The Creativity of Burning Ice—What Doesn’t Come Next

charcoal on fire

Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on

My first winter campout was filled with contrasting activities that saved my life. Pitching a canvas tent in three inches of snow seemed odd and the packing of snow around the base of the tent felt counterintuitive, yet it was a great insulator that kept me warm inside.

The freezing night air suggested I wear every piece of clothing that I brought to bed, but my scoutmaster recommended we sleep in our underwear. My sleeping bag did the trick in keeping me warm in my shorts, while my roommate hardly slept in his layers of clothing because he shook all night from his sweat trying to freeze.

The next night included a hazing ritual for those who braved the winter camping experience. One at a time, we were taken from seclusion to the bonfire area for the testing of our manhood (something that would not be allowed today). When it was my turn, I was told that if I screamed from the pain, I would fail the test.

I was taken to a fire pit that was two feet wide and six feet in length. I felt the heat rising from the bed of hot coals and was instructed to take off my boots and socks. After blindfolding me, I was turned around a few times and then instructed to walk across the hot coals to prove myself manly. Being a teen raised by a cop and a teacher, I figured the scouts couldn’t afford a lawsuit, so I decided that the spinning around was to disorient me. I assumed that I was no longer in front of the coals.

I willingly took a bold step forward and felt my feet on the hot searing coals. I was blocked by onlookers from turning back, so I moved quickly across the hot embers. Once my feet hit the ground, I turned back as I pulled off my blindfold and watched the guys cheering as they pointed down to the long pit of ice I had crossed.

My eyes, having seen the hot coals, coupled with my mind knowing what comes next, connected with the extreme temperature change felt by my feet moving from the ground to the ice. This caused my mind to interpret the contrasting temperature to be hot rather than cold. My senses had been fooled.

When our mind thinks it knows what comes next, we are naturally biased based on our previous experiences. This bias reduces our creative ability, surrendering our thoughts to the logical side of our brain. To increase our creativity, we must learn how to explore what does not come next.

School taught us that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When we engage our creativity, we find that this rule can kick in by immediately bringing to mind the opposite of our initial thoughts. If we think about things that make us feel hot, the contrasting items that make us cold subconsciously pop into our mind as well.

This natural phenomenon can help us ponder alternative solutions for a problem at work. By exploring the various contexts that arise, we are able to consider things that can expand our perspective. Contemplating things that are not directly connected to the obvious next steps, opens our mind to a new world of possibilities and solutions that would otherwise never be considered.

After the invention of the small 9” television screen that was mounted in the huge box to hold all of its tubes, who would have thought that we could carry a portable 9” television built into our flat tablets or phones?

Only by exploring the things that don’t come next can we find uncommon solutions that change the face of our market. To be a company that innovates, the workers must learn how to explore what doesn’t come next to spark new perspectives and ideas.

A simple exercise that you can do right now is called “What’s Not Next.”

Consider what you are doing right now. You probably know without much thought what you’ll be doing next (after reading this article). However, the exercise asks you to consider the opposite—what you will not do next. Explore the possibilities and consider any correlation to what you are currently doing.

Then ask yourself how what doesn’t come next impacts what does come next.

This exercise forces you to be open-minded and allows you to strengthen your creativity by changing your perspective. By picking arbitrary times throughout the week to explore this exercise, you will expand your ability to switch perspectives more rapidly and increase your ability to solve problems caused by a changing marketplace.

© 2019 by CJ Powers
Please consider helping me offset the costs of publication, as I work on my next book The Creative You. Your support is welcome.

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Creating with Opposites

Creating with OppositesI’ve never understood “writers block” or not being able to create something new. Every time I have a slight delay of thought, I change my perspective and I’m flooded with buckets of new ideas. Creativity flows whenever I shift my perspective to something unique.

One change of perspective can come about by considering the opposite. Let’s say I wanted to create a new restaurant or café. The easiest first step is making a list of what restaurants are, such as:

  1. A place with a menu selection of food.
  2. A place to order food.
  3. A place to have food served.

The list could continue, but for this example I’m good with a short list. Now, keep in mind that this list is based on my assumptions of what a restaurant is. It’s possible that not all restaurants have all three. Some places might be more unique, thanks to a creative person who gave input at the onset of the idea. So to pump creativity into my new restaurant idea, I try to list out the opposites:

  1. A place without any form of menu.
  2. A place where food can’t be ordered or bought.
  3. A place where no one serves the food.

This list of opposites opens up the mind and starts my creative process. While the logical person says that’s stupid, the creative soul plays with the ideas. The creative picks a few of the opposites and brainstorms.

What if…

…My restaurant had no menu?

Maybe the chef comes to the table and shares what ingredients and meats he procured that afternoon for the freshest of meals. He shares some ideas with those at the table and based on consensus cooks up a culinary delight. And, sends the family home with the recipe for a future gathering.

…People can’t order food at my restaurant?

Maybe it’s a beautiful setting with privatized ambiance that is rented by the hour and guests bring their own food. Instead of ordering extras that were forgotten by the host, shelves of free supplements are available for use.

…No one serves the food?

Maybe a top chef tosses various plates of food onto a counter for anyone to grab. Each dish is uniquely made from various country recipes and then put on display for anyone to claim. Each presentation perfectly brings out the key elements that make the meal unique to its country.

By using the opposites to brainstorm, several more ideas pop into my head that venture me off in a direction that will make my restaurant unique. Those unordinary possibilities would drive marketing and entice foodies to try something new and refreshing.

Years ago I came up with an idea using opposites and shared it with friends. Everyone was interested in trying my restaurant if I ever got around to making it. Two years later Walt Disney World opened a new restaurant that was so similar that I realized my venture idea could’ve been a success — All due to a creative use of opposites.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers