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R & D Creativity & Innovation Handbook by Edward Glassman Ph.D.
Edward Glassman : Mind Ruts & Paradigms

Mind Ruts & Paradigms

By Edward Glassman, PhD

Many times our problems act like they get trapped by thought collectors in our minds and cannot get out. And out of habit, we keep trying to find a solution within these collectors even though they do not work to solve the new problem. I call these 'mind ruts' like ruts on a road.

Once you get stuck in a mind rut, you find it hard to get out without deliberate creative thinking, that is, without using special creativity techniques. Every time a related new problem arises, you return to the mind rut that succeeded before. If you stuff a new problem into an old mind rut that once worked, you generate the same time worn solution. In this sense, mind ruts act like paradigms.


For example, how many ways do you think you can represent "half of eight?" Write down the number here ( ).

Now jot down all the ways you can think of to represent "half of eight." Spend at least five to ten minutes before you move on...No peeking please.

People in my creative thinking workshops have represented "half of eight" in the following ways:


(1 x 4), (2 x 2), (3 x 1.25), (4 x 1), etc.

(22 ), (square root of 16), (2 times the square root of 4), (4 times the square root of 1), etc.

(1+3), (2+2, (3+1, (5-1), (6-2), etc.

(8 divided by 2), (12 divided by 3), (16 divided by 4), etc.


Slice the 8 horizontally in half to produce o and o, which are the top and bottom halves of 8.

Slice the 8 vertically into the left and right halves of 8.

Halve the 8 in all directions leading to an infinity of distorted answers. Indeed, you might halve all diagrams of eight in all directions, including eight, VIII, 4+4, and other representations of eight.


4; four; IV; IIII; etc.

Ideographs that write 'four' in Chinese, Japanese, Sanskrit, Arabic, Hindu, ancient Egyptian, etc. Braille (for the blind).


100 (represents 4 in binary numbers); 11 (represents 4 in ternary numbers), etc.

Morse or semaphore code.

Deaf sign language.

Boat pennant representing four.

Sign of Four (see the Sherlock Holmes story).

500 (1000 is the binary number for 8; one-half of this is 500); also 10 and 00 (cutting 1000 in half vertically).


Show four fingers (what a four-year old does when asked his or her age).

7:30 (the German, halb acht).

Hit the ground four times with his hoof (what Clever Hans, the horse, did).

A friend of mine suggested the following mind ruts for which we found no solutions: "half of eight using our senses: taste, touch, smell, sight and sound." Later, I thought of one involving sound. The telephone company has a universal frequency for 'four' that represents "half of eight" in sound all over the world.

Now imagine you sit in my creative thinking workshop and you only heard me say: "List all the ways to represent half of 8." I do not write it, just say it. Would you get into the following mind rut ... half of ATE. If you did, how would you use it? Would you halve 'ATE' in all directions. Would you write "hungry" or draw a half eaten apple or an apple pie cut into 4 pieces?


You can learn a lot from 'half of eight/ate.'

First: Numerous and diverse mind ruts exist for all problems, even one as seemingly simple as half of eight, and certainly for the many problems you attempt to solve. Yet we blithely continue the quick fix, ignoring rich possibilities.

Second: In my creative thinking workshop, people suggest many solutions to the "half of 8" problem; yet each person discovers only a few. That lesson clarifies: one of the reasons to use creativity teams includes the sharing of mind ruts to shift paradigms. Each person has unique knowledge and experience, and therefore his or her mind ruts provide unique and valuable viewpoints. In my book, we examine techniques to ensure effective sharing of mind ruts, paradigms, and perspectives in teams.

Third: Do not rush when solving problems. A hasty, early choice cuts down on quality possibilities. Creative thinking takes time and often means communicating with other people to discover new mind ruts and paradigms. •

© 2011 by Edward Glassman. All rights reserved.

Edward Glassman, PhDEdward Glassman, PhD was the President of the Creativity College®, a division of Leadership Consulting Services, Inc., and Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he headed the Program For Team Effectiveness And Creativity. More »