Looking at the Same Things In a New Way


Most of expanding your creativity is going to mean looking at the same things in a new way. You have to take a different approach than you usually take. It’s best to learn from the best.

Anthony McCaffrey, cognitive psychology researcher at University of Massachusetts Amherst, decided to investigate what successful inventors do differently than the rest of us. He looked at 100 modern and 1,000 historical inventions to determine how these inventors solve problems.

Those who make great inventions tended to find something everyone else overlooked to solve problems. The mental obstacle he focused on to help people do this is called functional fixedness. We tend to think of ideas and objects as having one purpose–the purpose we are familiar with. The example given is finding a burr in your sweater. One person might become annoyed and pick the burr off the sweater and move about his day. Another person might get an idea to create Velcro.

McCaffrey took his research and developed a technique for people to think about familiar things in new ways. He used the generic parts technique (GPT) that offers a description of parts, without mention of function. The idea is to consider the features and brainstorm new uses. This helps people see beyond the typical, accepted use. Those in the GPT group of this study were able to generate 67.4% more solutions.

What are you looking at right now that you can think of in a new or different way? What do you see that everyone else has missed?

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