A TRUE STORY: I have a friend who uses his constant, gentle wit and says funny things. His humor helps when the discussion becomes overly serious. “Everyone thinks I’m humorous,” he once said. “Actually, I’m out of control.”

AN ANTI-CREATIVITY HABIT: We inhibit our spontaneity and repress our wit and humor.

The Creative Atmosphere In Your Mind

The creative climate in your mind has profound effects on your creative output. Your paradigms, beliefs and thoughts propel your behavior and your thinking into creative or not-so-creative activities. For example, if you believe you can’t think creatively, then you won’t. And what’s worse, you won’t make the effort to learn how.

Here’s another. If you believe in certain assumed boundaries and unwarranted assumptions, or adhere to certain unstated criteria and an unrealistic sense of fairness in your mind, then your belief system and paradigms will keep you stuck and spoil your creative thinking.

And here’s a crushing example. If you have a highly developed habitual automatic No and a fondness for quick negative criticism, not only will you spoil everyone else’s creative thinking, you will also cut down on your own creative output. Your creative thinking will be mired in excessive gloom and prophecies of failure, even though you can think very creatively, pulling negative comments out of the blue.

When solving problems, instead of shifting the paradigm and striking out into new territory, our mind focuses on a previously successful solution, and we continue the old timeworn ways of doing things, even if counter productive. This dampens the creative atmosphere in your mind.

The antidote to this habit starts with becoming aware of this process and taking measures to reduce or eliminate it.

Let us start with a fun puzzle to discover how we spoil creative thinking in ourselves and others, and the antidote to such spoiler-habits.


Each of us has far more creative thinking ability than we suspect. A bit of fun will show you.

Add one line to “IX” and turn it into a six. 

Spend about three to four minutes on this problem before moving on. No peeking at the answers yet, please.

There are many solutions. The most common: add an “S” to the “IX” and produce a … “SIX.” If you got this, congratulations.

If you did not get this answer, why not? Like many people in my creative thinking workshop, one or more of the following may have blocked you:

– You forgot that words can express numbers.

– You looked for a straight line. You forgot that lines also curve.

– You connected this in your mind with a match stick problem.

– You got stuck on Roman numerals.

Our thoughts act like they get trapped by ruts in our minds and cannot get out. These ruts are called paradigms, old beliefs, and thought patterns. And out of habit, we keep trying to find a solution within these ruts even though they do not work to solve the new problem.


These mind-ruts, collectors of thoughts, capture problems and send them down the same old paths. Once your thought gets stuck in a mind-rut, you find it hard to get out without deliberate creative thinking, that is, without using creativity triggers.

Every time a related new problem arises, you return to the old mind-ruts that succeeded before. If you stuff a new problem into an old mind rut that once worked, you generate the same timeworn solution.

Since a mind-rut gets more entrenched each time you use it to solve a problem, you eventually no longer look for new ways to perceive and deal with a new problem. The problem drops into that ‘huge’ mind-rut and you exert your thinking efforts to push toward an adequate solution, a quick fix, instead of seeking alternatives. You need to shift paradigms using creativity triggers to get out of old mind-ruts.

Thus, to convert “IX” to “SIX” you need to get out of at least two mind ruts and into new paradigms: one that tells you “words can express numbers,” and another that tells you “lines can curve.” If you don’t do that, you will not get to “SIX” from “IX.”

Programmed Mind Ruts

To demonstrate other mind-ruts in my workshop, I ask about favorite colors. About 50% of the attendees say their favorite color is red, the rest say blue. How can this be? With many hundreds of colors from which to choose, almost all say red or blue. What happened to orange, purple, or blonde?

Another example: about half of the attendees say their favorite fruit is an apple, the other half say banana. Again, how can this be? With the many dozens of fruits available, almost all say apple or banana. I’m told that in Mexico they say mango and papaya. In New Zealand they say the kiwi.

Mind-ruts are programs instilled in us by experience, training, schooling, and whatever. To be creative, we need to free our minds and get rid of non-useful mind-ruts, programming, paradigms, perspectives, or whatever you call it.

Fortunately, we can decide what to get rid of and what to retain. You control your choice.

AN ANTI-CREATIVITY HABIT: We allow our thoughts to get stuck in an old established mind-rut, and we stay stuck in old paradigms. We do not deliberately search out alternative mind-ruts or shift paradigms using appropriate creativity triggers.

OTHER SOLUTIONS to IX -> 6: You might have shifted the paradigm and gotten into other perspectives, and other answers, such as:

– Add a 6, and make 1X 6 (one times six). This equals 6.

– Cover the top half of the IX with a thick line, and turn it upside down so it looks like this: vi

– Move the vertical line in IX to the right and one slanting line of the X to the left to produce a distorted  \/ |

– Fold the paper through the middle of the IX, and turn it over so all you see is a vi

These last two solutions may disturb you because I did not add a line. Try to discover what mind-rut(s) grabbed your thoughts. Perhaps the following:

Fairness: I said add a line, and it seems unfair not to add one.

Making Unwarranted Assumptions: You might have assumed the added line must attach to the answer.

Actually, I did not specify where or when you add the line, perhaps elsewhere, or you could add it next week. If it disturbs you that much, please add a line just below the solution like this: VI

AN ANTI-CREATIVITY HABIT: Solutions to problems have to seem fair, fit preconceived notions, old paradigms, and unstated phantom criteria that no longer apply.

AN ANTI-CREATIVITY HABIT: We make unwarranted assumptions about problems and do not check them out. We stay stuck in old paradigms and old mind-ruts.

You trigger your mind-ruts and paradigms by words, remote connections, visual impressions, ideas, etc. They keep you glued to the past. Connecting new problems with old mind ruts and paradigms produces the same timeworn solutions and spoils creative thinking, the closed mind syndrome.

You easily get locked into an old, ineffectual mind-rut or paradigm, because you maintain it with old ideas and traditions, not by current success. To avoid this, shift into new paradigms.

AN ANTI-CREATIVITY HABIT: The quick fix depends on accepting the first adequate solution to a problem, thereby denying your creative ability to find a better solution.

To avoid the quick fix, set a quota for three to five different ideas before choosing a solution (10 different ideas are better). Or non-evaluatively list all the ideas you can think of in a three-minute brainstorming session.

AN ANTI-CREATIVITY HABIT: One habit based on the quick fix includes rushing to generate solutions before carefully analyzing the problem (or examining alternative paradigms) to make sure you work on the right problem. You use old paradigms instead of new ones.

Old paradigms distort current reality and produce an inability to even see other alternatives. They lead to low quality solutions if you use the wrong paradigms. Since they become more established each time they successfully solve a problem, they diverge from reality as time passes. We refer to successful paradigms as ‘perspectives,’ while we refer to unsuccessful paradigms as ’ruts.’

AN ANTI-CREATIVITY HABIT: We do not search a single paradigm for the entire range of possible new ideas.

AN ANTI-CREATIVITY HABIT: We do not explore new ideas for additional paradigms.

Use advanced creativity triggers to alter these habits, get into different perspectives, and shift to new paradigms by analyzing problems and listing many ‘How-to’ problem statements. Use idea-generating triggers, and other creativity triggers to select and combine ideas into trigger-proposals, and then into quality solutions.

And checkout my NEW 2016 book: “CREATIVITY FOR UNCREATIVE PEOPLE: How To Be More Creative Than You Think You Are.” CLICK HERE AND HERE.

©2016 by Edward Glassman, Ph.D.


His book: “Team Creativity At Work I & II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best,” is available: CLICK here OR HERE.

His book: “R&D CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION HANDBOOK: A Practical Guide To Improve Creative Thinking and Innovation Success At Work” is available.   CLICK here  OR HERE

Ed Glassman, Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Program For Team Excellence And Creativity at the university. He led scores of problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University, a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC, a Visiting Professor at the University Of California at Irvine, and a Visiting Scientist at SRI International.