Your Study Guides and Strategies starts here!

The first and last thing
demanded of genius
is the love of truth
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
1749 - 1832
German playwright/author

Thinking and recall series

Thinking like a genius

Problem solving: creative solutions

"Even if you're not a genius, you can use the same strategies as Aristotle and Einstein to harness the power of your creative mind and better manage your future."

The following strategies encourage you to think productively,
rather than reproductively, in order to arrive at solutions to problems. "These strategies are common to the thinking styles of creative geniuses in science, art, and industry throughout history."

Nine approaches to creative problem solving:

  1. Rethink! Look at problems in many different ways.
  2. Visualize! Utilize diagrams and imagery to analyze your dilemma.
  3. Produce! Genius is productive.
  4. Combine! Make novel combinations...
  5. Form! Form relationships.
  6. Opposite! Think in opposites.
  7. Metaphor/simile! Think metaphorically.
  8. Failure! Learning from your mistakes is one example of using failure.
  9. Patience! Don't confuse inspiration with ideas.

Exercise #2 illustrates how famous thinkers used these approaches.
Exercise/blog #3 contains selected thoughts on thinking like a genius.

Exercise #1: illustrates applications of the nine approaches.

Text of exercise:
Nine approaches to creative problem solving:

  1. Rethink!
    Look at problems in many different ways.
    Find new perspectives that no one else has taken.
    Solutions example: Finding a job or internship:
    1. Ask friends or colleagues for potential leads
    2. Over-sell yourself
      Send samples of your work or portfolio to anyone that might respond.
    3. Check local resources like Craigslist or your school's job search
    4. Broaden your target audience.
      What other fields could you specialize in?
  2. Visualize!
    Utilize diagrams and imagery to analyze your dilemma.
    1. How can you use pictures, images, graphs, etc. in your studies?
    2. Visit guides on concept or mind maps, picturing vocabulary, flashcards, etc.
    3. Write out one example of how you can use imagery, then print and post it in your study area.
  3. Produce!
    Genius is productive.
    1. Perhaps originality is not the key, but rather constant application of thought and tools to arrive a solutions.
    2. Geniuses are the luckiest of mortals because what they must do is the same as what they most want to do.
      W. H. Auden (1907–1973) Anglo-American poet
    3. Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience.
      George-Louis Leclerc de Buffon (1707–1788) French naturalist
  4. Combine!
    Make novel combinations...
    Combine and recombine ideas, images, and thoughts into different combinations no matter how incongruent or unusual.
  5. Form!
    Form relationships. Make connections between dissimilar subjects.
    1. This doesn't always apply to objects: form relationships with people and ask them questions!
    2. Get to know people in your field that can help you excel to the best of your ability.
    3. Write down one person that you could get in contact with, why you think this person can help, and print/post it for reference!
  6. Opposite!
    Think in opposites. Don't always stick with the obvious solutions.
    Get outside of your comfort zone.
    1. “Opposites” bring two approaches to a situation but they do share a basic similarity.
      Example: “right” and “left” are both directions, but which is the right choice?
    2. The Sesame Street Muppet Elmo teaches small children the concept of opposites!
  7. Metaphor/simile!
    Think metaphorically.
    1. Metaphors are connections that are unusual or not an ordinary way of thinking:
      A sea of troubles; the heart of a lion; raining cats and dogs.
    2. Similes use "like" or "as" to illustrate
      The boy was as agile as a monkey. The miner's face was like coal.
      The task was as easy as ABC. Dry like a raisin in the sun.
  8. Failure!
    Learning from your mistakes is one example of using failure.
    1. As strange as it seems the human brain is failure machine: it generates models of reality, acts on them, and adjusts or creates new, successful models based on failures.
    2. From Daniel Coyle’s the Talent Code on Adam Bryant’s weekly interview: “every single CEO shares the same nugget of wisdom: the crucial importance of mistakes, failures, and setbacks… mistakes create unique conditions of high-velocity learning that cannot be matched by more stable, “successful” situations.”
  9. Patience!
    Don't confuse inspiration with ideas.
    Apply your ideas with patience for the reward they may deserve.

Thinking and recall series

Concentrating | Radical thinking | Thinking aloud/private speech |
Thinking critically | Thinking critically | Thinking creatively |
Mapping explanation | Make your own map I | Make your own map II |
Thinking like a genius: Creative solutions | Famous thinkers | Selected thoughts

Adapted with permission from:
Michalko, Michael, Thinking Like a Genius: Eight strategies used by the super creative, from Aristotle and Leonardo to Einstein and Edison (New Horizons for Learning) as seen at, (June 15, 1999) This article first appeared in THE FUTURIST, May 1998. Michael Michalko is the author of Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), ThinkPak (A Brainstorming Card Set), and Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Geniuses (Ten Speed Press, 1998).
Flash exercise by
Karl Noelle, student, College of Design; Brad Hokanson, faculty, College of Design, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN; with edits/revisions by Joe Landsberger.