Alex Cosio

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What types of things do you do to help you open your mind, generate new ideas, and see connections you've never seen before?

I, like many other TED members out there enjoy thinking, especially about problems and their many solutions. How do you get yourself to think outside the box and generate new and unconventional ideas? I personally enjoy list-making and all kinds of charting. What are your strategies?

  • Jun 7 2011: It's simple: listening to others. I became more open to many ideas I had never before considered just by listening and then reflecting on the possibilities brought forth from different perspectives. You can learn a lot from those around you, just be open to the possibility.
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    Jun 4 2011: Great question, Alex. The way I think outside the box and generate new ideas is by doing the following:

    1. Interact with a diverse group of people. There is something called the "Medici Effect" which is the belief that diversity drives innovation.
    2. I try to read as much as I can, and not just from people who may share the same perspectives that I do.
    3. Third, I try to always leave some time where I shut the door and not take calls or emails. Just think, and synthesize ideas from things I have observed or read about.

    Those are a few of the things that help me innovate.
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    Jun 3 2011: I do not reject any Idea that come in to my mind,most of the times Ideas come to me like day dreams...Ideas are like chain reaction but it all starts with a problem,then I start looking for solutions . most of the times I visualize my designs and all the working parts ,the possible deficiencies in the design and further corrections.I don`t have enough money and tools to built all the mechanical structures I design so I keep a memory note of all my designs.so what I think that one should do for new Idea generation is..
    1.Do not reject any Idea that comes to your mind.
    2.Relax
    3.visualize your ideas and try to see them working in your imagination.
    3.Don`t fear to share your ideas.
    4.Always keep one thing in your mind...there is no problem without any solution.
    5.Start from a basic or very small stage.
    6.always keep something with you that reminds you of the subject you are working on.
    7.Creativity is always there n you have to trust your self.
    8.Don`t fear from problems , they are the only reason we look for solutions and create some thing new.
    9.Think Think think think think unless you find a solution.
    10.Find your own wrong way rather asking for the shortcuts.
    11.Why you are even reading this , you should be working on your project.So go and start working on it.... :)
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      Jun 3 2011: I love this practice Vika..very close to my own but I love the way you've laid it out..as a practice anyone could readily take up, and realize trhe fruits of.

      wonderful!!!!
  • Jun 3 2011: Well, that’s a good question… You see, generating ideas in my opinion depends on two variables fantasy and knowledge. The first one the fantasy is just so difficult do develop; we all were born with a certain percentage of fantasy capacity, for some is intense for other is more limited. On the other hand the knowledge can be much more developed if you work on it. To open your mind you should stay opened to all kind information, you should not limit yourself to things that interest you only, you must be curious to discover new things and to learn new things.
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      Jun 3 2011: Hi Cornelia..I think what you refer to here as "fanatsy" is what I would call "imagining" or even "imaginal"..connecting to the inner wisdom, the inner kbowdkedge, the inutition within us by giving it room to speak. Is that what you mean by faatsy? And if not, could you explain alittle further what you dod mean by fantasy.
      • Jun 8 2011: You are right Lindsay; the correct term I should have used in English is Imagination. I made a bad translation in my head from the Greek «Φαντασία» (fandasia). “Imagination, also called the faculty of imagining, is the ability of forming mental images, sensations and concepts, in a moment when they are not perceived through sight, hearing or other senses. Imagination is the work of the mind that helps create.” definition given by Winkipedia
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    Jul 21 2011: When I find someone I get on well with and respect but don't agree with on some matters, my mind is shifted into thinking about things in a different way (if I have the open mind to forget about my biases and preconceptions).

    I feel that keeping my life fresh is very important. I think doing, seeing, listening to new things, going to new places, these all help me (and watching TED videos :P). I think physically getting myself outside of my box is not only fun but enriching. Even changing my routine, eating different/new foods, and generally having things in my life that are temporary help me. But to be honest, I have little to show for it..

    Also, if you haven't already, watch this video: http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_harford.html
    Its a good example of how good ideas don't always come out of the blue! In fact, I'm tempted to say they rarely do...
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    Jul 17 2011: Life is so hard, or so different, to so many people. We often get trapped in our little world and maybe the best way to open our mind is to expand our horizons, go to places we've never been before and talk to people we've never met before.

    Well, I live in Guinea Bissau (West Africa), one of the poorest countries in the world, what also means, in many aspects, a place where there is quite a lot to be done, towards sustainable development, as we think of it in the modern 21st century.

    Having had the chance to be educated and travel a little around the world, I often go to the countryside and visit small tabankas (villages) and just observe the people that live there. I try to understand their way of life and the decisions they make. I try to learn something from them and I've always had.

    When I come back to the capital from these small trips, I feel inspired and my head is full of new and good ideas.
  • Jun 7 2011: I´ve always tried to ask myself questions, how does this comes to this. I try to avoid the sense of having an answer, I take nothing for granted.
    I´ve recently got to Lao Tzu´s Tao Te Ching, and one of the things that impressed me the most was that he said that we should empty ourselves in order to acquire true wisdom. That our very knowledge is a barrier that must be put away to open our minds.
    Following this path, to empty ourselves gives us the chance of facing every situation as brand new. Let aside all the known answers and look for new perspectives. By listening to others, by reading, by re-thinking, etc.
    So I guess that my "strategy" as you say, would be to "forget" everything I knew about a certain subject, and face it as if I am just getting to know it, at times, I get REALLY surprised by new thoughts on old matters... it´s quite amazing!
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    Jun 6 2011: In order to 'think outside the box' sometimes it's worthwhile stepping outside the box.
    1) If you can't think of it right now perhaps it's not the right time to think about it - leave it until a few hours later... just don't think about it
    2) Find negative facets to what you're thinking about - the mind is pretty defenceful towards its ideas, so you will quickly start thinking about the positive aspects
    3) Talk to others about it - as we all know it, ideas are worth spreading...
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    Jun 6 2011: I've always held the belief that the act of living should be an experience in constant personal evolution. Along those lines, I think that it's essential to have a fertile ground in your mind so that new ideas can form and grow. Everything seems to be connected to everything else, or so it seems the more I learn about the world. What I tend to do is constantly expose myself to new things, even if think that they are outside of my tastes. Thought I cannot make myself more creative, per se, I can expose myself to more things that may increase the likelihood of sparking a new idea.
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    Jun 5 2011: New ideas come to me regularly by sports (especially martial arts), taking a shower or riding the train. I can not order the idea, but I know it always happens if I relax in a certain way. Also I take a problem with me to bed - next morning I have a solution, not always the best - but a start.

    What Lindsay called the inner computer. In Germany the society of creativity researched the conditions for optimal creativity - and indeed the recommend taking a shower. But more important: they found out that traditional business meeting rooms are creativity killers.

    Now - do not say you knew this all the time, but did not do anything about it.
    Let us move out all togehter - in order to think out off the box !!
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      Jun 6 2011: Relaxing is an important part of the process for me too Bernd. Sometimes, our mind is trying to frame the solution in a context that is already known to us, when "new ideas" need to come from a new perception. When we relax the thinking mind, and suspend the mind chatter, sometimes, we recognize new information:>)

      I also feel that taking the challenge to bed with me helps....depending on how I take it to bed with me. When I form the question and suspend the mind chatter before going to sleep, the sub-conscious takes over and sometimes works things out in a way I would not have consciously thought of. Taking it to bed, staying awake and listening to our own mind chatter all night is not so helpful!:>0
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    Jun 5 2011: Open the mind and heart to the moment, with the curiosity of a child:>)

    "The winds of Grace are blowing all the time.
    It is up to us to raise our sails"
    (Ramakrishna)
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    Jun 4 2011: I observe my peers and teachers.

    two words.
    Pessimistic induction.
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      Jun 5 2011: Can you elaborate a little on those two words, 'pessimistic induction?' and their relation with the rest of your post, 'I observe my peers and teachers?'
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        Jun 5 2011: They weren't related.
        I was just listing another method I use to generate thought and ideas.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pessimistic_induction
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          Jun 5 2011: how would you make that generally useful to crearivity an dproblem solving..for example if the task were to design a faster ocean kayak..how would you use that? or perhaps you could apply it to an example and explain how it would be useful, as a general tool for expanding creativity an dopening your mind. ( I did, by the way read the entire link you provided)
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        Jun 5 2011: It's simple, when you observe past assumptions (the world is flat is an example) they obviously seem ridiculous.
        There were skeptics of this theory at the time, because they used the pessimistic induction.

        It makes me think about things deeper.
        Without doubt, we have little to no progress.
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          Jul 21 2011: I agree that there should be an attempt to falsify all things. That's science. But when that becomes ones focus.. How can you have progression from accepting nothing? When things are tested and nothing points towards them being false, what else should one do than accept them as the current truth? Science is dynamic, and neutral. If something is falsified then progress is made. But no progress can be made from disbelieving everything.
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    Jun 3 2011: I think that learning something new keeps the mind flexible and allows you to look for alternatives that you might have missed before. Try learning a new skill, sport or talent and yo wil be amazed at how you look at other things differently.
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    Jun 3 2011: I relish every opportunity to speak to people who have differing views. I sincerely believe that people almost always have good reasons for what they believe. I want to know those reasons so that I can evaluate my own in light of them and hopefully expand.
  • Jul 21 2011: To understand better or explore solutions I talk to others. It great to hear how other minds process information and approach things differently. Small teams are ideal, say three people. Brainstorming works very well, and sometimes it's a case of targeting individuals and asking their opinion.
  • Jun 7 2011: If I need to come up with ideas I simply sleep and relax, go for a walk etc. Out of the box thinking I can "rehearse" or get myself into the mood by choosing randomly things, objects, theories, people etc and force myself to find a link between them somehow.
    My favorite though is stealing the energy of coming up with brilliant and creative ideas right where it is in its purest form: kids. Going for a walk with a 5-year-old and wondering the life with a person without learned norms, limitations, boundaries etc. It helps me to put the "should, ought and have to" in a right perspective and fill the gaps with creativity, joy, crazy ideas and laughter. I can use the same strategy and flexibility of thinking later with problemsolving or coming up with something totally new.
    For me it is hard to imagine that brainstorming good ideas could be done in specific hour in a specific place. Truly brilliant ideas quite often come when I least expect them and in most inconvenient time (no opportunity to write down, draw search info and let the flow lead etc.)
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    Jun 7 2011: I simply watch TED talks, reflect and discuss them...

    Edit: And like Nino says "I don't do anything", that is perhaps one of the most important things to do... Don't listen to music, don't read, don't watch, don't discuss, simply let your mind be occupied by nothing but your own thoughts.
    At least every now and then.
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      Jul 21 2011: I agree - every now and then. Or perhaps a little bit more. Not too much though :P
  • Jun 7 2011: I am a firm believer that the slower you go the more you see. Often this is a great time for reflection, especially if you notice something seemingly 'insignificant' - and realise the insignificance of one's own problems. This allows a clarity of mind free from worry so allowing new thoughts to enter and contemplate. :)

    (there has been a squashed mosquito on the wall at work since last summer, finally yesterday, I watched an earwig devouring it, and today all that remains is a shadowy outline of what was - I class that as a time for reflection, time stands still for nothing, the cycle of energy continues. )
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    Jun 6 2011: I read. A lot.
    But this seems to be somewhat of a one-way street. This is why I like, alas, seek to chat up and engage with random and fascinating people, so we can inspire each other.

    Living in London, I always search for unusual things to do, exhibitions to go to, performances to see, which expand my mind and show me the world from a different perspective.

    I agree with many of the comments below that having quality 'me-time' is also incredibly helpful (I'm a regular in the city's numerous parks:), but on the top of my list for developing ideas and getting inspiration is to keep a completely open mind and to think outside of the box.
  • Jun 5 2011: I have done so many things to generate idea, such as brainstorming, listing the good and the bad, making observation, speaking with someone. basically it will come out of nowhere. So, be conscious about it.
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    Jun 5 2011: I watch TED. And I'll get on Stumbleupon. I'll stumble for a while, and every once in a while I'll see something that sparks an idea. Also, I try to read magazines, see speeches. One thing I would recommend is just trying your a hand at something new, like, getting into electronics, a meals-on-wheel organization, or programming. It won't be long before you say, wow, there's a better way to do this, and the ideas will start flowing.
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    Jun 4 2011: I don't do anything.. Ideas come itself..
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      Jun 5 2011: Good point, Nino. "Doing something" requires focus. It is when my mind is completely free that the best ideas come in. I have a place in my workshop that I sit when I feel stuck. I never try to think about anything but just sit among the sawdust and tools. Ideas come in. I have been going in there pretty regularly for years now and something helpful always seems to come up.
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        Jun 5 2011: Exactly..thanks Bob. & Nino.

        When we push to hard at the conscious level we sometimes interfere withour own miraculously powerful inner computer that is somehow holding and tracking and organizing so much more than we could possibly keep track of at the conscious level.

        Tha's why I like the idea, and find it very useful to have , awell formed question at the conscious level..it's like a good fishing lure.. it attracts all the bits related to the questions and lets us reel 'em in.

        And somehow this fabulously reliable inner computer also knows what our priorities are at any given moment even if we don't or have framed in our conscious mind a different set or priorities. So if we get out of the way..in a moment of silence or a moment when the monkey moind of our conscious is quieted a bit..our inner computer will just deliver to the conscious mind a great idea.
    • Jun 6 2011: I agree totally. If I think, I'm inside the box, if I don't think I'm outside the box. If I think ideas don't come but when not thinking ideas pop up out of the blue like a light bulb lighted up!
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      Jul 21 2011: Personally, I feel that doing nothing, having done nothing, will not produce much. My days of doing little produce little. The days wherein my mind has been stimulated are more likely end with me searching for a pen and paper in the middle of the night!
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    Jun 4 2011: I cogitate and mull over an idea or thought or concept, let my experiences and previous thoughts bubble away and wait until it strikes, fully formed, as if from the universe.

    I haven't ever found much use for explicit organisation and mind-planning..
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    Jun 4 2011: To open my mind I use a combination of engaging with different others, sometimes in intentional "co-reflection" and sometimes in non-reflective activities (which nonetheless seem to illuminate and/or amplify new concepts), along with quiet reflection, alone.

    Connections often light-up most when my analytical filters are turned off and my intuition is turned on. I tend to opt for a phenomenological process, where the experiential precedes the externally-proven. Not to say I don't support what I experience with data, only to say I engage conventional methods to assess their relative use in contexts beyond my close-in and personal view.
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    Jun 3 2011: New ideas and connections usually come to my mind while I'm taking a shower, weird, but it's an excellent way to develop creative thoughts!
    Social networks are also helping me a lot, twitter and facebook are just amazing, I'm connected to creative people all over the world.
    And this thing called TED seems to work very well, haha =)
  • Jun 3 2011: The single most important thing I can do is to "mind map" with deconstructive non-linear thinking. I begin with an idea reduced to the most simple concept or words and then begin to weave a fabric of ideas from it.

    For example, I try to start my work each day with a simple idea- how can I make life less difficult for others? From that concept, I build a "to be" mind map (not to be confused with a "to do" list). What I want to continually" become" is then grouped into several mind mapped categories - regulatory advisor; competent and confident clinician; diligent steward of policies and practices; and finally, an unrepentant devotee of ideaphoria.

    Each of these respective categories are then branched into more and more ideas that form my growing neural (mindmap) network that responds to the changes in my life and experiences. It is the single most important tool that I have used in my life. Thank you.
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      Jun 3 2011: Ideaphoria...but then all that energy and lal those deas..which are worthwhile..if you strat with an inquiry or an observation that becomes an inquoiry (what was that?) all the ideas that come forward will have abearing on that question..

      what happens to all those free loating ideas..how do they sort themselves out lead to a solution or a creative product?

      how dors that work?
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    Jun 3 2011: Trying to be curious , not being satisfied with visible facts/data/information.
    Ask as much "WHY" as possible to uncover drivers behind the facts / data/information.... called as insight
    Deep dive in thoughts.
    Exchange views with different people as every one has got own perspective.
    Now a days googling to uncover some pattern of similar kind of facts different part of the world.
    Brain storming
    Most importantly try to spend time with kids , to get there observation and questioning powers.

    This is my list , but not sure how much out of the box I am with my list though :)
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    Jun 3 2011: We've got lots of ideas from books, internet, ads, TED and so on. The various ideas are a hodgepodge without arrangement. And well arranged ideas could create new ideas. So I usually use computer programs like onenote and mindmap to arrange many ideas and my ideas. Those were so helpful for me to hold ideas.
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    Jun 3 2011: A favorite topic..all my life.
    here is my foundation stone..my touchstone that served me well through a very challenging career

    http://www.amazon.com/Neurotic-Distortion-Creative-Process-Lawrence/dp/B0018AK858
    (Lawrence Kubie, Neurotic Distortion of the Crearive Priocess) strange title but incredibky parcatical and valuable premise.

    (1) ask the right question..an open question that implies no theory on what the answer is

    (2) rummage through your brain for experiences, information, bits and bobs that have a bearing on the question..add a few new bits..literature search, state of the art review, a few google serches..recent articles

    (3) don't try to force all the bist into an answer for the question..let it all slosh around there..let the right brain and left barin..the conscious, the pre-cconscious connect up in their own way..using thier own mysterious computer

    (4) sleep on it

    (5) the answerr comes.

    Mr Kubie might not aprove of my summary of the "open mind creative process" but it has never failed me ever.

    By the way, thanks for including Milton Glaser, one of my heroes and he uses more or less the same process. He also greatly values collaboration..which is more powerful than merely letting your own mind diret the inquiry of relevant inormation..in collaboration many different minds, and skills are contributing with their unique abilities and experiences so we are outside our own "filter bubble". In collabiration we each use more of our ability than it is possible to use working on our own.

    John Cage should be in there on the list and also Buckminster Fuller.

    When facing a new challenge ( my life was as a public advocate so often I would have to get on top of an incredibly complex issue super fast and learn enough, get inside fast enough to have credibility with the experts out of whole cloth) I would prepare by intentionally doing some form of rigourous mental excercise.
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    Jun 3 2011: - read a lot
    - watch TED talks
    - read things about successful people
    - make mind-mappings
    - practice relaxation
    - catch all your ideas. they could come everywhere.
    - ...
  • Jun 3 2011: Read - a lot. I find taking in different perspectives from different cultures, different geographies and different eras in history helpful to exploring ideas and questions from different angles.