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The Joys of Mental Sex: Lesson V

November 30, 2009

Mental Barriers We Need to Unlearn

  •  The Right AnswerChartiers once said: “Nothing is more dangerous than an idea if it’s the only one you have.” 

 Learning how to think – Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods. They are taught not to ask why or why not. The focus is on learning cold, hard facts, according to the perspective of the teacher. Some of us have learned that writing an essay that disagrees with a teacher’s perspective can decrease a grade, but if we spout off exactly their attitude, we can get an A. That’s not teaching that’s programming.

 The answers you get depend on the questions you ask. Never forget that What if? is the basis of some of the most wonderful and imaginative fiction ever written. It’s the basis of most new inventions.

Questions allow us to access our creative-selves. Sometimes we don’t want to ask “what if?” sometimes we know our hero is up a tree with a wolf on the ground. We want to get him down, but he has no weapons and no one from whom he may solicit. Don’t ask how he’ll get down. Solicit plural answers. Ask how many ways he can get down. This sparks more brain activity by presenting a bigger challenge. Bigger challenges cause more competing thoughts and stimulate creative flow. Another thing you might try is playing with the wording to your question. Let’s say your hero is up a tree without weapons and no foreseeable help in the offing. But it’s a bear and not a wolf under the tree. Instead of asking how is the hero going to get down, you might ask how can he keep the bear from climbing up.

 One of the exercises I do during seminars is to ask people to spend three minutes writing down how to eliminate air pollution in the US in less than 30 days. Asking impossible questions is a great challenging method and provides a great boost to imagination and creative flow.

The second Right Answer. There is always another answer. That’s why you should look for plurals and change the question. It not only helps generate flow, but when one answer belongs to your hero and the other answer belongs to your heroine, you end up with automatic conflict. What does that do? Generates more creative flow!

Previous Exercise: I asked you to look at the sky and tell me what color it is. There is NO right answer to that question. It may be gray in one area, cerulean blue in another. When I looked it was pale blue and cloudy. Every answer someone could have given would have been right for them.

Children are taught the sky is blue, grass is green, cow’s say moo, and Old MacDonald had a farm… or golden arches.

Our educational system is geared to the “right answer” approach.

By the time the average person finishes college, he/she will have taken over 2600 tests, quizzes, and exams. The “right answer” approach is ingrained.

Life is ambiguous and not full of “right answers.” There are many answers – all depending on how you look at things.

  • That’s not logical.

Exercise: Look at the concepts below and mark them according to whether you think they are “soft” or “hard.” This is a subjective exercise, but you should have a general feeling for soft and hard things.

Logic                                                         Metaphor

Dream                                                      Reason

Precision                                                 Humor

Consistency                                           Ambiguity

Play                                                           Work

Exact                                                         Approximate

Direct                                                        Focused

Fantasy                                                    Reality

Paradox                                                   Diffuse

Analysis                                                   Hunch

Generalization                                      Specifics

Child                                                         Adult

The point of this is that all of these things play a part in creativity. Precision is as important as a hunch. Play is as important as work. Generalization is as important as focused. Fantasy is as important as reality.

Why soft and hard? I don’t want you to think of any of those words as creative vs. not creative. We can write words all day long. In the end, we have to make sure they make sense. Don’t forget your General. Creativity without analysis or evaluation is simply not going to write tomorrow’s bestseller.

 Another exercise I do at seminars is asking people to name different types of thinking and write them on a flip chart as we go along. This is the list from a session with the cast of The Firm when they were filming in Memphis. One guess at who came up with thinking about thinking. The whole point of this exercise is that every type of thinking stimulates the creative process. They all have their time and place. The more you combine types of thinking, the more you combine competing behaviors, leading to more generative flow.        

Logical                                                      Mythical

Conceptual                                                Poetic

Analytical                                                  Non-verbal

Speculative                                                Elliptical

Critical                                                      Lyrical

Foolish                                                      Practical

Convergent                                               Divergent

Weird                                                        Ambiguous

Reflective                                                  Constructive

Visual                                                        Thinking about thinking

Symbolic                                                   Surreal

Propositional                                          Focused

Digital                                                       Concrete

Metaphorical                                             Fantasy

Tangential                                                 Delusional


The Power of Metaphors → Making the Strange Familiar

Metaphors help us understand one idea in terms of another. The key to metaphorical thinking is similarities. They are not always logical.

 We are able to understand the unfamiliar in regards to its similarities to the familiar.

They help us view problems from a different angle.

They make the complex seem simple.

Remember: it’s an illogical world. The glowworm isn’t a worm. A firefly isn’t a fly. The English horn isn’t English (French) or a horn (woodwind). The Harlem Globetrotters didn’t play a game in Harlem until they had been playing for forty years.

We name things not to be precise, but to grasp a sense of them.

 Exercise: What do the following have in common?

 A financial watchdog

An operational bottleneck

A communications network

The flow of time

The food chain

A leap of thought

Frame of Reference

Moral bankruptcy

 Exercise: Make a metaphor of a problem you are currently dealing with or a concept you’re developing. To do this, simply compare your concept to something else and then see what similarities you can find between the two ideas. You are basically using one idea to highlight the other. See how far you can extend the comparison.

I have found that some of the most fertile and easiest to develop metaphors are those in which some action takes place. You might try comparing your concept to several of these:

 Running for political office                           Going on a diet

Disciplining your ten year old                      Performing a magic trick

Cooking a fancy meal                                     Colonizing a territory

Running a marathon                                        Building a house

Starting a revolution                                       Spreading propaganda

Riding a roller coaster                                     Negotiating a contract

Prospecting for gold                                         Going fishing

Dating a man/Courting a woman                Planting a garden

Putting out a fire                                               Having a baby

Fighting a disease                                             Getting a divorce

Running a daycare center                              Arranging flowers

Sailing a ship in rough seas                             Pruning a tree

Doing standup comedy                                   Conducting an orchestra

Making a sales call                                          Planning a vacation

Next time, we’ll look at a few more barrier and strategies for overcoming them. Until then, happy writing!


Addendum for my friends at the JG Holding: I can now officially say: BRODICKISMINEDAMNIT! Thanks, Supreme Wench!

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 30, 2009 9:33 am

    Hi Mary! This is really good stuff here. I want to go through and read all the lessons. Thanks for sharing this. Kaye

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