3 Simple Ways To Be Creative in Science

Bernard Baruch, the American financier and political consultant, once commented that “Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton was the one who asked why.” While it’s hard to imagine that no one else asked why, it is still worth pondering on how Newton managed to solve the puzzle.

Newton did not arrive at the solution in a sudden flash of insight. Instead, the groundwork for reaching his conclusion had been laid over several years before that. Newton had been mulling over what force prevents the moon from shooting off in a straight line at a tangent to its orbit. His breakthrough came when he connected the dots between the force that holds the moon in it’s orbit and the force that causes an apple to fall to the ground. In other words, by using an analogy, Newton was able to create the right hypothesis that eventually led to his theory of universal gravity.

Contrast that kind of thinking with how science fair projects in most schools are approached today. Most teachers (helpfully) give out a list of ideas to base science projects on and the focus is almost entirely on following the scientific process to construct good experiments. However, just like Newton’s discovery, most scientific breakthroughs are the result of generating new and novel hypotheses – a skill that unfortunately, doesn’t get as much focus.  Prof. William McGuire, who proposed different techniques to help generate hypotheses, laments that “our methods courses and textbooks concentrate heavily on procedures for testing hypotheses (e.g. measurement, experimental design, manipulating and controlling variables, statistical analysis, etc) and they largely ignore procedures for generating them.

So how can you start to generate your own hypotheses? Let’s take an example. Suppose you wanted to do a science experiment that involves plants, but instead of the typical “how well do plants grown in different kinds of liquids?”, you wanted to use your own hypothesis. Here are three techniques that you could use to generate some interesting, fresh hypotheses.

  • Use Analogies: Say you start with an analogy that plants are like humans. We know that humans grow faster when they are babies and then start slowing down. We can apply this fact to plants to build a hypothesis of  “Do plants grow faster when they are small?”
  • Stretch or Shrink a Variable: We know that leaves have chlorophyll that help in photosynthesis (converting light energy into chemical energy). So one hypothesis could be that If we were to shrink the chlorophyll (maybe by removing all the leaves) would the plant be able to survive?
  • Use Reversals: You can get additional insights by reversing the causality or taking the opposite of a hypothesis. For instance, if your hypothesis is that “nature lovers make better gardeners”, by reversing the causality, you get the hypothesis that “learning gardening can make you into a nature lover”. By examining and experimenting with the new hypothesis, you can potentially uncover some new insights.

As a side note, it’s worth noting that these different techniques fit well with the broader framework of creative problem solving. Using reversals or shrinking a variable are both different kinds of manipulations, while analogies use the associative process.

Every scientific advancement started with asking the right “why?” followed by the right “how?”. We can get a lot more from our science education if in addition to understanding the scientific process, we also start focusing on generating original hypotheses. As Sir Isaac Newton himself said, “No great discovery was ever made without a bold guess.

Historical What Ifs

What if Adolf Hitler had died during World War 1? Would there have been a second World War? Or, what if the Boston Tea Party never happened? “What if” questions like these, or in other words, counterfactual questions, have lately become a genre of historical research. But are such questions useful? Is there any benefit to speculating on events that never took place?

While some people dismiss such hypothetical questions as merely entertaining, Professor Richard Lebow believes that Counterfactuals are “essential teaching tools and critical to establishing claims of causation.” He showed that counterfactuals help in a few different ways:

  • Better understanding of different underlying factors: We have a natural bias to ascribe an outcome as inevitable by highlighting some factors more that others. In addition, once the outcome is known, we find it harder to appreciate additional forces in play (“certainty of hindsight bias”). As Lebow puts it, “By tracing the path that appears to have led to a known outcome, we diminish our sensitivity to alternative paths and outcomes.
  • Evaluating theories and interpretations: By examining the counterfactual associated with a causal theory, we can make explicit the assumptions in the theory. In Lebow’s words, “Counterfactual experiments can tease out the assumptions—often unarticulated—on which theories and historical interpretations rest.
  • Assessing outcomes of real world policies or events: Counterfactual thinking helps in evaluating how a particular policy might play out in the real world.

Historical counterfactual questions like the ones in the “Virtual History” category at MindAntix, don’t just help understand history better, they also tickle your creative nerve. For counterfactuals to be useful, they need to be plausible – which means that both divergent (coming up with different turning points) and critical thinking (integrating with historical facts) gets exercised. Creativity isn’t just about being imaginative – a solution to has to be both original and appropriate for it to be truly creative.

So, what’s the best way to solve these historical “What Ifs”? There is really no right answer as long as relevant facts have been used to construct a plausible scenario. However, there are some biases to be cautious of:

  • Neglecting general causal forces: A common mistake is to assume that if an event X had not occurred, things would have gone on as they did before X. For example, if the Romans had not been defeated at the Teutoburger Wald, the Roman Empire would have expanded into current day Germany. The fallacy with this theory is that it ignores the underlying forces that caused the event in the first place. In this case, the strain of geopolitical overextension faced by the Romans that would have eventually led to a defeat sooner or later.
  • Making individuals larger than life: Another prevalent  bias is to assume that a particular individual made all the difference in an outcome. For example, believing  that if Hitler had been killed in World War 1, there would not have been a Nazi movement.  This theory assumes that a leader’s charisma mobilizes groups into action. In reality it’s the other way around – charisma arises in times of social unrest and creates leaders. Charismatic leaders are replaceable – when one is eliminated, a new one can easily take it’s place.

Counterfactual reasoning, or the ability to reflect on alternate possibilities is a developmental milestone that occurs around the age of 5-6 in children. Such reasoning, even for day to day events, helps in learning from mistakes and improving outcomes in the future. Historical counterfactuals are a great way to develop such reasoning while building a deeper understanding of that historical period. What ifs can show that “small accidents or split-second decisions are as likely to have major repercussions as large ones.

3 Simple Ways to Add Creativity in Math

In a study by the US Department of Education, 81% of 4th graders reported having a positive attitude towards mathematics but that number drops significantly to 35% for 8th graders. Somehow, in the span of four years, children lose their interest in the subject, and as a result their performance declines. Professor Eric Mann, believes that “keeping students interested and engaged in mathematics by recognizing and valuing their mathematical creativity may reverse this tendency.”

In fact, research has shown that creativity can actually help students acquire content knowledge. But, how can we encourage creativity in mathematics, a subject usually considered linear and inflexible? A few people have come up with ways to twist math problems to make them more creative and fun. So, here are three simple ways to add more creativity in mathematics.

Problem Finding

Problem finding, or problem posing, in any domain is considered to be an important and integral aspect of creativity. For this activity, students are asked to come up with as many different problems as they can with a given situation. One example that Harpen and colleagues used to evaluate creativity is:

In the picture above (Fig. a), there is a triangle and its inscribed circle. Make up as many problems as you can that are related to this picture.

Most students were able to come up with problems involving Lengths (“If the triangle is a right triangle, the hypotenuse is 2, another angle is 60o, find the radius of the circle”) or Areas (“Given the radius of the circle r, find out the minimum are of the triangle”). Creative students were able to pose questions from different fields of mathematics including less obvious ones like probability (“If you are to drop something to the circle, what is the probability of it falling into the triangle?”).

Divergent Thinking

Mathematical problems with many possible solutions can help build divergent thinking skills. Exploring multiple solutions forces students to look beyond the obvious and . One such problem posed by Haylock is:

Given a nine-dot centimeter-square draw as many shapes as possible with an area of 2cm2, by joining up the dots with straight lines.

Most children come up with the easiest solution of drawing a rectangle 2cm x 1cm, but finding other kinds of shapes gets harder.  One highly creative solution shown in the picture above (Fig. b) uses two new ideas –  connecting non-adjacent dots and using an internal angle of 315o.

Overcoming Fixation

A key aspect of creativity is to break free from routine patterns of thinking (flexible thinking). By forcing students to drop their established mindsets helps them in examining a problem from different perspectives and arriving at better solutions. In the same study, Haylock gave students a series of questions in which the students are asked to find two numbers given their sum and difference. The first few example use only positive integers which sets the student’s mindset to expect solutions that use only positive whole numbers. Then the students are asked:

Find two numbers where the sum is 9 and the difference is 2.

A surprisingly large number of students assert that this is not possible. The more creative students were able to remove the self-imposed constraint of using only whole numbers and get to the right solution (5.5 and 3.5).

Connecting the Dots

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” ~ Steve Jobs

The ability to connect unrelated things, or associational thinking, is a fundamental process that underlies creative thinking. Professor Mednick, who created the Remote Associates Test for creativity, defines the creative thinking process as “the forming of associative elements into new combinations which either meet specified requirements or are in some way useful.” The more remote the elements, the more novel the solution. Consider how the structure of Benzene was discovered. August Kekule had a dream about a snake eating its own tail, which he couldn’t shake off. By connecting that image with his work on chemical structures he got the idea of the cyclic structure of Benzene, thereby making a significant contribution to the understanding of aromatic compounds. But is there a better way to increase creativity without having to wait for serendipity?

The answer is surprisingly simple – by actively looking for different associations! MacCrimmon and Wagner developed a software tool that can help find useful connections. They make a distinction between two kinds of connections – internal and external. As they describe it, “Internal connections are those between elements of the focal problem itself. External connections are those between the focal problem and external factors.” Internal connections can be discovered by combining various form and function attributes in different ways. Examples of external connections are finding connections with related problems or using random stimulus like poem fragments to trigger ideas. The 3-step creative problem solving approach encompasses the process of finding connections through dissection (internal connections), manipulation and association (external connections).

Playing games that help build associational thinking can improve creativity. For example, in  the Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) brainteasers at MindAntix, users have to find a plausible scenario for how a make-believe crime could have been committed. To do that, they have to incorporate some random pieces of evidence (like a feather or a belt) that were found at the crime scene. Similarly, in the Wacky Inventions category of brainteasers, users have to combine unrelated objects in interesting ways to create a new product. These games use random stimuli to trigger the brain to think in different directions.

And the simplest of all associative thinking games? Spotting shapes in clouds! A similar technique that Leonardo da Vinci used often was to throw a paint filled sponge at a wall and try to make sense of the meaningless stains. His ability to make remote associations helped him in connecting unrelated systems leading to his numerous inventions. It’s always possible to find some way to connect unlikely elements, even if that leads to bizarre ideas occasionally. Like da Vinci himself said, “Realize that everything connects to everything else.

 



MindAntix Brainteaser: Make-it-Better

The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, after experimenting with gliders for a couple years, built and tested their first powered plane in 1903. The flight lasted 59 seconds. The next year, after making some design improvements, the brothers managed to stay in air for more than 5 minutes. And finally in 1905, they broke all records by flying 24.5 miles in a little over 38 minutes and landing safely when the fuel ran out.

Interestingly, despite having witnesses and photographic evidence, people were skeptical that two bicycle repairmen, with no expertise in designing airplanes, would have beaten well-funded experts in the field who were actively building their own planes. In fact, a 1906 article on the Wright Brothers in the Paris edition of the Herald Tribune was captioned “FLYERS OR LIARS?”. It took another couple of years for people to finally accept that the Wright brothers had indeed managed to create a flying machine. So how did these two amateurs end up outthinking the experts?

To fully understand that, you have to look at what some educators believe our current education system lacks. Dr. Maureen Carroll, Director of Stanford University’s Research in Education & Design Laboratory, is an advocate for introducing Design Thinking into the K-12 classroom. Our educational focus, thus far, has been on building analytical thinking skills. But, as she explains, “While analytical thinking is critically important, design thinking blends in equally powerful creative thinking.” And, “It’s not that creative thinking is more important… a blend of both types of thinking are more productive for finding truly unique and transformative innovation.

So, what does the design thinking process look like? As Dr. Carroll and her colleagues describe, the design thinking process has six key components – Understand, Observe, Point of View, Ideate, Prototype and Test. This is an iterative process, and not a linear one. Making prototypes and testing helps in understanding what works and what doesn’t, and in modifying the point of view.

How does this all relate to the Wright Brothers? Essentially, what made the Wright brothers succeed, was their exceptional design thinking skills. In an analysis of the Wright brothers’ thinking, Johnson Laird proposes that the brothers superior reasoning skills gave them the edge over others. Wilbur first spent three months reading up about aeronautical history and recognizing some of the gaps in the knowledge (understanding). They also developed their own, unique point of view on what factors would be most important in designing airplanes. For instance, while Wrights’ contemporaries believed building a light but powerful motors was key, the brothers believed that the ability to control the the plane was more important. They also used analogies from bicycles and nature to design specific parts of the plane (ideation, creativity). And of course, they spent years observing, iterating and building prototypes to test out their ideas.

Encouraging design thinking is the goal behind the Make-It-Better category of MindAntix Brainteasers. The goal is to look at everyday objects – understand how they evolved the way they did, observe how people use them, develop a point of view about what could be improved about them and then come up with ideas on how to make them even better. Design thinking, like other creative problems, helps build both critical and creative thinking. And because of the focus on users, it also helps build empathy. As Carroll and colleagues explain, “Empathy develops through a process of ‘needfinding’ in which one focuses on discovering peoples’ explicit and implicit needs.

After my son had done a couple of these brainteasers, he identified his own problem –  he wanted to make stickers better. His problem was that stickers lose their stickiness quickly when you try to use them on different shirts (well, it was a problem for him). His solution was to attach the sticker to one magnet and use another magnet to hold it in place. Not bad for a six year old!

Developing basic design skills isn’t hard, even without having to prototype and test. There are hundreds of objects we interact with everyday that are waiting to be improved upon. All it needs is an inclination to pause, reflect and imagine.

 

MindAntix Brainteaser: Twist-a-Story

In a study in the late 80s, researchers gave a group of 4-6 year olds the following information:

  • “All fishes live in trees.”
  • “Tot is a fish.”

They then posed a question to the children: “Does Tot live in the water?” This syllogism was presented in two different ways – as matter of fact or with a make-believe prompt like “let’s pretend I’m on another planet”. What the researchers found, turned a long held assumption upside down. More students in the make-believe prompt group answered correctly with a “No” compared to the matter of fact group, upending the belief that imaginative thinking constricts deductive reasoning.

Scientists have wondered if our ability to tell stories, or narrative intelligence, evolved to cope with the increasingly complex social dynamics.  Prof. Kerstin Dautenhahn, who proposed the Narrative Intelligence Hypothesis, explains, “narratives play a crucial role in how young human primates become socially skilled individuals” But like the study above suggests, narratives don’t just help with social learning – they also build logical thinking. Prof. Sarah Worth believes, “we learn to reason through the reasoning provided to us through hearing and telling stories. By engaging with narratives, we practice using our narrative reason.

But what defines a narrative? A narrative is a story with the typical structure of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and denouement, and focuses on unusual rather than stereotypical events. Or in other words, “narratives are about ‘unusual events’, ‘things worth telling’.” This focus on the unusual is one reason creativity and storytelling are so intricately linked. But more than being intertwined, storytelling can provide a great medium for practicing creative and critical thinking.

The Twist-a-Story brainteaser is a playground to build on creativity and narrative reasoning. These brainteasers use a familiar story but add an unexpected twist which users have to use to complete the story. A story, just like other creative problems, can be dissected into its various elements – plots, characters, events etc. which can be manipulated in different ways to make new creative stories.

These brainteasers help build the different kinds of creativity that Margaret Boden, author of  “The Creative Mind”, describes – exploratory (exploring a given space of concepts), combinatorial (combining existing concepts into new concepts) and transformative (changing the rules that delimit conceptual space). Examples of combinatorial creativity, posted by users, include the third Little Pig using Karate to fend off the fox when he couldn’t finish his brick house, or Snow White using incinerating liquid to defeat the evil queen (combining new elements, like karate and incinerating liquid, into the solution).

Stories are a great way to nurture creative thinking and reasoning skills, even when you don’t start from a blank page. You can always use existing stories to grow your creative and narrative thinking. The next time you read a story, try to change something and see how a new narrative emerges. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once quipped, “There is creative reading as well as creative writing.

 

 

An often overlooked but important aspect of Creativity

One of the earliest people to recognize that posing questions and finding problems can be an invaluable tool in learning was Socrates. Almost 2,500 years ago, Socrates developed an approach of asking questions (elenchi) to reach a state of contradiction (aporia) to help discover new insights for the concept under study. Even though he was eventually found guilty of “corrupting the minds of the youth” and sentenced to death by drinking poison hemlock, his ideas survived and influenced the present-day scientific method.

Jacob Getzels and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, leading figures in the field of creativity, have explored the role of problem discovery in creativity. In a landmark experiment, they brought in art students who were given the task of drawing still life from a selection of objects. They found that students displayed one of two behaviors – problem-solving students spent less time choosing and manipulating an object they painted, while problem-finding students spent considerably longer examining and manipulating their objects. What they learned next was quite interesting.

The problem-finding artists generated paintings that were judged to be more original by a panel of independent experts. What was even more fascinating was how these artists fared in the long run. Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi measured the success of these students seven years after the experiment and again after another eleven years. They found that problem-finding students were the most successful in their careers as artists compared to problem-solving students, many of whom had abandoned art altogether!

Problem posing isn’t just relevant in the art domain – it extends to even mathematics, a field conventionally not considered creative. In a study conducted on creativity and mathematical problem posing, researchers asked high school students in US and China to come up with as many mathematical problems in different tasks. An example task was a figure of a triangle with an inscribed circle where the participants had to make up problems related to the figure. Researchers then evaluated the responses on the fluency, flexibility and originality – key dimensions of creativity. They found that the more mathematically advanced students were also more creative in posing problems compared to their peers. Professors Singer, Ellerton and Cai, who study mathematical education in the different parts of the world, summarized as follows: “Problem posing improves students’ problem-solving skills, attitudes, and confidence in mathematics, and contributes to a broader understanding of mathematical concepts and the development of mathematical thinking”.

Creativity flourishes when problem finding meets problem solving. Professor Edward Silver, who conducts research related to teaching and learning of mathematics, observes, “The connection to creativity lies not so much in problem posing itself, but rather in the interplay between problem posing and problem solving. It is this interplay of formulating, attempting to solve, reformulating, and eventually solving a problem that one sees creative activity”.

Problem finding is at the core of MindAntix – users not only solve creative problems but are encouraged to find new problems that they have observed or discovered in the process. Problem finding, while often overlooked, is a meta-skill applicable to many different domains and is an indicator of both creativity and excellence.

 

MindAntix Brainteaser: Wacky Inventions

What’s the best way to spread butter on toast? It turns out that people have pondered this problem at length and have come up with many solutions, including a recently funded Kickstarter project for a ButterUp Knife . But did you know about this little known “invention”, Butterstick – butter that comes in a stick just like a glue stick or a lipstick? You simply twist the bottom and start applying the butter – simple, easy and no dirty knives!

The inventor of Butter Stick and hundreds of other such creative inventions is Kenji Kawakami, the progenitor of Chindogu, the Japanese art of “unuseless” inventions. The word Chindogu, translates to “strange tools” or tools that seemingly solve a problem, but as Kawakami explains, “chindogu have greater disadvantages than precursor products, so people can’t sell them. They’re invention dropouts.“ Nevertheless, Kawakami finds making Chindogu “an intellectual game to stimulate anarchic minds” and pursues this art with an almost spiritual devotion.

The art of Chindogu has spread all over the world since Kawakami created it in the late 1980s. Tina Seelig, professor at Stanford University and author of InGenius: A Crash Course in Creativity, considers Chindogu to be an indispensable tool to spur innovative thinking (the Imagination component in her Innovation Engine model) and routinely uses it in her courses. Chindogu, as Dr. Seelig describes, is about  “putting things together in surprising ways – they are not useful, they are not useless but when you put them together interesting things happen.”

Chindogu is the inspiration behind the MindAntix brainteasers, “Wacky Inventions”. But there is a twist – instead of identifying a problem and then building a gadget to solve the problem, you have to combine the two random objects in the brainteaser in a meaningful way to solve some problem.

At a recent Creative Thinking session, I gave a group of 4th and 5th graders an additional task – not only did they have to make an invention using two random objects, they also had to make an infomercial to sell their neat gadget to their classmates! It didn’t take long for the creative juices to start flowing. We soon had impressive ideas from different teams like Jumbrella Skiing using an umbrella and a jump rope (because water skiing while standing is hard, so why not sit down and relax while you are being pulled?), and a Hold-a-Loon using a balloon and a paper clip (you never have to worry about carrying heavy books again). Not only did all teams accomplish their goal of creating something novel, they were all amazed at having created something useful out of completely random elements.

Connecting and combining ideas from different domains is the essence of creativity. Fun exercises like Wacky Inventions and Chindogu are a great way to build associative thinking skills. Nurturing such little-c and mini-c creative adventures is an essential element in paving the way for groundbreaking innovations later.

MindAntix Brainteaser: Opposite Day

One of the oldest known examples of cryptography was found on a Babylonian cuneiform tablet that contained a secret formula for pottery glaze. The inventor of the secret recipe jumbled up the figures defining the ingredients to prevent people from stealing the recipe. More than a thousand years later, Julius Caesar started using the shift cipher to encrypt his private messages. For the next two thousand years, people used increasingly more sophisticated systems for encrypting messages. Yet, all of them were based on one fundamental premise – that in order to encrypt and decrypt a message both parties must have the same key.

In the early seventies, Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman, along with Ralph Merkle, reversed this basic assumption and completely changed the cryptography landscape. Their invention of public key cryptography enabled Internet commerce to take off dramatically by allowing people to encrypt credit card transactions without having to first establish a common key between the seller and the buyer. As Frans Johansson describes in his book, The Medici Effect, “By reversing this assumption, Diffie and Hellman found the intersection between the field of cryptology and a particular, curious brand of mathematics involving so-called one-way functions.

Reversing assumptions is a powerful way to break free from preconceived notions. Michael Michalko, who outlined his assumption reversal technique called “False Faces” in Thinkertoys, explains, “Reversals destabilize your conventional thinking patterns and frees information to come together in provocative new ways.” Reversing well-established assumptions is the inspiration behind the “Opposite Day” category of brainteasers on MindAntix. The goal here is to reverse a commonly held assumption and then find ways in which the reversal is meaningful. Let’s take an example.

Suppose, you were to reverse the assumption that “Doors have handles”. If you imagine a door that doesn’t have the typical handle, you might think of a door that is perhaps operated by a foot pedal. In what situation might you need this kind of a door? Perhaps, when it’s inconvenient to use your hands, like when your hands are full from carrying grocery bags. That might trigger the idea of making a garage door that uses a foot latch to open the door allowing you to bring in your shopping bags more conveniently.

Of course, there are many different ideas you can come up with that reverse the assumption in the above example. The point of this exercise is to allow you to gain fresh insights by breaking free from conventional patterns of thinking. It would be much harder to come up with novel ideas if you simply asked yourself to make a better door. But by asking a more specific (and powerful) question, it’s easier to trigger a more novel response.

The next time you are stumped with a challenging problem, try to examine your assumptions and reverse them. You might be surprised by what you discover. As Isaac Asimov, the famous science fiction author said, “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.

MindAntix Brainteaser: Many Uses

One of the most common divergent thinking tasks is the Alternate Uses (AU) Task where you take an everyday object and think of different uses it can be put to. For example, a cup could  be used as a flower vase or as a hat or even as a toy. Designed by psychologist J.P. Guilford in 1967, the Alternative Uses Task is used as a standard creativity task to evaluate fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration of responses. But coming up with creative ideas is tricky because most people find it hard to move beyond their first strong associations. So, how can you jumpstart your brain into thinking of novel ideas?

In a study done on the Alternate Uses Task, researchers found that participants arrived at more novel responses after listing more obvious ones (typically after 10 or more responses). In a different study on divergent thinking strategies, researchers analyzed how participants responded to alternate uses and discovered some interesting patterns. They found four underlying mechanisms that people use to trigger new ideas: Memory Use (pull pre-known responses from memory), Property Use (pick a property and search for functions using that property), Broad Use (review the object against a broad use like “transport”), and Disassembly Use (pick a component of the object and find a use for it).

We can apply the three step process for creative thinking to our cup example to discover novel ideas in a more structured way. As the first step, we dissect the object into its properties (glass, metal, round), function (drink liquids from), or assumptions (hold liquids, kept open side up). In the next step, we can try and change one or more of these properties and then see if the resulting object could be used for something else. For instance,

  • instead of holding liquids, it could hold solids (vase, piggy bank, pencil holder).
  • if it was inverted it could be used as hat or a lamp shade.
  • if it was made of paper, you could cut the circle at the bottom and use that as a coin.

Once you dissect in many dimensions, you get many more starting points to modify things and come up with neat uses. In fact, the responses deemed most creative (property use) in the divergent thinking study fit neatly into the dissect and manipulate approach. You could also include the third step, associate, to increase your idea fluency. For example if you attach a string and a ball to the cup you could make a new kind of paddle ball or kendama.

So, when you attempt the “Many Uses” brainteasers (a loosely constrained version of Alternate Uses) on MindAntix, or similar problems elsewhere, try to dissect and change things to trigger more unusual connections. And remember, your best ideas will likely come in the second wave – after the more obvious ones.