#179 from R&D
Innovator Volume 4, Number 10
Dreams to Find New Solutions
principal of Management Resources, Newtonville, Massachusetts,
facilitates seminars in creative problem solving with dreams.
She is also an inventor who has developed several
profitable new products. Phone
Sleeping on the
job may be nothing new, but would you be interested in being paid
for it? Suppose you
could go to sleep at night and come up with the right answers to
your work-related problems? No
time cards required. Just
a nice soft bed, lights out, and a pad and pencil on the
happened to Floyd Ragsdale, an employee at duPont, who was having
trouble with a machine that manufactured Kevlar fiber, the
material in bullet-proof vests.
Because down-time on this machine cost the company $700 a
minute, duPont assigned its best engineers to fix the problem, but
none were successful. One
night, Ragsdale, an engineer with no college education, had a
dream in which he saw the tubes of a machine and springs. He came to work the next day and told his boss about the
dream. He received a
typical reaction: his
boss scoffed and told him to forget about it.
When Ragsdale's shift ended, he went ahead and inserted
springs into the tubes, and the machine worked perfectly, saving
the company more than $3 million!
dictum is correct, and invention is one percent inspiration and
99% perspiration, then where does that 1% inspiration come from?
say ideas just pop into their heads, but why into one person's
head and not another? Could
what pops into the head be a flash of intuition arising from the
unconscious mind get its information from many sources--we know
much more than we are aware of because we continuously absorb all
sorts of information and store it somewhere in our brains.
When an idea "pops out," it may result from a
sudden connection between two sometimes very dissimilar bits of
knowledge that were lying dormant for a long time in the
If we could get
ideas to pop out as needed, it would reduce that 99% perspiration
factor considerably. One
method that we have been working with is to actively induce
intuition by combining brain-jogging experiences with programming
dreams. When the
brain is stimulated it begins making connections, linking known
information to new concepts; then, before sleeping, dreams are
coached to focus on the problem and they take these connections
one step further by revealing in cinematic form the creative
If you've ever
awakened in the morning and suddenly found the answer to a
question you'd been pondering, perhaps your dreams worked out the
problem. You may not
remember dreaming, but your unconscious was actively at work while
When Dr. F.
Banting was searching for the cause of diabetes, he had a dream
that told him to tie up the pancreas of a dog and monitor the
insulin produced. He
tried it and learned about the balance between sugar and insulin,
and how this was out of sync in diabetics.
Then he had another dream showing him how to develop
insulin as a drug to treat the disease.
dreamed of an experiment with frogs to demonstrate the chemical,
rather than electrical, nature of nervous impulse transmission. In the middle of the night, he awoke and scribbled down the
idea, but in the morning it was illegible.
The following night, however, the dream recurred, and this
time his note was legible--leading to a Nobel Prize in 1936.
A dream led Elias
Howe to beat Singer to the patent for the sewing machine.
In the dream, Howe was in a jungle surrounded by natives
holding spears, with holes near their tips.
When he woke, he realized that putting the hole near the
tip of the needle would make a working sewing machine.
Mendeleyev saw the complete periodic table in a dream.
Herschel "discovered" the planet Uranus in a
dream. Beethoven, Wagner, and Stravinsky heard musical arrangements,
from fragments to entire canons, in their sleep. Bob Dylan recalls composing music from his dreams.
A device that controls the firing of antiaircraft guns was
also conceived in a dream, just before the U.S. entered World War
from dreams may appear as serendipitous "quirks;" or
perhaps gifts from an unknown source, many people have purposely
trained themselves to use their dreams.
Thomas Edison, for example, slept at his workbench holding
weights in his hands. The
idea was that when the weights fell from his hands, they would
awaken him, and he would recall his dreams.
Perhaps it was this practice that led to over 1,000
A most remarkable
dream was experienced by Al Huang of Bell Labs, who invented the
first working optical computer. For
months, he dreamed about armies carrying pails of data and
sometimes colliding with one another.
Once, however, the armies marched past each other without
colliding. Huang realized that laser beams could pass through one
another--a breakthrough in optical computers.
At a recent
meeting of inventors, I asked if anybody had received ideas from
shrugged and said, "all the time," absolutely unfazed by
the idea. For
researchers who don’t remember their dreams, is this a wake-up
If you want to
experiment with using dreams to solve problems, here are some
suggestions to crank up your unconscious mind and program your
dreams for problem solving:
Keep a dream journal.
Just before retiring, write in detail about the issue you'd
like your dreams to help solve.
Writing focuses your conscious mind on the problem and
provides subject matter for your dreams.
As you go to sleep, ask your unconscious to answer your
question, and tell yourself that you’ll remember this dream in
the morning. The
unconscious mind is usually very good at receiving and following
through on suggestions of this type (this is how hypnotists can
convince someone to give up cigarettes).
If you can reach your unconscious without interference from
your conscious mind--that is, if you can get yourself out of your
own way--your unconscious mind will deliver the solution.
As you doze off, repeat your phrase softly to yourself,
with the mental expectation of receiving an answer.
If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the question.
Be sure to record any dream as soon as possible after you
awake. If you awake
in the middle of the night, jot down important words or images.
If your dreams come just as you are awaking in the morning,
don't get out of bed until you've reviewed the dream and written
as much as possible about it in your journal.
If a group is addressing a common problem, schedule two
hours late in the day for a team discussion, to get everyone
focused on the issue. The
next morning, assemble the group to share dreams and look for
common symbols that point toward a solution.
We know that the
mere suggestion of using dream information at work is likely to
meet with a negative response.
Most people are more receptive to linear thinking (if x and
y occur, then z must follow) since it appears to give us a sense
of predictability and control.
However, in reality, the most successful inventors and
executives admit that they rely on intuition for many major
decisions. ( A recent
study of 1,300 executives from Europe, Japan, and South America
revealed that 54% admitted to using their intuition to make their
most difficult decisions.)
the future. Floyd
Ragsdale’s dream told him that if he put springs in the tubes,
the machine would work correctly and it did.
Elias Howe’s dream told him that if he put the hole near
the top of the needle, the sewing machine would work.
The dreams of so many inventors, writers, composers, and
business executives have taken them into the previously unknown,
and mentored their ability to invent, write, and compose something
If you experience
the cyberspace of virtual reality, it is only an amazing
presentation of what is, not what can be; but try coasting along
the world wide net of your dreams, and you will know the unknown
and catch a glimpse into the future!