Experimental Blogging and “Thinking Free”

More and more, I desire to pursue experimental thinking with my blogging. I want to push out beyond the boundaries. I want to create rather than merely consume. I want to be more experimental in my blogging and thinking. It’s not always easy. I’m often very uncreative and quite stuck within my normal thinking patterns.

As I was considering experimental blogging, I recalled an excellent book called The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership by USC president Steven Sample (an electrical engineer). One of my favorite concepts from the book is called “thinking free.” Sample explains “thinking free” in a 2007 speech:

“Thinking free…goes beyond ‘thinking outside the box’ or ‘brainstorming.’ Thinking free takes that process of inventiveness to the next level.

“The key to thinking free is first to allow your mind to contemplate really outrageous ideas, and only subsequently apply the constraints of practicality, practicability, legality, cost, time, and ethics.

“…thinking free is an unnatural act. It therefore requires enormous effort. It also requires the suppression of a completely natural urge to immediately dismiss novel and seemingly ridiculous ideas. If they can do it at all, most people can bear to truly think free only for a matter of minutes. The process exhausts the mind.

“My favorite way to stimulate this kind of thinking free is to force myself to contemplate absolutely outrageous and impossible ways to address a particular problem.

“For example, in 1967 I was struggling to invent a new way to control a dishwasher… At one point I lay on the floor and forced myself to imagine hay bales, elephants, planets, ladybugs, sofas, microbes, newspapers, hydroelectric dams, French horns, electrons and trees, each in turn and in various combinations controlling a dishwasher.

“This exercise was, to say the least, extremely difficult and disconcerting, so much so that I could do it for only 10 minutes at a time. But after a few such sessions I suddenly envisioned an almost complete circuit diagram for a digital electronic control system for a home appliance. This system was unlike anything I or others had ever contemplated before [and] was eventually employed in hundreds of millions of home appliances around the world.

“As improbable as it might sound, this same approach to thinking free can lead to novel ways of addressing some of the many challenges you will confront, no matter what your field or vocation, may be. The key is to break free for just a few minutes from the incredibly tight constraints that rule our thinking almost all of the time, even when we dream or engage in so-called free association.”

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