Thoughts and Tell Backs: A Book Report on James L. Adams’ Conceptual Blockbusting Essay

Thoughts and Tell Backs:

A Book Report on James L - Thoughts and Tell Backs: A Book Report on James L. Adams’ Conceptual Blockbusting Essay introduction. Adams’ Conceptual Blockbusting

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I.         Chapter Two:  Perceptual Blocks

            1.         Perceptual blocks are the common hindrances an individual encounters when solving a problem, and may appear in two occasions:  identifying and understanding the problem, and finding the necessary information to solve it.

            2.         Block One:  Stereotyping.  The presence of preconceptions stops the individual from seeing things clearly, or seeing the problem for what it is.

            a.         Perceptual stereotyping lets an individual complete incomplete data, but may get in the way of creativity or seeing things in new ways or functions.

            b.         Attributes rather than labels are better.

            c.         Memory is the stored information that aids stereotyping, and may be short-term (STM) or long-term (LTM).  LTM is more useful than STM, as it allows for problem-solving, encourages sense of self, and enables sensible communication, through attention.

            d.         Attention is determined by what is already stored in one’s mind, particularly on subjects a person prefers.

            e.         Context is key in remembering information, which classifies it into categories that may result in ignoring new contexts.

            3.         Block Two:  Difficulty in Isolating the Problem

            a.         Misleading information or inadequate clues lead to improper problem-identification, which results in incorrect problem-solving.

            b.         Patience and being alert contribute to being able to identify and isolate the problem.

            4.         Block Three:  The Tendency to Delimit the Problem Area Too Closely

            a.         In problem-solving, one should not put too many constraints on the problem at hand.  Limits are negotiable, and are not supposed to hamper the process.

            b.         A broader statement of the problem allows better conceptualization, and more comprehensive solutions.

            5.         Block Four:  Inability to See the Problem from Various Viewpoints

            a.         Considering viewpoints from all angles produces better ideas and solutions.

            b.         Edward de Bono’s New Think mentions vertical and lateral thinking.

            i.          Vertical thinking sticks with one concept to the end.

            ii.         Lateral thinking considers all angles before solving a problem.

            6.         Block Five:  Saturation

            a.         Saturation occurs when all recorded inputs of all five senses are made accessible.

            b.         Visual saturation is common in art schools because of the requirement to note all aspects of art.

            c.         Saturation also takes place when data for problem-solving arrives occasionally or with large data amounts.

            7.         Block Six:  Failure to Utilize all Sensory Inputs

            a.         All five senses are directly connected to each other.

            b.         Inputs from the different senses are important to creative, innovative individuals.  A good example is Albert Einstein, who finds mere words lacking in forming his own creative process.

            c.         Those involved in problem-solving should consider all sensory inputs.

            d.         Failure to use each input, particularly those outside of verbal capacity, is a common conceptual block in solving problems.

II.        Chapter Two Summary

            Because of life and the experience that comes with it, it is common for people to bring their own sets of perceptions regarding objects and ideas, which may or may not agree with the objects’ or ideas’ real essence.  These perceptions ultimately become blocks in the conceptualization process, and hinder the individual to appreciate the object for idea for what it really is.

            The particular blocks mentioned are the most common ones people usually encounter in problem-solving, and all of them have to do with how they have been trained to attack a problem.  From stereotyping and limiting problems to failure to consider all angles or aspects needed to produce the solution, this chapter shows how ideas will not be conceptualized and how problems will not be solved through perceptions we have already stored in our minds.  The need for openness and looking at things in new ways will most often help in coming up with the most significant, and the most innovative, ideas and solutions.  The same principle can be used for all problem classifications, whether they fall under objective, analytical, or aptitude.

III.      Chapter Three:  Emotional Blocks

            1.         In Sigmund Freud’s theory of id, ego, and superego, only the ideas coming from the id that are able to pass through the ego and superego become repressions or causes of conflict within one’s self; thereby allowing only few creative ideas to reach the conscious mind.

            2.         Lawrence Kubie agrees with Freud, and has his own model that identifies creative thinking as inhibited by the conscious ego and superego, and that creativity takes place below the mind’s conscious level.

            3.         Humanistic psychologists believe that creativity is a way for people to achieve growth and fulfillment, and to solve conflicts and address the needs of the id.

            a.         That a creative person is emotionally connected to the needs and capabilities of his or her unconscious mind, thereby allowing him or her to produce creative ideas.

            b.         That the creative person’s strong ego and realistic superego allow him or her to conceptualize more and be free from distracting factors.

            4.         Conclusions about creativity:

            a.         We create for inner drive: self-fulfillment and conflict resolution.

            b.         Creativity takes place below the mind’s conscious level.

            c.         There is better creativity in the absence of neuroses or distractions.

            d.         The conscious mind controls, or streamlines creativity.

            e.         Creativity can promote anxiety.

            5.         Emotional blocks can interfere with creativity and conceptualization, and may be identified through specific attitudes.

            a.         Fear of taking a risk

                        i.          Comes from early childhood conditioning.

                        ii.         Can be addressed by assessing the possible negative outcomes of an idea, which are often unrealistic.

            b.         No appetite for chaos

                        Comes from a desire for order, which can be solved by bringing order to chaos.

            c.         Judging rather than generating ideas

                        i.          Often comes early in the problem-solving process, which results in the rejection of many ideas.

                        ii.         Greater risk should be taken to evaluate ideas first before giving judgment.

            d.         Inability to incubate

                        i.          Lack of patience in waiting for a better solution.

                        ii.         The unconscious struggles with an idea, and later comes up with something significantly better than the first one.

            e.         Lack of challenge versus excessive zeal

                        i.          Challenge must be present for a rewarding experience.

                        ii.         An excessive goal to succeed quickly can inhibit the creative process, because the reward becomes the objective.

            f.         Reality and fantasy.

                        i.          Imagination creates solutions, and it is the creative person’s responsibility to gain access to and control it, through manipulation and recombination.

                        ii.         The creative person needs to imagine freely and vividly, but know the difference between reality and fantasy.  Reality renders imagination less controllable.

IV.      Chapter Three Summary

            Creativity, being a process that occurs below the conscious level, cannot be dictated upon or programmed to produce the desired effects by using logic or deadlines.  It should be allowed to incubate on its own time, which may be assisted by a thorough knowledge of the problem at hand.  Ideally, better ideas can be produced by higher levels of creativity within the unconscious mind that is free from neuroses and distractions, because a creative person has a healthy connection with his or her unconscious.

            This is where emotional blocks interfere, and act as hindrances to creativity.  In the university, students are taught to judge ideas first rather than generate them, which at once limits the amount of creative ideas produced.  However, in the workplace, the elimination of these blocks—from fear of risk-taking to figuring the balance between reality and fantasy—are useful and necessary to form better concepts or solve problems.  The only concern would be the incubation period, since work timelines are often set in stone and will not allow for additional time.  Forcing the issue may even lead to incomplete or unfinished work, which is always seen as a lack of good work ethics.  While early judgment of ideas also occurs in the workplace, the degree seen in university work is significantly higher, since the latter actually rewards critical thinking versus the latter’s general approval of anything that would make for better systems or more efficient processes.  On the other hand, unlike academic work, chaos is more prevalent in a business environment, which necessitates a more in-depth understanding of the problems at hand.

V.        Chapter Four:  Cultural and Environmental Blocks

            1.         Cultural blocks are products of a given set of cultural patterns, which include the following:  taboos; rejection of fantasy, imagination, and playfulness; serious problem-solving; and a preference for reason over emotion, tradition, and scientific thinking.

            2.         Environmental blocks come from the impositions of social and physical environments, and are seen in the following:  lack of cooperation and trust; autocracy; distractions; and lack of support.

            3.         Taboos

            a.         Primarily conceptual blocks, they are used to define acts that may cause disapproval among particular members of society.

            b.         Fantasy, imagination, and playfulness are often classified as qualities of an unproductive person, and are not encouraged.

            4.         Humor in problem-solving

            a.         Humor, being the combined effect of two differing contexts, is an example of how conceptualization takes place through an understanding of two varying frames of reference.

            b.         It is often the reaction to any original idea, which shows how the solution provided is far from the logical and expected process.

            5.         Reason and intuition

            a.         Technology has validated this cultural block, since it works on the parameters of logic and reason.

            b.         Both are respectively assigned on a gender basis—logic and productivity to men, and emotion and intuition to women—which limits the capacities for creativity for both sexes.

            c.         Effective conceptualization is the combination of both traits.

            6.         Left-handed and right-handed thinking

            a.         The right hand is associated with logic, order, and reason, while the left is known for qualities such as beauty, sensitivity, and openness.

            b.         The preference of most families for their sons to assume professions related to the sciences and law gives more importance to right-hand thinking, which marginalizes the capabilities of female family members.

            7.         Primary and secondary creativity.  Discoveries and inventions in the hard sciences are considered primary creativity, while the arts, humanities, and social sciences are deemed secondary—without considering how a significant degree of the former’s success is attributed to the research produced by the latter.

            8.         Tradition and change.  Complete belief and trust in tradition may render a person closed to the idea of change, development, and progress.

            9.         Environmental blocks.  The physical environment affects everyone on different levels, which are classified by the individual habits and preferences.

            10.       Supportive environments.  Conceptual work may be done more effectively based on the kind of physical environment he or she is in, but is largely affected by the amount of emotional and cultural blocks present within the space.

            11.       Accepting and incorporating criticism.  Honesty, trust, and support are essential in assuring one’s conceptual abilities, and can downplay the negative effects brought upon by criticism.

            12.       Autocratic bosses.  Managers should have the maturity to encourage his team members to conceptualize freely, and reward good ideas.  Teamwork and coordination are also key in conceptualization.

            13.       Non-support.  Emotional and economic support is necessary in producing and implementing good business concepts, and the lack of it can result in lackluster ideas or even non-performance.

VI.      Chapter Four Summary

            Realistically, cultural and environmental blocks are perhaps the most common anyone has encountered in the conceptualization process.  And more than in any other situation, the workplace exhibits most, if not all of those mentioned.

            Many of these blocks are present in organizations that have placed a huge emphasis on history and tradition, producing members who may allude more to past successes rather than look for new business processes.  This is quite telling in companies where there is a marked difference in age groups, with the older members usually reluctant to apply the younger ones’ ideas for efficiency and technology.  It is then necessary to make a paradigm shift through emotional maturity and education to create a productive marriage between tradition and new knowledge.

            Another typical problem within the workplace is the personal career goals of some members, which may also hinder the acceptance of new ideas and criticism, because of the fear of being outdone or bypassed in cases of promotion and career advancement.  The organization should know how to balance the needs of its members, in order to create an environment more productive in generating ideas yet keeping its corporate philosophy intact.

VI.      Chapter Five:  Intellectual and Expressive Blocks

            1.         Intellectual blocks result in inadequate or inefficient mental choices, and expressive blocks inhibit the ability to communicate one’s ideas.  This refers to the wrong choice of instrument in problem-solving, which then produces an inability to explain the ideas produced.

            2.         Choosing your problem-solving language

            a.         Because this is made unconsciously, people often choose verbal thinking by default, rather than the more appropriate language.  There may be problems that are visual in nature, which verbal thinking will not be able to address.

            b.         One should define the needs of the problem at hand, concentrating on the purpose as opposed to the answer needed.  This is called strategy, which is useful in all problem-solving.

            3.         Flexibility in your use of strategies

            a.         An awareness of available strategies is essential for a person to make a conscious choice that would work best with the problem sot be solved.

            b.         Conscious selection of strategies can lead to finding new ones.

            c.         Knowledge of strategies will allow the subconscious to select from a bigger pool in later problem-solving.

            4.         Importance of correct information

            a.         The lack of correct information always ends in erroneous solutions to problems.  Every component must be correctly identified before one can embark on the process of solving a problem.

            b.         A “clean mind” works well in approaching a problem, notwithstanding the information already stored in one’s mind.  Knowing how to view the problem, and the world, through new angles is extremely important in coming up with creative and viable solutions.

            5.         Expressive blocks

            a.         Particularly with mathematical or scientific problems, verbal expression is inadequate.  Symbols and other physical means are available to properly communicate certain ideas.

            b.         Other expressive blocks are found when one is forced to express his or her ideas outside of the comfort zones such as language or familiarity with equipment used.

VII.     Chapter Five Summary

            An individual’s comfort levels and ignorance of new knowledge and strategies contribute to the creation of intellectual and expressive blocks.  There are many who have an innate fear of mathematics, and therefore would shun all problems that require equations and formulas—even if they have actually been using these processes in daily life.  A mathematicaly-challenged person in a supermarket would easily be able to purchase items within the budget specified, and even be flexible enough to alter original plans.  But when this process is presented as a math problem, this particular person would most likely be intimidated and claim no knowledge of the components required.

            Knowing different ways or strategies of attacking a problem is important, but one’s preference always comes into play when choosing the best option.  Often, it depends on the thinking process adopted by the individual, which may range from verbal to visual.  Writers and speakers may choose the verbal way of solving problems and communicating solutions, because this is where their efficiencies lie.  On the other hand, visual people like artists and designers may see things as pictures and diagrams.  While there are problems that require specific strategies, it is always recommended to go beyond what one is already comfortable with—at least to know the other ways to provide solutions, and not necessarily to be required to use them at all times.

            On top of everything, the importance of having the correct information should be emphasized, for the result is dependent on the components that created it.  Buying items in the supermarket may be viewed through different strategies or languages—through the use of algebraic equations or simple mental pictures—but not having the right knowledge of quantities and prices will always make this a useless activity.

VIII.   Chapter Six:  Alternate Thinking Languages

            1.         Many psychologists and semanticists feel that the basis of thinking is through verbal language.  This is reinforced by the beliefs ascribed to by the educational system, particularly in a child’s formative years.

            2.         There are problems that can be solved verbally, but will generate better and more precise results when used with another language, such as math.  However, many associate math with lack of soul and spirit.  The most efficient way to solve problems is through a combination of both mathematical and verbal thinking.

            3.         Visual thinking

            a.         Visualization is recommended in solving problems where shapes, forms, or patterns are included.

            b.         Bob McKim’s Experiences in Visual Thinking emphasizes the three kinds of visual imagery that are necessary in effective visual thinking:

                        i.          Perceptual imagery, which is the sensory experience of the physical world, and is what one sees.  This can be enhanced by taking pictures of people or places that one sees.

                        ii.         Mental imagery, which is constructed in the mind and uses information recorded from perceptual imagery.  Clarity and control are key in this process, because the images that are produced are dependent on the ability of a person to form them based on what one sees and what one has already stored in the mind.

                        iii.        Graphic imagery, which is what is put down or executed in a written communicable form, to aid one’s thinking and communicating process.  The information gleaned from mental imagery is now transformed into an individual’s understanding of the images, and will then be used in communication.

            c.         Other sensory languages

                        i.          Aside from sight, the four other senses—smell, sound, taste, and touch—are also important in problem-solving.  And because they are given less attention compared to the sense of sight, the solutions they produce may even be more innovative.

                        ii.         Logically, they are needed in providing solutions to problems where their specific qualities are involved, such as creating a new recipe or fragrance.

                        iii.        They complement visual imagery and each other to significantly increase the clarity of one’s total imagery.

IX.      Chapter Six Summary

            Language is important in solving problems or conceptualization, and one should be aware of the other styles we most often use in everyday life.  Sensory language, with an emphasis on visualization, is part of almost every activity we take part of—from the home to the workplace.

            It could be as simple as deciding what to have on hand once you see rain pouring outside, right before your leave the house.  Because you see the rain, you might take an umbrella.  But since you can also feel the chill in the air, you might decide to bring a coat or a jacket with you.  Or it could be a bit more complex such as baking a cake for a friend’s birthday.  You decide on making it a square shape, which is more efficient in yielding equal slices, but you also take into consideration the fact that your friend likes the gooey texture and smooth finish of chocolate.  Add to that the absence of nuts, since you know how she detests the crunch and roughness of it.  In the workplace, one can be assigned to design the office’s new layout, and sheer aesthetics will not be the sole factor to be considered.  Based on one’s knowledge and observation of the intended occupants of a certain space, aspects such as efficiency and comfort may be addressed by listening.  For example, it is not recommended to put together a group that does work with a significant amount of noise, such as news journalists, with those who need a certain level of silence, like customer relations staff and computer programmers.

            Problem-solving and idea generation can always benefit from the contributions of other sensory languages apart from the results produced by proper visualization.  In the end, we can probably even gain better ideas by veering from what is commonly used, which will always deliver what is expected.

X.        Chapter Seven:  All Kinds of Blockbusters

            1.         The process of identifying conceptual blocks may sometimes result in overpowering them, due to the common goals of achievement, success, and competition.

            2.         A questioning attitude.  While it is a child’s nature to question and inquire about things, this is discouraged as one grows older.  Also, the adult concept of being smart and knowledgeable does not include the propensity for questioning, as opposed to knowing.

            a.         A creative person should have a healthy skepticism about existing techniques, answers, and approaches.

            b.         The questioning attitude can be achieved only through conscious effort.  One must dismiss what can be taken as ignorance in favor of finding answers.

            c.         Questioning is important in problem-finding and problem-definition.

            3.         Fluency and flexibility of thinking.  By using a system that can aid thinking, such as making lists, one’s fluency can be measured by the amount of information arrived at when posed with a certain problem.  However, flexibility is necessary to provide insight into the list made, by knowing the significance of each item.

            4.         Thinking aids

            a.         List-making techniques may be used to create separate ideas, which will then be formed into alternate concepts.  Journals and idea books serve as guides during the problem-solution process, allowing the individual to create more innovative and imaginative concepts.

            b.         Games and puzzles also aid in conceptualization and prepare the mind for more rigorous problem-solving, by applying the strategies learned from the exercises to actual problems.

            5.         Unconscious blockbusting

            a.         Postponement of judgment.  This helps form better ideas, since they are encouraged by an environment of freedom.  Such is best when within a group, since a community spirit can be developed and can spark ideas in others.

            b.         The Synectics method, which encourages suspension of judgment, utilizes four types of operational mechanisms.

                        i.          Personal analogy.  The problem-solver identifies with part or all of the problem and its solution.

                        ii.         Direct analogy.  The problem is attempted to be solved via the direct application of parallel facts, knowledge, and technology.

                        iii.        Symbolic analogy.  Like personal analogy, except that the identification is between the problem and objective and impersonal objects or messages.

                        iv.        Fantasy analogy.  Allows the use of fantasy in solutions.

            c.         The Synectics technique allows the id to come forth, and generate ideas that would normally be considered impractical.

            6.         Abraham Maslow defines primary creativity as one that comes from the deeper or primary self.  This is most common in children, but is often blocked off in adults.  Maslow saw the connection between creativity in one’s actions and the inner integration of one’s self, which is traced to the absence of fear in one’s mind.

            7.         Other paths for freeing the unconscious

            a.         Maslow believes that any technique that increases self-knowledge should then increase creativity, such as education.

            b.         Reading is one of the best and simplest ways to gain self-knowledge, and is easily done through books and articles on creativity and psychology.

            c.         The more creative thinking is done, the more natural and rewarding it becomes; and it allows the ego to relax its controlling grip on the mind.

XI.       Chapter Seven Summary

            Many of the abovementioned techniques in blockbusting have been taught us as children.  In school, teachers always encourage the ability of a student to speak his or her mind, and ask questions.  Training children to listen and share requires teachers to provide analogies quite similar to the Synectics method, which gives students a better understanding of lessons.  Reading has always been a tool assigned by the academe to further one’s knowledge and to exercise the mind.  Therefore, all these blockbusting methods have been given from the start of our foray into mind development, and it is perhaps only the negative effects brought on by experience that have relegated these methods at the back of our minds.

            The internet is also a viable source of knowledge for most people, and can be classified under reading, in most cases.  The wealth of information available online can greatly help any person in increasing intellectual capabilities and acquiring new information.  Easy and simple searches can yield articles and even books, and whole collections of puzzles and games for mind exercise.  These are all ready and accessible in one click, and the availability of such sources has permanently changed the search for new knowledge.  With everything literally at the tips of our fingers, the only thing we need is a healthy attitude towards ideas, and knowing how to delay judgment until these are reviewed in the different ways possible.

XII.     Chapter Eight:  Groups and Organizations

            1.         Small groups:  affiliation needs

            a.         A group or organization is like a mini-society which places pressure on its members in its bid to function as one entity, with a single mind.

            b.         Each member of a group has strong ego and affiliation needs, since they are human.  Problem-solving groups are often composed of people who have significant respect for each other.

            c.         Because each group has its own subculture, blocks may appear if the group is not supportive to conceptualization.

            d.         Positive affiliation needs can result in high motivation and degree of support.

            2.         Ego needs.  These urge an individual to influence others, to lead, to be significant, and to be outstanding within the group.  However, the critical approach in doing this will not benefit conceptualization.

            a.         Authoritative influence dictates, rather than leads.  This results in less motivation, and inhibits creativity.

            b.         Collaborative influence encourages conceptualization but may entail longer processes because of the time spent on each member’s ideas.

            3.         Brainstorming.  In this activity, no evaluation is permitted since judgment will cause people to defend rather than generate ideas.  Wild ideas, often shunned in formal organizations, are encouraged.

            a.         Less inhibition and defeatism.

            b.         Contagion of enthusiasm.

            c.         Development of competitive spirit, in a positive way.

            4.         Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  Intrinsic motivation, or working for one’s own satisfaction, increases levels of creativity.  Extrinsic motivation, which requires the participation and evaluation of peers, decreases them.  However, extrinsic motivation is more often used in organizations, and have proven to be successful specially when accompanied with rewards.

            5.         Large organizations:  origins of bureaucracy.  The larger the group, the slower the process of problem-solving.  Routinization and repetition are more often practiced as compared to creativity and conceptualization.

XIII.   Chapter Eight Summary

            Most, if not all people are part of groups—at home, in school, with friends, and in the workplace.  Possibly the only ones who can claim detachment from group relations are those known to thrive in isolation, such as artists and certain members of religious sects.  Thus each one of us has had to comply with the set rules that govern a particular group, and have played roles within each.

            The obvious difference between university group dynamics and those in a business environment may stem from the nature of evaluation to be given—scholarly group work may entail producing research work that will be credited to the whole group, but the parameters of the workplace may end in only one person reaping the rewards of the group.  However, if the rewards are monetary or through merit points and not in terms of promotions, then perhaps groups in companies may be motivated enough to function as a whole.  But then, for a group of this kind to work well, there really must be respect and trust—can you imagine being satisfied and fulfilled knowing that one of your colleagues isn’t doing his or her fair share, or is trying to impose his or her ideas on the group?  We can see this in place all the time, specially in performing groups.  Ensemble acting and group dances can fail miserably and will be easily noticed by the audience if the dynamics are not well-placed.

            Conceptual blockbusting is important in problem-solving and generating ideas, but is also necessary in personal growth and developing relationships with others who may contribute to one’s progress and knowledge.


Adams, James L. (1986).  Conceptual Blockbusting:  A Guide to Better Ideas, 3rd ed.

            Reading:  Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.

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