We use the following terms, defined in the “Concepts Guide” of our book Innovating Minds, as categories on our blog. We thought we’d devote some space here to explaining how we use the terms, which are listed alphabetically. A few of the terms we have coined, others are from the world of the brain, behavioral, and organizational sciences.

adaptive expertise

Individuals or teams who develop greater and greater skill in a relatively narrow area or field, leading to increased efficiency and automaticity in solving familiar problems, are exhibiting routine expertise. In contrast, individuals or teams show adaptive expertise when they exhibit not only routine expertise but also a capacity for flexibly extending that expertise to novel contexts, leading to increased efficiency and increased innovation. That is, adaptive expertise involves knowing how and when to use and transfer what was learned in the past, and when instead to modify it or to invent a new procedure.

associative cuing

Associative cuing is the prompting of an idea, or the noticing of a relation, often spontaneously or with little effort. Associative cues gently jog our thinking in different directions (beneficial or harmful) and can take the form of the words we hear or encounter, or things we see and touch. Associations can involve perceptions, emotions, motivations, or actions and may be about objects or relations.

control dialing

This is a metaphorical term we coined to designate altering or adjusting our degree of cognitive control. Control dialing refers to the degree of cognitive control we are experiencing in the process of our thinking or the how of our thinking, and our ability to increase or decrease our degree of control. Adjustments or changes may be deliberately selected, or indirectly or directly induced through our environments. No one point on the continuum of cognitive control (deliberate to spontaneous to automatic) is invariably appropriate across all contexts.

We believe it may be easier to understand degrees of control through the metaphor of a dial: a dial that we ourselves can turn toward greater or lesser degrees of cognitive control, or that our circumstances may adjust toward deliberateness, spontaneity, or habit. A dial can be turned in a single sweep, or through gradual increments, or held at a particular setting.

creative constraints

Constraints simultaneously preclude and promote possibilities. The constraints or requirements that define and structure our creative and change spaces are in part selected or chosen by us, and in part imposed or necessitated by external considerations. Constraints vary in kind, from time constraints, to material or resource constraints, to client requirements and beyond. Some initial basic constraints usually are explicitly specified in a design brief or project specifications. In addition, the creative and innovative process itself frequently requires further and iterative deliberate interpretation and application of additional requirements, either inherent in the problem or introduced through acquiring new information.

detail stepping

This is a metaphorical term we coined to designate altering or adjusting our levels of detail or specificity in our thinking. Detail stepping refers to the level of abstractness of the content of our thinking or what we are thinking about, and our ability to move up or down in levels of detail. Adjustments or changes may be deliberately selected, or indirectly or directly induced through our environments. No one level of the continuum of detail (abstract to mid-level to specific) is invariably appropriate across all contexts. To counteract an excessive valuing of abstraction and to underscore the remarkable contributions of concrete particulars throughout our creative processes we use the term “detail stepping.” We can think of detail stepping as moving up or down stairs or, perhaps, as taking longer or shorter steps along an inclined ramp.

dynamic brains

Learning is always ‘on’ in our brains. Our brains are always trying to predict based on what they have learned. We are continually changing our long-term capabilities depending on what we are exposed to. Given that our brains are in continual active interchange with our environments, the environments that we work and play within have a profound and pervasive impact on our creative potential and realizations. Our acquired experiences are represented in our brains through the formation, strengthening, and inhibiting of synaptic connections between neurons, creating complex interconnected cognitive-perceptual and action-related neural networks that, in turn, help us to further interpret and understand what we see, hear, sense, and experience.

dynamic environments

We use this term to refer to the many ways that are environments can enter into our creative and innovative thinking. Our environments include our physical environments but also our social, technological, symbolic, and cultural environments. Environments extend over time and cumulatively sculpt our thinking and action repertoires. Environments include our tools. Our creative and change efforts are dynamically shaped by our environments and depend on representations in multiple modalities (e.g., written symbols, 2-D and 3-D diagrams and objects, spoken words, intonation, gestures, and more).


By this we mean the myriad ways in which we encounter or encourage newness, making cross-connections with it, and absorbing it to inspire new directions.


Goals are ever-present and actively changing players within our idea landscapes and sculpt what we are likely to notice and pursue. Our goals differ from one another in many ways. To fully harness the creative energy and direction that goals can offer us, it may be helpful to guide our thinking through a set of five interrelated questions. First, how have we chosen and characterized our goals? Second, how well do our goals work or play together? Third, how pliable and responsive are our goals to unanticipated opportunities? Fourth, are our goals coming and staying in mind at the right times to guide our striving? Fifth, are we keeping track and adjusting our goals as needed based on ongoing feedback about our progress?

idea landscapes

We can think of our thoughts, or the mental representations of ideas, as continually moving in and out of our awareness in an ongoing changing mental landscape. Ideas are mental representations or “re-presentations” in our mind of one or more aspects of external or internal things, events, relations, or processes. Mental representations that are accessible are ideas that are readily brought into our awareness or into our thinking processes. That is, we can access or reach them when—and if—we need them. We use the metaphor of “idea landscapes” to refer to these ongoing undulations in how readily we can access or bring ideas to mind. Ideas need time to emerge and to configure and reconfigure; they need time and space to take form, to connect, and reconnect.

making and finding

A concept, originally derived from art history, that we use to broadly encompass dynamic alternations between phases of our top-down goal-directed efforts to create or effect change, and the comparatively more bottom-up open receptivity to the perceptual and other consequences our actions exert on our environments. Making (intending) and finding (discovering) is related to the cognitive neuroscience notion of the ongoing perception-action cycle, but is more explicitly focused on our creative and change endeavors and may also apply to our efforts to clarify and articulate our goals themselves.

productive mistakes

These might arise through prototyping, drafts, experimentation, or other modes of exploration. Mistakes can be productive in the sense that they indicate promising directions, and prevent excessive resource investments in unpromising directions. Mistakes may also be productive in that they promote longer-term learning, understanding, and capabilities.


Broadly speaking, a representation is a re-presentation of one or more aspects of an object, event, process, or relation. Representations vary in their degree of specificity or abstraction, and may be partial or ambiguous. We rely on both mental (internal) and environmental (external) representations, and their combinations, throughout our thinking and acting.


We generate creative ideas not only individually but also collectively—as teams or in groups—based on our shared direct and indirect experiences. We elaborate on each other’s ideas, one idea dovetails with another, we prompt and prod each other’s thinking.

thinking components

By this we mean the interrelated constituents of ideas. Beyond concepts, our ideas involve emotion, motivation and goals, and perception.