Cracking the Creativity Code: Zoom in/Zoom out/Zoom in Framework for Creativity, Fun, and Success


Arie Ruttenberg & Shlomo Maital

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  • Advance Praise for Cracking the Creativity Code

    “Who has not fantasized about inventing a world-changing technology and becoming overnight a star like Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates? Ruttenberg and Maital's new book Cracking the Creativity Code delightfully shows that the talent of creativity can be mastered and developed and is not a privilege for just a few lucky ones. One just has to take the ‘Elevator’ and follow Zi-Zo-Zi, the angel of creativity and the authors’ instructions in order to develop and train the ‘creativity muscles’.

    I enthusiastically recommend this book to all who would like to learn about the talent of creativity and how to master it.”

    —Professor Peretz Lavie, President, Technion–Israel Institute of Technology

    “After you read this fun book and discover the power of your creative mind, you will buy more copies as gifts for your friends.”

    —Professor Dan Shechtman, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, 2011

    “Imagination is caged within everyone of us. This book gives us simple tools to unlock it and innovate.”

    —David (Dadi) Perlmutter, Former Executive Vice-President, Intel Corp

    “Competitive intensity is forcing every business to look at—what to change, what to change to, and how to change? The winning answers, obviously, depends on the level of creativity in a given organization. This book, with the simple yet powerful principle of Zi-Zo-Zi, coupled with many inspiring stories and many interesting exercises is a great read in helping businesses to democratize creativity, a critical ingredient required to win in the market place.”

    —L.R. Natarajan, CEO, NBD, Titan Company Limited

    “Today's world demands an innovative bent of mind to succeed. With easy to follow exercises and plenty of real-world examples, Arie Ruttenberg and Shlomo Maital set the readers on a truly rewarding path that helps them unlock their creative potential.”

    —J.V. Ramamurthy, Chief Operating Officer, HCL Infosystems

    “Not just another book on innovation!!! What sets this book apart is the innovative manner in which the process of creativity and innovation is dissected and presented. There is an art in everything we do while we sometimes fail to recognize the element of science in it. This book brings out the ‘how to’ of innovation and thus making it appealing to individuals who want to unleash their creativity as well as those who want to unleash the potential for innovation in their organization. Early on in the book, the concepts are brought out through an engaging fairy tale, making it refreshingly practical and simple.”

    —Thulasiraj Ravilla, Executive Director, Aravind Eye Care System


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  • Epilog: There Is Always More Than One (Right) Way…

    Once, there was a young Cambridge University Physics student, named Nils.

    An instructor set a one-question exam. “Show how it is possible to determine the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer (an instrument that measures air pressure)?”

    Young Nils gave an answer. The instructor failed him. Wrong!

    Nils appealed. An impartial arbiter was selected to re-examine Nils’ answer.

    The arbiter read Nils’ answer: “Take the barometer to the top of the building, attach a long rope to it, lower the barometer to the street, and then bring it up, measuring the length of the rope. The length of the rope is the height of the building.”

    The arbiter told Nils, your answer is quite correct. But it did not show competence in physics. Could you try answering the question again? Nils agreed gladly.

    “Drop the barometer from the top of the building, time its fall with a stopwatch, then, use the formula S = (1/2) at2 to calculate the height of the building.” (a is 9.8 m/second, the force of gravity; t is time; and S is the distance the object falls).

    The arbiter said this was a correct answer. But, just as Nils was leaving the room, the arbiter turned to him and asked, “do you have other ways to answer the problem?”

    “Oh yes!” Nils said. “There are many ways to get the height of a tall building with a barometer. For example, on a sunny day, measure the height of the barometer, the length of its shadow, the length of the shadow of the building—and by use of a simple proportion, get the height of the building.”

    “OK,” the arbiter said. “And the others?”

    “Take the barometer and walk up the stairs. As you climb, mark off the length of the barometer on the wall. Then count the number of marks. This will give you the height of the building in ‘barometer’ units.”

    “Any others?”

    “Tie the barometer to the end of a string. Swing it as a pendulum, and determine the value of ‘g’, gravitational acceleration, at street level and again at the top of the building. From the difference of the two values, the height of the building can be calculated.”

    “Any others?”

    “The best way,” he said, “is to take the barometer to the basement and knock on the superintendent's door. When he answers, tell him, “Mr Superintendent, here I have a fine barometer! If you tell me the height of this building, I will give you this barometer.”

    “Nils,” asked the arbiter, “do you know the RIGHT, or conventional, answer to the question?” (“The difference in air pressure between the top of the building and the bottom will give the height, when you know how air pressure changes with height.”)

    “Of course!” Nils said. “But I'm totally fed up with high school and college instructors trying to teach me the ‘right’ answers, trying to teach me how to think.”

    The young Nils was Nils Bohr, later, Nobel Laureate in Physics, 1922, for discovering the structure of atoms.1


    1. This story, though widely told, is apocryphal. It is based on a 1959 essay, Angels on a Pin, by Alexander Calandra, professor of physics at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. [Calandra, Alexander. (1995). In Elizabeth Penfield and Theodora Hill (eds), Quick takes: Short model essays for basic composition (pp. 67–69). Watson-Guptill Publisher.] Our point is, though truth is an inviolable axiom for non-fiction books, this too is a rule that can be innovatively broken. The story could be true. And it makes a vivid point, memorably. Jonah Lehrer's wonderful book Imagination: How Creativity Works (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) was removed from shelves, and the author was vilified, because he was found to have invented some words of dialogue he claimed were spoken by Bob Dylan. The result has robbed thousands of people from reading a book that could change their lives. Dylan's dialogue were fictional, but Lehrer used them in a manner utterly faithful to truth, to the truth of creativity.

    About the Authors: Arie, Shlomo, and Zi-Zo-Zi

    About 40 years ago, at the beginning of the 1970s, when I was a student of economics and management at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel, a new lecturer arrived, a strange bird in the cold arid terrain of an institute of technology. At this time, a story was making rounds at Technion, in one of the faculties, a lecturer had asked students to calculate the diameter of a pipe needed to deliver so many thousands of cubic meters of blood, every day, from Haifa to Tel Aviv … and not a single student asked, whose blood were we talking about?

    In economics, too, the dominant approach at Technion was the mathematical approach, which aspired to represent every economic process as a series of equations, and to predict economic developments by mathematically manipulating those equations.

    At the time, I was a student and did not allow myself to admit that my intuition rebelled against this approach, but then, Dr Shlomo Maital appeared and spoke a different language. He taught us macroeconomics and for the first time I heard from him about the powerful role that psychology plays in economic processes.

    Today, this is widely accepted, and several economists have even won Nobel Prizes for their boldness and creativity in developing behavioral economics, but in those days this was all new, fresh, and won my heart.

    One day, when we were discussing models of tax evasion under various economic circumstances, I suggested to Shlomo that we test the models with a psychological experiment. I proposed a game in which the participants got salary slips from which income tax was automatically deducted, according to the income that each participant reported. The winner of the game was the one who had the highest after-tax income, so everyone was motivated to declare less income than they actually received. From time to time, a surprise audit was conducted, on some of the participants, and those who evaded tax were punished by fines, or by ejection from the game. In this way, we examined the impact of the rate of income tax on evasion, and the effect of the size of fines and the frequency of the audits on evasion, along with other relevant topics.

    Apparently, this was the first time that this subject (tax evasion) had been tackled in this innovative manner, through a simulated experiment, and the article that we published after the experiment was published in a major international economics journal, and attracted a great deal of attention.

    Since then, Shlomo and I kept in touch, even after I finished my studies and helped co-found an advertising agency, and met from time to time.

    At the time, Shlomo began to specialize in innovation, wrote books on the subject and consulted for leading high-tech innovation-intensive companies. He became very curious about the working methods and creativity approaches that generated advertising concepts. He perceived, rightly, that ad agencies were factories for creativity, and wondered what high-tech industry could learn from them.

    At our meetings over the years, we discussed topics, some of which are addressed in our book, like the difference between analysts who study problems in depth, what we call in this book zoom in, and the creative people who try to find a new concept in a domain not yet studied, a process we call zoom out.

    A year ago, at one of our meetings, Shlomo suggested that we write a book on creativity together, that would give expression to the wisdom and experience we had accumulated on the subject. It was an exciting challenge, and we tackled the task with joy and enthusiasm.

    Despite all the academic knowledge Shlomo possessed, (he had in the meantime become a chaired professor at Technion and lectured all over the world, in Holland, France, Singapore, and elsewhere), and despite all the experience I had accumulated, we had not found a clear methodology for creativity.

    On one hand, there were eureka approaches, brainstorming, incubation, and so on, that assume that at a certain moment, suddenly a breakthrough idea will appear from nowhere. What that nowhere is, and how an idea suddenly appears from nowhere, nobody could explain.

    On the other hand, there were approaches that tried to systematically squeeze innovation into improving existing concepts, by adding or subtracting certain elements, etc.

    In our fascinating meetings, we examined the existing knowledge of creativity that had been published, and tried to reformulate a general approach, which would enable every person to think more creatively about every aspect of their lives. I hope we succeeded.

    At one of our meetings, Shlomo said, so what? So, we'll publish yet another book? More words on paper? Where is our creativity?

    Until that moment, we hadn't thought much about it, we just wrote words. It was an excellent question.

    The simplistic solution, to publish a digital book, did not arouse our passion. Today's digital books are not really different from the first Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439, some 574 years ago. The difference is solely the way the book is read, on a screen instead of on paper. Shlomo's question initiated a discussion about how a futuristic book should look, if we used our own creativity tools to reinvent it?

    By the way, about three years before I set out to write a book with Shlomo, I wrote and published a book together with my friend Professor Carlo Strenger, of the Psychology Department at Tel Aviv University. The book, titled Why Not Live Twice?, deals with how we need to change our ways of thinking, for those who are 50 and older, in the wake of the dramatic increase in life expectancy. In the process of writing this book, the initial formulation of zoom in/zoom out occurred to me, and I thank Carlo for his role in this. The zoom in/zoom out notion found wider and deeper expression in this book on creativity; How it was written is itself of interest and will be described in the next section.

    The Booxite Project: How Books Will Look in the Future

    Because we wrote this book, we tried to write according to the book—zoom in on the essence of the book as it is today, zoom out in the imagination elevator to the distant horizon in which everything is possible for books, and then back to zoom in … to choose the best option of all at this point in time.

    What is a book? How is it different from a letter? Newspaper? Magazine?

    Here are a few characteristics of a book, as it is perceived today:

    • A book is a text that is reproduced in a large number of copies, unlike a personal letter.
    • The text contains content relevant for an extended period of time, unlike a magazine or newspaper.
    • The text includes at least several thousand words, and in general tens or hundreds or thousands of words.
    • The book is printed on paper or appears on a digital screen.
    • A book is bound with a cover that includes its title, the name of the author or authors, the publisher, and other details such as the date of printing and the edition.
      • The process of producing an edition is done by the publisher, who takes care of the editing of the manuscript, employing a graphic designer, integration of photographs, illustrations, diagrams, indexes, etc. The publisher organizes all the materials and prepares a final version that is sent to the printer or to the digital shop. The interesting aspect of this characteristic of the book is this: Ever since Gutenberg, and to this day, a book is a static compilation that changes only from one edition to the next, and is not dynamic, as is for instance a photograph that can change endlessly when various people work on it with editing software.
    • A book is a homogeneous product identical for all and is not individualized.
    • A book printed on paper provides visual content only separately; you can attach to books audio and video files, in which for instance the book is recorded in audio, or DVDs that include video clips. For digital books you can integrate video and audio files and, for instance, the possibility to translate words or to add explanations.
    • Digital books are generally sold for reading on dedicated devices, like Kindle and iPad.

    From our point of view, the most interesting insight in this first stage, zoom in, is the fact that Gutenberg's printing press technology that printed the very first book, with which we are familiar today, requires that the book should be closed before printing, in order to prepare printing press plates, which cannot then be altered, until a new edition is prepared. Therefore, every book printed in a particular edition is the same. This important characteristic has not changed, even with the appearance of digital books. Every copy of the edition of a particular book is still the same.

    The question we asked ourselves, at this stage is, Is this the ONLY way to prepare a book? Are there any other ways? Are there other options?

    In the second phase, zoom out, we went up the imagination elevator to the 222nd floor, the floor on which all the never published books exist. On this floor, wild and wonderful publishing technologies were found, including books beamed up onto clouds with lasers enabling everyone to read them collectively at high quality.

    After wandering about this area for a long time, we encountered something that we liked, because it answered the key question that preoccupied us in the zoom in stage—Do all the copies of a book have to be identical?

    What we saw was that a computerized system makes it possible for an author to upload a manuscript to a web site, where it can be sold as is, the way things are done today through self-publishing, or—to our surprise, we discovered that an author can invite anyone who is interested to take the original manuscript and do what they like with it.

    Various designers can suggest different designs for the book.

    Translators can translate the book into various languages.

    Whoever is interested can propose summaries and abstracts of the book, of any length.

    Artists, illustrators, photographers can propose adding illustrations, pictures, and photographs. Others can propose a variety of appendices. Still others can suggest recording the books in various languages. And still others will suggest adding video clips and animation.

    The resulting product derived from the original manuscript is a kind of decision tree, with many branches, each of which reflects an enrichment of the original version in a highly dynamic process.

    A reader facing this wealth of choice can choose the language in which he or she is interested, the length of the book, its design, and any other element that interests him or her, and receive, on a digital screen, a personalized book customized to his or her wants and needs. The final price paid will be divided, of course, between the original author and the others who made various contributions, according to a formula.

    Consider, for instance, a textbook; All students prepare or buy summaries of them. Why should not a student be able to legitimately choose among various summaries, along with the original book, summaries for which both, the original author and the person who prepared the index, are compensated monetarily? Why not make it possible to update the book, in real time, by other authors who will add paragraphs, chapters, or appendices?

    Or consider travel books. Why should not travelers who experience a particular part of the world propose, in real time, a chapter of their own with photographs, stories, and up-to-date tips, and in return receive some payment? Think about a book on philosophy. Why not permit those who want to, to contribute an addition or a different perspective, and propose their own chapter, at the choice of the reader who can buy it together with the original book?

    Consider even a whodunit book or an adventure novel. Why not let those who wish add a sequel, showing what happened to the original hero after the original book ends?

    The idea that an original manuscript is not frozen, not set in concrete, but initiates additional creativity by other creative talents, whoever and wherever they are, greatly excited us. Therefore, we called the idea BooXite.

    And then, while we were still gripped by excitement, we went down the imagination elevator to the ground floor of reality. At this stage of zoom in, we tried to decide what would be most practical to achieve.

    We examined the various possibilities to launch a startup that would raise money and tried to implement our idea. A hardheaded examination taught us that this is not feasible. Shlomo continued to lecture at various places around the world, and I was busy with another venture, so the chance of succeeding with our idea at this stage was very small. Another possibility was to formulate our idea as a patent application. This had a number of advantages.

    • It forced us to formulate our idea more precisely.
    • It required us to examine it against other alternatives that had already been proposed.
    • If the patent were approved, we would receive validation that our idea is a value-creating invention.
    • If our patent request was rejected, we could propose our idea for free and wide use to anyone who wished to implement it, while advising not to infringe on existing patents.

    In order to prepare the patent, we joined forces with a young computer expert, familiar with the intricacies of modern technology, named Yanir Shahak. Together we tackled the subject and implemented the idea with the help of a Tel Aviv patent lawyer.

    At the early stages it was clear that gaining patent protection for our idea would be difficult, because of the fact that our innovation was conceptual and not technological, captured in some device or other.

    It is important to understand that in principle, innovation in the world of patents is primarily technological. In a few countries you can indeed request for patent protection for business processes, but it is very difficult to succeed in this.

    This difficulty did not deter us, simply because we were not concerned about having the patent request declined. This too was positive, from our point of view.

    So, in just a few months, a vague idea was transformed into patent request number and it showed how a concept created by zoom out becomes, at the zoom-in stage, something concrete and implementable.

    The response of the patent examiner, given quite quickly, taught us a number of things.

    First, it would indeed be difficult for us to persuade him that this is indeed a technological innovation.

    Second, some of the components of our idea already appear, though in different form, in previous patents and patent requests.

    In a personal conversation we had with the examiner, he praised our innovative concept but claimed that it cannot be patented.

    We did not intend to appeal the decision and began a battle, as so often happens in such cases; It was sufficient for us that the way was paved for anyone who wanted to embrace our idea to do so, while taking due care in any event not to infringe, and while consulting an expert in patent law.

    What we have not yet done at the moment is still a dream, to apply our idea to this book, when it is published. We do not yet know, as we write these lines, whether we will succeed; all those interested in our venture are invited to visit our web site (accessed June 9, 2014) and examine where we stand.

    Arie Ruttenberg is co-founder of Israel's largest advertising agency, where for over 30 years he applied his creative skills daily. Later, he started a new enterprise, Club 50, which provides tools to those 50 and over for reinventing their lives. At present he is working on a new startup, Creativity Bank.

    Arie was born in Tel Aviv, on August 8, 1948, less than three months after the state of Israel achieved independence. His parents were Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel a year before his birth, from the European death camps. He was born at the height of Israel's War of Independence, and at the age of 8, experienced another war, the Sinai Campaign (1956). At age 19, as a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, he was seriously injured by an explosive device that damaged both his sight and his hearing, and was declared 100 percent disabled. He ascribes his creativity and innovative skills to the instability and the hardships in his life, which forced him constantly to search for original solutions in order to deal with reality.

    Despite the physical challenges Ruttenberg began to study economics and management at the Technion, Haifa, in 1969. Technion is Israel's leading science and technology university, and among the best institutions of its kind in the world. At Technion, Ruttenberg met Shlomo Maital, one of his economics instructors, and with him researched and published an article that was to become a path-breaking paper in behavioral economics and experimental economics.1 From that time, they have remained in close touch, stimulating each other with ideas on creativity, in the course of their careers.

    On completing his Technion studies, Ruttenberg chose to enter an industry that gave full expression to his creativity, the world of advertising. After a meteoric career of only four years, during which he became a partner in an ad agency, he opened his own advertising agency, in 1979, at age 31, together with some partners. The ad agency Kesher Barel became the largest of its kind in Israel, and in 2005 was sold to the global ad agency McCann Erickson. Today, McCann Erickson Israel is the largest, and leading, ad agency in Israel and has one of the best global networks. With his retirement from the advertising industry in 2005, at age 57, Ruttenberg decided to contribute to a revolution in thinking that seemed especially vital to him at the time—adapting the modern lifestyle to the new reality of lengthening life expectancy. With his creative vision, that we are at the onset of a new era, People Live Twice, he wrote a book by that name, and then launched a company with several friends, to implement his vision. The company, Club 50, is successful and Ruttenberg continues to be active in implementing his vision of second careers for those over 50.

    Ruttenberg continues his activities in Club 50, which supplies new social contacts, financial services, health services, leisure services, and more through an advanced communications network that includes a web site, a wide span of newsletters, cell phone communications, and a new magazine. Ruttenberg published in 2008, together with Psychologist Carlo Strenger, the book Why Not Live Twice. A decade earlier, he published the book It's OK Everything's Not OK, an illustrated book for children, in Hebrew, now available in English as well.

    Shlomo Maital is a Senior Research Fellow at the Samuel Neaman Institute for Advanced Studies, Technion and Professor (Emeritus) at Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel. He was the academic director of TIM–Technion Institute of Management, Israel's leading executive leadership development institute and a pioneer in action-learning methods, from 1998 to 2009, working with over 200 high-tech companies and startups. He was summer Visiting Professor for 20 years at MIT Sloan School of Management for Management of Technology M.Sc. program, teaching over 1,000 research and development (R&D) engineers from 40 countries. He is the author, co-author, or editor of 12 books, including Technion Nation (2012), Global Risk/Global Opportunity (SAGE, 2009), Innovation Management (SAGE, 2007; 2nd edition, 2012), and Executive Economics (The Free Press, 1994), translated into seven languages. He was co-founder of SABE–Society for Advancement of Behavioral Economics.

    Shlomo Maital is married, with four children and 12 grandchildren. He completed the New York marathon in 1985 in 3 hours and 51 minutes, and in April 2007, completed the Boston marathon in about 5 hours. In February 2008 he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and reached Uhuru Summit. In 2010 he climbed Mt. Kazbek, Georgia. He celebrated his 70th birthday with his children and grandchildren by completing a 70 km hike in the Dead Sea Mountains.


    1. Friedland, N., Maital, S., & Ruttenberg, A. (1978). A simulation study of tax evasion. Journal of Public Economics, 10, 107–116.

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