Blocks to Creativity,
and how to remove them
Bonnie Cramond
University of Georgia
Adams, J. L. (2001). Conceptual blockbusting: A guide to
better ideas. Cambridge: Perseus.
Warmup--Activity 1
Did you read both
Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater had
had a wife and couldn’t keep her;
he put her in a pumpkin shell and
and there he kept her very well.
Most People Won’t…
…unless they have seen this or suspect
• Block—We tend to see what we expect to see.
• That’s why we are often not good proof
readers of our own work
• That is also why we often stereotype.
Activity 2
Draw no more than 4 straight lines
without lifting your pencil from the paper
cross through every dot once
One solution is to go beyond the boundaries of
the rectangle formed by the dots.
Alternative Responses
• Cut the dots out, line them up and use 1
straight line.
• • • • • • • • •
• Curve the paper around and use 1 winding
Activity 3: Use 6 Pencils to Make 4
Equilateral Triangles
• Use the 6 pencils to create 4 equilateral triangles
• The ends of the pencils create the angles
• Don’t break the pencils
• Another block is the tendency to delimit the
problem area too closely.
• The directions did not say that you had to stay
within the rectangle formed by the dots, or
that the triangles had to be in a flat plane, but
people usually make that assumption, limiting
their solutions.
• Other assumptions, for the 9 dot problem, are
that the paper can’t be cut or turned, or the
writing implement can’t be very large.
Activity 4
A general wants to send his army in a surprise attack
on the enemy camp. However, if he sends the whole
army in, they will be noisy and lose the element of
surprise. If he only sends part of the army in, they
may be quiet, but they will be outnumbered. What
could he do?
One solution is analogous to
the general attacking the
enemy camp problem. Small
squads can approach quietly
and convene in full strength
in the enemy camp.
• Inability to see the problem from various
• We often fail to transfer solutions from one
situation to another analogous situation in a
different setting.
Activity 5 Can you pick the right
penny without looking at one?
Can you pick the right penny
without looking at one?
• Saturation—we tend not to look at things that
we see all of the time
• This can prevent us from seeing a problem if it
is something that has been around.
Activity 6
• There are many possible solutions to this problem, but
one that should be obvious, urinating into the pipe to
make the ball float up, is usually not mentioned in a
group because of taboos.
Act. 7: Paper Folding
Imagine a sheet of notebook paper, 8.5” X 11”
Now, imagine folding it in half,
Now, how many sheets thick is the paper?
This is impossible. The paper would be too thick to fold.
Trying to solve this mathematically is incorrect.
Act. 8 Buddhist Monk
• Must there be a spot
that he passes at the
same time on both
days? YES!
• You need not tell
where or when, just if.
Can you prove your
answer? See the next
One Proof--Graphic
• Instead of one monk on
two days, the same
problem can be
represented by two
monks on one day.
• At 6:00 am, one starts
at the bottom of the
path and the other
starts at the top.
• Must they run into each
other along the way?
Top of Mt
Another Proof--Visual
If there were two monks, they would run into each other
somewhere along the way, although it is impossible to predict
where or when. So, the monk would have to touch on the same
place at a time although we don’t know where or when.
I. Perceptual Blocks
A. Seeing what you expect to see--stereotyping (Act 1reading past words)
B. Difficulty in isolating the problem (During the 1970s,
Detroit automakers attempted to sell more American
cars by making them bigger & more luxurious. They
did not isolate the correct problem.)
C. Tendency to delimit the problem area too closely
(9 dot problem; 6 pencils)
A. Inability to see the problem from various viewpoints
(Gamma Ray Activity)
B. Saturation (Coin exercise)
C. Failure to utilize all sensory inputs (We tend to rely
on vision too much.)
Emotional Blocks
1. Fear to make a mistake, to fail, to risk
2. Inability to tolerate ambiguity; overriding desires for
security, order; "no appetite for chaos”
3. Preference for judging ideas, rather than generating them
4. Inability to relax, incubate and "sleep on it”
5. Lack of challenge; problem fails to engage interest
6. Excessive zeal; over-motivation to succeed quickly
7. Lack of access to areas of imagination
8. Lack of imaginative control
9. Inability to distinguish reality from fantasy
Cultural Blocks
False beliefs that:
A. Fantasy and reflection are a waste of time, lazy, even
B. Playfulness is for children only
C. Problem-solving is serious business and humor is out of
D. Reason, logic, utility, practicality are good; feelings,
intuition, qualitative judgments, pleasure are bad
E. Tradition is preferable to change
F. Any problem can be solved by scientific thinking and
lots of money
G. Taboos (steel pipe)
Intellectual and Expressive Blocks
1. Solving the problem using an incorrect language
(verbal, mathematical, visual) (paper folding)
2. Inflexible or inadequate use of intellectual
problem solving strategies (Buddhist Monk)
3. Lack of, or incorrect, information (WMDs in Iraq?)
4. Inadequate language skill to express and record
ideas (verbally, musically, visually, etc.)
Environmental Blocks
1. Lack of cooperation and trust among
colleagues (murder committees)
2. Autocratic boss who values only his own
ideas, does not reward others;
3. Distractions—phone, easy intrusions; and
4. Lack of support to bring ideas into action.
Murder Committees—”Murder” Ideas
• This `telephone' has too many shortcomings to be
seriously considered as a means of communication. The
device is inherently of no value to us. Western Union
internal memo, 1876
• I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.
Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943
• The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order
to earn better than a 'C,' the idea must be feasible.
Anonymous Yale University management professor in
response to Fred Smith's paper proposing reliable
overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found
Federal Express Corp.)
More Murderers
• Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and
find oil? You're crazy. Anonymous drillers who Edwin L.
Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.
• Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.
Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse,
• Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. Lord
Kelvin, 1895
• Who the hell wants to hear actors talk? H. M. Warner,
founder of Warner Brothers film studios, 1927
We Can Remove Blocks by…
• Being aware of them
• Practicing breaking them
• Manipulating our environment so that it is
most supportive of our creativity
• Avoiding murder committees

Blocks to Creativity, and how to remove them