Sunday, March 27, 2005

Creating ideas by striving to reach the 'impossible ideal' of 'exhaustive information available universally'

I have been using the "'impossible ideal' of 'exhaustive information available universally'" as an approach to creativity for a number of years.

Using the approach

When using the approach I will start by choosing a subject for attention (such as a fire engine, an electricity meter etc). Then I will consider how the subject could display an exhaustive amount of information about itself. The impossible ideal is that the subject would display EVERY fact about itself possible (even information on the periphery of relevance). I find that on the 'journey' to 'reaching' this impossible ideal I will discover many ideas. I have found that a 'list exhaustive information' mentality helps expand the mind to look for possibilities.

At the next stage I will consider how that information (or a selected piece of information) could be displayed universally. The impossible ideal here is that the information would be available at EVERY part/place of the world (or perhaps even universe). Again, I have found this ideal helps expand the mind to look for possibilities. At first I will consider how the information could be displayed in the close proximity of the subject. This led to the idea of a

Visible display to show rate of electricity use

I will then go to the extreme of considering that the information could be displayed in the sky or in space. This led to the idea of

999 ambulance centres alert first-aiders near accident scene

Further points

Sometimes one of the stages (the listing of information or making information universal) used alone is enough to trigger ideas.

Often I will choose a subject that is known to display information - such as official forms or notices, websites etc.

Examples of ideas created with this approach

Computer error messages contain links to website

A webpage for each news programme providing explanations/definitions

Email/Text alerts for astronomical phenomena

A webpage for each rail station in cities

Local Crimewatch - e-mailed pictures of people wanted locally

A centralised database of war memorials

A website directory of all the second hand books for sale in libraries

Visible display to show rate of electricity use

999 ambulance centres alert first-aiders near accident scene

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Experiments in the day

About this post

Type of technique: generator of thought/action experiments

Technique in a nutshell: make a list of your activities in a typical day (or atypical day, perhaps). Consider what changes would occur if you had to do each activity in half the time, and also double the time. Then consider what changes would occur if you had to do each activity over only half the space, and also double the space. You can also increase or decrease the degree of one of the activity's characteristics.

Example: if the activity is reading in a bookshop, and your activity time is doubled and you also cover double the space then this could result in considering the possibility of trying new books. If you reduce the degree of your carefulness while in the bookshop, this could lead to a consideration such as picking a book totally at random and opting to read it from cover to cover.

Many writings on creativity advocate doing what could be called 'experiments in the day' - thought/action experiments that aim to break out of routines and generally nurture a creative attitude and spirit. The one I've seen most widely is: try taking a different route to work.

More examples of typical 'experiments in the day':

Take a walk in the middle of the night.
Have a conversation with someone you don't normally converse with
Stay up all night and watch the sunrise
Try eating at a different restaurant
Borrow a book from the library you wouldn't normally consider reading

There are many references, books etc where these EITD are suggested. I've devised a systematic approach to devising EITDs.

1) List actions
2) Consider how each action is undertaken in a typical day
3) Describe the action by degree
4) Increase/Decrease the degree

1) Listing Actions

I use a random-word trigger to form the list of actions. To do this I write a pangram:

the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dogs

Then pick two random letters from the pangram and list both short words (of one syllable), longer words, and finally the longest words I can think of with the trigger letters. I write the words as actions by adding 'ing'.

Eg: Random letters P and L could give:

One syllable: planning, planing, pleasing, pulling, pleating, peeling, ploughing etc
Longer: pulverising, polishing, pillaging, plastering etc

I can choose more random letter couplets and form words and repeat the process until I have a list of actions.Then I can select the actions that will probably occur in a day:

Walking, Sleeping, Eating, Reading, Writing, Exercising, Chatting, Playing, Worrying, Drawing, Spending, Storing etc.

2) Consider how each action is undertaken in a typical day

I try to think of at least five times when each behaviour occurs in each day. So:

Walking downstairs in the morning
Walking the dogs
Walking to the newsagent
Walking into town
Walking into the library

Reading the news on teletext
Reading emails
Reading the paper
Reading a book at the library
Reading the TV schedule


3) Describe the action by degree

I will form a descriptive adjective to state the degree of one of the actions. So, I will use the random-word pangram technique again to form five descriptive adjectives for the action. This is in answer to the question: "How X is it?"

For 'reading a book at the library' and from the trigger letters 'P' and 'L'

I can ask: how pleasant is it? How palatial is it? etc

4) Increase/Decrease the degree

For 'Reading a book at the library' I can list the descriptive adjectives and then increase/decrease their degree and see if any EITDs are suggested:

More/less pleasant
More/less palatial
More/less interesting
More/less demanding
More/less solitary


I've found that the following two descriptive adjectives - broad and long - often lead to good EITDs when their degree is increased or decreased. These are from the questions:

How broad is it? (How much area does the action cover?)
How long is it? (What is the duration of the action?)

Applied to the library example, my visit to the library can be more broad(covering a wider area) - thus I'll consider looking at other books in the library I wouldn't normally read or I'll consider looking at areas of the library I wouldn't normally visit. Considering a longer stay at the library can lead to similar ideas.

The descriptive adjective 'palatial' in answer to the question "How palatial is my book reading?' could lead to thoughts on improving the library environment. Perhaps I could donate plants or books etc.


Making creativity a tool for the everyday

Roger Von Oech's CreativeThink 'whacks'

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Vocabulary conversion

Eroteme told me about this interesting Wordcount site. The site counts the top 86800 English words and lists them in frequency of use.

I've been thinking for some time that there could be a systematic means to convert the vocabulary in any article (or any written piece) to a simpler level. For example, an article with a word such as 'quotidian' (rated 71479 on Wordcount) would be converted: 'quotidian' would be defined (or replaced with a synonym) using only words from the top 10000 of Wordcount.

Thus 'quotidian' = on-a-daily-basis

('on' rated at 13
'a' rated at 5
'daily' rated at 1350
'basis' rated at 683)

The user could opt for the conversion to use only words from the first 10000 words from Wordcount, or 20000 etc.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Leonardo da Vinci technique

I've been reading about a creativity technique Leonardo da Vinci used. Cracking Creativity by Michael Michalko describes how da Vinci would look at stains on walls, patterns in mud etc and imagine seeing battles and figures within the random patterns. Sometimes he would even fill a sponge with paint and throw it at a wall to see what the patterns suggest.

I devised an equivalent for 2005 using my PC's Paint accessory: I will search for some random google images and select one image (often a complex image with many colours). I will copy and paste the image into Paint and then go into Image Attributes and change the image to black & white. Then I go to Image and Invert Colours. I can select areas of the image to find inspiration or select specific areas with the Magnifying Glass tool.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Cloning Aspects: a simple technique for generating new ideas

I have been using this technique - 'Cloning Aspects' productively for a number of years.

Introduction to Cloning Aspects

When I use this technique I start by choosing a focus (a thing/subject etc), then pick an aspect of the focus subject (usually a tangible component), then create multiple 'clones' of the aspect, and finally - in the creative phase - make each clone unique (often by giving each clone a unique function or purpose).

Examples of Ideas made up using Cloning Aspects technique

The following ideas (all published on the Global Ideas Bank) have been created with the technique:

A section of seats in TV studio audiences auctioned for charity projects

Small charity donations possible when cash point is used

A quick-stop parking meter in each street

Speed cameras to check whether seatbelts worn

A laser projected onto tracks to show record-breaking pace

Olympic flag has sixth ring to represent the Paralympics

Advertising on bank notes to raise money for charities

A webpage for every prescription drug for information and patient discussions

Lottery entry slips - tick box for 10% to charity

Bibliographies in works of fiction to show author's influences

A webpage for each library book

Four stages of Cloning Aspects

There are four stages I apply when Cloning Aspects:

1) Choosing a focus - this should almost certainly be something tangible (and of any size). For example: a shop, a credit card, a bank note, a library, a sports stadium etc

2) Picking an aspect of the focus subject: again this should – ideally - be a tangible component of the focus subject. For example:

With the focus subject a shop, possible aspects could be:

The till
The floor
The front window
The sign
The shelves

3) Multiplying the aspect so that there are a number of clones of the aspect.

I will vary the numbers of clones. So with the focus subject, for example 'a bank' and the aspect 'the cashpoint machine' I may visualise:

a) 10 cashpoint machine clones (or some other quantity)
b) Enough cash machine clones to fill a specified space (eg: a mile of cash machines)
c) An infinite row of cash machines

I don’t worry about impossibilities or impracticalities: as I visualise a mile of cash machines I don't counter this with objections such as 'the rent would be extra' or 'that would form an obstacle' etc.

(Anyone familiar with the writings of de Bono will recognise how the attitude needed when visualising the clones is similar to that required when using the lateral thinking provocations - an attitude of 'deferring judgement' can be helpful)

Sometimes I will imagine all the clones occupying the same space as the original aspect. This is almost as though the clones are 'superimposed' over the original aspect. (I sometimes refer to this as 'tardis space'!)

Those who have used Mind maps will know Tony Buzan's rule that "Mind maps expand to fill the space available". When Cloning Aspects, it is almost as though the ideas create themselves to fill the clones available. The technique does seem to expand the mind and open it to possibilities. Sometimes I get ideas from cloning the aspects before I have even attempted to create anything new.

4) Creating new ideas

At this stage I consider the clones and think about how each could have its own individual function or purpose (or even the usual purpose but with a slight nuance). Sometimes I will 'group' the clones, so that out of a row of a hundred clone cash machines I will visualise a group of five and consider how they could all have a unique function or purpose. I use a random word to act as a qualifier for the clone. So, for example, in the case of the cash machine I could say:

Clone five is a 'charity clone'

which could suggest that that particular cash machine could be involved in some form of charity donation or project. This led to this idea:

Small charity donations possible when cash point is used

The formation of random words

I use a fairly idiosyncratic method to finding random words. Others may find this method useful.

I use a pangram such as:

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dogs

and I select two random letters. Then I try to think of a selection of words 'triggered' by the two letters. At first I will try to think of the shortest words I can, then proceed to words with two syllables or more.

For example, the two letters 'r' and 'c' could give:

Rock, Rack, Rook, Race
Reckon, Raccoon, Rocket, Rocker, Recent, Reclaim,
Recalcitrant, Reckoning, Rococo etc

Then I pick one to use as the qualifier and precede the clone with that word:

Reckoning-cash machine

and use that as a trigger for new ideas, as with random word stimulation.

Cloning Space Variation

The cloning space variation has been a very productive way of using the technique. To clone space I simply choose an object (such as a bank note) and multiply a chosen blank space to form clone blank-spaces. (This has resulted in a visualised bank note of about two metres in length!) Then I create a function/purpose for each space.

The cloning space variation led to this idea:

Advertising on bank notes to raise money for charities

Examples of ideas and how Cloning Aspects was used to create them

Lottery entry slips - tick box for 10% to charity

With this idea I cloned space so that the (visualised) lottery ticket was about a metre long. Then I considered how each individual centimetre of that metre could be used. I chose a random word and imagined how that word could be a heading for each centimetre and how that centimetre would have a function that reflected that word. Eventually this led to the idea of having a tick box for ten-percent of winnings to charity.

A quick-stop parking meter in each street

With this I visualised a street and picked the parking meters as the aspect. Then I imagined hundreds of parking meters and considered the different functions they could have. The qualifying random word "speed" led to this idea.

A laser projected onto running tracks to show record-breaking pace

With this I visualised an athletics running track with its white lines used to separate the runners. I picked a single white line as the aspect and visualised 100 clones of the line. The qualifier 'laser' led to the idea. (Since the idea was published on the Global Ideas Bank the TV coverage of the 2004 Olympics superimposed a line onto the swimming pool events to show record pace, and recently I saw an athletics meeting where a sequence of lights lined the track to show record pace)

Bibliographies in works of fiction to show author's influences


A webpage for each library book

Both ideas resulted from cloning the unused blank page (often at the end of many books) and considering a function for each of these pages.