Transforming & Synthesizing: The Final Two Thinking Tools

by ChristinaPilkington on April 11, 2012 · 4 comments

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Today is the last day in my five part series about the 13 Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People. I’ve been summarizing parts of the book Sparks of Genius as well as sharing some tips and resources that you can use to explore these tools more on your own.  

Here’s the link to part 1 – Sparks of Genius: The First Two Thinking Tools

Here’s the link to part 2 – The Next Three Thinking Tools: Analogizing, Abstracting and Recognizing Patterns.

Here’s the link to part 3- Forming Patterns, Body Thinking, Empathizing

Here’s the link to part 4- Dimensional Thinking, Modeling & Playing

Today, I’m going to summarize the last two thinking tools:  Transforming and Synthesizing.

I’ve also share some key connections between all these thinking tools at the end of this post, too. 


Thinking Tool #9 Transformation

Summary:  To transform something is to define a problem using one set of the thinking tools, investigate it with another set of tools, and then express a solution using another set. For example, you might imagine how a fictional world might look like, then create a small scale model of the world, and then finally write a novel about that world.

Often a problem goes through all the stages of thinking – from analogizing, visualizing, modeling, playing, abstracting, and dimensional thinking – before you arrive at the final product or solution.

When you use lots of thinking tools to transform an idea, you often can see the underlying pattern of the problem

It also blurs the lines between fields. You can see the deep connections between math and art and science, or between history and literature and music. 

Instead of breaking down things into individual subjects like schools so, you can see how almost anything can be looked at in many different ways and through the lens of many different “subjects.” The more connections you can make, the more powerful your understanding will be.

My favorite quotes from the book:  “Too often today we advocate one method, one approach, and expect only one answer to questions in every field. In reality, the first method and the first answer are only the beginning of understanding, not its end.”

“The more unexpected the transformation, the greater the likelihood that a surprising insight will result.”


-          Enter competitions like Odyssey of the Mind and Destination Imagination where you can apply your creativity to problem solving and creating solutions.

-          The authors of the book had a great idea to paint with spices. Spread some glue on a sheet of paper, and then sprinkle different spices on the paper. Or your child could draw a picture, and then spread glue on parts of it and sprinkle any type of food or fragrance.


Morton Subotnik’s Making Music  – This program allows children to paint or draw images which are then transformed into music by the computer. 

Torn Notebook  A look at how Claes Olenburg and Coosje von Bruggen created their sculpture “Torn Notebook” from idea through models to installation.

Sam Loyd’s Cyclopedia of 5000 Puzzles Tricks and Conundrums with Answers 


Thinking Tool #7 Synthesizing

Summary:  All thinking should be a combination of our sensations and abstract knowledge.

This chapter looks closely at the relationship between the mind and the body in learning. It concludes that you can’t really know something just by observing it or just by reading about it. There must be a combination.

When we deprive children of gathering as many sensation memories as they can, you’ll hinder their ability to truly acquire abstract knowledge later.

Also, I think that if you deprive children of the opportunity to explore abstract knowledge when they are ready for it, you deprive them of synthesizing all those experiences and understanding them at a deeper level.

But you must respect where they are right now. If you offer up abstract learning to a child and he resists, than he’s not ready for it. If you offer up a variety of experiences to children, they will pick and choose those they are ready for.

The book also explored how to combine your senses.  To not only listen to music but to see it and feel it, too – to not only play with numbers, but to also learn how to hear them as well.

My favorite quote from the book:  “One must actively integrate sensual experience with what one knows intellectually to achieve understanding.”


-          Write down a list of random words. Challenge yourself to see how many fields, disciplines or subjects that word connects to.

-          When you see the color green, what taste sensations do you get? When you hear a piece of music, what visual images come to mind? When you taste something, what melody can you connect to that taste?


Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People

 The Complete Verse and Other Nonsense by Edward Lear

E.E. Cummings Complete Poems

As I read the book, I was struck by some strong similarities between the tools.

I discovered:

-          Connections between subjects, thoughts and ideas are the key to deep understanding.

-          Connections cannot be made unless a person has a wealth of senses stored up which is only possible if they have a large variety of experiences.

-          Hands-on, real life learning is the key true knowledge.

-          To really explore all these thinking tools, it requires unstructured, uninterrupted time. It cannot be done when you are confined to 20-45 minute blocks of time

-          Creating and recognizing patterns, which can only be done through close observation, analogizing and abstracting, is the way people in all fields can become true innovators.


Photo Credit: My Charade 

What creative tools do you use in your family? What type of thinking is important for your creativity?



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  • Sarah Southcombe

    Hi Christina, this is really interesting.
    Despite a State education I was allowed freedoms to explore at home and have developed most of these tools which I have used to creative, business and academic ends.
    Empathising and pattern recognition being key strengths.
    I am lookin to allow my kids more freedom to learn more at their own pace and not to my own agenda even though the box ticker in me struggles with it. Solution? Write a list for me to achieve not them!
    Thank you I have enjoyed reading many of your posts tonight!

  • Karen Terry Cagle

    I love it, “All Thinking should be a combination of our senses”. That is how I feel about learning too. I have so enjoyed this series and all your great resources! Thank you.

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks so much, Karen! It was quite a bit of work doing these posts, but I really thought the book had so many wonderful resources and also did a great job of summing up the learning tools that all kids need. I have a feeling it wasn’t as popular with many readers, but for those who did read the series and like it, I’m glad to have shared this with you.

  • Karen Terry Cagle

    I love it, “All Thinking should be a combination of our senses”. That is how I feel about learning too. I have so enjoyed this series and all your great resources! Thank you.

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