While flipping through Flipboard last week, I came across a piece by John Brandon that asks the provocative question, “Are you a divergent thinker?” Based on an experiment reported in a 2011 presentation by popular TED talk speaker, Sir Ken Robinson, that used paper clips as a way of discovering how people think, Brandon focuses on “metacognition” to better understand what this business of divergent thinking is all about. Things are already getting pretty philosophical, aren’t they? Stay tuned for the fun part later on.
According to Brandon, metacognition is “not navel-gazing, and it’s not just being analytical. It’s a process of understanding why we think, how we think, and what drives us.” So, metacognition is all about encouraging us to think about thinking. In Robinson’s study, a simple paper clip was used to show how divergent thinkers “ponder deep patterns of thought and even arrive at a totally different way of doing things.” A good way of measuring the power of divergent thinking is to ask a very simple question: “How many uses can you find for this paper clip?” Most people can probably find a half dozen or so ways of using a paper clip. However, divergent thinkers, “the ones who are good a thinking about thinking and have a corner on metacognition, can come up with 200 uses.” How is this possible? Let’s take a look. This is where the fun part comes in.
At this point I am reminded of a well-known project at Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, Tennessee, where eighth-grade students collected paper clips to represent casualties of the Holocaust. What began as a very ambitious project to collect six million clips resulted in world-wide attention that brought in over twenty million paper clips, a few of which came from celebrities like Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. This fascinating project is well-documented in the film “Paper Clips,” which garnered several awards, including a Top Five documentary award for 2004 from The National Board Of Review Of Motion Pictures.
So, paper clips can be used to commemorate important events, and they can be used for more mundane and entertaining purposes. The Innovation IQ site lists “100 Uses For Paperclips,” and I am listing a few below. If you want to exercise your own imagination first, I advise your not reading any further until you make your own lists for comparison sake.
According the to site, we are not being very imaginative if all we do is list the many things that can be clipped together using paper clips (Note: there are other sites devoted to the many imaginative ways we can use binder clips of all sizes to do imaginative things, but we won’t go into that vast territory this week).
Some things found on the Innovation IQ list include:
• Bubble wrap popping tool
• Lock picker (for the more criminally-minded readers out there)
• A tool for carving “fine details into nail polish on fingers and toenails”
• Worm hook
• A handy-dandy hanger (I currently am using a paper clip to hang my calendar)
• A device for removing dirt and debris from small cracks
• A DVD drive opener (do we still use those devices?)
• A splint for non-emergency finger and toe injuries • Earrings
• When twisted, can be used to create numbers, letters, and other artsy things
• A light and ornament hanger for holiday decorations
• Necklace (you are advised to make sure there are no protruding sharp points)
• “Water divining rod for idiots” (should work as well as full-sized divining rods)
• Marshmallow sticks • A cheese picker
• A mini-skewer for mini-meals
• “Porcupine quills on a paper mache sculpture”
• A device for cleaning your cat’s nails (Good Luck!!)
• A miniature paint scraper (depending on the size of the clip, of course)
•“Clamping an artery” (don’t try this at home!!)
• A glass etcher • Guitar pick
• A device for popping balloons
• A shark nose stabber (see cleaning cat’s nails above)
• An olive swizzler • A miniature sun dial
• A golf tee (ask a golfer about the practicality of this)
• Use in a “guess how many” fundraiser
I couldn’t resist consulting another list site before running out of ideas, and came up with these suggestions from One Good Thing By Jilee:
• When bent, a small Easter Egg dying tool
• A clip for keeping wrapping paper from unraveling
(admittedly, not that imaginative)
• A lint remover for brushes and brooms
• A cherry pit remover
• A spray bottle or salt-pepper shaker unclogger
• A replacement for a broken zipper pull
• An improvised letter opener
The lists can go on and on, as you might well imagine, and as you can see, some of the above uses are practical while some are downright goofy, yet imaginative.The whole point here is not to create practical tools but to exercise our imaginations by engaging in divergent thinking / metacognition. And, most important, you can have fun at the same time.
There is hardly any argument that we need more divergent thinking in today’s world, and we might as well start with paper clips to hone our skills. It all goes back to the basic question: “What could it be?,” which is not often asked once we think we have fully understood something. And, of course, this is all related to creativity, an essential ingredient that is not measured by standardized tests.
I will bring this week’s column to an end by encouraging you to take a long look at that pile of paper clips on your desk while practicing your metacognition skills.
You will be no doubt impressed to know that I was able to send this column to our editor by depressing the SEND key on my laptop with a paper clip (a task not listed in either of the above lists)
See you next week.