Essential Life Skill #4: Making Connections

This is the basis of what we call creativity: not a deus ex machina scrawling on a tabula rasa, but the mind’s constant search for interesting new ways of grouping the data we’re constantly taking in.


Pattern recognition is one of the things human brains are exceptionally good at. In childhood, we learn to group things in the physical world by size, shape, color, number, and so on. But by adolescence we’re able to make abstract connections between things and ideas that are extremely dissimilar. This is the basis of what we call creativity: not a deus ex machina scrawling on a tabula rasa, but the mind’s constant search for novel combinations – for interesting new ways of grouping the data we’re constantly taking in.

For this reason, some of the most promising work being done in the field of artificial intelligence is based on pattern-recognition models that build up from simple to more complex. Still, no machine has (yet) come close to replicating humans’ amazing connection-making power - the power that enables us to do extraordinary things like building machines that attempt to replicate our own intelligence, or inventing the soufflé.

While connection-making builds upon the grouping and matching games we play as children, there is no known limit to our ability to deepen this skill in adulthood. According to Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making and president of the Families and Work Institute, logic puzzles, challenging mystery novels, even the daily challenges we face at work can build our cognitive flexibility – the ability to recombine the familiar in innovative ways. This kind of cognitive flexibility has obvious advantages in our lives and careers, as it enables us to find solutions to problems that leave others stumped. In a world where the problems are only becoming more complex, good problem-solvers will always be in high demand.

Video: Essential Life Skill #4: Making Connections, with Ellen Galinsky (free preview: full video available with subscription to Big Think Mentor

In a fast-changing world, only our higher-order thinking skills can keep us aware, engaged, and growing.  In The Seven Essential Life Skills, her workshop for Big Think Mentor, Mind in the Making author Ellen Galinsky teaches lessons learned over decades of psychological research into how humans learn throughout the lifespan.  The seven essential skills she teaches here, and demonstrates with stunning video footage of classic psychological experiments, are invaluable tools for adapting to, learning from, and thriving within a world in rapid flux.

The seven essential life skills you’ll hone in this workshop are:

  • Focus and Self-Control

  • Perspective Taking

  • Communicating

  • Making Connections

  • Critical Thinking

  • Taking on Challenges

  • Self-Directed, Engaged Learning

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    17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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    Image from the study.

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    Image by authors of the study.

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