Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Thoughts on creativity and Einstein's problem solving

I found these four thoughts on creativity on Nicholas Zafonte's blog. Interesting reading.

"Thinking creatively is a skill that you master by learning techniques and doing things over and over and over. You must challenge you mind to think laterally and forgo the usual paths of thought"

"Work until you can't work anymore. That's the only way you will ever get to the great ideas. If you go with your first idea, odds are everyone will have that idea too. You can be satisfied with getting a concept and doing 10 ads. You have to do 100"

And some thoughts on Einstein's problem solving approach:

"Talent is important, being smart helps, and knowing how to think is essential, but the way you solve creative problems is by working on them...and working on them. You have to be relentless in your search for an answer. You have to know that your first 100 ideas will be lame or have been done before. You have to bang out every stupid/pointless idea, pun or joke you have in you and then keep going. Only by constantly doing that will you uncover original ideas or original uses of ideas."

Monday, August 08, 2005

A strategy to find assumptions

About this post

Type of technique: assumption finding

Technique in a nutshell: Say you want to list assumptions about the moon, for example. You can set a directive 'name assumptions about the moon'. But you can also modify that directive with set words (such as time, place, person). Thus: 'Name person assumptions about the moon'. Possible answers: we assume only people have visited the moon, we assume that people have gone to the moon.

A Strategy to Find Assumptions

I've been using this approach to help find assumptions.

Imagine a bomb-damaged tree at an old WWII air base - such as Biggin Hill. A number of assumptions are automatically made about the bomb-damaged tree. In the search for assumptions a directive such as:

List assumptions about the bomb-damaged tree

can be made. However, this can be modified using the category headings:

Time (duration) Place (area) Thing (object) Person Doing (Activity) Being (Is) Having (Has) Saying (utterance) Knowledge

If I select 'time' from the category headings I can rewrite the directive thus:

List time-assumptions about the bomb-damaged tree

I reckon that my first time-assumption is that the bomb damage occured during WWII. Maybe the damage could have occured at some other time?

If I select the 'duration' part of the category I make the directive:

List duration-assumptions about the bomb-damaged tree

Which makes me realise I assume the damage occured at one time. Maybe the tree could have been damaged on more than one occasion in the war or whenever.

Using 'person(s)' gives the directive:

List person(s)-assumptions about the bomb-damaged tree

which makes me realise I'd assumed the damage was caused by German bombers. Maybe the tree could have been damaged by a plane colliding with it and detonating its bombs etc.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

A systematic method for forming lateral thinking provocations

About this post

Technique used for: forming thought-experiments, lateral thinking provocations.

Technique in a nutshell: You take a simple fact (example: cinemas show films) and imagine there was a time when that idea was actually created and considered to be a good idea. You then ask what was before that. So, with the cinema example you could conclude that cinemas showed TV programmes, play music etc (before they showed films), and thus 'cinemas show TV programmes' becomes a thought experiment (or provocation).

Forming lateral thinking provocations and thought experiments

I've been toying with this approach to form lateral thinking provocations. It's also a possible way to use the escape method.

I start by finding a subject and then naming a fact about it. So, with the subject 'wedding' I list a simple fact:

A wedding has a couple

Then I pretend there was a time when this was actually an idea (maybe even a eureka! moment for somebody) maybe worded as:

Wouldn't it be a good idea if weddings had a couple?

and then consider what was pre-idea: that is, the situation that existed before the 'great' idea. Maybe:

A wedding has one person

and that is the provocation.

More examples

Fact: A wedding occurs in a church. Pre-idea/provocation = A wedding occurs anywhere you want

Fact: A wedding has vows. Pre-idea/provocation = A wedding is silent

Fact: A wedding has people. Pre-idea/provocation = nobody goes to a wedding


About this post

Type of technique: breaking rules and forming thought experiments

Technique in a nutshell: write a simple fact about something. Example: cows produce milk. Then force a conditional aspect using 'if': cows produce milk IF they are alive. Experiment with replacement for the 'alive': dead, elderly, male etc.


I've been finding that this IF-forcing approach can lead to ideas. Especially simple ideas. I start by writing down a fact about the subject and then working out how the fact is conditional by using 'if'.

So, for example, with subject 'gun' I write down a fact about a gun:

a gun fires.

Using 'if' to find the conditional aspect gives:

A gun fires if you pull the trigger.

Then I can play about with the condition or parts of the condition. I can remove the subsequent part of the sentence giving:

A gun fires if...

and then consider alternatives such as:

A gun fires if you breathe onto it
A gun fires if you hold it above your head
A gun fires if you point it towards yourself

That last one is an interesting concept for fiction. A gun could be made in a way that makes a bullet fly in the opposite direction. So the 'baddie' can put the gun in their mouth to look as though they are about to shoot themselves when really the bullet will fly in the normal direction.

I can keep the sentence as it stands:

A gun fires if you pull the trigger

and opt to change just one word:

A gun fires if you pull TWO triggers.

Which would be a more secure gun.

It's worth writing down as many conditional aspects as possible:

A gun fires if it is loaded
A gun fires if it has a barrel
A gun fires if it works
A gun fires if you are carrying one in the first place
A gun fires if you have fingers
A gun fires if the bullet is live

It's quite a simple yet effective method for finding assumptions.

Ideas computer

What if...there was a computer that could conceptualise every possible idea.? Every possible idea. Including bizarre ideas such as:

Teach aliens all Elvis lyrics
Make the earth flat, except for a little bobble at the east of Paris
Campaign to rename ozone 'atmospheric stuff'
Rewrite the bible with every tenth word in Russian
Make left feet obsolete
If you are suffering from back pain then, as a side effect, you develop the ability to x-ray trees

If any thought is possible the computer lists it.

What steps would need to be taken to build such a computer? How would the software ensure that the computer covers every thought or idea possible?

Friday, August 05, 2005

Various Ideas: August

General Ideas

Invention: metal detecting shoes. These would clip onto the soles of a pair of shoes and they would function as the user walks around.

Art: a portrait of a human body where each part is coloured by a drug that works on that part of the body

Movies: an IMDB page showing films on today (this week) and their IMDB rating

Book: Larson's Far Side Choice. Cartoonist Gary Larson would compile a book featuring his favourite cartoons by other cartoonists. The concept could be expanded on, so that an expert in a field would give his favourite output by others in his field.

Website: honest advertising. A website would feature products/services being advertised in the media that week and for each product/service would give an objective account of the product with statistics.

Fiction Idea

The fake bullet. In a hostage situation where the 'baddie' has a hostage and is holding a gun to their head the armed officers fire the fake bullet to deliberately hit the hostage. The bullet is made of rubber and contains a red dye aimed to look like blood. The bullet also contains an agent (?) to make the hostage unconscious. When the fake bullet hits the hostage the 'blood' splatters everywhere and the baddie thinks the armed officers have accidentally shot the hostage.

Current meanderings of an undisciplined mind

AKA 'stuff I am working on and thinking about at the moment'.

Yes, my mind is meandering about at the moment but I'm having some interesting thoughts.

Defective/augmented perception

I've been thinking about the techniques that use google images - such as peripheral viewing and the er, 'other' technique (I haven't thought of a name for it). I've mentioned before how I am interested in making idea-generating strategies become a by-product of something else, whether that something else is a strategy, sytem, theory or whatever. On that thought I've concluded that these methods (or the ideas generated by the methods) could be a by-product of a defective (or maybe augmented) eye. With peripheral viewing the approach would be the by-product of an eye with a defect that prevented the person seeing directly in front of them (I realise there is a medical condition like this but I don't know the name). The shade-spotting of the object spotting/changing perspective method would be the product of an eye that could only see one colour. The changing perspective could be the product of an eye with no depth perception.

I've expanded on the idea. A creative 'superhuman' could have hundreds of eyes, each with a different defect or augmented feature that would make them more creative. Expanding on the idea more there could be a person who has each sense altered so that they perceive the world in a particular way and thus become more creative. In a Far Side cartoon (by Gary Larson) there is a cartoon with two characters drawn in different detail. The first character is drawn in great detail - like the detail used in modern adventure marvel-type comics - and the second character is just a simple stick figure. What would the world look like to a person who had an eye that could only see the world in 'stick man' detail?

Maybe this approach will yield results...maybe it won't but I'll leave it there as a thought experiment. Which brings me to...

Growing up in public

I've been thinking about the development of this blog. In particular what to do with old posts when ideas/methods are improved? Should the post be removed? Should the post be altered? Or should an improved version of the post be published? I like the idea of 'growing up in public'. That is, all posts would remain as they are and any improvements would be made in new posts. That way the blog would sort of chronicle my creative development and I would be able to see how my thoughts evolve over time.

Why didn't I think of that before?

I've added this to the What was the last idea? post. Every idea I have makes me wonder why I didn't think of it before. De Bono has said that every idea is obvious with hindsight. I always tell myself that a good idea is reachable in different ways and I wonder if a more effective creativity technique would have created the idea. I've been thinking about a 'convoluted path to an idea' where I would write down an idea and construct a 'thought path' to that idea - a kind of artificial representation of how the idea was reached. My hope is that the convoluted path will suggest further ideas.

The idea would also work with a creative focus. I would construct a convoluted route to a specific focus. This would provide more focuses. I was reading Min Basadur's Simplex book. He discussed a problem where a car manufacturer wanted to be able to have three tiers on their train transport vehicle as, obviously, they would be able to transport a greater quantity of cars. The problem that was stopping three-tier trains was low bridges on the route. On closer inspection they found out that only two bridges were low enough to prevent three-tier carriages. So (I guess) the solution was to replace the bridges with higher bridges. The solution to the problem came from an exercise in assumption-challenging. I'm interested in how solutions can be reached by other means. In particular, I'm interested in 'magical' solutions. Michael Michalko's Cracking Creativity book advises someone with a creative problem to ask "how would superman solve this problem?". Superman is just one possible 'magical' solution. How many other magical solutions could be constructed? Maybe the bridge problem could have been solved not by assumption-challenging, but by creating numerous 'magical' solutions and working back to the problem.

'Real world' creativity and writing fiction

I've been developing the 'fiction game' with the aim of making writing fiction more systematic. I'm always wondering at what point does 'real world' creativity overlap with writing fiction? So far my creativity approaches for creating ideas (particularly the social inventions) and my approaches for writing fiction have been different but in the long term I'm hoping they will merge and form a single system. At the moment I'm experimenting with short stories and stopping at certain points to create 'real world' ideas.