Tag Archives: cognitive strategies

Discover Your Genius

Do you consider yourself to be highly creative? You should answer with a roaring “Yes!” All of us were born creative and exhibited high levels of creativity as young children. Unfortunately, most people loose their innate creativity while growing up. Parents, schoolteachers, our friends and peers in adolescence, and society at large all do their part during our socialization process to silence our deep curiosity and quash our inner creativity.

In recent years, however, there has been a call in the business world for creative leadership to be able to react to our fast-changing business environment. So how can you realize your genius potential? How can you become an authentic creative leader in times of the innovation economy? In our creative leadership method Genius Journey, we introduce you to ten cognitive strategy and genius mindsets that you need to master on your way to discover your genius.


1. Confront your worries, doubts and fears – be courageous and belief!
“Courage is the first of the human qualities, because it is the one that guarantees all others”, noted Aristotle. Innovation always means a change from the status quo, and human beings don’t like to change. You can expect massive resistance for any innovation project that you might introduce to the world one day. So start your journey to reconnect to your creative self by developing courage as demanded by Aristotle. Regularly fight your doubts, worries and fears, and consider following the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Always do what you fear”. Remember that the sound of fear and the sound of courage are one and the same: your loudly beating heart. The difference is taking action despite your fear.
Belief is your biggest ally to courageously move forward. As Lord Buddha said: “He is able who thinks he is able”. The source of your belief may be a particular religion that you favor or any other forms of spirituality. Or you may simply believe in yourself and that you can realize your dreams following Muhammad Ali’s example: “It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself”. Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs expressed the necessity to believe in your path as follows: “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” So believe with your heart before you move on, because as Henry Ford commented: “If you think you can do a thing or you think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

2. Silence your ego, and be yourself!
Is there anyone in the world who looks, thinks, and acts exactly like you? Surely you will disagree here. So would you agree with me to say that you were created as an original? Nod your head. You are original. We all are created as original and not as copy of another person. Hence, we’d better follow the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Insist upon yourself. Be original.”
So stop being a copycat by imitating others and playing a role that other people want you to play. Stop wearing that ridiculous mask behind which you hide your true Self. Your biggest enemy is your own Ego. Your Ego is also the highest hurdle to overcome on your way to becoming a highly creative individual. We all have to endure the inner fight between our Ego and our Self. Start taking control of your Self today by stopping taking yourself too seriously.

3. Redevelop a curious beginner’s mind!
Do you know some people who constantly find something to criticize on other persons or other ideas? Such judgments are often an expression of fixation, closed mindedness and intolerance for other ways or different opinions. In most cases, they are the outer expression of the own insecurities of such judgmental persons, who innately suffer under the nagging voice of their strong inner critics.
In contrast, notice how open young children are towards new knowledge, different perspectives and interesting ideas. They are immensely curious, too: They constantly ask questions to satisfy their voracious curiosity. Do the same and re-adopt the curious beginner’s mind that you had as a young child. Cultivate a life-long passion for learning. Become mega-open to entertain new concepts, new knowledge, new skills, new technology and – most important – new people regardless of their background.

4. Think positive!
Please take an empty glass and fill it half with water. Now describe what you see. Some people say the glass is half empty. We call them pessimists who focus on the problem in everything. In contrast, optimists say the glass is half full. They see the opportunity that is hidden within each problem. In life, what you see is what you get, and it’s always what you get. Leonardo da Vinci knew about the importance of positive thinking and recommended: “Avoid grievous moods and keep your mind cheerful.” So follow da Vinci’s advice and watch your attitude: always stay positive and be persistent with your plans and projects. Please recall that Thomas Edison needed more than 10,000 trials before finding the right design for the light bulb.

5. Be passionate!
Creative people usually love what they do. They are not primarily motivated by money but go to work because of the challenges and enjoyment it provides. Research studies have confirmed over and over again that intrinsic motivation breeds creativity, while extrinsic motivational factors such as financial rewards are rather counter-productive to spur truly original ideas.
Do you love what you do? If your answer is yes, congratulations. For those of you who negated my question, you have not yet aligned your work with your passion. What things do you find exciting? What do you want to learn more about all the time? What do you love doing? Find the answers to these questions and try to integrate things that you are passionate about into your work step-by-step. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple and one of the most remarkable comeback stories in business, commented on the darkest hours of his career when he was fired from Apple in 1985: “I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love.”

6. Become a balanced whole-brain thinker!
School and university education strongly emphasizes cognitive processes that are associated with the left hemisphere of our brain, such as rationalization, analysis, logic, planning and calculation. In contrast, our education systems do little to foster right-brain thinking activities such as generating original ideas, engaging our fantasy and imagination, or listening to our intuition. What is the result of our imbalanced mono-brain education? Most business people are superb logical analysts and are rather poor creative thinkers.
Do you know the principle of Yin and Yang? This key philosophical concept of the Chinese culture symbolizes the balance in all of creation: Sun and moon, male and female, day and night, summer and winter, and of course: left-brain thinking and right brain thinking. Make an effort to regain the vital Yin-Yang balance in your brain. Become a whole-brain thinker by training your creative thinking abilities to complement your well-honed analytical thinking skills. Take creativity training with an experienced creativity coach to quickly make up for what you missed in school. Regularly try yourself on Creative Puzzles and Mind-Teasers that you can find in the Internet and in some books and magazines. In addition, exercise your right brain by experimenting with creativity techniques to get ideas for a tough business nut that you have to crack.

7. Turn into a T-Shaped Person!
‘All experts are blind. Expertise means you become blind to everything else. You know more and more about less and less, and then one day you arrive at the ultimate goal of knowing all about nothing’, noted Osho. Over the past two centuries, we have developed into an expert culture that favors specialists over generalists. Don’t get me wrong: You need to have great depth and expertise in at least one domain of specialization. But being an expert in one area is not good enough if you want to become a creative leader. You need to complement your expertise with a breadth of knowledge in many other areas.
Leonardo da Vinci confided: ‘Everything is connected to everything else’. He knew that breakthrough ideas are often found in the intersection between different concepts, ideas or knowledge disciplines. Consequently, da Vinci was not only an artist. He also was an inventor, a military engineer, and a scientist. Let da Vinci’s famous sketch of the Vetruvian Man be a role model of what you should become: a ‘T-shaped person’ with deep expertise in at least one area of specialization and with broad general knowledge and skills in many other areas.

8. Cultivate Multi-sensory Perceptions and Present Moment Awareness!
Leonardo da Vinci also knew about the importance of perceiving your environment with all of your 5 senses. ‘The five senses are the ministers of the soul…Yet, the average human looks without seeing, listens without hearing, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking,’ he observed. Geniuses such as da Vinci, Mozart or Einstein fostered living in a stimulus-rich environment. In consequence, all were synesthetic. They could take in an impression with one sense and then connected the stimulus to an impression relating to another sense (e.g., ‘this sound tastes like lemon’). Synesthesia is built on the principle of combining different sensory impressions and stimuli. And noticing and combining different stimuli may similarly lead you to a novel idea.
So adopt this genius strategy, cultivate present moment awareness and sharpen your five senses: your visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), kinesthetic (feeling or touching), olfactory (smelling) and your gustatory (tasting) sense.  A fun way to start is to have a wine-tasting evening with your friends or business partners. But make sure that you and your guests truly savor the wine with all your five senses. One final word: Don’t forget to sharpen your sixth sense, too: a well-developed intuition (or gut-feeling) is priceless when it comes to making tough business decisions.

9. Develop flexibility and tolerance for ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty!
Imagine a tall, mighty oak tree that tops all surrounding trees in a forest. Now also envision a tiny bush of bamboo. Which of the two is stronger? The correct answer is: It depends – on whether we face a stable or instable environment. On a sunny day, the solid oak tree is surely stronger than the tiny bamboo. However, in the eye of a heavy thunderstorm, the oak tree might break, while the bamboo flexibly bends with the wind.
Business in the new millennium is rather unstable and turbulent, too. A once mighty business can quickly break apart under the pressures of an increasingly competitive, fast-changing business environment if its leaders and managers insist on their established points of view and rigidly hold on to their habitual ways of doing things. So make an effort to fight your habits. Become more flexible and proactively approach change. Develop a tolerance for ambiguity, uncertainty and paradoxes. Remember the oak tree and the bamboo: the more flexible you are, the more power you have in times of change.

10. Harmonize doing and being!
Breakthrough ideas often come as sudden flashes of insight after a thinker has worked hard on a tough problem for some time and then takes a time-out to relax. Such breaks from constant doing and conscious thinking give your subconscious time to incubate on the problem. Archimedes had his famous “Eureka!” moment while taking a bath. Isaac Newton relaxed under an apple tree when observing a falling apple delivered him the missing pieces for the theory of gravity. Alexander Fleming made the breakthrough discovery of penicillin after returning to his laboratory from a vacation. Personally, I experienced two powerful ‘Eureka!’ moments in critical situations of my life. In both cases, I saw the sudden flash of insight –literally speaking- after I forced myself to take a break although being under severe time pressure. Lesson: Work hard but at the same time make sure that you regularly stop doing and give yourself some time to relax and BE. But: Letting go may require huge courage. And that is why you have to start your ten-step Genius Journey to discover your genius with step number one.


This article was originally published in the Bangkok Post on September 27 2007 and October 11 2007 under the title “Rediscover your creative self (Part 1 and 2)”.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2007

The Secrets of Creative Genius

Many businesses owe their success to a secret — think of the recipe for Coca-Cola or Google’s web page ranking algorithm. Likewise, many geniuses rely on secret formulas to help them “think different” and create great ideas. Over the years, I watched these geniuses and creative leaders and tried to figure out their secrets. So far, I identified more than 60 creative cognitive strategies that I have integrated into Thinkergy’s Genius Journey method. In this article, let me introduce to you some of these creative cognitive strategies that you can use to free your thinking and give you ways to come up with new and better ideas.


The challenge
As with most things, these principles are best explained with an example. When you meet someone new, you give them your business card. Assume that you want to go beyond handing over a plain vanilla business card and to do something that will leave a lasting impression. Challenges are best stated as simple “How to” questions. This challenge could be, “How to introduce myself to others in an impressive, memorable way?”

Remember that when ideating, you are only generating ideas, without regard to whether those ideas are sensible or meaningful. The best thinkers know that in order to produce the best ideas, they need to come up with many, many ideas, from the mundane to the insane.

Questions: What is a challenge that you face now? How can you express it as a “How to” question?


Creative cognitive strategy 1: Reverse it
Try to reverse your challenge and look at its opposite. In other words, turn it on its head and engage in “upside down thinking”. According to Michael Michalko, Henry Ford’s use of the assembly line resulted from a challenge reversal which changed, “How can we get people to the things they need to work on?”, into, “How can we get the work to the people?”

In our sample challenge, one way to reverse it is, “How to make others introduce themselves to you and find you memorable as a result?” One way to do this might be, “Address people who are wearing name tags by their name and with a big smile; this will prompt them to ask for your name — and remember it.” Another could be, “Wear special glasses with face recognition software that projects the name of the person on the inside of the glasses, thus allowing you to amaze a stranger by greeting them by name.” (Welcome to the brave new world of Google Glass.) Another way to meet this reversed challenge might be, “When shaking hands, take their hand in both of yours and smile at them.”

Questions: How can you reverse your challenge? What ideas come to your mind when you reverse it?


Creative cognitive strategy 2: Change dimensions
Try changing the dimensions of your challenge. You can go up from 2D (surface) to 3D (space) to even 4D (space and time) or down from 2D to 1D (line) to help with your ideation. Moving from 3D to 4D was one of the things Einstein did while working on the theory of special relativity.

For our challenge, changing dimensions may result in ideas like these: “Make a business card with your information printed both normally and in the raised dots of Braille, so the blind can read it” (2D to 3D); “Add a URL to your business card that links to your CV” (2D to 4D); “Use a laser beam to draw your name on a wall or surface” (2D to 1D).

Questions: What dimension is your challenge in now? How to resolve it by shifting into another dimension?


Creative cognitive strategy 3: Ask “What if”
Asking “What if” questions and engaging in wishful thinking is certain to fire up your imagination. Formulate a question that starts with the words “What if”, followed by a statement that isn’t true. For example, Einstein asked the question “What if I were traveling on a ray of light through the universe?”

For our example, we could ask, “What if we only had one second to memorably introduce ourselves to another person?” One idea is, “Wear a shirt with a giant rubber stamp on it, and hug the person you’re meeting to imprint your name and contact info onto their shirt.” This question: “What if you were judged on how much fun your introduction was?” might trigger the ideas “Give them a squeeze ball with your personal information on it, that they can play with and use to reduce stress”, and “Sing your name and contact details, or give them a business card that sings that info for you”.

Questions: What contrary-to-fact “What if” questions can you ask about your challenge? What ideas are prompted by those “What If” questions?


Creative cognitive strategy 4: Play with time
Travel backward or forward in time, speed things up or slow them down, or change the sequence of events. In his master’s thesis, Fred Smith imagined speeding shipments up and creating an overnight delivery service for time-critical components. Although his “infeasible idea” earned him a “C”, Fred Smith went on to found FedEx and create a new business model and industry segment.

For our challenge, going back to an earlier time produced the idea, “Wear a formal hat, and introduce yourself while removing your hat and bowing.” Another idea based on time is, “Introduce yourself while speaking v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y to give them more time to hear your information.” Or, “Use software to simulate how you will look when you’re 90 years old, and introduce yourself by describing what you hope to have achieved by then.”

Questions: How can you play with the time associated with your challenge? What ideas do you get when you do this?


Creative cognitive strategy 5: Omit an essential element
Omitting something you think is essential to your challenge can free you from false constraints and lead to surprising ideas. Steve Jobs challenged the idea that a computer had to have a keyboard and a mouse. This freed the design team from those constraints, and led to the iPad.

In our example, omitting an essential element may lead to ideas like these: “Hide your face behind a mask or helmet to hide your identity while adding enigma and intrigue”; “Don’t give your name, or use a pseudonym, to add suspense and mystery“; and “Don’t tell people what you do, and make a game out of figuring out your role and position.”

Questions: What do you think is ‘essential’ about your challenge? What ideas come to mind when you omit each of those essential elements?


Creative cognitive strategy 6: Repeat, repeat, repeat
Repeat an action to create new, interesting effects and ideas. The Roman senator Cato the Elder concluded every speech he gave with the words, “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.” (“Moreover, I advise that Carthage must be destroyed.”) Eventually this convinced others, and Rome conquered Carthage in the third Punic war.

For our sample challenge, this technique might produce these ideas: “In your voice mail greeting, repeat your name several times in a row to make it more memorable”; and “Introduce yourself in a rap, repeating several words for emphasis”; and “Repeat the name of the person you’re meeting at least five times in the first 30 seconds to help remember their name — and to make them want to learn your name, too.”

Questions: What is a challenge that you face now? How can you express it as a “How to?” question? How can repetition help you resolve this challenge?


Creative cognitive strategy 7: Divide and conquer
Break a whole into parts to get ideas. This approach is also known as ‘segmentation’. As the French mathematician and philosopher René Descartes said, “Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it.”

What ideas for our challenge can division produce? One idea is to “Divide your information into parts (i.e., name, title, company, contact info, etc.), then print them on jigsaw puzzle pieces and let the other person assemble them.” Another is to “Display your information in separate frames, then play them in a video as a countdown from 10 to 0 where 10 is your website, 1 is your name and 0 is a funny photo of you.” Finally, we could look at each step of the introduction process separately (e.g., first encounter, introduction, handshake, exchange business cards, small talk), and then focus on each part in turn to come up with ideas: “When someone offers to shake hands, give them a hug instead to make you stand out.”

Questions: How can you break up your challenge? What ideas do you get as a result?


Creative cognitive strategy 8: Exaggerate
Make something about our challenge bigger, better, longer, or worse that it really is, or exaggerate parts of it out of all proportion. Caricaturists use this technique when they exaggerate one feature of a politician to easily identify them.

With regards to our practice case, ideas based on the principle of exaggeration could be “Give myself a playful or exaggerated business title to stand out from the crowd, such as ‘Chief Entertainment Officer (CEO)’ or ‘Senior Executive Cat Herder’”; “Have a large banner with my photo, name and contact details hanging on the outside wall of my office building to show everyone that I work here”; and “Create a business card with a fake Time magazine cover on the back showing me as the ‘Person of the Year’.”

Questions: What can you exaggerate about your challenge? How can these exaggerations help create ideas?


Creative cognitive strategy 9: Expand your senses
Add more sensory appeal to your challenge, or emphasize other senses. Leonardo da Vinci cultivated a stimulating sensory environment because he understood the power of the senses: “The five senses are the ministers of the soul… Yet, the average human looks without seeing, listens without hearing, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking.”

In finding more innovative ways to introduce yourself, you could “Add a fragrance to your business card that fits the spirit of your company or your personality”, or “Use rectangular biscuits imprinted with your information as your business card, so that the people you meet can eat and enjoy the ‘card’ once they’ve noted down your information”, or “Create a unique cocktail and give it to the other person as an introduction.”

Questions: How can you use other senses with your challenge, or enhance the senses already in use? What ideas does this give you?


Creative cognitive strategy 10: Go wild
Finally, let’s have some fun. All the ideas you produce here must be wild, shocking or provocative. While working on the atomic bomb in the Manhattan Project, Danish physicist Niels Bohr said about a particularly wild idea: “We all know the idea is crazy. The question is whether it is crazy enough?” Richard Branson used wild promotions, such as rappelling from Big Ben, and dressing up as a bride, to create free advertising for the Virgin group.

What are wild ways to make yourself more memorable to those you meet? Here are a few examples: “Handcuff yourself to the other person and make sure they learn all about you in great detail”; “Tattoo your information onto the other person so they will always remember you”; “Give out fake million dollar bills with your picture and information printed on them”.

Questions: How to meet your challenge with wild, shocking, provocative ideas?


Conclusion: In this article, I’ve shared with you ten creative secrets to use to get different, unusual ideas. Some of these ideas can lead to meaningful idea concepts, or even breakthroughs. As Lao Tzu said, “To see things in the seed, that is genius.” There are many more of these secrets if you take the time to look for them. At Thinkergy, we have identified more than 60 that we teach in a creative leadership training of Genius Journey, our creative leadership method. How much longer do you want to wait before using these creative cognitive strategies to realize your genius?


This article was originally published in the Bangkok Post on May 23 2013 and June 6 2013 under the title “The secret creative principles of creative genius (Part 1 and 2)”.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2013

The Rise of Creative Leadership

In the last few years, I’ve noticed an emerging and accelerating trend, a call for creative leadership of organizations. As part of this movement, Thinkergy offers a new creative leadership method called Genius Journey, which helps managers to become an authentic creative leader and to develop creative cognitive strategies and a genius mindset. Moreover, Thinkergy’s founder Dr. Detlef Reis also teaches a “Creative Leadership” course to graduate students in management. What is creative leadership, and why does it matter?


The call for creative leadership
In 2010, IBM surveyed 1,541 CEOs in 44 countries for the Global Chief Executive Officers Study 2010. When asked to identify the most important leadership qualities to capitalize on complexity, “creativity” was the most frequently mentioned, chosen by 60% of those interviewed. In Asia-Pacific, that number was even higher with 70%.

The authors of the study said, “In an uncertain and volatile world, CEOs realize that creativity trumps other leadership characteristics. Creative leaders are comfortable with ambiguity and experiment to create new business models. They invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are open-minded and inventive in expanding their management and communications styles, in order to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers.”

The response to the call
In 2011, IBM conducted a follow-up study with more than 700 human resource officers from 61 countries to investigate how HR responded to the CEOs’ assertion that the development of future creative leaders would have the greatest effect on their organizations’ future success. Not surprisingly, the majority of the interviewed HR officers highlighted the need for their organizations to identify, develop and empower creative leaders. One U.K. HR director said, “We have strong managers, not leaders — and we need strong creative leaders to achieve our strategic objectives.”

However, while HR officers and their teams were well aware of this need, only one in three organizations claimed to be successful in meeting it — an astoundingly low number given the stated importance of creative leadership development.

What is creative leadership?
Clearly defining “creative leadership” is a key step for HR officers and their teams in their efforts to develop creative leadership candidates. The academic literature contains hundreds of definitions for “leadership” and “creativity,” but due to the novelty of the concept, there are relatively few attempts to define “creative leadership.” How can you find and develop creative leaders if you don’t know what they embody?

I’ve developed my own definition of the concept, starting from the definitions of “leadership” and “creativity”.

A simple definition of leadership is “the action of leading a group of people or an organization; or the state or position of being a leader”.

“Creativity” is harder to capture, but the various answers fall into three rough groupings:

  • Person-based definitions center on individuals, who are seen as creative to the extent that they demonstrate certain abilities, achievements and/or personality traits, such as individuality, non-conformity to rules or the status quo, striving for originality and novelty, flexibility, persistence, and passion (or intrinsic motivation).
  • Product-oriented definitions describe the characteristics that a creative product or outcome needs to have, such as novelty, appropriateness, relevance, worth or value, uniqueness, and originality.
  • Finally, process-oriented definitions of creativity emphasize cognitive processes that lead to solutions, ideas, conceptualizations, artistic forms, theories or products that are unique, novel and meaningful.

What do all these definitions of creativity have in common? For a person, process or product to be judged to be creative, it must be novel (fresh, new, avant-garde, unprecedented), meaningful (valuable, worthwhile, useful, relevant) and unique (original, one-of-a-kind, individual).

Putting the pieces together, we get a definition of “Creative Leadership” as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization towards novel, unique and meaningful outcomes; or the state or position of being an authentically creative leader in an organization.” Notice the emphasis on “authentically”; in order to credibly lead a creative organization, you can’t fake it. You must be creative yourself; you must be able to creatively walk your creative talk.

The authors of the 2011 study of HR officers said, “To instill the dexterity and flexibility necessary to seize elusive opportunity, companies must move beyond traditional leadership development methods and find ways to inject within their leadership candidates not only the empirical skills necessary for effective management, but also the cognitive skills to drive creative solutions. The learning initiatives that enable this objective must be at least as creative as the leaders they seek to foster.” This is why Thinkergy’s creative leadership method Genius Journey is based on the genius mindsets and cognitive strategies of authentic creative leaders and geniuses. Traveling the Genius Journey helps you to discover your genius and become an authentic creative leader in the innovation economy. Isn’t now the best time to realize your genius and become an authentic creative leader?



This article was originally published in the Bangkok Post on October 11 2012.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2013