How many uses can you think of a paper clip?

Today I read this article from PresentationZen about the following wonderfully crafted presentation from Sir Ken Robinson on the topic of education and creativity. On it Sir Ken explained, among other ideas, the difference between creativity and divergent thinking which I found fascinating (min 7:48 in the video).


Before going any further if you have a few spare minutes imagine a paperclip and give yourself as much time as you want to come up and write down a list of all the things that you can use a paperclip for like for example bending it to make a hook. Once you can’t come up with any new ideas scroll down past the following depiction of slnc doing that same exercise a few minutes ago.

How many uses could you come up with? Less than 15? If so take a look at this list to see what you might have missed:

  1. clip papers with it
  2. clip your nose and make your kids smile
  3. twist it around several cables to keep them together
  4. twist it and open use it to open locks
  5. unroll it to make holes in bland surfaces
  6. unroll it and make it circular and you will have a ring
  7. if it’s a big paperclip unroll it and make it again circular and you will have a bracelet
  8. unroll it and then bend it around the opening of a bag to keep the contents inside
  9. unroll it and stick several pieces of food with it to have a “pincho moruno”
  10. heat it enough so that it melts and use it to stick small metallic things together
  11. cd/dvd tray opener
  12. unroll it, make it circular and use it for fleas to jump through in a flea circus
  13. if you have too many papers make a hole through them with a puncher, unroll the paper clip and make it pass through the hole to keep the pages together
  14. use it to keep old furniture doors that have small hooks together
  15. you can use it as a puncturing weapon
  16. hit it with your nails and if you have a sensitive ear you will have a percussion instrument
  17. it serves as a projectile
  18. a cheap belt for your pants if you don’t have a belt or if your pants’ buttons are off
  19. as a hook for those fishing days
  20. if it’s hollow and big you can use it to drive water to your plants
  21. unroll it, stick it into the sand on the beach and use it measure tides
  22. you can twist it and make letters or numbers to teach the alphabet (you can break it in parts with your hands to make some letters like A)
  23. unroll it and twist it and with adequate medical precautions you can use it as piercing or earring
  24. unroll it, put it in a small container and fill half of the container with, put it in the fridge and a few hours laters you will have a transparent pendant that you can hang from your ear
  25. unroll it and direct an orchestra with it (requires good eye sight)
  26. use it to clean small spaces like the spaces between the keys of your keyboard
  27. use it to drive current from one place to another
  28. if it’s tall enough unroll it, go to the Moon, attach a flag of your preferred country to it and stick it into the Moon surface
  29. if it’s made of bamboo and it’s big enough break it apart in straight pieces and you now have kung fu staffs
  30. unroll it and use it to clean obstructed and small openings
  31. unroll it, bend it on two sides with square angles and you now have a miniature football goal
  32. do the same but make the central area shorter and you now have a door for your flea circus
  33. twist like a “w” or a “m” and you will have a psychodelic earring
  34. you can twist it to draw a triangles, rectangles, squares, pentagons, hexagons…
  35. you can unroll it stick it in your table in front of you so that when you’re studying and your head is falling on top of the table you will wake up and continue studying
  36. you can break it into smaller straight parts, stick them all in a bland surface and have a miniature fakir bed
  37. you can make jokes about Clippy from Microsoft’s Office with it
  38. you can unroll it, bend it alternatively one way and then another at some points and curve the unrolled part between them to make a tunnel
  39. you can unroll it, stick a piece of paper with your wish written on it and hang it on a Japanese temple
  40. use it to strengthen the structure of a paper plane
  41. you can use it to draw anything on the sand
  42. if it’s made of diamond you can use it to draw on almost anything
  43. unroll it and use it to stir your martini
  44. if it’s big enough stick it on the roof of your house to attract lightnings
  45. if it’s big and wide enough unroll it, curve it and you have a water chute
  46. use it to signal places in the ground like the place where you buried your secret treasure in the Solomon Islands
  47. unroll it, make it semi circumpherence, wire it, place the wires underground, plant it on your secret islands near your base and connect it to an intrusion detection system so that when the enemy approaches and inadvertently triggers it you will know where he is
  48. unroll it, stick it into the top of a candle, incline the candle, light it up so that the part where you stack the paperclip in is lower, light up the candle and put the bare skin of a prisoner on the other side to torture him
  49. sell it to someone who hasn’t seen a paperclip before and make a fortune
  50. say that it was the paperclip the Office team used to create Clippy, sell it on eBay and make a fortune
  51. if big enough bend it so that it looks like an “L” and use it to sweep the sand out of your tropical bungalow’s entrance
  52. unroll it bend it and attach it to your dinner table to hold the table cloth in place
  53. if it’s made of the right material you can use it as part of antenna
  54. bend it carefully, put it inside the credit card slot of an ATM of the competition so that cards don’t completely fit and make their customers angry
  55. bend it and use it to scratch the part of your back that you don’t normally reach
  56. while in the original form bend one of the corners in a straight angle and use it to support books in a shelf
  57. use it to make a point in a blog post about divergent thinking and creativity

People that are broadly considered to have a genius mind can come up with 200 uses.

As Sir Ken mentions in the presentation the western education system is built on a rational and industrialized way that progressively forces us shut down our creativity as we go through the education ladder. Many of us end up considering creativity the privilege of artists, musicians and a few other gifted people when it really is something that we all have. Watch the whole video if you don’t believe me.

After doing the paperclip exercise I spent some time thinking about it and I found an interesting connection between these exercises and some raja yoga exercises. In some of those yogic exercises you are asked to think about a simple object like an apple, a wall or any other simple object and write as many ideas connected to them as possible. After you can’t come up with any new ideas, which at the beginning may be a low number, you move your attention away for some time and then later you focus on the initial object and try again. During that second time you will get more ideas than at the beginning and at the end you will be amazed at all the stuff that you knew about the object. It helps you to not only develop lateral thinking and creativity but to focus and gain will power. As you get better at it the yogic exercises suggest you to move up in abstraction and focus on ideas like love, truth, strength and other qualities and by doing so gaining new insights.

For more information:

Do you consider yourself creative? If so do you engage in creative or lateral thinking activities?

9 thoughts on “How many uses can you think of a paper clip?”

  1. Come up with 200 different uses for a paperclip is not being a genius, it’s more like something called McGyver’s syndrome lol

  2. Mmmm, ¿vale si digo que no me apetece pensar en los 200 usos de un clip? ;)
    El vídeo me ha parecido de lo más interesante, creo como el autor que la educación es un tema muy importante al que habría que dedicar más tiempo y dar valor a conceptos como el pensamiento lateral. El mundo avanza más deprisa que las estructuras, pero es costoso en tiempo y dinero lograr establecer procesos como el educativo, por lo que es difícil asomarse a plantear que la estructura vigente podría no ser la mejor.
    A mí siempre me viene a la cabeza el concepto de libertad, creo que cuanto más “evolucionada” es una civilización menos libertad poseen sus miembros. Sólo con imaginarme cómo era la vida de mis padres yendo a donde querían en el pueblo y solos… Incluso yo he vivido un poco de eso, pero dudo que mis hijos puedan.
    Y hasta aquí mi rollo-reflexión.
    Muy interesante el tema, Juan, cuando quieras lo discutimos en persona.

  3. make a piercing.
    make a chair with a giant paperclip
    make a table.
    make a doll
    make a toy car.
    make a toy bik that doesnt work.
    make a plat.
    make a fork.
    make a knife.
    make a spoon.
    make a spork.
    make a toy dragon.
    make a toy tree.
    make a vase.
    make a house.
    make a door.
    make a ball that doesn’t bounce.
    make a paperweight.

  4. Ok, spent a little over an hour to complete the 200 paperclip life achievement! Now, where is my price?

    Here are some of the ones i wrote:
    *Make them hallow and transport LSD across borders
    *Trow them at people
    *Bend them -> mount feathers -> manual fan. (Kinda hard to explain :p)
    *Bend it and use it as a skewer for goldfish
    *Use it as a projectile in a mini crossbow
    *Interlock a shitload of em and use it as a hammock for babies
    *Sell them on ebay
    *Go to a poor country and trade them for services
    *Attach five or so, to your paper note (that you are gonna throw at that hot girl/ friend in classroom) for better accuracy.
    *Interlock as many as needed and make a chain around the earth. For measuring the circumference.
    *Make it hallow and use it as a syringe for medical purposes
    *Trade for something with roughly the same value, than trade that again until you trade for -> house. (Been done before)
    *Throw thousands of paperclips at the floor and glide around on them.
    *Fill shopping bags with them and do squats.
    * Use them as mini chopsticks
    *Pulverize a couple pounds worth of paperclips and see how much you can eat before getting poisoned.
    *Cook a bunch of them and sell it as food supplement.
    *Make a voodoo tomato
    *Pulverize a lot of paperclips-> put in hallow egg -> add some liquid -> throw in gangsters eyes for self protection.
    * Use it as a guitar pick
    * Use it as a sewing needle
    * Use two or so to hold warm objects.
    * Attach four or so to your hand, and become wolverine
    * Bend them outwards and make a anti vampire-necklase.

    Ok, that got a bit long. :p
    Sorry for potential spelling errors and bad language, english isn’t my main langauge.

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