Hidden Mickeys and “Winning the Brain Game” by Matthew E. May

In the chapter on Hidden Mickeys in The Imagineering Pyramid, I offered a simple exercise (borrowed from In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing by Matthew E. May) that illustrates how Hidden Mickeys work and how once you spot a Hidden Mickey, you never look at it the same way again.


The key piece of missing information is this: It’s the upper-case version of the most common letter in the English language. The letter exists in the white space.

If you still don’t “see” it, the answer is below (select/highlight the text between the words “Answer” to get the solution).

Answer It’s a capital letter “E”. Answer

Matthew E. May’s new book, Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking  revisits this example in the chapter about Fixation, one of the “7 fatal flaws of thinking” from the book’s title.


Fixation is May’s term for “functional fixedness”, a term coined by Psychologist Karl Duncker “to explain the difficulty people have in looking at objects and situations in ways differently than they commonly do or have in the past.” In simpler terms, fixation is our brains’ strong tendency to look for and create patterns.

In the case of this exercise, once our brain fills in the pattern in the image, we can’t go back and see it any other way. As May describes it (I’ve replaced the answer with [] in the excerpt below to help avoid giving it away):

“Most people cannot unsee the [] no matter how hard they try… even if they are successful for a split second, their brains flicker back to the []. What makes the image so indelible is the fact that your brain completed it. No “complete” [], no matter how elaborately or ornately rendered, could produce the same level of Fixation impact. Once you were given a clue, your brain created the image for you, without your having much say in the matter. The incomplete [] took on a new form, a life of its own – one with real staying power.”

I strongly recommend Winning the Brain Game to anyone looking to improve their problem solving skills, or looking to learn more about how we think about and approach problems. You can find my reviews of Winning the Brain Game on Amazon and Goodreads.

How does this apply to Hidden Mickeys?

What happens when your brain fills in the missing pieces in the image above is similar to the experience of finding a Hidden Mickey. Once our brains fill in the Hidden Mickey pattern, it takes on a new life of its own.

How can you use this idea in your creative projects?

  • Can you incorporate incomplete or partial images and help your audience “see” the real picture?
  • Can you help your audience participate and engage in your experience in a way that their brains help complete the message or pattern?



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