Metaphors Gone Wild: Attics and Brain Boosts

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle consider the brain as an “empty attic.” He recognized the need to stock it with metaphoric furniture, the choices of which are left up to each individual. Two important cognitive functions occurring up in that attic of yours are listening and being creativity. Here are tips for polishing both these metaphoric pieces of furniture.


“The essence of genius,” according to William James, “is to know what to overlook.” And, author Mitchell Posner urges us to be “ecologists” as far as information is concerned. Here are exercises to help you be ” as far as listening is concerned, to help you avoid verbal pollution.

In the center of a clean sheet of paper, draw a circle. Ask a friend to find a dense paragraph from an article. (Or, to simply go on and on about some topic for a few minutes.) Then extract three key words from the verbally- inflated paragraph that he or she spoke aloud. Write those words in the circle. Now that you have the essence of what you heard, use the three words to prompt your memory about the most important things you heard. Check with your friend to see if you have captured the main points.

This exercises not only sharpens your listening skills, but your verbal fluidity skills as well. Ask a friend to talk about an enjoyable experience and to stop unexpectedly after a few minutes. You are to take one word from the last sentence uttered and use it to begin speaking about something you enjoy doing. Stop unexpectedly and have the other person continue the conversation using one word from the last sentence you spoke.

Next, give some thought to barriers that can impede the listening process. Can you list 20 of them? Then consider which of these you can control. Finally, engage in a dialog that refutes Dr. Leo Buscagli, who said, “Most conversations are just alternating monologues-the question is, is there any real listening going on?”


Creativity is the result, in very large measure, of the belief that we are creative. To develop your creativity muscles, periodically ask yourself: “What if… ?” and “What could this be used for?” questions.

Convergent responses are typical, expected, logical. For example, asked how one gets to Heaven, you’d probably say something like “Follow the Golden Rule.” Ask this question of a divergently-oriented child, though, and you might hear, “Go to Hell and take a left!” Or, “You need the God elevator.” Or, “You need to buy a really big trampoline.”

Think divergently about these questions:

What number does not belong with the others?

3810 6024 4816 1452

What letter belongs in the blank? FMAMJJASO ____

What letter belongs in the blank? OTTFFSSE ____

What national holiday do these letters represent?



Think of the symbolism associated with causes and colors. For example, we tied yellow ribbons on trees to show support for hostages in Iran. If the head of your organization asked you to create a new ribbon design, what would it look like? What message would it express? What initials would be meaningful? What color?

One of the best ways to engender creative possibilities is to put things together that normally are not aligned. (Anne Geddes did this with babies and vegetables.) List ten disparate items: “peacock” and “eraser,” for example. Then search among those items for a solution to a workplace problem or for an improvement to an existing situation.

Remember that Einstein regarded imagination as more important than knowledge. Try creating some unique metaphors to describe your workplace or your neighborhood or your life.


Building those brain cells can be hard work. To offset the ardors of cognitive development, it’s okay to indulge in mental “junk food” occasionally. Be heartened by Dr. Seuss, who admitting to this indulgence. “I like nonsense,” he admitted. “It wakes up the brain cells.”

Answer: 1-,4816, (If you add the digits in the other three numbers, they add up to 12. 4816 adds up to 19.) 2-N. (The other letters are the first letters in the twelve months of the year.), 3-N, again. (The other letters represent the first letters in a counting sequence from One to Eight.), 4- Christmas, because there is no “L” in the list.