Highly acclaimed and renown creativity expert writes for Idea Accelerator
By Michael Michalko
Has this ever happened to you? You’re walking down the street, completely relaxed, and you are not thinking about any particular thing. Then all of a sudden the solution to a problem you’ve been working on for weeks pops into your head out of the blue. You wonder why you didn’t think of it before.You’ve experienced your subconscious mind at work. Your subconscious mind will continue to work on a problem long after you leave it.
This is known as incubating the problem. Many idea people report that their best ideas come when they are not thinking about their problem. Fehr, the French scientist, said he observed that in his lifetime practically all good ideas came to him when he was not working on a problem or even thinking about a problem, and that most of his contemporaries make their discoveries in the same way. When Thomas Edison was stonewalled by a problem, he would lie down and take a nap and allow his subconscious mind to work on it.
As a simple experiment, write the alphabet vertically on a piece of paper. Now write a sentence vertically next to the alphabet, stopping with whatever letter parallels Z. Now, you have a row of initials. Next, think of as many famous people as you can (real or fictional) for each set of initials in 10 minutes. If you couldn’t come up with some names but then suddenly thought of them while you were working on other initials, you experienced your subconscious mind at work.
An easy way to communicate with your subconscious mind and get it working for you to solve a problem is to write a letter to yourself. The guidelines are:
Work on a problem until you have mulled over all the relevant pieces of information. Talk with others about the problem, ask questions, and do as much research as you can until you are satisfied that you have pushed your conscious mind to its limit. Write a letter to your subconscious mind about the problem. Make the letter as detailed and specific as possible. Describe the problem definition, the attributes, what steps you have taken, the problems, the gaps, what is needed, what you want, what the obstacles are, and so on. Just writing the letter will help better define a problem, clarify issues, point out where more information is needed, and prepare your subconscious to work on a solution. The letter should read just like a letter you would send to a real person. Imagine that your subconscious is all-knowing and can solve any problem that is properly stated. You might even want to give your subconscious a nick name to increase your awareness of it. I address my subconscious as “Hieronymus” after Hieronymus Bosch the artist.
Instruct your subconscious to find the solution. Write, Dear Hieronymus: “Your mission is to find the solution to the problem. I would like the solution in two days.”
Seal the letter and put it away. You may even want to mail it to yourself.
Let go of the problem. Don’t work on it. Forget it. Do something else. This is the incubation stage when much of what goes on occurs outside your focused awareness, in your subconscious.
Open the letter in two days. If the problem still has not been solved, then write on the bottom of the letter, “Let me know the minute you solve this” and put it away again. Sooner or later, when you are most relaxed and removed from the problem, the answer will magically pop into your mind.
EXAMPLE: The owner of a car dealership was trying to improve his business.
How are you? I haven’t heard from you in some time, so I thought I would write you a letter. I need your help with a problem.
My car sales are down by 10%. I can’t seem to differentiate my dealership from others. I’ve tried massive rebates and invested heavily in television and print advertising. My salespeople spend three to four hours negotiating price with customers who are always afraid that they are being had. My sales people have become more interested in dickering over price than they are in selling the features of the car. I have had several meetings with the salespeople and they all claim that this is how you have to sell cars in order to be competitive. No matter how many times I’ve asked them to sell the features and benefits of our cars and dealership, they continue to sell “price.” I need a fresh approach to selling cars. Your mission is to give me a new idea on how to sell cars. I need the idea in three days.
Bert mailed the letter to himself and two days later received it. When he read what he had written, he got his brainstorm. He eliminated the dickering and sold the idea of no-dickering pricing by putting red-tag final prices on the windshields of all his cars. He gave the people a reason to come in and look. A car-sticker at $12,234 had a non-negotiable red-tag price of $10,408. He paid his salespeople on volume, not profit. They must sell the dealership and the car. Within one year, Bert sold 2,079 cars to retail customers, well above the 1,125 limit set up by the factory, and well above any dealership in his area.
Writing a letter is a useful technique to connect with your subconscious mind, which is far more suited to creative insight than the conscious mind. Ideas are free to combine with other ideas in novel patterns and new associations. It is also the storehouse of all your experience, including things you can’t easily call into awareness.
Michael Michalko is a renowned creativity expert whose books include Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. www.creativethinking.net