Post No.: 0759
For the optimal conditions for creativity, we need the optimal level of constraints. Too much freedom and we’ll feel paralysed about what to do or we might get too comfortable and feel that there’s no need to innovate at all (necessity is, as often said, the mother of invention). But too much restriction and it’ll overly limit our possibilities.
One principle for innovation is synthesis – the process of combining unusual or unlike concepts, ideas, or parts thereof, to make something novel is regarded by many to be the essence of creativity. The further apart the concepts are, if they can be successfully married, the generally better too. So try to think in terms of ‘parallel’ concepts to spark innovative links and connections, and see what you get?
Open your mind to what’s already out there. Look for trends, both online and offline, and think how they may apply to you? Study what others have done because someone else may have come up with the solution you need already; possibly in some other context? If you’re competing with what others have done then you’ll nonetheless still need to know what’s already out there so that you don’t inadvertently copy what’s already been done. You don’t want to be overly influenced by what’s already out there yet you’ll need to know what’s already out there – you cannot know you’re thinking outside the ordinary without first knowing what the ordinary is.
Reduce preconceptions. One way is to try renaming things – for instance, call a telephone a ‘distant voice link’ instead. This way you’ll mentally break free from pre-existing concepts of ‘means of communication’ and get to the core problem that you really want solving. Restate all of your challenges in this way. Expand the question – look at the hierarchy of why the problem needs solving by asking yourself ‘why this?’, then answering this question. Then ask yourself ‘why this?’ to that answer. And so forth until you reach a tangent. Then build up from there by asking yourself ‘how can I satisfy this objective?’ This encourages you to identify the core problem(s) that you want solving, which may not be to create another handset in this case. Alternatively, narrow the question to focus on a particular facet of the problem more closely, and find solutions for that. Ask yourself each time ‘in what ways, other than x, might I…?’ Ask the right question in different ways.
The longer and harder you focus on a subject, the harder it can become to break out of the habitual thinking patterns you’ve been treading down for years – so change your subject or scenery now and again.
We all occasionally need fresh and quirky inspiration from external sources or new places, so open your senses and imagination to new things. Collect interesting stuff to spark inspiration. Write down and keep notes on important things. Read, listen to and watch new things, and go to new places for inspiration. Change your daily routine for a moment.
We too easily settle into preconceived, inflexible ways of thinking and narrow ideas of ideas. For instance, ‘beans on wheat’ is fine in the form of beans on toast yet somehow not beans on cereal biscuits! (It’s not the best chow but it’s neither nocuous nor outlandish.) But we can eventually accept new propositions, like cereal can be eaten at a meal other than breakfast, or certain names can become non-gendered. So loosen your discipline in thinking – initial ideas don’t need to be practical, predictable, conventional or along the lines of what’s been done before. Don’t just stick to the ideas that conform to the existing categories and stereotypes.
When you think you’ve found a good solution – ask for even more! Keep on brainstorming ‘what else?’ and ‘how else?’ Quantity will eventually breed quality. Maybe set an idea quota target and stick to it. And set a time limit to come up with some quick-fire suggestions because we might procrastinate for days if we’re hoping to find the perfect or fully-formed concept from the outset. Just get something down; get the ball rolling. Feed your mind with something, then your mind can start to work on it unconsciously. Play with context, perspective and focus on ‘processes’ rather than ‘outcomes’. Defer negativity or judgement until the end of brainstorming. Review your ideas and notes afterwards.
Sometimes we’re too narrow-minded for judging what someone, or another animal, is doing as ‘derpy’ when they’re actually experimenting to try to learn something new. To foster innovation, we need to be less afraid or embarrassed of failure to give us a chance of coming up with and learning something new. Play is learning so play. (Yet I’ve seen too many times players who are stuck on videogames who are afraid to interact with everything they can, even though videogames offer risk-free and bounded ways to experiment – the worst that can happen is that you ‘die’ and reload a checkpoint.) Trial and error is the normal way. Failures are learning opportunities – ask ‘what have I done?’ then ‘what could I have done differently?’
Really pay attention and aim to see what’s right before your eyes instead of what’s preconceived in your mind. Or look at things from an atypical, unique, narrower or broader perspective? Organise the information you’ve got into a tidier, different or unusual way?
Think simple too. The simplest solutions are usually the most cheap and elegant, like air traffic control towers having tilted windows to eliminate reflections from the inside and provide shading at high sun angles. No need for any fancy glass technology.
Utilise your range of senses – sketch or draw your thoughts as well as write them down. Think of visual mental images when dealing with verbal information, and think of verbal words when dealing with visual information, for instance. Get tactile and paws-on with prototypes.
If you don’t record your ideas and thoughts immediately, they will likely be forgotten! So always have a method of recording them nearby, like a sketchbook or voice recorder.
Although not all change is improvement, it’s true that all improvement means change; yet change can sometimes mean discomfort. Innovation and coming up with ideas takes effort too – intention isn’t enough. Getting stuck in creates answers. Doing stimulates thinking. Hoping for ‘divine inspiration’ isn’t enough if you aren’t actively searching for sources of inspiration. So concentrate your energies on actually brainstorming ideas instead of digging for reasons why you should come up with them in the first place. Challenge yourself to create novelty. Believe that every problem can be solved – just focus on the ‘how?’
Post No.: 0445 wanted you to understand that you are creative and can be creative whenever and wherever you are.
Think like a child again with no limitations on imagination or the need for logic, and be naturally inquisitive. Ask who, how, what, why, when, where? Maybe even directly ask children for their input. Ask others for thoughts and feedback. Work with others in a team with a mutual fellowship and common goal if possible.
In group brainstorming sessions, try standing up during the brainstorming to make the group feel more energetic and engaged. Have lots of space and paper available. Everyone should have their own pens, papers and basic materials to hand. Provide appropriate props and tools to stimulate ideas and to aid communication (e.g. competitors’ products, mock-up materials).
Choose people with varied, diverse perspectives, knowledge and experiences to participate (e.g. engineers, customers, salespeople, etc.) – don’t just choose those in your own department or just choose the final decision-makers. An outsider’s perspective gives us fresh proposals and helps to prevent us from overlooking the obvious. This doesn’t mean having rebels who’ll just disrupt things for the hell of it but people who care about the success of the group yet who won’t just nod their heads along with the group. And it’s not about introducing outsiders for the sake of it but people who have diverse perspectives yet which are still relevant to the problem. 6-8 people is a good number per group so that a range of points of views can be explored yet there’s accommodation for one conversation where everyone can contribute.
Frame the topic broadly enough to generate innovative ideas yet not too broadly that it’s hard to know where to start.
Warm up with some silly hypothetical prompts (e.g. how would you design a fishing rod for cats?), by taking turns in creating new lines for a poem, or Mad Libs.
Embrace and build upon even ‘terrible’ ideas for a while. Don’t eliminate anything too early. In fact, encourage ideas that are wild and crazy – crazy like cubic wombat ****! Set a target number like brainstorming 100 ideas in 15 minutes. Like when brainstorming alone, go for quantity first before getting down to details.
Have only one conversation going at a time. Along the way, challenge everyone to look at the problem from a different angle, or remove the most obvious solution from the pool of possibilities. Throw in some surprising or provocative prompts to get the group to push past their assumptions – like how they might design a playground on the Moon or underwater, or for 50 years in the future, or with a £1 or £1M budget, or if they were elderly or disabled, or if they were to make it the most fun but dangerous playground ever? Everyone should also build upon other people’s ideas. In an ideal brainstorming session – someone will come up with an idea, everyone will then build upon it for a short time, then it jumps to a new idea or approach, and repeat.
45-60 minutes for a brainstorming session is okay because concentration will dip and energy levels need recovery. At the end, let everyone vote for their favourite ideas in several different categories (e.g. which do you think is the quickest, most cost-effective, or most tidy, solution?)
Take photographs of all of the ideas. Make notes about the best ones. And save all that can be saved. Revisit these materials over time to see if opinions about them have changed; perhaps due to new information emerging in the interim?
The ideas gathered need to be evaluated. Rate and prioritise all of them to see which are excellent and which need improving or ditching. List the pros, cons and interesting points (the things that don’t fit as either pluses or minuses). Analyse and develop them until you can imagine the end product being a successful reality.
Verbalise your ideas with trusted friends. The perfect person to give feedback will be imaginative, perceptive, has vision and will try to be as objective as possible and only give constructive feedback. Ask for an idea’s strengths and weaknesses, how it compares with the competition, and if they can identify any possible barriers, concerns or other objections to it? Ask any questions you want answered. Ask for any ideas they may have too.
In design though, knowing when to stop and accept that enough is enough is as vital a skill as brainstorming ideas, whether, for instance, in art, creating recipes or product design. A design is finished when nothing more can be taken away. ‘Feature creep’ is when additional features are introduced to a product even though it already fulfils what it’s designed to do, in an attempt to create a more desirable product – but they end up being costly for the manufacturer and/or become unwanted bloatware or unreliable parts for the consumer. This might be due to ‘design by committee’, which is essentially the same as the proverb ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’.
Once your idea feels final – make it happen as soon as possible! Don’t spend weeks refining it because you might miss the first-mover advantage. You’ve done the 1% (the inspiration or coming up with a good idea) – now do the other 99% (the perspiration or making that idea a reality).