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'

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