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some hints and tools that can help overcome the con- stancy block while avoiding the negative conse- quences of inconsistency.

A Single-Thinking Language

A second manifestation of the constancy block is the use of only one thinking language. Most people think in words—that is, they think about a problem and its solution in terms of verbal language. Analytical prob- lem solving reinforces this approach. Some writers, in fact, have argued that thinking cannot even occur without words (Feldman, 1999; Vygotsky, 1962). Other thought languages are available, however, such as nonverbal or symbolic languages (e.g., mathemat- ics), sensory imagery (e.g., smelling or tactile sensa- tion), feelings and emotions (e.g., happiness, fear, or anger), and visual imagery (e.g., mental pictures). The more languages available to problem solvers, the better and more creative will be their solutions. As Koestler (1964: 177) puts it, “[Verbal] language can become a screen which stands between the thinker and reality. This is the reason that true creativity often starts where [verbal] language ends.”

George says, “It’s no problem. It’s about the same size as an air conditioner. It weighs about the same. It should sell for the same. So we’ll price it at $499.” Now you think that’s sill , but you stop and think about it. Here’s a man who really didn’t understand the tech- nologies. But there is about the same amount of copper involved, the same amount of steel as an air conditioner. And these are basic raw materials. It didn’t make a lot of difference how you fit them together to make them work. They’re both boxes; they’re both made out of sheet metal; and they both require some sort of trim. (Nayak & Ketteringham, 1986: 181).

In several short sentences, Foerstner had taken one of the most complicated military secrets of World War II and translated it into something no more com- plex than a room air conditioner. He had painted a pic- ture of an application that no one else had been able to capture by describing a magnetron visually, as a famil- iar object, not as a set of calculations, formulas, or blueprints.

Percy Spencer at Raytheon is a prime example of a visual thinker:

One da , while Spencer was lunching with Dr. Ivan Getting and several other Raytheon sci- entists, a mathematical question arose. Several men, in a familiar reflex, pulled out their slide rules, but before any could com- plete the equation, Spencer gave the answer. Dr. Getting was astonished. “How did you do that?” he asked. “The root,” said Spencer shortly. “I learned cube roots and squares by using blocks as a boy. Since then, all I have to do is visualize them placed together.” (Scott, 1974: 287)

The microwave oven depended on Spencer’s com- mand of multiple-thinking languages. Furthermore, the new oven would never have gotten off the ground without a critical incident that illustrates the power of visual thinking. By 1965, Raytheon was just about to give up on any consumer application of the magnetron when a meeting was held with George Foerstner, pres- ident of the recently acquired Amana Refrigeration Company. In the meeting, costs, applications, manu- facturing obstacles, and so on were discussed. Foerstner galvanized the entire microwave oven effort with the following statement, as reported by a Raytheon vice president:

A similar occurrence in the Post-It Note chronol- ogy also led to a breakthrough. Spence Silver had been trying for years to get someone in 3M to adopt his unsticky glue. Art Fry, another scientist with 3M, had heard Silver’s presentations before. One day while singing in North Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, Fry was fumbling around with the slips of paper that marked the various hymns in his book. Suddenly, a visual image popped into his mind:

I thought, “Gee, if I had a little adhesive on these bookmarks, that would be just the ticket.” So I decided to check into that idea the next week at work. What I had in mind was Silver’s adhesive. . . . I knew I had a much big- ger discovery than that. I also now realized that the primary application for Silver’s adhe- sive was not to put it on a fixed surface like bul- letin boards. That was a secondary application. The primary application concerned paper to paper. I realized that immediately.” (Nayak & Ketteringham, 1986: 63–64).

Years of verbal descriptions had not led to any applications for Silver’s glue. Tactile thinking (handling the glue) also had not produced many ideas. However, thinking about the product in visual terms, as applied to what Fry initially called “a better bookmark,” led to the breakthrough that was needed.




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