Monday, April 04, 2005

Directed-association: a type of free-association

About this post:

Type of technique:
Free Association

The post in a nutshell: Write down a word, A. Then write down something associated with A to create word B. (This is done using a list of guide-words to help trigger an association.) Continue onwards from word B.


I have developed this directed free-association tool (directed-association) that is a variation of standard free-association.

(See Mycoted Free Association for a description of standard free-association)

This directed-association method serves four purposes:

1) To provide a list of words and concepts that can be used as an alternative to a dictionary when providing words for random stimulation

2) To suggest possible subjects for further creative effort

3) To uncover ‘forgotten’ ideas and discover ideas on the periphery of awareness

4) To warm up before a brainstorming session

I carry out this directed-association either on a sheet of A4 paper or on the PC.

The Start

At the start of the exercise I will form a list of people; these can be any people - including famous people, fictional characters and people I know. There are two ways to form this list of people.

1) Using the pangram:

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog

I will pick two letters at random and name someone with those initials.

2) I will select some random images on Google image search, and in any picture with people I will ask: “Who does this person remind me of?" or "who do they look like?”

Using these two methods I will make a list of about thirty people. The page of directed-association will now look like this:

People:

John Wayne, Mick Jagger, Ben Steele, Quincy Jones, Rocky Marciano, Nick Faldo, Forrest Gump, Julie Andrews, Jenny Hall, Sir Edmund Hillary, Judy Garland, Swiss Tony, Chris Patten, Snow White, Sir George Martin, Captain Caveman, Jenny Pitman, Dusty Springfield, Abominable Snowman, Nostradamus, Bill Oddie, Kiefer Sutherland, Barbara Cartland, Jasper Carrot, Terence Stamp, Dolph Lungren, Santa Claus, Buddha, Fay Wray, Joan of Arc

I will choose one of those people at random and this person (or that word) becomes the 'focus word'. (Eg John Wayne).

Guide-words

At the next stage – the main directed-association phase - I will list the following ten guide-words:

Has/Is/Does/Thing/Person/Time/Place/Activity/Specify/Utterance/^

and choose one to suggest an association for the focus word (in this example 'John Wayne'). I choose 'has', and the page now looks like:

People:

John Wayne, Mick Jagger, Ben Steele, Quincy Jones, Rocky Marciano, Nick Faldo, Forest Gump, Julie Andrews, Jenny Hall, Sir Edmund Hilary, Judy Garland, Swiss Tony, Chris Patten, Snow White, Sir George Martin, Captain Caveman, Jenny Pitman, Dusty Springfield, Abominable Snowman, Nostradamus, Bill Oddie, Keifer Sutherland, Barbara Cartland, Jasper Carrot, Terence Stamp, Dolph Lungren, Santa Claus, Buddha, Fay Wray, Joan of Arc

Has/Is/Does/Thing/Person/Time/Place/Activity/Specify/Utterance/^

John Wayne. (has)


Each of the ten guide-words can be expressed as a directive (to help reach the association)

Has: directive = “Name something that (focus word/concept) has”
Is: directive = “Name an adjective that describes (focus word/concept) ”
Does: directive = “Name something (focus word/concept) does”
Thing: directive = “Name something associated with (focus word/concept) ”
Person: directive = “Name a person associated with (focus word/concept) ”
Time: directive = “Name a time (or duration, era, event etc) associated with (focus word/concept) ”
Place: directive = “Name a place associated with (focus word/concept) ”
Activity: directive = “Name an activity associated with (focus word/concept)”
Specify: directive = “Specify/Name a(focus word/concept) ”
Utterance: directive = “Name an utterance (speech, quote etc) associated with (focus word/concept) ”
^: directive = “What IS (focus word/concept)? (step up to concept level)”.

With specify, if I have already named the person (eg John Wayne) this can lead me to consider if I’m thinking of THAT John Wayne or another person with the same name. Or I may consider if I'm thinking of a representation of John Wayne - such as a model or photo etc.

With ‘^’ I will step up to concept level. The concept level I use is dictionary concept level, where I consider a word/concept in the dictionary that represents this person. So with John Wayne it could be ‘actor’ ‘cowboy’ ‘legend’ or even ‘person’ etc.

Examples of possible associations for 'John Wayne' prompted by each guide-word:

Has: directive = “Name something that (John Wayne) has” GUN
Is: directive = “Name an adjective that describes (John Wayne ) ” MEAN
Does: directive = “Name something (John Wayne) does” ACT
Thing: directive = “Name something associated with (John Wayne) ” WESTERNS
Person: directive = “Name a person associated with (John Wayne) ” CLINT EASTWOOD
Time: directive = “Name a time (or duration, era etc) associated with (John Wayne) ” OSCARS NIGHT
Place: directive = “Name a place associated with (John Wayne) ” WILD WEST
Activity: directive = “Name an activity associated with (John Wayne)” HORSERIDING
Specify: directive = “Specify/Name a (John Wayne) ” THE ACTOR JOHN WAYNE
Utterance: directive = “Name an utterance (speech, quote etc) associated with (John Wayne) ” THE HELL I WILL
^: directive = “What IS (John Wayne)? (step up to concept level)” COWBOY

As I chose HAS as the guide-word, and the association I made was ‘gun’, my directed-association page now looks like:

People:

John Wayne, Mick Jagger, Ben Steele, Quincy Jones, Rocky Marciano, Nick Faldo, Forest Gump, Julie Andrews, Jenny Hall, Sir Edmund Hilary, Judy Garland, Swiss Tony, Chris Patten, Snow White, Sir George Martin, Captain Caveman, Jenny Pitman, Dusty Springfield, Abominable Snowman, Nostradamus, Bill Oddie, Keifer Sutherland, Barbara Cartland, Jasper Carrot, Terence Stamp, Dolph Lungren, Santa Claus, Buddha, Fay Wray, Joan of Arc

Has/Is/Does/Thing/Person/Time/Place/Activity/Specify/Utterance/^

John Wayne. (has) gun


Then, ‘GUN’ becomes the focus word/concept and once again I choose one of the guide-words to produce the next association.

So, if I choose ‘^’ then I will choose a dictionary-level concept that represents gun – ‘weapon’ for example. Resulting in my directed-association looking like this:

People:

John Wayne, Mick Jagger, Ben Steele, Quincy Jones, Rocky Marciano, Nick Faldo, Forest Gump, Julie Andrews, Jenny Hall, Sir Edmund Hilary, Judy Garland, Swiss Tony, Chris Patten, Snow White, Sir George Martin, Captain Caveman, Jenny Pitman, Dusty Springfield, Abominable Snowman, Nostradamus, Bill Oddie, Keifer Sutherland, Barbara Cartland, Jasper Carrot, Terence Stamp, Dolph Lungren, Santa Claus, Buddha, Fay Wray, Joan of Arc

Has/Is/Does/Thing/Person/Time/Place/Activity/Specify/Utterance/^

John Wayne. (has) gun. (^) weapon.


And ‘weapon’ becomes the focus word/concept

I will continue selecting guide-words and making associations until I have about half a page of words/concepts. Thus:

People:

John Wayne, Mick Jagger, Ben Steele, Quincy Jones, Rocky Marciano, Nick Faldo, Forest Gump, Julie Andrews, Jenny Hall, Sir Edmund Hilary, Judy Garland, Swiss Tony, Chris Patten, Snow White, Sir George Martin, Captain Caveman, Jenny Pitman, Dusty Springfield, Abominable Snowman, Nostradamus, Bill Oddie, Keifer Sutherland, Barbara Cartland, Jasper Carrot, Terence Stamp, Dolph Lungren, Santa Claus, Buddha, Fay Wray, Joan of Arc

Has/Is/Does/Thing/Person/Time/Place/Activity/Specify/Utterance/^

John Wayne. (has) gun. (^) weapon. (does) kill. (has) victim. (time) Bhopal. (is) disaster. (^) tragedy. (thing) grief. (utterance) good grief! (is) exclamation. (thing) surprise. (time) surprise party. (has) alcohol. (thing) drink driving. (is) illegal act. (specify) mugging. (is) upsetting. (time) funeral. (has) flowers. (specify) sunflower. (is) tall. (person) Robert Wadlow. (is) record breaker. (thing) Olympic games. (has) athlete (does) training. (specify) weightlifting. (is) strenuous. (thing) carrying suitcases. (does) tire. (time) late at night. (^) hour. (specify) witching hour. (thing) Halloween. (has) pumpkin. (activity) carving pumpkins. (has) knife. (^) cutlery. (is) sharp. (thing) razor. (does) shave. (utterance) ouch! (thing) ET. (^) character. (time) writing a story. (thing) writer’s block. (specify) songwriter’s block. (person) Sting. (utterance) walking on the moon. (specify) first moon landing. (utterance) one small step for man…(^) quotation. (person) Oscar Wilde. (utterance) either this wallpaper goes or I do. (^) humour (thing) Darwin awards. (^) award. (specify) Nobel prize. (has) prestige. (place) Lourdes. (has) miracles. (utterance) it’s a miracle!

One guide-word per line

On the second half of the paper I change tack slightly so that each line of the paper is dedicated to one guide-word:

Has
Is
Does
Thing
Person
Time
Place
Activity
Specify
Utterance
^

Starting with the ‘has’ line I will choose a word/concept at random from the body of directed-association ('writer's block', for example). I will answer the directive (in this case “Name something that (writer’s block) has”) and write the association on the 'has' line ('frustration'). Then I will pick another word/concept at random from the body of directed-association and find an association prompted by the guide-word. I will continue picking words/concepts at random and forming associations until I complete the ‘has’ line. I then proceed to the ‘is’ line etc, proceeding through all the guide-words until the page is full.

Has: (writer’s block) frustration. (quotation) humour. (pumpkin) roundness. (carrying suitcases) effort
Is: (Halloween) yearly. (knife) dangerous. (cutlery) metal. (athlete) fit. (killing) illegal. (Robert Wadlow) tall.
Does: (first moon landing) inspire. (Lourdes) attract pilgrims. (prestige) impress. (sunflower) grow
Thing: (funeral) vicar. (either this wallpaper goes or I do) humour. (Olympic games) torch. (humour) laughter
Person: (miracles) Virgin Mary. (tragedy) John F Kennedy Jr. (kill) Columbo. (illegal act) Robert Ressler
Time: (walking on the moon) 1969. (it’s a miracle!) winning the lottery (award) Oscars ceremony
Place: (carrying suitcases) airport. (flowers) florists. (ET) outer space. (ouch!) dentist's surgery
Activity: (Lourdes) prayer. (alcohol) suffering from hangover. (ouch!) regret. (knife) sharpening
Specify: (Lourdes) Madonna’s daughter. (sunflower) the one in my garden. (training) learning to drive
Utterance: (record breaker) YES! (victim) why does this happen to me? (yearly) Merry Christmas!

Final page:

People:

John Wayne, Mick Jagger, Ben Steele, Quincy Jones, Rocky Marciano, Nick Faldo, Forest Gump, Julie Andrews, Jenny Hall, Sir Edmund Hilary, Judy Garland, Swiss Tony, Chris Patten, Snow White, Sir George Martin, Captain Caveman, Jenny Pitman, Dusty Springfield, Abominable Snowman, Nostradamus, Bill Oddie, Keifer Sutherland, Barbara Cartland, Jasper Carrot, Terence Stamp, Dolph Lungren, Santa Claus, Buddha, Fay Wray, Joan of Arc

Has/Is/Does/Thing/Person/Time/Place/Activity/Specify/Utterance/^

John Wayne. (has) gun. (^) weapon. (does) killing (has) victim. (time) Bhopal. (is) disaster. (^) tragedy. (thing) grief. (utterance) good grief! (is) exclamation. (thing) surprise. (time) surprise party. (has) alcohol. (thing) drink driving. (is) illegal act. (specify) mugging. (is) upsetting. (time) funeral. (has) flowers. (specify) sunflower. (is) tall. (person) Robert Wadlow. (is) record breaker. (thing) Olympic games. (has) athlete (does) training. (specify) weightlifting. (is) strenuous. (thing) carrying suitcases. (does) tire. (time) late at night. (^) hour. (specify) witching hour. (thing) Halloween. (has) pumpkin. (activity) carving pumpkins. (has) knife. (^) cutlery. (is) sharp. (thing) razor. (does) shave. (utterance) ouch! (thing) ET. (^) character. (time) writing a story. (thing) writer’s block. (specify) songwriter’s block. (person) Sting. (utterance) walking on the moon. (specify) first moon landing. (utterance) one small step for man…(^) quotation. (person) Oscar Wilde. (utterance) either this wallpaper goes or I do. (^) humour (thing) Darwin awards. (^) award. (specify) Nobel prize. (has) prestige. (place) Lourdes. (has) miracles. (utterance) it’s a miracle!

Has: (writer’s block) frustration. (quotation) humour. (pumpkin) roundness. (carrying suitcases) effort
Is: (Halloween) yearly. (knife) dangerous. (cutlery) metal. (athlete) fit. (killing) illegal. (Robert Wadlow) tall.
Does: (first moon landing) inspire. (Lourdes) attract pilgrims. (prestige) impress. (sunflower) grow
Thing: (funeral) vicar. (either this wallpaper goes or I do) humour. (Olympic games) torch. (humour) laughter
Person: (miracles) Virgin Mary. (tragedy) John F Kennedy Jr. (kill) Columbo. (illegal act) Robert Ressler
Time: (walking on the moon) 1969. (it’s a miracle!) winning the lottery (award) Oscars ceremony
Place: (carrying suitcases) airport. (flowers) florists. (ET) outer space. (ouch!) dentist's surgery
Activity: (Lourdes) prayer. (alcohol) suffering from hangover. (ouch!) regret. (knife) sharpening
Specify: (Lourdes) Madonna’s daughter. (sunflower) the one in my garden. (training) learning to drive
Utterance: (record breaker) YES! (victim) why does this happen to me? (yearly) Merry Christmas!


Further point

I’ve found that naming people throughout the directed-association is a good tactic because a person – as a concept – is at a set level of specificity, and the mistake of listing concepts that are too abstract is avoided. Also the name of a person usually suggests a bundle of associations, activities, behaviour etc.

An example of directed-association results.

2 comments:

Wing Lau said...

You might find your directed associations technique very similar to the forced associations techniques. (e.g. synectics*)

Hope this reference can help you further your project.
*Gordon, W. J, Synectics: the development of careative capacity, Harper and Row, New York, 1961.

John's Ideas and Creativity said...

Thanks WL! I wasn't aware that a similar approach could exist. I'll check out that reference.