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Creativity Triggers for College Students by Edward Glassman Ph.D.
Edward Glassman : Ways to Shift Paradigms & Think Outside the Box

Ways to Shift Paradigms & Think Outside the Box

By Edward Glassman, PhD

To be truly creative, you have to think outside the box, even eliminate the box altogether, and shift paradigms. A paradigm is a belief structure within which you think and act. Existing paradigms can produce tunnel vision and affect your creative outcomes.

A paradigm shift changes your belief structure and your perspective so you see things differently and creatively. How can you shift a paradigm? By following some simple approaches.

ELIMINATE THE BOX: Don't just think outside the box. Eliminate the box entirely, so your thinking flows easily all the time from the concrete to the absurd, from the ordinary to the bizarre, and back again. In this way you will capture ideas that range the entire spectrum, shifting paradigms as you go.

ACT NON-EVALUATIVELY: Think non-evaluatively, and list ideas and suggestions non-evaluatively, and listen non-evaluatively to others and yourself. New paradigms often seem farfetched and need special protection to survive.

Evaluation uses old information. When we evaluate, we immerse ourselves in old paradigms. To escape old ideas, stay non-evaluative and allow bizarre new paradigms and ideas to survive so they can trigger quality ideas. Adopt brainstorming rules.

THE PROBLEM'S ESSENCE: Knowing a problem in depth unfortunately means you have a myriad of thoughts and pictures in your mind that spoil new thinking. To avoid these old pictures, work on the problem indirectly. Start with the 'essence' of the problem, the action verb that captures the main activity.

For example: the essence (or action verb) of an auto jack encompasses lifting things; a wheelbarrow, transporting things; walking on water, floating things or freezing water; a bullet proof vest, impenetrability; reuse of cans and bottles, recycling things; improving the can opener, opening things.

So instead of starting with how to improve the can opener, a creativity team first discussed ways to open things using analogies and metaphors from industry, animals, plants, other cultures, etc. What happened? They discussed squeezing the base of a dog's mouth so it will open; a clam relaxes a muscle so tension on the back hinge of the shell forces the clam open; as peas ripen, the tough green covering develops a weak seam and the pea pod opens.

The team forced combinations between the weak seam of the pea pod and opening cans. This did not lead to an improved can opener, as they originally intended, but it did lead to opening cans by pulling a weak seam, a common way to open most cans now, a fine example of a paradigm shift.

REVERSAL-DEREVERSAL: Turn your problem upside-down. When you get it right-side up again, you might face a new direction.

  1. Reverse the key verb of the problem statement. For example: write spoil instead of stimulate; decrease instead of increase; fail instead of succeed; etc.
  2. Non-evaluatively list solutions to the reversed problem statement.
  3. Dereverse each reversal by writing "How-to" in front of each solution.
  4. Smooth out the wording of the new problem statement until it makes sense.
  5. Choose an appropriate new problem statement to use during idea generation.

Here's an example of reversal-dereversal:

  1. Reverse "How to stimulate creative thinking in meetings" into "How to spoil creative thinking in meetings."
  2. One way to spoil creative thinking is to have dominating people present in the meeting.
  3. Dereverse this statement to: "How to stay creative with dominating people present" or "How to get rid of dominating people." Pursue paradigm shifts as they occur.

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