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Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques

Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques

4.4 19
by Michael Michalko

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Rethink the Way You Think
In hindsight, every great idea seems obvious. But how can you be the person who comes up with those ideas?
In this revised and expanded edition of his groundbreaking Thinkertoys, creativity expert Michael Michalko reveals life-changing tools that will help you think like a genius. From the linear to the


Rethink the Way You Think
In hindsight, every great idea seems obvious. But how can you be the person who comes up with those ideas?
In this revised and expanded edition of his groundbreaking Thinkertoys, creativity expert Michael Michalko reveals life-changing tools that will help you think like a genius. From the linear to the intuitive, this comprehensive handbook details ingenious creative-thinking techniques for approaching problems in unconventional ways. Through fun and thought-provoking exercises, you’ll learn how to create original ideas that will improve your personal life and your business life. Michalko’s techniques show you how to look at the same information as everyone else and see something different.
With hundreds of hints, tricks, tips, tales, and puzzles, Thinkertoys will open your mind to a world of innovative solutions to everyday and not-so-everyday problems.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Shows you how to expand your imagination.” —Newsweek
“A special find. Period.” —Executive Edge
“A must-have book in any business setting.” —Women in Business

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Read an Excerpt

What would you think of someone who said, “I would like to have a cat, provided it barked”? The common desire to be creative, provided it’s something that can be easily willed or wished, is precisely equivalent. The thinking techniques that lead to creativity are no less rigid than the biological principles that determine the characteristics of cats. Creativity is not an accident, not something that is genetically determined. It is not a result of some easily learned magic trick or secret, but a consequence of your intention
to be creative and your determination to learn and use creative-thinking strategies.
The illustration below shows the word “FLOP,” which we all know and understand. Look at it again. Can you see anything else?
Once we see the word “FLOP,” we tend to exclude all other possibilities, despite the strange shapes of the letters. Yet if you look at the “O” in flop, you can see a white “I.” Now if you read the white outlines as letters with the “I,” you will see the word “FLIP.” Flip-flop is the complete message. Once found, it seems so obvious that you wonder why you were, at first, blind to it.
By changing your perspective, you expand your possibilities until you see something that you were unable to see before. This is what you will experience when you use Thinkertoys. You will find yourself looking at the same information everyone else is looking at yet seeing something different. This new and different way of seeing things will lead you to new ideas and unique insights.
Thinkertoys train you how to get ideas. They are specific hands-on techniques that enable you to come up with big or small ideas; ideas that make money, solve problems, beat the competition, and further your career; ideas for new products and new ways of doing things.
The techniques were selected for their practicality and range from the classic to the most modern. They are divided into linear techniques, which allow you to manipulate information in ways that will generate new ideas, and intuitive techniques, which show you how to find ideas by using your intuition and imagination.
A popular children’s puzzle shows six fishermen whose lines are tangled together to form a sort of maze. One of the lines has caught a fish; the problem is to find which fisherman it belongs to. You are supposed to do this by following each line through the maze, which may take up to six tries, depending on your luck. It is obviously easier to start at the other end and trace the line from the fish to the fisherman, as you have only one possible starting place, not six.
This is how I researched and developed Thinkertoys. Instead of presenting a catalog of all known creative techniques and abandoning you to
puzzle out which ones actually work, I started with the ideas (fish) and worked backwards to each creator (fisherman). Then I identified the technique that caught the idea.
Some readers will feel that they profit more from the linear techniques and will discount the intuitive ones. Others will prefer the intuitive and discount the linear. You can produce ideas using both the linear and intuitive techniques, and should not limit yourself to one or the other—the more ideas you generate the better.
This book will change how you perceive your own creativity, while stripping creativity itself of its mystique. You will, perhaps for the first time, see endless possibilities stretching before you. You will learn how to:
•     Generate ideas at will.
•     Find new ways to make money.
•     Create new business opportunities.
•     Manipulate and modify ideas until you come up with the most innovative and powerful ideas possible.
•     Create new products, services, and processes.
•     Improve old products, services, and processes.
•     Develop solutions to complex business problems.
•     Revitalize markets.
•     See problems as opportunities.
•     Become more productive.
•     Be the “idea person” in your organization.
•     Know where to look for the “breakthrough idea.”
•     Become indispensable to your organization.
Thinkertoys do not render the creative experience, they suggest it. To illustrate, let us imagine me drawing a rabbit on a blackboard. You say “Yes, that’s a rabbit,” although in reality there is nothing on the blackboard but a simple chalk line. The rabbit appears because you have accepted my motion that the space within the line suggests a rabbit. The line limits the content by suggesting a significant form.
I must stress that it is not enough to read the book—to create your own ideas, you have to use the techniques. Try to explain the joy of skiing to a bushman who has never left the desert. You can show him some skis and a picture of a snowy mountain, and perhaps get some of the idea across. However, to fully realize the concept of skiing our bushman must put on the skis and head down a mountain. If you merely read these techniques, you will have no more than a suggestion of how to get ideas. You’ll be like the bushman standing in the desert, staring at a pair of skis and a photo of the Matterhorn, with a small notion of what skiing might be.
Each Thinkertoy is a specific technique for getting ideas to solve your challenges. Each chapter contains a blueprint that gives precise instructions for using the technique and an explanation of why it works—including anecdotes, stories, and examples of how real heroes used each technique to produce ideas and breakthroughs. I call them heroes because they left behind a mark, a sign, an idea, an enterprise, a product, or a service that reminds us of their innovation.
I also use illustrations, puzzles, charts, and hypothetical examples to demonstrate how various techniques work. Some of these hypothetical examples present usable ideas for new businesses, products, and services. These ideas are the gold beneath the river of words continually rushing past.
Each chapter begins with an inspirational quote from The Art of War by the legendary master, Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu wrote his extraordinary book in China more than 2,400 years ago, but his principles are as applicable to
creativity in business as in warfare. Long a classic for Japanese businesspeople, his book is now required reading at many leading international business schools. From Tokyo to Wall Street, business leaders quote and apply the principles of Sun Tzu.
This new edition contains new Thinkertoys “Lotus Blossom,” and “True and False,” updated examples, and an entirely new group-brainstorming section with several new techniques.
A friend of mine, Hank Zeller (an executive, entrepreneur, inventor, and poet), once described creativity this way: “When you realize that you just came up with an idea that betters anything that has been done, well, your hair stands up on end, you feel an incredible sense of awe; it’s almost as if you heard a whisper from God.”

Meet the Author

Michael Michalko is one of the most highly acclaimed creativity experts in the world. As an officer in the U.S. Army, he organized a team of NATO intelligence specialists and international academics in Frankfurt, Germany, to research, collect, and categorize all known inventive-thinking methods. His team applied these methods to various NATO military, political, and economic problems and produced a variety of breakthrough ideas and creative solutions to new and old problems. After leaving military service, he was contracted by the CIA to facilitate think tanks using his creative-thinking techniques. He specializes in providing creativity workshops, seminars, and think tanks for clients who range from individuals to Fortune 500 companies.

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Thinkertoys 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
garydale More than 1 year ago
Do you need any new ideas for practical designs? How about when something is wrong with your business and you cannot put your finger on it? Did you ever need to brainstorm but not have anyone else around? Have you ever been stuck with writer's block and for the life of you could not get back to work? In other words, have you ever been stuck with any mental problem that you felt that you cannot solve? If this is the case I think you should have a look at Michael Michalko's latest book, Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques. Thinkertoys is a great play on words - anyone who grew up in the United States playing with Tinker Toys would not have a hard time remembering the name of this book. But beyond the title, Michael Michalko has done better than a yeoman's job of cataloguing tried and true techniques and exercises that work individually and for groups. Not a left brained person you say? You don't need to be. Not a right brained person? Again, you don't need to be. These tools that Michael Michalko provides puts you in a position that the outcome will be the product of great creative thinking as long as you actually do the thinker work that goes along with the exercise. The entire book pushes the reader to think outside of his or her comfort zone when solving problems, creating ideas, etc. Some of these tools I have already been working on and implementing myself. Let me give you an example. In addition to my other work I recently have become a monthly columnist with a magazine where I give advice based upon my knowledge and experience. But to be a columnist is very difficult in a way because you have to remain fresh - the material much be both focused and new every issue. Many regular columnists (and bloggers) use different methods to do this. For instance, Jack Welch actually goes on Twitter and asks followers to send him interesting questions or problems. As such I turned to Michalko's book and found an exercise that really helped to generate ideas for the column. (If you want to know specifically which tool this was contact me through my website and I will give a full explanation). Because of this tool though I not only found enough ideas, but rather more than enough ideas. I have now written several columns in advance for the magazine and am pretty much finished with the entire year's work. This is the kind of result you can get from sitting down and working with Thinkertoys - I can personally attest! Also, Michael Michalko has a related product called Thinkpak: A Brainstorming Card Deck. I went out to my local bookstore and bought this card set. It is a great companion to Thinkertoys because each card is directly related to a principle or tool in Thinkertoys. So I carry this card deck with me now along with a list of issues I need to resolve when I travel. Sometimes I pull this book or these cards out because I have work to do and sometimes I do it because, dammit, it is just a good workout for the old noggin!
jerry50 More than 1 year ago
If a significant portion of your life requires creativity that is attached to solving real-world problems, this book is tremendous. It offers tons of techniques with great details on how to get the ideas you need. It's a wonderful and useful read. In fact, it is, without a doubt, the most useful book I have ever read.
Mae22 More than 1 year ago
I facilitate creative thinking workshops and provide each participant a copy of this book. The chapter on SCAMPER is worth the price alone. You will find each tool well explained with examples. The "Ideabox" is one of the best tools you can use which also has a section with good examples. The author's second book Cracking Creativity repeats most of the tools with less examples and more theory. I highly recommend this book as a reference for innovation tools.
Mikki More than 1 year ago
This is a tremendous book that has changed my whole perspective toward creativity. It's a collection of well-researched and documented creative-thinking techniques that has helped me produce tons of new ideas, thoughts and insights. I bought a copy for my my supervisor at work and she bought copies for everyone in our department. We now meet for brainstorming sessions on a regular basis using the techniques from the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a must for anyone in business who is in need of fresh, limitless ways to create the ideas and creative strategies businesses need these days of uncertainty and complexity. I got my copy from my manager who gives one to all new employees.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Creative-thinking expert Michael Michalko has applied his talents to the service of the U.S. Army, the NATO military, and the CIA now, he offers the updated second edition of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques, a jam-packed wealth of brain-twisting visual and verbal puzzles and exercises designed to stimulate new ways of solving problems and looking at situations. Exercises designed to stimulate logic and reason, intuition, brainstorming skills and much more are offered in accessible and adaptable terms, for self-study or use in a larger creative thinking workshop. Sure to captivate the reader with its thinking-out-of-the-box puzzles and even more important, advice for reexamining old problems with a fresh perspective, Thinkertoys is enthusiastically recommended for anyone striving to expand their creative mindset. As Michael says 'Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There are lots of good books on different aspects of creativity out in the world, but there really aren't many that you can regard as a book to buy if you really want to change the way you think to become generally more creative. One is Thinkertoys now in its second edition. One of the great things about a good creativity book is that it gets better with age, rather that dating. Creativity doesn't change - and neither do the effectiveness of good techniques. In fact in this case I'd say it has got better. It's partly because this an expanded and revised version, but also because it's more obvious that Thinkertoys really stands out from the crowd. Practically from page one, this book leads you into the fundamental challenge of creativity - tackling the assumptions we make all the time, and that's an experience you will find repeated time and time again.
Albany More than 1 year ago
I really recommend Thinkertoys if you want to increase your creativity level. It has a lot of exercises that will help you find that idea you're looking for.
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This book presents a lot of useful tools for thinking. This is an excellent resource for creative thinkers -- I don't know how else to describe the book.
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