To ‘cut to the chase’ it’s the unconscious mind that governs emotion. I like to think of the unconscious as a young puppy. Often wildly responding and out of control unless we keep a loving, but tight, reign. The limbic part of the brain (at the heart of the unconscious mind) deals with the ‘Freeze, Flight or Fight’ Response. (It’s in that order of response, by the way, and not ‘Fight or Fight’, as it’s so very often referred.). What happens with Emotional Reasoning is that we ‘reason’ that what we are believing is true without questioning its validity.

The very phrase, ‘Emotional Reasoning’ is actually an oxymoron. Emotions aren’t reasoned responses. They are just ‘played out’ by the Limbic System / unconscious mind. That’s why we ask ourselves after our response: “Why did I do that?” The neocortex part of the brain is seeking to reason the emotional response.

Further, what psychologists call cognitive dissonance abounds in Emotional Reasoning. We create reasons that justify our behaviours, and ignore, as well as delete, behaviours that don’t fit in with our Emotional Reasoning. Cognitive dissonance exists when conflicting beliefs and attitudes exist at the same time within someone. One of those beliefs must give in to the other one. Humans are remarkably adept at dropping one belief to allow another one to dominate. Practise it for long enough and we can justify any behavioural response, never questioning whether it is a helpful thing to do or not!

I feel guilty.

Guilt is a very powerful emotion. I believe that it is one of the most damaging and destructive emotions. Guilt grinds us down, freezes us from releasing change and creates excessive levels of stress with long-term damage to our bodies. Yes, guilt is that powerful.

We should challenge guilt at every opportunity. But how? An excellent website with some very practical advice can be read here. There are some very powerful questions that we can ask ourselves when feeling guilty. They involve asking what someone else might be feeling, thinking, saying and doing if they were in the situation that we find ourselves in. The very act of asking this question helps to calm the emotion (the unconscious/Limbic System) and allow our conscious mind to consider, reflect and enable a more desired response. For example, asking ourselves how our trusted friend, John might be feeling if he was in our situation may well give us a different perspective to our own. John might behave in a different way if he were in our situation and he might also say something more helpful in the long-term.

Acting this way (yes, it’s good to act) can help reduce the emotion, will help stop us saying or doing what isn’t helpful and will free us to live the life that we want to live.

I generally find that forgiveness helps too. It might be forgiving others for what happened; it might be forgiving yourself for what happened. Forgiveness frees us. It’s the opposite of guilt. Whereas guilt grinds us down, forgiveness frees us up. The more we are freed up, the more satisfied we will find our lives.

As a Christian, I believe that Christ has bought me freedom from guilt through His death and Resurrection. By believing in Him and not letting guilt have any power over me it’s helped me to look up and live the kind of life I want to lead.

Whatever your personal beliefs, getting rid of the power of guilt will make such a positive difference to your life. It will probably feel like a massive weight has been lifted off your shoulders. There are things that I wish I hadn’t done (regrets) but I refuse to let the guilt of those events take a hold. Those events are what I’ve done; those events are not who I am. I’m looking up and moving forward and no event or belief is going to hold me back or down.

How might you free yourself up today?


Challenge: I feel guilty.
Opportunity: If (someone you trust and respect) was in this situation what would they say/feel/think/do?
Reflection: emotions can mist. What evidence can I find to disagree with my judgement and how might I think and behave differently if I did?
Saying: Guilt grinds me down; forgiveness frees me up!




The bad news: 50% of happiness is genetically determined. If your family laugh a lot and enjoy life to its full the chances are so do you. Conversely, if they seldom smile and carry the world on their backs so might you. How do we know that? Lyubomirsky, Sheldon and Schkade carried out the research and published their findings in the snappily titled: ‘Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change’.
10% of happiness is every day circumstance dictated: your job, status (in all meanings of the word) and education are particularly influential factors. It’s not easy to influence any of these either.
Generally then, 60% of happiness is impossible or tricky to change. Fortunately, 40% of your happiness is under your direct and immediate control. If you’re only 60% happy and want to feel happier, here’s the research and what to do.
Emmons and McCullough in 2003 published another one of those trip-off-the-tongue research titles: ‘Count Your Blessings Verses Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-being in Daily Life’. The problem is that we all adapt very easily to the good things around us. Soon, they no longer have the stimulus to make us feel better. It’s as if they’ve faded into the background. (Hedonic Habituation is rather like this. I’ve written about that before.) To bring those every day pleasurable feelings back we need to be reminded of them. Writing them down, as my last post explained, is a powerful technique to apply. The research by Emmons and McCullough validated this approach. The simple act of being reminded, by writing it down, of what people were grateful for in their daily lives has a powerful effect on positive mood. The phrase ‘Count your blessings’ really is true. Just write them down to be reminded.
I recognise that, for some people, finding things in every day life to be grateful for is challenging at best. It might mean you’ve got to dig very deep because your family and how things are for you are poor, even horrible. The simplest ideas are often the best though. In the Sound of Music Maria sings of ‘raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens’. Nature often supplies us with awe-inspiring scenes and having the opportunity to experience them can have a profound effect on our well-being.
Whatever the things are that you’re grateful for recording them and, if you can, saying them aloud as well will help you to feel happier.
The research showed one other benefit though. The mood enhancement was lasting. ‘Counting your blessings’ not only helps in the short term but in the long term as well.

What to do
1. Every day write down for a few minutes what you’re grateful for. Choose a different theme each day if possible eg family one day, nature another, what you’re thankful you can do on another day.
2. Saying what you wrote aloud helps reinforce it too. As a Christian, I give thanks to God and the Psalms in the Bible are good at helping me to do that. There’s so much I find to be thankful for. Whether you have a religious faith or no faith at all the evidence is clear: giving thanks for what you have will help you feel more happy. Permanently.

Remember, if you think you can do this beneficial mood enhancer you’re right: you can!
Further, this technique employs the ‘x=y so y=x’ principle: I feel better (x) because I do the give thanks activity (y) so if I do the give thanks activity (y) I will feel better (x).

Do give this technique a go and ‘count your (every day) blessings’ every day.

If you must use PowerPoint

How refreshing it would be if we reflected on whether using PowerPoint to present with was the best tool to use. So often we use presentation software without a second thought for whether we should. There may well be a more effective way to present information. Throughout history the greatest presenters had no access to such software: it didn’t exist. It didn’t make them second-rate presenters. These people knew how to present. However, we live in different times and software is available to us and perhaps our audience expects us to use it as well. So, if you must use PowerPoint how can you make your presentation one that your audience will love and, crucially, impact their lives for the better?

Do a search for presentation and PowerPoint and 138, 000 000 results will appear including a fair number of How to’s and How Not to’s. How is it then that still so many terrible presentations occur every minute of the day? And, more to the point (pun intended!), how can you make your next presentation one that stands out from the glut of ‘Death By PowerPoint‘?!

I offer three things to remember. Using them will probably require a rewiring in your mind (that’s ok; at Powerchange – the company that I’m a partner with – we help people like you to do that all the time!); the willingness to step back from what you’ve always done and do something different. I think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised and most of all delighted in the outcomes. For certain, the ones that really matter: your audience, will definitely appreciate the outcome.

1. Keep it simple (KIS)

No doubt you’ve heard that expression before. If you have the chances are presenters have too. So, how is it that KIS goes ‘out of the window’? How often have you experienced presenters give us dozens and dozens of slides, mind-blowingly complex graphs, an over abundance of text and text and graphic animations? It confuses, baffles and generally leads to a ‘switching off’ by the audience. That is the last thing that you want to happen.

What to do:

Keep the design simple, use a font size of 60 pt at least, remove all bullet points and use as few words as possible replacing them with as good a quality image as you can.

By keeping the design simple you remove distractions. Your presentation is meant to be a backdrop that supports you while you present. Removing distractions allows the audience to concentrate on what matters most: your words.

A font size of 60 pt at least forces you to reduce the number of words on the slide.

Some of the best presentations that I have seen have very few words on the slide if any.

Apple’s amazing presentations that started with the iPod and have continued to this day with the launch of the latest iPad use very few words if any on a slide.

There has been significant research into the area of what is known as Cognitive Overload in recent years. Cognitive Overload occurs when both the visual and the auditory cortex parts of the brain are called into action at the same time for a significant amount of time. For example when a slide is dense with text/bullet points and the speaker is also speaking both parts of the cortex receive too much stimulation leading to ‘switching off’. You can read about the research by Chris Atherton by clicking here. There are, in fact, two types of cognitive load: intrinsic (how difficult something is to grasp) and extraneous (factors around us that challenge our abilities to learn and improve). In summary, the advice is to display very little text (low stimulation to the visual cortex) and use quality imagery while speaking clearly (high stimulation of the auditory cortex). I also recommend blanking the slide altogether on occasion and just speaking. The fewer ‘distractions‘ on the slide the lower the extraneous overload will become.

We now understand that the brain must convert text to an image to understand it. No wonder ‘a picture paints a thousand words’. A quality image can do more to engage and influence an audience then text ever will. Just ask an advertising company! The visual stimulation of the image vastly outweighs the text.

I also recommend removing all bullet points from a presentation unless it is your specific intention to list, although even then a more effective way might be to simply give a handout! Microsoft itself has references to materials such as Cliff Atkinson’s book as well as on its own site:

There is neurological evidence to support the notion that bullet points hinder us in presentations actively encouraging the mind to switch off. Dr Gregory Berns wrote in Iconoclast that: “The brain is fundamentally a lazy piece of meat,” and will do anything to avoid wasting energy. When slides resemble documents or “slideuments”, as they have become known we inhibit learning. Remember, we are presenting not producing a handout. Seth Godin goes further: “The minute you put bullets on the screen you are announcing, ‘Write this down, but don’t really pay attention to it now.’ People don’t take notes when they go to the opera.” (‘Nine Steps to PowerPoint Magic’, Oct 6, 2008.)page2image23384


And as for the above. Which would you rather see on a PowerPoint slide: the image or the text explaining the image? Yes, so would your audience!

1.Tell them the facts/the story while you;
2.Display with them the image and;
3.If necessary give them a handout at the end of your presentation to take away

2. You are presenting

There’s no getting away from it; PowerPoint isn’t the presenter; you are. Yet, all too often PowerPoint is the presenter and all the ‘presenter’ is doing is reading the slides and pressing a button to move onwards.

What to do:

Cognitive Overload, as explained earlier, means that there should be little on the slide and lots from your mouth. You are doing the talking so always talk to your audience, never read your slide and remember who the presenter is: it’s you!

3. Practise, practise, and practise some more!

There’s once more no getting away from it: you must practise your presentation. Ideally, until you can present it without the presentation software at all! But we don’t live in an ideal world and so must make the best use of PowerPoint as we can.

What to do:

My suggestion is to practise until you know at least what the coming slide is roughly going to show (another reason for few if any words and the use of quality illustrations and images on slides).

Don Hutson (an American Football Receiver) said this:
“For every pass I caught in a game I caught a thousand in practice.”

In Summary:

There is nothing wrong whatsoever with having notes. The issue occurs when your notes are presented to your audience. Keep your slides lean and focus on your presentation style.
I have recently written a blogpost that references within it the difference between conversation and presentation. Our school council members are being trained (Summer 2012) to recognise the differences between conversation and presentation. You can read my post here (at point 8 in the post). There are crucial differences between conversation and presentation and we put ourselves at a huge disadvantage if we fail to recognise the differences.

To finish with I’d like to show you the slide that I am using for a presentation to couples who are getting married. First, is the slide showing what the audience will see:

Below, are my notes that I will expand upon:


Developing our friendship

1. Friends confide in each other

No secrets

2. Friends talk to each other

Importance of meal times and other times together

3. Friends have fun together

Shared experiences lead to shared memories and shared conversations


I have a great deal to say while the slide displays the photo of the couple in the background. But that’s the point: While I am speaking the PowerPoint is displaying one, delightful photo. Simply replacing text with photos would make presentations so much more enjoyable to attend. After all, how did you respond seeing the photo?…

If you must use PowerPoint using the three-point guide above will help your presentation to be remembered for all the right reasons. Let me know how you get on! Can I help you not only assemble a stand-out-from-the-crowd presentation but coach you through presenting it confidently and with self-assurance? Contact me for a free, informal 15 minute chat.


Let us put it another way: the lackof curiosity is the Dementor that sucks all hope, joy, possibility and beauty out of the world.

The Second Book of General Ignorance page xiv

How true! How might you be curious, this Christmas? Better still, stay curious. You never know what avenues might open to you.









In my last post I shared three techniques that really help to make a good presentation even better. What other techniques will help lift what you’re presenting so that you get your meaning across even more effectively? Here are three:

  1. Breathe!

  2. Have fun!

  3. Vary the pace and emotion

1a. Breathe – you, that is

This might seem obvious, if nothing else because you’ll pass out if you don’t!, yet in our rush to make our point to our audience we can enter a conversational style of delivery and not a presentational style of delivery. What do I mean? In our conversation with others we can often “umm…” or ‘errrr…”. That’s OK to do that in conversation; that’s not OK to do that when presenting. You’re audience, either unintentionally or intentionally, will start counting the “ummms” and switch off from your all-important message. Breathing!, taking your time where appropriate and delivering your message with sufficient time for your audience to process what you’re saying (more on pace later) will help you to provide an effective message to your audience.

What to do:

Practise, practise and practise some more so that your message flows smoothly and effortlessly and you are in complete control.

It’s a cliché but there is no substitute to knowing what you’re going to say. Once you are familiar and comfortable with what you’re presenting you can ‘go off track’, as your audience responds to your message. You won’t be comfortable and flexible to your audience’s needs if don’t practise.

1b. Breathe – what you’re presenting, that is

Not only must you breathe but what you’re presenting must breathe as well. If you deliver everything without allowing time for pausing, reflection and for your point to ‘sink in’ your presentation will lack effectiveness. Specifically plan places where your presentation can ‘breathe’ by pausing. Further, allow a little longer than you think before making your next point if you’ve just paused. Remember, you are presenting; you are not having a conversation. What might seem like a long time to wait to you won’t be a long time to your audience. Time is needed for your message to get to your audience so give them time.

What to do:

Find places in your presentation where you will pause. Mark the pauses in the text and practise. And Wait a little longer than you think you should wait before carrying on.

2. Have fun!

Presenting should be like a play; there should be drama and comedy; it’s a tragedy that more aren’t like this! By drama I don’t mean depressing facts and by comedy I don’t mean a laugh-a-minute.  What I mean is have places where there is a serious point to get across but have fun with more light-hearted sections too. Steve Jobs’s presentations are hallmarks of someone who loved to have fun with what he was presenting.

What to do:

Watch any of his keynote speeches on YouTube like this one and the fun element comes through in abundance.

3. Vary the pace and emotion

Your presentation should be like a story: a play if you like, because you are taking your audience on a journey from the beginning to the end. If you deliver using the same pace you have robbed your presentation of the drama. If you deliver it using the same level of emotion either you’ll never get through it because you’re just too excited!, or you’ll bore your audience to death because you’re so unemotional. It will come across that you don’t care.

The art is to vary the pace and emotion responding to the audience (hence the reason you must practise so that you’re prepared) and helping them to understand your message. Always be willing to show your audience that you care about what you’re saying (if you don’t how can you expect them to?) and use more pace and emotion as well as expressive words to make this clear to your audience. Conversely, slow down and talk quieter in places. This allows you to build to those places where you will use more emotion and speak louder. To reiterate, you must practise before you present.

What to do:

World class presenters spend hours rehearsing what they are going to say. Read (even better speak or at least mouth) through your notes several times so that you know what’s coming next.

There is no substitute for experience. We all know that the more we do something the better we can become at it. These techniques will help lift your presentation above the  dearth of a great many presentations and help you more effectively communicate.

This week saw a sad day for millions of Apple fans the world over; me included. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple announced his retirement and Tim Cook was appointed permanent CEO. I’ve read quite a lot about Tim Cook and I, for one, think that Apple is in safe hands. After all, it’s not difficult to steer the ship that Apple sails with its millions of devoted, loyal fans and its outstanding array of products. Yes, I am one of those loyal fans. While the stock Market might not, yet, agree (Apple stock fell dramatically following Jobs’s announcement) it will bounce back. The King might be gone; the Kingdom is very much alive and kicking.

Of course Apple, like any successful company, doesn’t ‘sell’ what it first appears it sells. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz doesn’t sell coffee (he sells a third place to meet). John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, doesn’t sell switches and routers [yawn] but human connections that change the ways that we work in the modern world. Apple don’t sell iPods, iPhones and MacBooks: they sell the means to change the world; to “put a dent in the universe”, as Steve Jobs once said.

What is it about this charismatic, erudite, visioned hands-on workaholic with a prolific ability to encapsulate in a short sentence technology that changes the world and the way that we interact with it that makes him so engaging and influential? Well, I think I just answered it. Jobs was a very hands-on CEO determined to make a difference. There are many accounts of him being up all night working on a product, a presentation or just ‘where next to go next’. I suspect that this has taken its toll but it reflects the man and his desire and passion to change the world.

It is to his ability to encapsulate and connect that I want to devote the rest of this blog to explaining. Jobs possessed the remarkable ability to say what he wanted to say about his products in about 10 words what so many CEOs tried to say – and often failed – about their products in ten times that many words. The launch of the ipod epitomised this with the phrase; “A thousand songs in your pocket.” Headline writers no longer needed to think of a headline for the iPod launch; Jobs had done it for them. There are reasons as to why this was such an impacting headline. If you want to know more please contact me.

This ability to encapsulate is something that many of us could learn from. “Questions with the power to change your mind. Permanently.” is my current headline for my Powerchange business. It is those questions that I sell in my business. The advantage in being able to summarise in ten words or fewer what you stand for, sell, represent or simply do is that it’s much more easily assimilated by people and allows you consistency and clarity in your own mind. And it’s not just businesses that benefit from doing this. Whatever we do find a way to summarise it in ten words or fewer. It will help bring clarity to you.

Are you going for a job interview? This technique will benefit you enormously if you consider what impact you can have on the organisation. Remember, what is it that the company is actually selling? How can you help them do that better? That will be your way in. I have helped people find work and I can help you too.

I’m writing this, not in Starbucks, but in Costa. It is my ‘third place’ to write my blog and the buzz of people around me gives me inspiration. You see, I write this blog for them. I write it to make a ‘dent’ in their lives. By ‘dent’ of course I mean in the positive sense of alter. If what I write can put a ‘dent’ in their lives and cause a change for the better then I have been successful. I’m passionate about changing people’s lives and I believe that I have a ‘story’ for them that will bring about permanent change for the better.

What I’ve worked on this summer is my statement: mission statement if you like about what I’m selling. We ‘sell’ to people all of the time in the words that we speak, the actions that we do, the lives that we lead. If that lifestyle that we lead is desired by others they will adopt it too. Frances of Assisi famously said: “Preach the Gospel and if necessary use words.” The question is: am I selling what I want to sell by the life that I lead; the example that I set? If it is, carry on doing it. If not, do something different.

In summary do you know what you stand for, ‘sell’ or do? Can you encapsulate it in ten words or fewer? What ‘dent’, or impact if you’d prefer, are you having in the lives of those around you? Is it the impact what you want?

Do you want to know more and how you can change your life for the life you want to lead? How about contacting me for an free, informal chat (I’m on Skype with the name stephenlong22) or by visiting my website? Alternatively, by all means write a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.

The technique known as SCAMPER has been around for a while. It was probably first devised by Alex Osborn who was an entrepreneur in the brainstorming-world. As it might imply, SCAMPER is a mnemonic. I have slightly altered it. SCAMPER stands for:

S = Substitute

C = Combine

A = Alter

M = Modify

P = Put (to other uses)

E = Exclude

R = Rearrange

The principle behind SCAMPER is that there’s nothing new in the world. Rather, everything now created isn’t new; merely a modification of something that already existed. That’s rather a simple view but I’m sure that you appreciate what I mean. Just think how many items made of plastic there are! They all came from petroleum and were modified in some way.

The key behind using SCAMPER is to find exactly what it is you want to apply the SCAMPER technique to: the object in question and them ask any or all the questions that pertain to the SCAMPER mnemonic. Using the SCAMPER principle has been shown on countless occasions to increase creativity especially if stuck on a solution or looking to create something novel.

Here are possible questions for the letters but there are many possible questions; be creative in what you ask!:

S = Substitute

What elements can I substitute for something else?

C = Combine

What could I combine with what I have to make something different?

A = Alter

How can I alter this and what might happen if I did?

M = Modify

If I modified what I’ve done so far [and added much more of that] what might happen?

P = Put (it to another use)

Where else could I use what I’ve got?

E = Exclude

What could I exclude from the procedure and what effect might that have?

R = Rearrange

If I rearranged how I put this together what might that give me?

These are just some of the questions that can be asked that apply the SCAMPER mnemonic. What follows are some specific examples in the history of invention that illustrate the application of SCAMPER.

S = Substitute

Perhaps one of the most flexible, widely used and constantly improved instrument over many years is the piano forte, or piano, as we know today’s modern instrument to be called. Cristofori (c. 1700) is said to be the inventor of the instrument that resembles the piano of today. Neither the harpsichord and clavichord quite cut the musical mustard, as one was too quiet for performance on a large-scale (clavichord) and the other didn’t give the dynamic (loud and soft) range required (harpsichord). They both featured plucked strings as well unlike the piano forte that would feature hammers striking the strings.

Over the next 100 or so years the piano’s components were constantly substituted and improved, as one part after another was substituted for a better, more responsive sound. This was perhaps most notably made when felt hammers were used, as a substitute for layered leather or cotton. The famous Steinway family continued to improve the piano to give us one of the most flexible and responsive instruments that we have today.

C  = Combine

Combining one field of science with mathematics has led to many new discoveries or inventions. Most notable was Gregor Mendel who discovered that certain traits (he used peas) correlated to specific mathematical patterns: Mendelian Inheritance. He went on to explore what would happen if mathematics and biology were combined and created the field of science that we know of today called genetics. It wasn’t until the 20th century that independent research verified Mendel’s inheritance theory but it still serves as a foundational model (although it has been improved) for the modern science of genetics today.

A = alter

Thomas Edison constantly altered things to develop and improve them. In fact he’s quoted as saying, “Make it a habit to keep a look out for… interesting ideas that others have used successfully” and alter them. Very wise thinking. We can thank Edison for that ‘light bulb’ moment with the invention of… You guessed it. [Ehem…]

M = Modify

Coming right up to date, well, almost, in the history of invention we have Yuma Shiraishi: the Japanese inventor who created the rapidly becoming obsolete VCR. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. Shiraishi worked out how to lengthen tapes previously used so that they would be sufficiently long enough to record movies. The VCR, as we know it, was invented.

P = Put (to another use)

How many uses can you find for a peanut? George Carver discovered 300 uses for it! Former president Jimmy Carter must have been delighted!

E = Exclude

The Hungarian László József Bíró noticed that newspaper ink dried especially quickly. That in itself isn’t remarkable; many of us would have noticed that. What distinguishes great inventors though is application. Bíró wondered what would happen if he put this ink in a fountain pen. The effect was that because the ink was too viscous it wouldn’t flow out of the fountain pen. Bíró faced a choice: exclude the use of the ink and keep the fountain pen or visa versa. He decided to exclude the use of the fountain pen and invent a new product that utilised the fast-drying ink. I suspect you’ve already worked out what he invented: it was the Biro. It was a brave decision to forego the fountain pen in favour of a new creation. The fountain pen is a design dream: aesthetic beauty and delight in my opinion and I’m sure others too. It was the correct decision though: the Biro took the world by storm and over 14 millions Biros are sold world-wide every day.

R = Rearrange

Sports managers and coaches seldom realise how many rearrangements of their players are possible. A baseball manager, for example, has 362, 880 arrangements for their players so there should be a formation to provide any defence!

And what about the humble computer or typewriter keyboard? Amos Densmore rearranged the positions of the keys on a typewriter to give the familiar QWERTY layout that we have today. You might be surprised to know that this happened in 1875. What was the reason for the rearrangement? It was to prevent commonly typed letters that were close together on the original typewriter layout sticking to one another when typing.

Of course, this is irrelevant on a computer keyboard but we’re all so used to this layout that having alternative layouts is disorientating. Have you ever typed a label using a Brother ™ P-Touch 1010 label maker? If you have you’ll know what I mean.

Are you in education?

For those who are involved in education you might like to know that Bob Eberle took the principles outlined above and utilised them extensively throughout his education career. Here’s what he presented in the classroom for pupils. I have added my own words in squared ‘[‘ brackets:

S – Substitute – components, materials, people

C – Combine – mix, combine with other assemblies or services, integrate

A – Adapt – alter, change function, use part of another element. [Also known as Alter]

M – Modify – increase or reduce in scale, change shape, modify attributes [e.g. colour, shape, size]

P – Put to another use

E – Eliminate – remove elements, simplify, reduce to core functionality. [Referred to by me above as Exclude]

R – Reverse – turn inside out or upside down, also use of Reversal. [Referred to by me above as Rearrange]

Let me know where you use SCAMPER in the coming days. What’s the most creative way that you you could SCAMPER in your personal, work, social etc life? Better go, got to SCAMPER…

Think Create Idea

Image used courtesy of jscreationzs /

Last time we explored three of the six recognised and widely researched techniques that lead to an increase in creativity. In this post we explore the remaining three:

4. Combining concepts
5. Abstract thinking
6. Allowing your mind to wander

Image used courtesy of gameanna /

4. Combining Concepts

Combining concepts is all about combining those concepts that seem to be in contradiction with each other. The psychologist Rothenberg is attributed with this technique and it’s often called the Janus technique. Janus was the mythical figure that has two faces that faced in the opposite direction from each other.

Perhaps, in some respects, this bears a resemblance to Doublethink that I have written several posts on before. Suffice to say here: Doublethink involves holding two apparently contradictory thoughts simultaneously and is a remarkably successful technique for overcoming stumbling blocks and remaining motivated.

In regard to combining concepts it’s a technique that allows us to make connections between apparently contradictory scenarios. When we make new connections we literally form new connections in the mind. This in itself is useful. When those new connections link apparently unrelated concepts through analogy the new connections in the mind can lead to a significant boost in creativity.

This technique has been widely used and has certainly stood ‘the test of time’. Aficionados of combining concepts through analogy include Einstein. He used this technique when attempting to formulate his thinking on gravitational force. How? He imagined a person falling with a rock from a sufficiently high height that both the person and the rock fell at the same rate of acceleration. Galileo had also imagined this earlier in history by two dropping stones of different mass from The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Rest assured though: in Einstein’s experiment no humans were actually harmed! But in Galileo’s experiment the two stones required Italian apothecary care of the highest order! [Ehem…]

As for the science, we know that both the stones, irrespective of their mass, and the human and the stone fall at the same rate. (It’s all to do with their surface area and the upthrust applied.) Interestingly therefore, the two objects seem to each other to be stationary even though they are both falling. You’ve had that experience when you are in a car or train and next you is a car or train accelerating at the same rate. If you ignore the world passing you by around you it looks like the car or train next you is stationary.) In Einstein’s Dream Experiment, since that’s what Einstein called them, he could use this analogy relativity condition to formulate his creative thinking on gravitational force. Find yourself dreaming? Good! Just apply your dream to what you’re meant to be solving and see what happens! More on this in point 6.

What psychologists have found out is that Analogical Thinking (using analogy to draw conclusions) is one of the best ways to boost creativity. How can you apply this thinking?:
  • Focus on the gist of the problem and not the specifics, at least to begin with
  • Change specific words to general words. So, rather than referring to something specifically e.g. what it actually is refer to it as what it belongs to. Acrylic (specific) is paint (general). So, if stuck with your art project, rather than ask, ‘How might I use acrylic here?’ ask, ‘How might someone use paint in general?’ The removal of the specific allows a more abstract view and previously constrained opportunities are now possible. Scientists and engineers have used this technique on countless occasions. Exploring how someone else did something can lead to all sorts of revelatory discoveries and possible applications for you, as Gassman and Zeschky discovered in a series of engineering problems to overcome. (See ‘How to be Creative‘ by Jeremy Dean.)
  • Finally, zoom out! By this I mean not get ‘bogged down’ in the details, at least to begin with, focus on the overview. The often used analogy here is with stepping-stones. When you are in the midst of the stones, stepping from one to another your means of stepping from the one you’re on to the next might seem very difficult. However, when you ‘zoom out’ the stepping-stones suddenly appear much closer: may be even touching! Incredibly, the apparent connections that now exist allow you to make new connections yourself. How can you do this? Reduce the problem at hand to its most general. Take away all the specifics. Now, how can I solve this drawing on parallel examples? It does work!

Here’s another apparently contradictory-to-logic example to discuss. Stuck on a problem? Go and solve another problem at the same time! Lowenstein and Kurtz, in 2007 published an article called Converging on a new role for analogy in problem solving and retrieval: when two problems are better than one. Memory and cognition. They discovered the extraordinary fact that when no solution is in sight in one problem solving another problem helps bring new insight to the previously insolvable problem; in some cases actually leading to it being solved! Somehow it enables us to fuel ideas and solutions that we hadn’t thought about or understood into the unsolved problem.

There are other techniques that work too.

When facing a problem:

a – Explain it to someone else
b – Explain it to yourself
c – Imagine explaining it to someone else or yourself!
d – Imagine someone else explaining it to you or someone else and you’re listening in

All these techniques remarkably bring understanding and with it the opportunities to boost creativity.

I’ve spent a lot of time – and words – explaining combining concepts so I’ll explain the remaining two techniques to boost creativity in many fewer words.

Image used courtesy of chrisroll and /

5. Abstract thinking

Which might prove more useful? The abstract or the specific? It might come as no surprise after the previous section that the abstract is often more useful. But not always. It depends upon what you’re wanting to achieve. Psychologist Jens Förster (2009) explored this with the abstract concept of love and the specific concept of sex. (We won’t explain her research!, but you can read all about it here.) Suffice to say, abstract (lose the details) thinking is excellent for creativity, as we previously explored. However, for analysis, specific thinking (all the detail) is more beneficial.

Time is an interesting concept and we can experience time in very different ways. Time can seem to ‘fly by’ or ‘drag’; yet, that’s not possible scientifically. Time explored in abstract as well as in detail can benefit creativity. How so? We tend to experience distant events in the abstract; whereas, tomorrow’s events are in detail. Ask someone about their planned holiday in 2012 and I doubt it details where they’ll be going on the Tuesday at 11 am (I hope not anyway!) but ask someone who’s going on holiday tomorrow they will be able to give you a detailed itinerary (I hope so here too!).
We can use the different ways we experience time to our advantage too. Imagine doing the task you’re about to do, as if you were doing it in a year’s time. The ‘zooming out’ technique boosts creativity (as researched by Jia, L; Hirt, E. R. & Karpen, S. C. In 2009: Lessons from a Far Away Land: The Effects of Spacial distance on creative cognition.)

By association, imagine doing a task in a year’s time tomorrow. Now detail is the ‘rule of thumb’ and you can become much more aware of possible pitfalls.

Image used courtesy of Boaz Yiftach /

6. A wandering Mind

A wandering mind helps creativity! You can read about it here. This might bring a look of despair on the faces of teachers, as they think about all their pupils who regularly gaze out of the window and a look of euphoria on the faces of those that do. What’s the thinking behind this? It apparently allows the counter-factual ‘What if…?’ question to run around unguarded leading to all sorts of discoveries and inventions. How often have we heard teachers remark that pupils – or pupils themselves remark for that matter – that they didn’t listen in class: that they were bored and couldn’t concentrate?

I was in an excellent Primary School in Redbridge earlier this year and while waiting to present a session on coaching read the children’s displays on various giants of the science world. Time and time again I read of these minds, as children, failed to concentrate in class and were lambasted and in some cases excluded as a result. And yet, these apparently insubordinate pupils made some of the most influential scientific discoveries. It’s not that daydreaming is an excuse to say that you’re mind’s working on quantum theory but then again…

So, how can you use this technique to boost creativity?:

Think like a seven-year old before undertaking a task. Unless you’re actually seven in which case think like another age. This frees us of constraints, broadens the picture and permits ‘What Ifs’ that you probably wouldn’t have asked.

What can the successful business entrepreneurs teach us about a wandering mind, I wonder? (I was determined to write that!)

It’s actually a case of knowing when to wander and when to focus. Creativity comes from wandering; sustainability comes from focus. We need both a wandering (exploring ideas and possibilities) and a focused (concentrated, exclusive) mind. It’s knowing when to do which that matters and the ability to switch between the two states that matters. Successful entrepreneurs have masted this technique. And it goes further: the more creative a person the greater their ability to switch between abstract and specific.

To further explore these concepts and the previous three I highly recommend Jeremy Dean’s book ‘How to be Creative‘ where these six techniques have been taken from and further explored by me. Creativity, while being an elusive concept demonstrated by geniuses throughout history, is in reach of all of us through applying these techniques. No, we probably won’t be another Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Maria Callas, Garfield Sobers, Estée Lauder or Gary Kasparov but who knows where our new levels of creativity will lead us…

Image published courtesy of Photostock

But out of limitations comes creativity

Debbie Allen

Defining what actually makes someone creative has shown itself to be one of the ‘Holy Grails’ for psychologists. In many cases creative geniuses just do not know what makes them so creative and so can’t share their wisdom with others. This represented a challenge to psychologists who, as a result, set about resolving the mystery of creativity by tackling it from a different angle. If creative people find it so difficult to show what makes them creative perhaps replicating the circumstances and situations (factors) where creativity is shown might let ‘lesser mortals’ produce those factors and thereby boost their own creativity. After several years of research the factors that most benefit creativity have been identified. Over the next two posts I will name what those six factors are and briefly explain how they can be used to boost creativity. Please do try them out for yourselves and let me know what happens. Here, are the first three, with the next post containing the remaining three:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Constraint
  3. Emotion
1. Knowledge

I wrote about this in last week’s post so I’m not going to say very much here. The important thing to remember, as counter-intuitive as it might seem, is that too much knowledge can invoke a tendency to go down the same, ‘tried and trusted route’ when creativity is desired. Over-reliance on the same-each-time method of problem-solving results in a lack of creative flexibility. Put simply: ‘When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail’.

Possible solution

Try something different, however counter-intuitive it is to you. You may well have to ‘fight’ your training and all your knowledge acquired; perhaps even your colleagues! Alexander Pope (in his Essay on Criticism, 1709) wrote that ‘a little knowledge was a dangerous thing’; a lot of knowledge can be your worst enemy too. If your knowledge is getting you nowhere think ‘outside the box’ – and every other cliché you can think of that exists! – when stuck. Perhaps ask yourself, “If I didn’t know what I know what might I suggest?” or “What might [name of person] suggest in this situation?”. You might be quite surprised with the outcome.

2. Constraint

Some constraints have been shown to actually boost creativity. (See also the quotation that heads this post from Debbie Allen.) The constraints that we impose on ourselves can in fact be the very catalyst that we need for creativity.

Possible solutions

There are several strategies that can be employed here. One is to do with the art of questioning. There are several powerful questions that can ask yourself. One such question to ask yourself is: ‘What would happen if…?’ The intention here is to impose restrictions and create a more restrictive boundary. When you have fewer choices you’re compelled to be more creative with what you’ve got. So, discard something that’s ‘needed’. You might find that not only are you more creative at finding a solution but that it wan’t ‘needed’ anyway.

There are other questions too.

Some of the most creative solutions come about when we ask, ‘What if…?’ This is known by psychologists as a ‘counterfactual’ question: an alternative to the reality if nothing was to change in what I was doing. Psychologists such as Ruth M.J. Byrne (2005) have argued that cognitive processes underlying alternatives to reality are similar to those that underlie the cognitive processes of the present reality. Therefore, there is great power in such questioning when a ‘dead end’ is faced. Powerchange has developed a powerful tool called ‘Questions that Change Your Mind’. Effective coaching is all about asking powerful questions and waiting for the answer. If you want to know more please contact me.

Another strategy is to give yourself time too to fully grasp the problem, whatever it is. ‘Gut-feeling’, instinctive-behaving people might not agree with this, as their gut feelings have served them well. If this has been the case: great! If it hasn’t there may well be an opportunity to try something new. Getzels J.W. & Csikszentmihalyi (1976) published a paper called Problem Solving Strategies that Distinguish Creative Arts . They discovered that artists who spent longer analysing the challenge they faced to come up with original, more creative, solutions actually produced more original solutions compared with others who didn’t do this strategy and somewhat ‘rushed in’.

Finally, use the Doublethink strategy, as well as pay due diligence to problems to overcome and how you’re going to do that. You can read all about Doublethink in a former post that I made by clicking here.

3. Emotion

Using emotion to increase creativity on face value seems like a good idea. When our mood is happy and we’re ‘full of the joys of spring’ then surely ‘creative juices would be flowing’ and solutions left, right and centre would be found? True. However, what’s it like to hear that, counter-intuitively, sad moods can also help us? Read on…

Possible solutions

I want a broad approach. I want to see an overview. What should I do?

In this instance creativity comes from, perhaps not surprisingly, happy moods. They help create a more ‘cavalier’ approach to creativity and support us in generating an effective overview of the situation. By ‘cavalier’ I mean more likely to discard ‘in the way’ ideas – and be more open to include suggestions from others as well. Further, “Let’s give it a go!” tends to be more of the mantra uttered by people, as well as the asking of, “What if…?” counterfactual questions.

I need to critique this article and I’m having trouble concentrating and finding ways through this. What can I do?

While happy moods might obviously lend themselves to creativity there are times and places where a more melancholic atmosphere may be conducive to problem solving. Karen Gasper (2003) wrote a paper called When Necessity is The Mother of Invention: Mood and Problem Solving. In her research she noticed that sad moods helped people notice failings and errors in their work and were also more likely to correct them; they became more critical. (She also noticed that when the atmosphere was happy errors were more likely to be unnoticed, and uncorrected if they were!).

Therefore, do you want a broad approach to a problem? The solution may well be to generate a happy atmosphere. Do you want to proof-read a document or find a creative solution in your written content to express yourself more coherently? If so a more reflective, melancholic atmosphere may well be the answer to generate a creative analysis.

Be aware though of very high (extreme anger) and very low (depression) arousal emotions. One makes us want to sort the world out; the other, cower from it. An excess of either emotional stimulation is not conducive to creativity because the key emotional influence (whether happy or sad) and their respective benefits is that we need to be transported into an active mood state. Emotionally stretched to extreme through either our heightened state or emotionally numb state is not what we want; here the mood state generated in both cases is passive; we do nothing. There are other undesired knock-on effects too.

So, these are three of the six principal factors that boost creativity. Next post, I will share and discuss the remaining three factors.

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