribute into two more attributes. Do not worry about the correctness of the split.

The book had talked about doing as a group exercise.  I was sitting home alone, but figured I could get group input using twitter.  I put a call out twitter asking for help… “help me with a creative problem solving exercise.. problem… “improve creative/tech community”.. split into IMPROVE and COMMUNITY…” I got responses from @consumer, @chriscardinal, @brandonfranklin, @africankelli and @alandd.

4. Continue splitting the attributes until you fell that you have enough to work with.

I got full responses from @consumer, @chriscardinal and @brandonfranklin.

5. Examine each attribute for ideas. The wonder of this method is that big ideas can dwell in the most insignifcant attribute just as the flavor of an entire ocean is contained in one drop.

grow – we should be doing things to identify and include new people

strengthen – we need to do things that makes our community stronger, technically/creatively/emotionally

produce – our community should be producing things

thrive – there should be a noticeable energy among our community

reinforce – principles and desired behaviors should be reinforced to see them continued

fortified – the community needs to look out for one another

organization – the community needs to have some sense of structure

execution – we need to do what we say we are going to do

centralization – there needs to be a center point for our community

convenience – participation needs to be low in barrier to entry

leadership – we need strong leaders to guide the community

engagement – we need to dialog internally and externally and participate on all levels

research – we need to continually look for how to get better/advance

effort – we need to always be working our hardest

investigation – we need to see how others are doing it and apply “why”

recordkeeping – we need to document what we do

energy – see thrive/energy

knowledge – we need to constantly be cataloging information and using it

relationship – we need to trust and appreciate each other

inclusive – we need to be tolerant at our very core

traditions – we need an identity that is our own

accepting – we need to embrace even what we dont agree with

tolerant – embrace even that which we dont understand

ritual – we need practiced patterns of doing things

celebration – we need to have fun doing what we do

support – we need to be there for one another in times of need

involvement – we need to participate even when we dont want to

financial – we need to help make sure things have the resources they need

institutional – we need entities/organizations to help us out

awareness – we need to know what challenges we face and where to find help

reciprocity – we need to learn to help one another and return the favor

sharing – we need to multi-use resources

commonality – we need to find our common ground instead of our differences

openness – we need to be open about what we are doing and why

trust – we need to believe that we are all in this together

similarity – we are more alike that we think

ehance – we need to make one another better

magnify – we need to highlight what is important

grow – see grow under improve

invest – see financial, sharing, effort

detail – we need to pay attention to the little things

depth – we need to be looking beyond the surface and the quick fix

6. Try reassembling the attributes. New combinations can induce new perspectives and new ideas.  Splitting a challenge into several attributes i like rmoving a dividing panel form between chanbers of very hot and very cold air:  New forces rush together, creating new ideas.

This post is already getting really lengthy, so I am going to leave number 6 up to you.  Please leave a comment on how we can do some of the above in reassembling for our future.  I noticed that growing, thriving/producing high energy and investing in our community are common themes.

Break Your Problems Into Pieces and Then Reassemble!

Another “ThinkerToys” exercise, by Michael Michalko.  Im not meeting my goal of one per day, but hey one per week is better than none.  I have been thinking a lot about education and after watching kids at Gangplank Jr. this weekend it’s on my mind.  So when tonight’s Thinkertoy came up I figured that I would tackle the problem of “Over Crowded Classrooms”.

Exercise: Slice and Dice

“When he is united, divide him.” – Sun Tzu

The idea of this exercise is to break the problem into it’s various attributes and then improve the attributes.  “Sometimes ideas are just new information grafted onto an attribute and spliced with another thought… A first-class idea person can slice and dice challenges into separate, simple attributes and then combine them into new, more complex structures, just as stars do.”

To slice and dice:

1. State your challenge.

Classrooms are overcrowded.

2. Analyze the challenge and list as many attributes as you can.

A. lots of students

B. crowded room

C. one teacher

D. all kids same age

E. room structured to face teacher

3. Take each attribute, one at a time, and try to think of way s to change or improve it.  Ask “How else can this be accomplished?” and “Why does this have to be this way?”

A. turn students into teachers.  distribute kids in ways other than age to make class size consistent for all teachers

B. remove clutter and share space where possible

C. have students teach when/where appropriate.. change teaching standards.. allow AA and BA/BS teachers.. use MA/MS in more effective ways

D. group kids by level instead of by age

E. use dynamic ways of setting up room, to allow setup to vary based on activity

4. Strive to make your thinking both fluent and flexible

If you couldn’t tell this weekend I was reminded that at one time we had one room school houses and different ages and skills were mixed and used in various ways.  Also, watching kids teach kids through doing showed that perhaps we rely too much on teachers teaching and not enough on students exploring.  What are your thoughts?  On the exercise?  The attributes?  The suggested changes?

Challenge Conventional Assumptions

I have been reading “ThinkerToys” by Michael Michalko.  I am going to try to do one Thinkertoy exercise per day (or at least a few per week).  The goal is to help get my brain to be in a creative state more often than not.  I will attempt to share the exercises here.  Today I got in a debate on twitter challenging the local university system.  (thanks @ninky, @YuriArtibise and @jose602).  So when tonight’s Thinkertoy came up I figured that I would tackle the problem of “Lack of funding in Elementary Education”.

Exercise: False Faces

“All warfare is based on deception.” – Sun Tzu

The idea of this exercise is to reverse all your assumptions.  “Obviously, many things have to be taken for granted, and the purpose is not to pretend that one has the time to challenge every assumption, but instead to show nothing is sacrosanct.  Once you truly realize this, you are open to all sorts of discoveries…. Reversing your assumptions broadens your thinking.  You may often find yourself looking at the same thing as everybody else, yet seeing something different.  Many creative thinkers get their most original ideas when they challenge and reverse the obvious.”

To reverse a challenge:

1. State your challenge.

Lack of funding in Elementary Education is hurting education.

2. List your assumptions.

I think a little differently than most on this subject, so to make sure my guesses about the fundamental assumptions were correct I put a call out to twitter.  I got some good responses from (@acydlord, @casademora, @jivadevoe, @dr1665, @refriedchicken, @conrey and @claytonlz ).  From them I got the following list.

Some common assumptions about more funding is necessary to improve education in elementary schools are:

A. Lack of funds reduces effectiveness in reading, math, social skills, technology and the arts.

B. Teachers will not stay if they are not compensated well. (teacher retention) (x2)

C. Basic supplies are needed to properly educate.

D. Need more teachers. (smaller class sizes increase learning) (x2)

E. More technology in the class room makes education better.

3. Challenge the fundamental assumptions.

Each of these assumptions hold up to most arguments, except for assumption (A) which is fairly broad and vague.  Assumptions (B) and (D) are likely widely held.

4. Reverse each assumption. (What is the opposite?)

The reverse assumptions would be:

A. The original assumptions are too vague.  Reversing them doesn’t make a lot of sense.

B. Paying teachers less money would encourage them to stay at their current school and be more dedicated.

C. Student learn better and teachers teach better without basic school supplies.

D. Larger class sizes make for better learning enivornments.

E. Technology in the class room hinders learning.

5. Record differing view points that might prove useful to you.

At least three respondents held the different view point on more funding.

A. Current administration of schools has to change first.

B. More funding won’t help at all.

C. More creative use of funding is necessary, just more money won’t fix it.

6. Ask yourself how to accomplish each reversal.

How can we increase educational effectiveness in elementary schools without increasing funding?

A. Skipping

B. A school that pays teachers less money.

IDEA: Reward the best teachers with the freedom to compile and execute their own curriculum and set their own benchmarks for success.

C. Operate a school with no budget for school supplies.

IDEA: Partner with private companies to let them provide school supplies and in exchange let them sell advertising space on the school supplies.

D. A school that operates with class sizes of over 40 students.

IDEA: Use educational techniques that require collaboration by the students and allow the strongest students to teach the weakest students.

E. A school that doesn’t use technology in the classroom.

IDEA: Offer a back to basics curriculum that specializes in the core concepts using theory instead of technology.

Ideally, you should pick one of the ideas and work all the angles to implement it.  If I were to pick one idea to focus on it would be Item B above.  I think giving teachers back the creativity to teach how they see fit opposed to some government mandate would be far more appealing than more pay.  What are your thoughts?  On the exercise?  The assumptions?  The challenges?  The solutions?