Book Review: Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko

copy of Thinktoys book coverOur Library has a professional development book club, and Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko was our latest  reading.  While not a new book  (the 2nd edition came out in 2006), it was new to me, and worth sharing with my academicpkm audience.

Michael Michalko developed many of his innovative thinking methods while leading a NATO team to solve international problems during his service in the US Army.  He also organized CIA thinktanks and is an established expert in creative thinking techniques who is in high demand consultant and keynote speaker for many Fortune 500 companies.  His best-selling book, Thinkertoys, is regarded as one of the 100 Best Business Books of All Time by CEO-READ.   I’m surprised I have never run across the book until recently, but I’m glad I did!

This book explores a number of different methods for looking at problems in new and unconventional ways, opening our minds to see options and alternatives we might not have otherwise considered. It is organized to be a working handbook that can be turned to when a new approach is desired for breaking through problem blocks or to stimulate new ideas or thoughts.  The exercises are categorized into Linear Thinkertoys (more of an analytical, left-brain approaches), Intuitive Thinkertoys (focusing more on right-brain approaches) and even some group-based exercises. Michael explains that “The worth of the ideas you create will depend in large part upon the way you define your problems… Nothing is more harmful to a positive creative attitude than fears, uncertainties and doubts.”

How do his exercises work?  By providing a plethora of different ways to approach thinking.  Stymied on solving a particular problem?  Maybe his False Facts techniques would help.  This exercise has you search for new ideas by challenging and reversing what you believe to be the conventional assumptions about the problem.  Or maybe dividing the problem into its components and then reassembling it in a different way would help.  That is the technique that Michael describes as Cherry Split.  Another technique that might be more familiar to readers of this blog is mind mapping. We’ve discussed this technique and several tools for mind mapping here in the past.  Michael lists mindmapping (his chapter called Think Bubbles) as one of his Linear Thinkertoys.

The Intuitive section of Thinkertoys contains many exercises that are based on the belief that your subconscious already knows the answer which you are seeking. Once you make that assumption, the question becomes where and how do you look for the answer?  How do you release it from your subconscious mind? The techniques in this section of the book are designed to help the reader obtain that “flash of brilliance” that will provide solutions they need.  Michael’s exercise “Blue Roses” focuses on ways to develop one’s sense of intuition and “Dreamscape” describes how to capture ideas that are released in your dreams.

With thirty-nine chapters of ideas, I’ve only scratched the surface of this handbook’s offerings. Check it out!


I found this interesting videocast by Miriam Knight from a few years ago where she interviewed Michael for another of his books (Creative Thinkering).  It is almost 30 minutes long, but he is fascinating to listen to.  I hope you enjoy it as well.

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