Ideas For Increased Effectiveness

A roadmap to creative thinking for the entrepreneurial physician

As someone who was educated in a very traditional school and then university model, I am envious of my 9-year old daughter’s learning opportunity in 3rd grade. Her new school emphasizes project-based learning, social-emotional learning (higher EQ and therefore fewer therapy bills later in life???), group collaboration and multiple path problem-solving, as opposed to the largely unquestioning rote learning I endured.

My latest mid-life crisis is manifesting as a quest to foster my own creativity and overcome the inhibitions of my earlier learning experience – reshape my neural pathways to be more curious, more open, more imaginative and more inventive.

Fortunately, I was recently generously sent the newest book by Michael Michalko to review. Michalko is the author of “Cracking Creativity” (one of my required readings for the Creativity and Personal Mastery Course I am finishing) and “Thinkertoys”, and his latest book “Creative Thinkering” (yes, he created that word) adds onto his earlier work in promoting a creative approach to life. I was somewhat dubious when I noted “Learn how to think like a genius” on the back cover, but inside, I discovered that we now understand something about how geniuses think – and this book sheds more light on that.

I’ve distilled from the book five of the biggest lessons I took away from “Creative Thinkering”:

  1. Conceptual Blending: this creative thought process “blends two or more concepts in the same mental space to form new ideas”. This blending of dissimilar subjects is the basis of almost all creativity – a combining of old ideas into new ones. The example I love is one of pinecones and reading/writing. I’ll let you ponder for a moment to imagine what that combination might have produced for a blind boy…

    You got it … the invention of Braille by a blind man, Louis Braille, who once played with pinecones as a boy!

    Or how about a conversation between a gastroenterologist and a guided-missile designer that led to the creation of the “camera pill“?

  2. Become the Problem: the secret is to immerse yourself in such a way as to become an item in the problem you want to solve. Want to fix issues with your office medical records? Become a patient chart. Travel through your office as your chart does. Heed the bumps and blows. Feel your pages being turned and shuffled. See what is getting lost along the way. Need to come up with a new therapy for cancer? Become an aggressively dividing cancer cell. See what your receptors are doing. Pay attention to your energy needs. Notice what is happening to your surrounding cells and their defenses.

  3. Use Non-Verbal Clues for Stimulation: creative thinkers often have the habit of collecting interesting items which they then use to stimulate ideas. A vision board or a collection of images may work in a similar way…. as may a walk in the neighborhood. Without the confining structure of the written and spoken word, our minds may be free to be more playful and inventive.

  4. The Power of our Perspective: our tendency to think linearly or to assume the obvious based on prior assumptions or expectations gets in the way of creative thought. Read this amazing story about Joshua Bell busking in the subway, and note that only the kids picked up on the secret! Our experience AND expertise become the factors limiting our creativity. Hence the need for a “beginner’s mind”!

  5. Use Intention: random thinking with no organizing principle is less likely to produce a creative idea than thinking grounded in intention. Imagine you want to buy a car. And you develop a hankering for a red Mercedes. All of a sudden, you will start to notice red Mercedes as you drive. Or play the punch buggy game. For every Volkswagen Beetle you see, you yell out “punch buggy no punchbacks” (the last part is vital if you don’t want your car “stolen” from you … ask any 9-year old!). Suddenly, there are Beetles all over the place and you are competing fiercely to win the contest of first to 100!! Applying that same intention to your creative thought process is much more likely to surface novel conceptual blends.

These and the other creativity-inducing activities in the book all circle back to a basic requirement for creativity – Awareness. You must pay attention in order to take advantage of the many creative opportunities that surround you. But that is a topic for another article!

This book needs to be eaten and digested with a small spoon – in tiny bites! Filled with numerous thought experiments and examples of actual inventions that have arisen as a result of these exercises, the book encourages you to do your own creative “thinkering” before reading the answers. It’s easy to skim the chapters and come away nodding your head sagely, feeling like you have an insight into the creative process. It requires a whole other level of commitment (and intention!) to transform your own thinking with these stimulating activities.

I invite you to try them for yourself if you are contemplating approaching your medical practice, your non-clinical business or even your life with a more creative attitude and skill! Highly recommended reading.


For those of you who want more, here’s another take on creativity from the Harvard Business Review blog – Don’t Let What You Know Limit What You Imagine

Philippa Kennealy ran a private family practice, and a hospital, before building her coaching business helping MDs launch and run successful practices and businesses. Visit her online at to learn more.