Open Mind

On December 14, 07, I shared 5 ways to fire up your creativity in a Lunch & Learn session. Busy with clients and deadlines, some people couldn’t attend and I’ve received requests to post my suggestions on i-proving.

Here’s the first way to fire up your creativity – keep an open mind.

Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open.

– Richards J. Heuer, Jr.

To illustrate the ‘open mind’ technique let’s do the following exercise:

Three Words

Here are three adjectives: red, sweet, and long. List objects that suit these three adjectives. That means that each object you are listing would be red, sweet and long. Relate all three adjectives to every single object on your list. You have five minutes for this.

Now count how many objects you listed and write that number on the same page. How many did you write? One? Two? Five? … Ten? More? Do you think you could write even more? Do want to know how you could write twenty, or thirty, or fifty, even a hundred objects? Do you want to know a way to unleash your mind for new and fresh ideas?


Let’s first examine how our brain thinks. Every red dot is an idea – red, sweet and long object in this case. What was the first object that you wrote? What was your second one? From one thought our brain makes the connection to the next one, which is in some way similar to the first one. We are moving from one idea to the other within the same thought level. This is called associational thinking. It looks like nice and smooth movement on the diagram. But let me try to play out the thought process that goes in our mind:

“Hmm, red, sweet and long. What could be red, sweet and long? Some fruit, I guess. Maybe strawberry? No, it’s not long. Apples are not long either. Red peppers? No, they are not really sweet.” And so on. Did you experience similar thought sequences?

Here’s what happens: with every negative remark we are stopping out train of thought. It’s like being in a car with one foot on the gas and one on the brakes. We push the gas “strawberries” and almost instantly we hit the brakes “No, they are not long.” Push the gas “apples” and hit the brakes “No, not long either.” Gas – brakes, gas – brakes… We’ve exhausted a lot of time and energy but we didn’t go very far.

How can we make the car move faster? – Take the foot off the brakes. And how can we do that with our idea process? – Suppress all negative thoughts. Stay open and look for options.

Open is the key word. Open for options, open for opportunities, open for over-and-above.

Have you seen a long strawberry? Is it possible for a strawberry to be long? It sure is. How about an apple: Are there long apples? Ya, there are tons of different apples including long once. However, we need to stay open to see them. Let’s think of other fruits: How about a pineapple? Can a pineapple be red, sweet and long? What if we sprinkled red sugar over a long piece of pineapple? Is it going to be red, sweet and long? Let’s stay open. Can a banana be red, sweet and long? Just stay open. Release the brakes. Now we are moving.


What happens when we have exhausted the fruits train of thought? The next logical connection would be vegetables and other eatables. Moving from one train of thought to the next level is called rising.

Now let’s think of some other eatables … candy cane, red pepper, pills, carrots, steak, cabbage, potatoes, cotton candy, etc.

Let’s move to the next level – objects. Can a pen be red, long and sweet? What would be another train of thought level? People? Can a girl be red, long and sweet? How about rising once more to the metaphor level? Can a face be red, long and sweet? How about a river? Or a sundown? Or Java code? Can a wait be red long and sweet? You get the idea.


Sometimes out brain skips a few connected levels of thought and jumps to a much higher level. When that happens, it takes a few seconds for us to orient ourselves and to make the connection. The result is usually an “aha” and a laughter. Humor is created the same way – by describing something in one train of thought then jumping to another level.

Most jokes are created this way – with a train of thought jump. Good movies are built on jumps. Jumps stretch your mind and make you think.

Back to out original exercise, can anything be red long and sweet? Is there anything that cannot be red, long and sweet?

If we stay open, look for options and hit no brakes we could find a world of similarities, options and opportunities.

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