In our quest to understand, we believe that merely giving something a name accurately explains. The unknown in medicine can be ascribed to “a virus”. Mathematics constructs “chaos theory” to explain what defies logic and cannot be understood. The “random walk theory” of Wall Street officially postulates that the market cannot be predicted. We create the illusion of understanding and even of mastery by assigning a diagnosis.

The brain operates efficiently, to expend the least amount of energy to do a task. This efficiency means that the brain takes shortcuts based on what it already knows—the tracks already laid down and neurons tailored to certain tasks. The shortcuts save energy. The shortcuts also mean that past experience necessarily shapes current perception and processing. Psychoanalysts call this transference. Neuroscientists call it the efficiency principle. Behavioral economists call it diagnosis bias (physicians should as well, but often do not). For all of us, the brain perceives things in ways it has been trained to do. How we categorize something determines what we see.

This works great for many things. But the challenge is that imagination, which comes from perception, can be limited to what we already know. We can only imagine from our current experience and our known paradigms. Neuroscientist Gregory Berns examines the science of thinking differently—iconoclasts in particular—to emphasize how we need to put ourselves in new situations to see things differently and boost creativity.

When the brain encounters the unaccustomed or unexpected, perturbation occurs. The brain has to reorganize perception, which influences how we see things. We are pushed to see things in a different way—to be creative. Prompts include a novel stimulus, new information, or an unaccustomed context.

Here are some suggestions for creative stimulation.

  • Be aware of the categories that you use for a person or idea—in order to go beyond or outside them.
  • Seek out environments in which you have no experience.
  • Bring together ideas from different disciplines and different perspectives to the same subject.
  • Engage a Mentor or Coach to challenge new ways of looking at things.
  • Follow intuition and gut feelings: write them down.
  • Brainstorm and free associate: allow a stream of consciousness not bound by usual categories.

The Secret Language of Money, a business bestseller, is now translated into 10 languages.