Reviewed by: 
Michael Michalko
Ten Speed Press
Alistair Schofield, Managing Director, Extensor Limited

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I bought a copy of Thinkertoys after reading a review which said that it was; “packed with practical user-friendly exercises designed to rip the moron out of your head and leave only the unrivalled brilliance of your innate creative genius.”

Although I have to admit that I do not feel any more creative than I already was before reading the book, I did enjoy it and was surprised over and over by the simple exercises that I couldn’t figure out until reading the explanation.

The point of this book, and many like it, is that it is not that many of us lack innate creativity, simply that we are conditioned to scan things briefly and then jump to conclusions.  For most things in life this is acceptable, in some cases even preferable, but when we are looking for creativity and new thinking, we need to challenge our assumptions.

To prove the point, the book is packed full of optical illusions that trick us into believing, for example, that one object is taller than another, when in actual fact, they are both the same size.  Apart from being fun, these illusions demonstrate the way in which the truth may elude us unless we are attuned to the fact that all may not be as it seems.

The author begins the book by stating that Thinktoys is for “monkeys,” not “kittens.” He defines “kittens” as people who ask for help, but are not willing to make the effort necessary to make changes. “Monkeys,” on the other hand, take the initiative and face challenges head-on. He states that the exercises contained within the book must be used, not merely read, for them to make a difference in the reader’s way of looking at problems. If you think you are a monkey and not a kitten therefore – read on.

The book is divided into four parts, the first of which deals with Linear Thinkertoys.  These are strategies for “listing, dividing, combining, or manipulating to give you new entry points for solving problems. Proceeding from these entry points, you can jump from one idea to another until you find the one you need.”

In the second part, Intuitive Thinkertoys, focuses on exercises that help you "tap into your unconsciousness and find the ideas that you already have." The exercises suggested deal with relaxation and ways to clear the mind (to become more receptive), how to use and develop the intuition, the process of incubation and idea hatching. You will also cover analogies, how to use fantasies to generate ideas, ways of invoking desired qualities and energies and how to access your genius through your dreams. You'll also read about clever (but simple to use) creativity generating techniques used by brilliant artists such as Salvadore Dali, Da Vinci or the builders of the Pyramids.
In the third part, Group Thinkertoys, look at how teams can use approaches such as brainstorming or the Japanese “Rice Storm” exercise to uncover new ideas.

In the fourth part, Endtoys, the book looks at how to put ideas into action, by prioritising the good ones and killing off the bad ones. It also looks at how to utilise disparate isolated ideas by combining them with others to form new ideas.
While much of this may sound a bit zany when described in a book review, it is all good practical advice as is demonstrated in the book by the references to real world innovations and breakthroughs that have occurred as a result of these types of creative processes.

It is therefore a book I would recommend.  Moreover, if you have never bought a book before on creative thinking, I would recommend Thinkertoys as an excellent starting point.

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