Monday, October 31, 2005

New Online Brainstorming Tool

Brain Reactions has released a new online brainstorming tool. Anand Chhatpar of BrainReactions writes:

"It allows you to launch a brainstorm, invite other people to it to add ideas, rank them and then share the ideas and rankings… and it's all free."

Anand is also looking for feedback and any ideas on improvement.

BrainReactions online brainstorming tool

New Scientist Creativity Issue

The October issue of New Scientist is a special issue on creativity.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Three resources for idea generation / creativity techniques

IdeaFlow compendium of idea generation techniques

Mycoted creativity techniques

Idea Generation Methods

Idea Generation Methods

The modestly titled Gil The Jenius blog has a post with some interesting thoughts on idea generation methods:

"In essence, the creative method The Jenius uses can be boiled down to three approaches:

1) "What if?": No boundaries, just what if?

2) The power of AND: The Jenius often refuses either/or in favor of and. Don't choose between two attractive options: do them both!

3) Think "simple elegance": Take it beyond normal limits. Then push it some more. "

That is pretty much my own mentality towards idea generation methods. I'd like to think that in creative activities there are several key principles at work. The ideal is that there would be a limited number of core creative operations for producing good ideas and the results achievable with a 'bag of creativity tools' would instead be a by-product of the core creative operations.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Imagination club and get rich quick

Some good topics being discussed at Imagination Club at the moment. Among the topics is 'get rich quick' schemes. I made this post about a horse racing system I devised in the early 1990s:

It's a fact that the bookmakers don't make much money on horse races with only two or three runners. It's also true that in jump races with only two or three runners on HARD going the favourite will get beaten about fifty percent of the time (due to being unable to gallop freely on the harsh ground). With the second favourite winning close to fifty percent of such races if the punter simply backs the second favourite then - in the long run - they should make a profit.

A few years ago I researched this system over three past horse racing seasons (using past form books) and it was reasonably profitable (on about ten races over a season that met the conditions). Unfortunately the rules of horse racing changed so that two/three horse races became rare and the watering of courses improved so that hard going was a bit rarer. I haven't researched this in recent years to see if suitable races ever occur but when I get the time I would like to test the system for the past, say, twenty years to see if it was as profitable as it was over three seasons.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

How would you improve a traffic light?

Edward de Bono on his website asks 'How would you improve a traffic light?' I like to choose simple daily objects - such as the traffic light - for creative focuses. In fact, I've already had a go at traffic lights on the Global Ideas Bank:

A countdown for each change at traffic lights.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Some entertaining stories of simple solutions

Over at Snopes today I found these tales of brilliantly simple solutions for problems. They may be apocryphal but the match one has always been one of my faves.

I can add one I saw in a creativity book somewhere. The execs at an airline manufacturer where having problems with the wings literally ripping off the planes. They asked the entire company to suggest possible solutions for the problem. One of the suggestions worked perfectly well: put holes in the metal connectors that hold on the wings. The company execs asked the suggester to come forward and were suprised to be faced by the toilet cleaner. "How did you know that would work?" they asked him. "Well" he said, "I noticed that toilet paper never tears along the dotted lines!"

Monday, October 10, 2005

What effect does music have on the productivity of brainstorming sessions? Any research out there?

I wonder if anyone has ever seriously considered the ouija board as a brainstorming method? That is, assuming that the movement of the glass is due to involuntary muscle movement. You could have a sort of 'speed ouija board' where a computer linked up with the glass detects the movement and quickly prints up the letter.

11 Steps to a better brain Thanks Ninja Monkeys!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Stamp listing

About this post

Technique in a nutshell:

You write down a simple fact about something. Example: The football World Cup final has footballers. Then you list many examples of footballers (example: old footballers) and this becomes the new idea: the football World Cup final has old footballers (guest appearances by old footballers, perhaps). You can also step up the concept level: footballers = sporting stars. This becomes an idea: The football World Cup final has sports stars. (Perhaps suggesting that sporting megastars attend the final.)

Stamp Listing

Stamp listing is a simple creativity method for creating a number of ideas on a subject very quickly. It was inspired by one idea: that the mail service create a celebratory series of stamps that are replicas of stamps from the past such as the penny black.

To begin using the approach I pick a subject and list some simple information about the subject. I can do this by visualising the subject and taking a 'mental walk' around the area, or I can use the following approaches:

Profiling A Subject
Pangram Trigger Profiling
Category Headings With Pre-listing

Examples of possible subjects and listed information:

Envelopes have stamps
Biggin Hill Airshow has spitfires
The World Cup Final has footballers

I will use the Biggin Hill example. To use the Stamp listing approach, all I do is take the 'spitfire' and, forgetting about the Biggin Hill Airshow for a moment, I simply use Pre-listing or Pre-listing with google images for the subject 'spitfire'. Once I have made a sizeable list of spitfires I can refer back to the context of the Biggin Hill Airshow and see if any ideas are suggested.

So pre-listing for 'spitfire' could produce the following results, for example:

London spitfires, Norris spitfires, destruction spitfires, timid spitfires, meddling spitfires, linguistic spitfires, tip spitfires, garden spitfires, pi spitfires, technical spitfires, nasty spitfires, dial spitfires, allowed spitfires, wednesday spitfires, dip spitfires.

As discussed in the google images pre-listing post I will sometimes be more specific with an item or interpret it in some way. For example, with 'garden spitfires' I could (among many options) consider spitfires that are now in somebody's garden.

With this list of spitfires I can construct an idea using the original subject thus:

Idea: Biggin Hill Airshow has technical spitfires

Which makes me think that the airshow could have spitfires that are technically speaking spitfires. Spitfire simulators that the public can 'fly' perhaps?

'Garden spitfires' led to an interesting idea: the Biggin Hill Airshow could track ALL the spitfires from manufacture to the present date and provide statistics for each year. How many were flying in each year? How were they destroyed? How many are left? How many are still flying?

Stepping up the concept

I've found that the Stamp listing is most productive when I step up to a more general concept level. To help me do this I do I use an approach I call 'reverse reach'. With the 'spitfire' subject (from the 'Biggin Hill Airshow has spitfires' sentence) I will imagine that I have been set a general directive that resulted in the answer 'spitfire'. I imagine one word, two word and three words + directives. A one word directive that resulted in the answer 'spitfire' could be:

Name an aeroplane

A two word directive could be:

Name a war plane

Three words:

Name an old flying machine

Three words +

Name something that featured in battle in the last century

As an example, using the one word 'name an aeroplane' directive I take 'aeroplane' as the higher concept level and then pre-list or pre-list with Google for the subject 'aeroplane'.

Example results:

Blatant aeroplanes, loud aeroplanes, tacky aeroplanes, small aeroplanes, toy aeroplanes, smart aeroplanes, army aeroplanes, crashed aeroplanes, retired aeroplanes, early aeroplanes, udder aeroplanes, dense aeroplanes, tool aeroplanes, old aeroplanes, papal aeroplanes, gregarious aeroplanes

As discussed above and in the google images pre-listing post I will sometimes be more specific with an item or interpret it in some way. For example, with 'gregarious aeroplanes' I could (among many options) consider the planes that have a pilot talking to the control tower.

Now that I have a sizeable list of aeroplanes I can construct an idea using the original subject thus:

Idea: Biggin Hill Airshow has toy aeroplanes

This may be a good idea in itself, or I can use it to develop thought experiments. Maybe there could be a display of toy aeroplanes? Replicas of all the planes in the display for children to buy? Why not a model aeroplane equivalent of the Red Arrows? These models could do identical tricks to the real Red Arrows and perhaps they would become famous in their own right.

Further interpretation of pre-listing results

I created another interesting idea from the 'papal aeroplane' pre-listing result. Using the quota approach (as discussed in pre-listing with google images post) my first thought was 'aeroplanes that have been used to carry the pope'. My second thought was 'aeroplanes that are flying over the Vatican NOW'. This led to the idea that the Biggin Hill Airshow could provide a list of interesting statistics regarding flight now: number of planes in the air now, number of people flying now, total number of passenger planes on the ground now, etc.

Stamp listing and the fiction project

The Stamp listing approach can trigger ideas when writing stories. (See Superimposing Concepts post.) Say our heroes are on the QEII or some other large passenger ship. With the Stamp listing approach taking the concept level up to 'ship' and the pre-listing approach creating 'toy ship' then superimposing concepts would mean that the QEII would suddenly function as (or become) a toy ship. What would the consequences of this be? All the passengers would end up in the water - leaving the QEII an empty ship. There's a nice possibility for a story in this: whatever caused the mystery of the Mary Celeste could return with a vengeance or become stronger in the year 2005. The mystery would be solved or become deeper.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Pre-listing using Google images.

About this post

Use when: you want to name examples of a subject

Example: you want to list types of transport. You look at a Google image and pick something from the image (example: a hill). You then give this word an adjectival function that modifies 'transport': hill transport. This suggests: sledge, tram, cable car, skateboard etc.

Pre-listing using Google Images

Pre-listing is used to name and list examples of a particular subject.

My obejctive in this example - with the subject 'police' - is to name as many types of police as possible, including types, names, categories, specific examples etc.

Example of pre-listing results for 'police':

Short police, bad police, high-ranking police, local police, London police, new police, potential police, ex police, retired police, dead police, original police, dog-handling police, human police, traffic police, etc.

If I choose to I can be more specific with each example given. For example:

Original police = Peelers
High-ranking police = Sir Ian Blair

or I can use the listed information in combination to make new examples:

Dog-handling London police
Local bad police

I can consider that the impossible ideal is 'name ALL police possible', obviously an ideal I could spend the rest of my life pursuing! I want to make the listing create obvious and non obvious options. I can do this with pre-listing using Google images.

Pre-listing using Google images

With this image:

I simply pick out something I see in the image:


and then that word takes an adjectival function to modify 'police':

Car police

'Car police' is the first item on the list, but I can also use 'car police' to trigger more specific examples, or I can interpret it. I find it's a good idea to set a quota (say five) to both list the obvious and then go beyond the obvious:

Car police = Transport police
Car police = Police trained to drive fast
Car police = Police who investigate car theft
Car police = Police who get to work by car
Car police = Police officers who are car enthusiasts

I can also step up the concept level or describe the car:

Concept level: Car = vehicle
Description: Car = pollutant

and then use 'vehicle' and 'pollutant' as trigger words, with the quota of five again.

Word triggers

I like to use the letters of listed words as word triggers. So with words listed above such as:

Car, vehicle, pollutant

I take the first three letters: car, veh, pol, and use them to trigger more words. I try to list words of one syllable, two syllables and over. For example:

Carpet, carnage, caramel


Polite, political, polished, Polish

and then again use these (often with a quota of five) to list further examples.

For example:

Carnage police = police who have been involved in pile-ups, police who investigate crashes, police who have caused accidents, etc.

With a 'difficult' word such as 'caramel' I still try to complete the quota of five, although more thinking is often needed to complete the connection!

Caramel police = police who investigate food standards, police who like caramel (!), police who are 'sweet', police who have caramel for lunch, police with the surname 'caramel' etc

Seeing beyond the obvious choices

I cannot resist the temptation to stretch my thinking beyond the obvious when choosing elements of the Google image and completing my list!

With the same image used above:

I pick out an object (say, the car again, for this example) and then describe it with an adjective (or a word that has a modifying function). For example:

Car = black

Then, with another image such as:

I set a directive using the modifying word from the first image. Thus: "Name something black".

Two obvious possibilities here are: the writing, the drawing.

"Writing" and "drawing" now become my modifying words:

Writing police

Drawing police

Again I can set quotas at each stage. In answer to the directive "Name something black" I could have forced myself to list five black things in the picture. Also with any listing I can name five further examples triggered. For example:

Writing police = police who've written books, police who write for papers, John Stalker (who seems to be 'rent-an-opinion' when police matters are discussed in the media!), police who enjoy paperwork, police who have taken admin positions due to being injured on the job, etc.

Random images

I find the images using Google image search. For the search subject I simply use a random letter and random number in combination, such as "c 77".


It's obvious that this nice bag of tricks produces some disparate focuses. Also what I like about these approaches is that they uncover assumptions you would make when listing purely from memory: if you were listing police would you think of listing the dogs as members of the police? Would you think of listing people who impersonate police officers? Would you think of listing fictional officers? Tazmanian officers? The approaches above help to create a sizeable chunk of that impossible ideal of 'list everything possible'.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Fiction Project: Superimposing Concepts

I've been toying with this superimposing of concepts approach as a method to devise progressions (and particularly suprising ones) in stories.

In Pulp Fiction there is a scene where John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson have shot some guys for stealing their boss's gold. Hidden away behind a door is a member of the gang holding a gun. He bursts out from behind the door and fires every bullet at Travolta and Jackson. . . but every shot misses. There was some controversy suggesting that Tarantino had stolen this idea from someone else. But how can ideas like this be created? Superimposing concepts is one possibility.

So the product of the action is that every bullet is fired but every bullet misses. If I am creating a story then I can visualise the scene progressing. At the moment the gun is about to be fired I can visualise an object in the scene (in this case the gun) and then step up to concept level:

His gun = gun

I can then list every gun I can think of and kind of 'superimpose' one gun from the list over the gun in the scene: at the moment his gun is fired it still looks the same, but functions as the gun I chose from the listed guns. So perhaps a spud gun 'superimposed' over his gun would produce the idea of every bullet missing. The final product (idea) - the firing of the gun having no effect - is the most important point.

At the concept level (in the above example: gun) a potentially exhaustive list can be made using pre-listing with Google images.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Fiction Project: Doo Doo Dialogue Trigger

About this post:

Type of technique: random stimulation for creating dialogue

Technique in a nutshell: in your head, repeat a section of spoken dialogue you hear on TV programmes, films etc recreating everything except the actual words. Create words to fit the 'vacant' places.

I devised this Doo Doo Dialogue Trigger (nice name, huh?) to help devise dialogue. I turn on the TV and mute the sound. Then, for a brief burst, I unmute the TV and listen to whatever dialogue occurs in that burst. I mentally replicate everything about the dialogue except the words; I immediately replace the words with 'doo doos'. I look at the situation occuring in the story and make up words to fit the doo doo utterance.

I've been experimenting with this technique and I've found (while it is in development, anyway) that it's a good idea to take a scene from a film and make up some dialogue for the scene. A scene I've been using is the car cleaning scene from Pulp Fiction, where John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson are cleaning up the brains from the car. I don't really try too hard to come up with anything interesting or funny but I find that quantity leads to quality and eventually I'll come up with something interesting.

I don't know if the dialogue created with this method would serve to drive the plot but it does help in the creation of interesting and unhackneyed dialogue.

Altering dialogue

I've been experimenting with making variations of the doo doo phrase. One mnemonic I've used is FASH, which stands for:


I choose one of these emotions and using the doo doo phrase I create dialogue that reflects that emotion.

Content of dialogue

If I want the dialogue to run smoothly I can lift a word from the previous line of dialogue and insert it at some point in the next line created from the doo doo trigger.

I can also pick a random word and force the use of that word into the line of dialogue.

Fictional Brainstorming

One experiment I want to try is to create a fictional brainstorming session. I will make a list of people and, using the doo doo trigger, I will create a line of dialogue/thought that each person would possibly say in the brainstorming context. This would echo the 'fantasy dining partners' game. Would be interesting to see how dialogue develops.

Fiction Project: Degree of power

Any character in any story has a degree of power. Power can range from being powerless with no power at all (nothing is achievable) up to omnipotence where anything is achievable and perhaps the only limit would be the imagination of the omnipotent person. It is, obviously, the degree of power (especially lack of power) that makes the story interesting. Give any character omnipotence and they can solve their problem easily. They could also, interestingly, engineer situations so that others would experience a problem or drama of some sort.

Tools of omnipotence

If an outside 'person' - be it a godlike figure, deus ex machina, genii or whatever - gave a character instant omnipotence the character would probably experience a kind of 'option blindness' where they are unable to decide what to do due to their sudden array of options. I ivented a range of 'supertools' that would help the character choose what action to take.


The supertools serve several purposes:

They can be used to help a character solve problems/crises (for example, if a character was being attacked they can literally possess their attacker and thus stop the attack (and maybe make their attacker march off to the local police station)).

They can help the story creator set up a situation quickly - often a starting scenario in a story . So with the example of the scenario of the film 28 Days Later (where virtually all the population are infected with a virus that induces intense rage) the writer can set up such a scenario quickly and explore the ramifications of such a scenario.

They can make the story 'jump' from one scenario to a later scenario, allowing the story creator to explore different ideas and possibilities.

They can devise any concept, invention or occurences that could be in a story.

They can allow a character to play 'god' and set up difficult situations for other characters.

Effects by illusion

If I consider a concept from fiction - in this example 'the goose that lays a golden egg' - the supertools can be used to create the goose, or they can create the product of the concept, so that although I don't actually have a goose that lays golden eggs, the product of the supertool use creates the illusion that a goose lays golden eggs. The idea is that the supertools used in conjunction can create countless ways to create the golden egg illusion - or any other effect. Other ideas can also be suggested by use of the supertools.

Future direction of this blog

Many times on this blog I've mentioned my pet project - a project to devise a systematic way to write fiction. I've been working on this for a number of years now. What the project is lacking and what I've been striving for is to design a kind of pivot for each story. This pivot would be above and beyond time; as the writer creates their story they can start out by using the pivot (the pivot may be a kind of entry point) and the pivot guides the development of the story and the writer can always skip back to the pivot for further guidance. Without such a pivot it all seems - to me, anyway - something of a muddle. But there are some interesting techniques I've developed. While I'm waiting for perspiration and inspiration to provide the pivot, I've decided to post up some of the techniques/perspectives I've created for the fiction project. I'd like:

Feedback on the techniques

Feedback on any other places (such as books, websites, people etc) who have created techniques working along similar lines

Creativity and invention

I'm hoping that the some of the techniques created for the fiction project will help with other areas of creativity - particularly problem solving and invention (such as the social inventions I've devised for the Global Ideas Bank).

Here are three of my ideas from the Global Ideas Bank:

A monthly compilation of new ideas from all ideas sites

Motoring endorsements clearly displayed on cars

Replicas of displayed books at British Library

My fiction project considerations have got me thinking that such ideas could be the product of the kind of thinking and organisation I've been doing with the techniques of the fiction project. In essence, the final product of these three ideas - the gathering of specific information - would be possible if someone could 'distant view' at will: that is they can choose something they would like to see and they can kind of 'zoom in' on what they want to see by x-ray vision, telescopic eyes, or whatever. Or maybe this gathering of information could be achieved with a 'magic' machine that zooms in on information/objects and displays this information on a screen.

Achieving things by 'magic' has been a key consideration of the fiction project. The magic could be done by a superhuman - perhaps with super eyes and senses or abilities - or a super machine. Eventually I'm hoping that the consideration of such super abilities and magic will provide solutions - some magical - and even highlight problems. I'm hoping I can 'work back' to the real world from the magic solutions to get ideas workable in real life.