When I teach groups about Tribal Alchemy, I always show a good number of ideas, videos and images that reveal the power and beauty of alchemy (that is, the ingenious combination of resources). I do this because there is no better way to inspire alchemy than to see examples of it.  Here’s a good example.

Take a look at this picture.


Girl watering tree


The tree is alive. The girl is a painting (in case you were concerned about an invasion of giants). There’s so much alchemy going on in that picture–from the tree growing next to the wall of the building, to the paint used by the painter to portray the girl; not to mention the camera (and photographer) that captured it so we could appreciate it.


Inevitably when I share ingenious images, videos or ideas, audience members have responses that range from gasps of delight, to the ubiquitous, “wow, that’s so amazing.” I’ve often wished to see the brain scans of audience members right as they react to the image of ingenuity. Of course, we know we would see a very happy brain in that scan. Brain researchers have shown that our brains love alchemy–but not just when we see it. What our brain really thrives on is when we do it–that is, when we alchemize ideas, information and concepts.


Brain researcher, Sandra Chapman call this, “thinking deep.” One of her recommendations –for practicing deep thinking –is to synthesize disparate pieces of information into new and more robust ideas. It seems our brain loves to create alchemy with ideas. In fact, Chapman has shown in her research that, when we create alchemy with ideas, it increases both blood and oxygen flow to the brain. Not to mention all the happy neurons that make new and stronger connections.


[Tweet “Creating alchemy with ideas is exercise for your brain. @davefleming360”]


Here is one way to practice the synthesis (alchemy) of ideas.

(And it’s fun, like a game for your brain).


  1. Take random ideas, information and events and combine them into a super idea


All day long we come in contact with information–from the news we read, to the places we visit, to the people we encounter, to the work we engage (on it goes). When you arrive home, after a day at work or school, recall three or four random pieces of information and try to synthesize them into a super idea.

Let’s try it for fun. Take this example:


7 AM–You read an article about the ongoing drought in California

930 AM–You and a colleague discuss changing up plans for an upcoming project in an attempt to avoid  project failure

12 PM–You have a chopped salad with salmon for lunch

4 PM–You hear from your daughter that she got a B on her chemistry test


OK, now it’s time to layer, alchemize and synthesize these ideas/events into some super idea. Before you read my synthesis (below), can you come up with one of your own? Is there some way you can combine all these seemingly random ideas and events into a super idea?


Here’s my synthesis:


Life is a series of trade-offs. Sometimes the trade-offs we make work great and others fail big time.


  • For too long we’ve wasted water and now we’re experiencing the consequences of that waste in the Western part United States.
  • Your colleague and you traded project stability for a wee bit more ambiguity. You did this in hopes that a bit more chaos up front would lead to a better result in the long run. Only time will tell.
  • You wanted to have french fries and a hamburger at lunch, but based on your trip to the “scale” this morning, you chose the salad and salmon. You’re hoping that trade-off makes a difference.
  • And finally, your daughter got a B instead of an A (at least in your mind) because she chose to hang out with friends over the weekend more than she studied.


Super Alchemy Idea: Life is a series of trade offs at macro and micro levels. Even wise choices aren’t a guarantee of success, but we should still choose as wisely as we can.


WOW: I could feel my neurons firing and getting happy even as I wrote that.


Our brain loves to synthesize. We love to ingeniously combine ideas, information and events into better ones. Now before you think that my example is just a “fun little game,” consider this: organizations–across the globe–spend millions of dollars to try increase strategic thinking. And just what is strategic thinking if it’s not the ingenuous combination of ideas, information and events into super ideas that spark creativity and change. Healthy individual brains lead to a healthy tribe of brains that execute mission with creative action. So here’s to the alchemy of ideas.


Try The Synthesis Exercise Yourself:

Tonight, choose three or four random ideas or events (from your day) and work the synthesis exercise.

Your brain will thank you.