Category Archives: Thinking

On starting from scratch


The old musicians stay where they are and become like museum pieces under glass, safe, easy to understand, playing that tired old shit over and over again…Bebop was about change, about evolution. It wasn’t about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change. – Miles Davis

One post that caught my attention in the last few weeks was how U2 gets ideas for it’s songs, specifically this comment by Bono on why starting from scratch can be the fastest way to a solution:

“That song [Where the streets have no name] was recorded, so there was a version of it on tape. That version had quite a lot of problems. What we kept doing was spending hours, days and weeks… probably half the time that the whole album took was spent on that song, trying to fix this version on tape. It was a nightmare of screwdriver work. My feeling is it was just better to start again. I’m sure we would get there quicker if we’d start again. It’s more frightening to start again, because there’s nothing. So my idea was to stage an accident. To erase the tape so we’d just have to start again.” – Brian Eno”

Starting from scratch sounds like a big waste of time, yet starting from scratch is at the center of creative thinking. I’m dumbfounded when I get asked for practical ideas that worked for someone else (usually competitor) and how they can best replicate it. This is the opposite of creative thinking and what most people fail to understand is that starting from scratch is highly rewarding. It’s like reformatting your computer and then starting with a fresh new installation!

Do it as if nothing

As a Ninjutsu practitioner, I understand very well the concept of mushin (no mind). Unlearning what you’ve learned and being open to whatever a situation presents and being able to adapt to it without thinking.

When you first start out in Ninjutsu you will immediately notice that nothing goes according to plan. Most of the stuff that you’re taught at the beginning is meant to ‘de-routinize’ your mind. To see it free.

Much like in other domains, most students will learn techniques and try to implement them ‘as they learned them’. Meaning they look at a scenario with similarities to how that technique was taught. This is a big no-no for there are an infinite number or techniques and they can all be applied in any point in time, you just have to go with whatever comes and do it as if nothing. As if you’ve done it before.

Develop mental flow

True Nimpo is really practiced when you get rid of the technique, you never show your technique to your opponent. Your movements should be human like, not mechanical. They should flow. Techniques are taught to us and sometimes we’re more concerned in applying in them just as the book says or as the Sensei says. While you may get rewarded for having beautiful technique, in the real world applying it won’t be so. You have to keep your mind open to whatever situation presents itself and respond as fluidly as possible. Be in the moment.

The element of water is what best describes flow, as water easily adapts to the environment.

Keep the mind moving

To develop mental flow, think of the mind as a river: that faster it flows, the better it keeps up with the present and responds to change. The faster it flows, also the more it refreshes itself and the greater it’s energy. Obsessional thoughts, past experiences and preconceived notions are like boulders or mud in this river, settling and hardening there and damming it up. The river stops moving, stagnation sets in. You must wage constant war on this tendency of the mind.

Superior strategists see things as they are. They are highly sensitive to dangers and opportunities. Nothing ever stays the same, and keeping up with circumstances as they change requires a great deal of mental fluidity. Great strategists do not act according to preconceived ideas; they respond to the moment. Like children, their minds are always moving, and they are always excited and curious. They quickly forget the past because the present is much too interesting.

Closing thoughts…

Just like Martial Arts have unlimited techniques and all of them can be applied to any scenario, so it is in other domains such as business. They’re not mechanical in nature. You train to be perfect but in the real world where unpredictability reigns, you have to be in the moment and respond as if nothing.

Understand: the most creative strategists stand out not because they have more knowledge but because they are able, when necessary, to drop their preconceived notions and focus intensely on the present moment. That is how creativity is sparked and opportunities are seized.

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Remove the associative barriers that hinder new ideas

Model of hydogen bonds in water in English.

Image via Wikipedia

Last week I mentioned that the is the ability to free associate, to make connections between dissimilar things. I just stumbled into post on the where she probes further into the concept to which I left a comment:

Declare war on yourself


Being unconquerable lies within yourself.

The guys asked me for some blogging tips a few days ago and I posted some at BM that I’m sure will rattle some cages. One of the actions steps at that I recommend at the end of the post is to ‘declare war on yourself’, or more commonly known as .

Assumptions are the shortcuts, rules of thumb, conventional wisdom, common sense, stuff we take for granted, ordinary thinking that as humans we use to get through daily life, which work for awhile, but they soon become stale truths, like weights holding us back from new ways of seeing, thinking and behaving.

Assumptions get us stuck in a never ending loop of repetition, and you know that leads to more of the same.

INNOVATION: Change your internal chip

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” – Einstein

Yesterday I was with a client proposing some new initiatives and as always there’s a bottleneck to new ideas. Someone’s ego prevents them from seeing other alternatives to how things can be done, they’re so set in their traditional views that anything new is irrelevant. In thinking about this fact with some of the people there I said: Like computer chips that evolve and get better all the time, so must we.


Do you remember how in the movie Terminator 2 Sarah and John Connor so it can can learn and stop following preset rules? Well that’s exactly what we have to do with ourselves, and people who are impervious to ‘there’s always a better way’ speak.

An innovator is the one who thinks there’s always a better way


Can you recognize an innovator when you see one? It’s not easy but I’ve always thought that the people who don’t accept the world as it’s presented to them and see better alternatives are innovators, game-changers, creative geniuses, etc.

that equip them to find better ways of doing things, Saul Kaplan from Business Innovation Factory wrote up a brilliant post on the :


1. Innovators always think there is a better way.

2. Innovators know that without passion there can be no innovation.

3. Innovators embrace change to a fault.

4. Innovators have a strong point of view but know that they are missing something.

5. Innovators know that innovation is a team sport.

6. Innovators embrace constraints as opportunities.

7. Innovators celebrate their vulnerability.

8. Innovators openly share their ideas and passions expecting to be challenged.

9. Innovators know that the best ideas are in the gray areas between silos.

10. Innovators know that a good story can change the world.


In what other ways can we identify innovators?

Could we someday create innovations like we create music?

Imagine there was a tool where we could input our ideas, combine them with other ideas, see some connections and visualize them in real-time. I’m not talking about music, but actual ideas like the ones that we have when we’re thinking out loud or brainstorming with a group.

In the video above you see an application called Ableton Live used by many DJ’s in concerts to create music in real-time which we can do using different music equipment from sites as Sound Manual online which offer the best options for this. I repeat, not pre-programmed but in real-time!

Why is this important? It’s important because DJ’s can experiment with different sounds and music in real-time. They’ve always had this ability but with this tool, DJ’s can input the sounds where they want, listen and make the adjustments all in a matter of seconds, just check out these popular public domain songs.

Again imagine if we could have a tool where we could input our ideas, combine them and see a result in real-time before we release it into the world.

What would such a tool look like?

We have one…our brain.

Yes, our brain is the most powerful machine ever invented and although it would be great to have a tool, such as Ableton, at our disposal that could enable us to create more in less time; our brain will ultimately connect the insight that gives us that breakthrough idea.

Only our brain gives us the ability to imagine how things could be before we ever see them out in the world.

I’m sure there are people already thinking about a technology that can enable us to make connections faster but in the meantime we can start by flexing our brain muscles and learn to think better.

P.S. I’m not promoting Ableton Live, I just saw that video and thought about such a tool for the purpose of innovation.

Readers what do you think, is such a tool possible? How would it work? How can we start creating one right now?

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10 more resources to boost your brain power

boost brain power

The ability to think better makes you a superior strategist and innovator

One of my favorite subjects is the brain, how it works and how to better put it to use is something that has always intrigued me. While there is huge amounts of information on the internet on how to boost your brain power, I stumbled upon a list of and thought I’d add 10 more! ??????????? ??????? ????????

  1. (Lite Mind)
  2. (

  3. (Open Forum)
  4. (New Scientist)
  5. (Scientific American)
  6. (
  7. (Find Schools
  8. (New Scientist)
  9. (MIT Techreview)

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A History of Violence rip

UPDATE: Found another one that was posted today by Steven Aitchison, 100 Ways To Develop Your Mind.

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