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10 Learn How to Combine

Jack Foster Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

He can beat your’n with his’n and he can beat his’n with your’n.

Football coach Bum Phillips on
the ability of coach Don Shula

Asthma doesn’t seem to bother me any more unless I’m around cigars or dogs. The thing that would bother me most would be a dog smoking a cigar.

Steve Allen

Dr. Livingston I Presume (full name of Dr. Presume).


To be is to do.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

To do is to be.

Jean-Paul Sartre

Do be do be do.

Frank Sinatra

If “a new idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements,” it stands to reason that the person who knows how to combine old elements is more likely to come up with a new idea than a person who doesn’t know how to combine old elements.

Here are some suggestions that will help you combine:

An analogue is a comparison between two things that are similar in one or more respects, and is used to help make one of those things clearer or easier to understand.

Is your problem similar to other problems? What’s it dissimilar to?

If the greatest benefit of your product or service is speed, what’s the fastest thing in the world? Can you compare your benefit to that thing? What’s the slowest thing in the world? Can you compare it to that?

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2 Be More Like a Child

Jack Foster Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

A child is a curly, dimpled lunatic.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are more bores around than when I was a boy.

Fred Allen

Youth is such a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children.

George Bernard Shaw

Insanity is hereditary—you get it from your children.

Sam Levenson

Charles Baudelaire described genius as childhood recovered at will.

He was saying that if you can revisit the wonder of childhood you can taste genius.

And he was right; it is the child in you who is creative, not the adult.

The adult in you wears a belt and suspenders and looks both ways before crossing the road.

The child in you goes barefoot and plays in the street.

The adult punches the ball to right.

The child swings for the fences.

The adult thinks too much and has too much scar tissue and is manacled by too much knowledge and by too many boundaries and rules and assumptions and preconceptions.

In short, the adult is a poop. A handcuffed poop.

The child is innocent and free and does not know what he cannot or should not do. He sees the world as it actually is, not the way we adults have been taught to believe that it is.

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Jack Foster Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Here’s what my first boss, Bud Boyd, used to do:

I’d show him a proposed ad for, say, a bank, and he’d say:

“Good. Good. Let’s pin it on the wall over here. Now, let’s see if you can do one that’s a little more impactful, one that leaps off the page.”

So, I’d go away and do a simpler, bolder, more impactful ad, and he’d say:

“Good. Good. Let’s pin it on the wall next to your first one. Now, do me one that will win us an award.”

When I came back with what I thought was an award winner, he’d say:

“Good. Good. Now, pretend you’re applying for a job in another advertising agency and the creative director there wants to see only one ad — the best ad you’ve ever written. Do me that ad.”

The lesson Bud taught me was a simple one: There’s always a better way. Always.

Perhaps Lincoln Steffens said it best. In 1931 he wrote:

“Nothing is done. Everything in the world remains to be done or done over. The greatest picture is not yet painted, the greatest play isn’t written, the greatest poem is unsung.”

Decades later, he’s still right: There’s always a better idea. Always.87

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Jack Foster Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

One of the best ways to get an idea is to put your unconscious to work on it.

That’s what creative people in advertising agencies do all the time. If they’re having trouble coming up with, say, ideas for a television commercial on a car and it isn’t due until next week, they shift gears and start working on ideas for a newspaper ad on a restaurant, or a billboard on a beer.

Einstein did the same thing. So did Helmholtz and Bertrand Russell and Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov and Thomas Wolfe and Rollo May and A. E. Housman and just about everyone else who ever wrote about getting ideas.

So if the people you work with are having trouble coming up with great ideas on a problem, tell them to forget about it and work on something else.

When they come back to the problem later, doors that were closed before will be open, barriers will be down, roads that did not exist will suddenly appear. They’ll see new relationships and connections and possibilities, they’ll feel new hope.

That’s because, according to Michael Guillen, CBS Morning News’ science expert, “... the human mind can be induced to create thoughts that come seemingly out of nowhere… Carl Friedrich Gauss recalled that he tried unsuccessfully for years to prove a particular theorem in arithmetic, and then, after days of not thinking about the problem, the solution came to him ‘like a sudden flash of lightning.’ Henri Poincaré, too, reported working futilely on a problem for months. Then one day while conversing with a friend about a totally unrelated subject, Poincaré recalled that ‘… the idea came to me without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it.’”90

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