Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Freedom inhibits creativity

Arun Verma, in a post on the Cre8tive Ignition blog discusses how freedom can inhibit the creative process. I can't remember where I first saw the tenet "freedom inhibits creativity" but I've been giving it some thought for some time. I'm thinking of ways to apply false limitations to any creative exercise. For example, I've been toying with creative directives with built-in limitations such as:

Recreate the Olympics in your own garden on £50

or the even more challenging:

Recreate the Olympics in a can of fizzy drink.

My hope is that in addition to providing some interesting insights and ideas the challenges such as the ones above will also help to profile subjects: by being treated as a kind of analogy that triggers awareness of the characteristics of the real subject. So, calling my neighbours to look over the fence and watch the events at my back-garden Olympics could trigger awareness of the publicising of the real Olympics.

Work in progress.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Creativity / Thinking Technique: Thinking To Songs

About this post

Type of technique: streaming

The post in a nutshell: run a song through your mind and replace the song's words with your own thoughts.

Key benefit: the internal critic is muted or even silenced.

Thinking To Songs

My goal

I had a simple goal: I wanted to design/find a technique for thinking that would switch off the internal critic during thinking (and especially creative thinking). I like the streaming technique but it is not always easy, as the internal critic often kicks in. The Thinking to Songs technique is a product of those considerations.

The technique

To use the technique I simply run a song through my mind and replace the words of the song with own thoughts. I do it 'live' - I keep going through the song and make up the thoughts as I go along. There is only one concrete rule: no stopping. I don't stop to consider (or perfect) the lines that have gone or are yet to come. If I am struggling to fit new thoughts (words) into the song then I either allow myself to repeat some of the words from the previous line or make up nonsense to replace the song's original words. However if I think that a thought or idea is worth noting I will stop to write it down. I don't worry about making my thoughts a perfect match with the existing lyric; I allow some errors such as a syllable overlapping the end of a line.


The good thing about this technique is that many of the attitudes important to creative thinking are automatically applied by using the technique.

1) The technique helps to switch off the internal critic - the critical voice that can kill ideas or interrupt thinking. (I believe this effect occurs because I have to think quite quickly to fill the spaces in the song.)

2) The technique can be used anywhere and at any time. Before I devised this technique I virtually always found I had to use pen and paper for creative thinking. This technique focuses my mind in a similar way to using pen and paper.

3) The generative 'yes and' attitude is automatically adopted, as the quick thinking required to make up new words to fit the song virtually smothers any chance of criticism.

4) The song's structure can set a quota in two ways: through the length of each line of the song, and the entirety of the song itself.


The technique can be used in any situation where the verbal aspect of thinking occurs.Here are my initial thoughts.

Taking stock: examining where my life is now and where I want to go. Organising my diary and 'to do' list.

Exploring a subject: I can use the entirety of the song to write key information about a subject.

Writing a journal: I posted a question on Innovation Tools asking what advice people could give regarding improving creativity. Charles Cave said that keeping a daily journal is a sound idea.If the Thinking to Songs technique is used to help write a journal then it is easier to apply the all important suspension of judgement.

Writing blog posts: I treat an entire song as a quota - I must encapsulate the essence of the post in one song. This helps to quickly ascertain the key points.

Creating fiction: I have been experimenting with the technique to quickly create the bare bones of a story. I have to create an entire story within the entirety of the song. I imagine an excited child recalling a good film they have seen.The words that the child uses to explain the story replace the words of the song.
Dialogue: I imagine a character literally singing their dialogue. They have the whole song to discuss the situation.

Brainstorming: I would think that the technique could be used in brainstorming - whether it be a lone brainstormer or a group. As discussed in the benefits, there are many important attitudes and approaches useful for creative thinking that are automatically achieved by the use of the technique. Maybe the technique could be used in conjunction with the rubber-ducking technique.

Random stimulus: the real words of the song are sometimes (unintentionally) included within the new words, and nonsense is sometimes necessary to fill out a line. These words can be treated as random stimuli and can be used to guide the development of the thinking.

Cognitive behavioural therapy: I can use the technique to express and explore my thoughts about a subject or something happening in my life and then identify any distortions in my thinking.

Further points

Metronome variation:

I think a metronome could be used to apply a variation of this technique.A word would be said on each beat of the metronome. The metronome could be set for one or maybe two beats a second.

Repeating words:

Sometimes when using the technique I will deliberately take a word or phrase from the last line created and 'force' it into the next line at some point.

Starting in the present moment:

I will often start out by creating words that reflect the present moment and my activities. For example:

'Here I am now looking for christmas ideas' etc

See also:

Talk streaming

Write streaming


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Thoughts on... creating 'fake trivia'

About this post

Post in a nutshell: Imagine that you can pick any area in space and you have a special machine that can highlight any chosen thing within that area. Sometimes the machine confounds you by finding the chosen thing where you wouldn't expect it.

(It's not unlike Professor Xavier's machine in Xmen2, but instead of mutants you can pick any subject.)

I made up the following 'fake trivia' about the sinking of the Titanic. I devised a couple of methods to create such trivia as part of my project on writing systematic fiction. I will also detail these methods in this post. I think the methods may have possibilities as general creativity tools but I haven't explored that fully yet.

Fake Titanic Trivia

The hull of the ship contained 0.005 % gold. The gold was added to the alloy to bring the ship 'good luck'.

There were two lifeboats being carried as cargo. The passengers were not permitted to access these boats.

The ship sank on the 666th hour after its launch.

One of the survivors was heard to comment 'One day they will make a film about this'.

All the musicians died when the ship sank (true). However, one of the musicians on the night was already safely in a lifeboat, but returned to the ship when he heard his colleagues playing.

One survivor insisted on taking a book into the lifeboat.

One of the passengers was a convict travelling to the US for execution. It was thought he had perished with the ship, but in 1938 (after his death) it became apparent that he had survived.

One of the passengers was travelling to the US for a conference on improving maritime safety.

There wasn't a single passenger on the ship with the name 'John' (the most common name at the time).

The Titanic is thought to have sunk at exactly the same spot as another ship - the Ocean Spirit - which sank there in 1902.

Creating the fake trivia: method one

With the first method I create a Zone of Attention for the scene of the sinking (right). I then use the superselect tool (see supertools post). As I described in the supertools post, the superselect tool can highlight features - of my choosing - within a Zone of Attention. How this is achieved is not too important, but I can imagine that I either have special/magical powers that perform this selection, or I have a magical device that can do the superselecting. I'll use the latter.

I create a simply directive for my superselect device:

Superselect: gold

And the result could look like the image above, with my superselect device highlighting all the gold - such as jewellery, cargo, furnishings, or whatever.

At the next stage I use another type of superselect: this is 'radar superselect' where the superselect tool produces a result with the appearance of a radar scan. So my directive to my radar-superselect device is, again:

Superselect: gold

At this stage I can get creative and highlight parts randomly to see if this generates ideas. In this example I imagine this result of the radar-superselecting:

So the radar-superselect indicates to me that the hull is made of gold. This may initially cause a 'huh?' response, but the idea is that I force some trivia from this. As listed in the fake trivia above I decide that '0.005 % of the hull contained gold'.

Creating the fake trivia: method two

With the second method I start by doing some basic profiling of the Zone of Attention and I list some of the features of the Zone of Attention, such as:

People, lifeboats, water, funnels etc.

I then select one of these ('people', in this example) and set my superselect device the directive:

Superselect: people

Again, as with method one, I look to achieve a 'huh?' response. I do this by picking random places withing my Zone of Attention and imagining that my superselect device has highlighted a person (or persons) in that place. Such as:

So, a passenger was in the funnel of the ship. From this I force some trivia, such as 'A passenger opted to commit suicide by diving into one of the funnels rather than perishing in the cold water'.

Random words

With both methods I can select random words that will be in the directive for the superselect device. I used the random word 'book' to create the superselect directive:

Superselect: books

and, as with method two, I imagined the superselect device highlighted a book in one of the lifeboats. This led to the fake trivia: 'One passenger insisted on taking a book into the lifeboat'.

Colouring creative 'What if?' questions

About this post

Type of technique: Provocation/Thought experiment

Technique in a nutshell: Add texture/colour to thought experiments (in the 'What if?' format) by using adjectival words and phrases.

'What if?' questions

The 'What if?' question - as described in Roger von Oech's book 'A Whack on the Side of the Head' is a useful creativity tool and - like the provocations of de Bono's lateral thinking - can be used to create and examine possibilities - ranging from the mundane to the most fanciful imaginable.

Examples of 'What if?' questions

What if you had to converse in a foreign language for one hour a day?
What if 'arranged friendships' were introduced along with arranged marriages?
What if it became illegal to visit another country?
What if fire was green?
What if the moon were close enough to visit by plane?
What if cutting yourself was always fatal?

Specific challenges and colouring the 'What if?' questions

What if? questions can also be asked when considering a specific creative challenge. At the moment my focus of creativity is the BrainReactions Online Brainstorming Tool. A directive to create a What if? for this challenge could be represented thus:

Create a What if? for the Online Brainstorming Tool

and I could create a What if? accordingly.

However, I can 'colour' this challenge with a word/phrase with an adjectival function. This challenge would take the format:

Create an X What if? for the Online Brainstorming Tool

For the 'X' I choose a random word (or phrase). So, for example, if I choose the random word 'reserve' my directive now reads:

Create a reserve-What if? for the Online Brainstorming Tool

Some possible What if? questions resulting from this directive are:

What if the best challenges were kept in reserve?
What if you could reserve the right to post a challenge at a specified time in the future?
What if a reserve version were created for when the main site has problems?
What if you could email several questions which would be posted at set intervals?
What if reserve team sports stars were invited to contribute?
What if you had to pay to use the site?

Some more examples of colouring What if? questions for the Online Brainstorming Tool

Random word: gallery

Directive: create a gallery-what if? for Online Brainstorming Tool

Gallery-What if? possibles:

What if the challenges could only be posted/answered in pictorial form?
What if there were a gallery with pictures of every contributor?
What if an art gallery were to name their problems/challenges and this was set as a project for one week?
What if the Online Brainstorming Tool were viewable in a gallery?
What if a gallery of 'what if' questions was created?


Random word: weak

Directive: create a weak-what if? for the Online Brainstorming Tool

Weak-What if? possibilities:

What if the Brainstorming Tool stays exactly as it is now, this second?
What if the Tool does something?
What if the Tool features only weak/boring challenges?
What if the Tool highlights the weakest solutions?
What if people only contribute when they are feeling weak?
What if there are no 'what if?' questions?


Random word (a name, actually): James Dean

Directive: Create a James Dean-what if? for the Brainstorming Tool

James Dean-What if? possibilities:

What if a challenge was set to solve the James Dean mystery?
What if a challenge was set to offer alternative explanations of the crash?
What if the tool asked people called 'James Dean' to contribute?
What if problems were solved within the context of a James Dean film?
What if challenges and solutions were printed on porsches?
What if contributors could give themselves nicknames like 'rebel without a cause'?
What if the tool 'died' prematurely/now?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Naming/Listing with Various Subjects

About this post

About the technique: used when you want to name specific examples of a subject

Post in a nutshell: say you wanted to list specific examples of a subject - sheep, for example. You are responding to a directive 'name a sheep'. You can colour this directive with adjectival phrases or words. Example: 'name a famous sheep'. (Possible answer: Dolly.)

Naming/Listing with various subjects

The naming/listing method as described in this post can be used to list people to consider when asking questions such as 'what would this person invent?' or 'what would their perspective on this situation be?'. The method can also be used to make lists when using both general subjects and specific subjects (such as: times, places, ingers, things, objects, persons, activities, utterances and knowledge). The results can be added to a list of words that can be used as a random stimulus or can be used to help profile a subject.

Naming/Listing with a general subject

To name/list general subjects I pick a word at random to be my subject. I usually pick the word from directed free association results or prefix/suffix/catchphrase results. There are three levels to the listing of information. Here is an example using the subject 'entertainment' (chosen from directed free association results).

At the first level I set the challenge:

Name an entertainment

and list as many forms of entertainment as I choose. For example: dancing, television, cinema, street entertainer, juggler etc.

At the second level I create a challenge in the format:

Name an X entertainment

and I choose a word for the 'X' . In this example I choose 'abbreviation'. So this results in the challenge:

Name an abbreviation entertainment

One possible answer is 'Rock 'n' Roll'.

At the third level the challenge will be in the format:

Name an X abbreviation entertainment

and I choose a random word again. This time I pick 'London'. So the challenge reads:

Name a London abbreviation entertainment

The answer that springs to mind is 'Phantom' (abbreviation for Phantom of the Opera)

Naming/Listing with specific subjects

The core categories I use for this are:

Time, Place, Inger, Thing, Object, Person(s), Activity, Utterance and Knowledge


With 'time' as an example, at the first level of naming I will set the challenge:

Name a time

For this I could say 'New Years Eve' (among unlimited options)

At the second level I pick a random word ('smile') and state the challenge:

Name a smile time

For this I could answer: having a baby, getting married, passing driving test, winning something, etc.

At the third level I pick another random word ('admit') and state the challenge:

Name an admit smile time

The third level is usually the most difficult challenge! For this I could say:

An occasion when you shouldn't have smiled/laughed but did
When someone in police custody admits to a crime
When you are admitted/given membership to a prestigious club etc.

The same approach is used when naming/listing with the other core categories: Place, Inger, Thing, Object, Person(s), Activity, Utterance and Knowledge

An example using the core category 'object'

Name an object: shoe
Name a scoring object: scoreboard at a cricket match
Name a date scoring object: calendar

An example using the core category 'activity'

Name an activity: cutting the grass
Name a scaring activity: hanging a pumpkin outside for Halloween
Name a game scaring activity: er, streaking

The naming/listing template

1) Name an X
2) Name an X X
3) Name an X X X

See also: Category Headings Profiling Strategy

Creating new verbs and using them for creativity

About this post

Technique in a nutshell: use any random word or phrase and convert it into a verb form (ing). Create possibilities as to what the verb could mean.

Example: helium-ing = breathing in helium for squeaky voice effect, filling a balloon with helium etc.

Words and phrases can be converted into verbs and then interpreted to suggest new ideas. For the source of words/phrases I use results from the prefix/suffix/catchphrase methods, directed free association results, and the two-letter trigger method (explained below).


The catchphrase method produced the result 'Terrible Tim Witherspoon'. If I convert this to gerund (ing) form I get:


At this point I can consider what this new 'verb' means, or I can place the new verb within the context of a sentence. Fore example, with 'I' as the subject of the sentence and 'someone' as the object, I get the sentence:

I 'Terrible-Tim-Witherspoon' someone.

Then I can interpret the meaning of the new verb. This could mean (among endless possibilities):

I ask them if they remember Tim Witherspoon
I watch his fights with them
I introduce them to boxing
I tell them that their greatest achievements were in the past (!)

Example two

Using 'essential selection' from the catchphrase method I create the gerund:


Within a sentence this could give:

I 'essential-selection' someone

Possible interpretations of this:

I ask them what their favourite things are (a bit like Desert Island Disks, perhaps).
I ask them to do an important task
I introduce them to the 'Essential Selection' music
I help them become better at their job so they are an 'essential selection' when job hunting
I ask them how they choose products

Example three

From some directed free-association results I found '1960s'. As gerund form this gives '1960s-ing'. Within a sentence this reads:

I '1960s' someone

This could mean:

I educate them about the ways of the sixties
I dress them in fashions from the sixties
I take them in a time machine to the sixties (obviously fiction territory that)
I consider the sixties equivalent of their lifestyle now

The two-letter trigger method

I also use the two-letter trigger method to create verbs. When using this method I select two letters at random and use them to trigger words of one, two and three syllable (or more) words. The words listed can be nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives or any part of speech.


The letters 'p' and 't' could trigger the following words:

One syllable: peat, pete, pat, pet, put
Two syllables: pattern, peter, 'puter, potash, pittance
Three syllables or more: potato, potential, putative, pituitary etc.

(If I want to make comprehensive lists of words I can consult either a dictionary or the CrosswordBuddy tool.)

As in the examples above, I can convert the word into gerund form and then use the new verb within a sentence context. So with the word 'potato' I create the gerund 'potato-ing' and within a sentence I get:

I 'potato' someone

Which could suggest:

I tell them how they could produce some of their own food
I make a 'Mr Potato Head' style caricature of them
I throw a potato at them
I remind them of songs they may have known as a young child ('one potato, two potato, three potato, four)

Three speedy free-association techniques

About this post

Type of technique: free association

Techniques in a nutshell: use the beginning or end letters of a word to trigger a new word.
Or use the whole word to trigger well known phrases or sentences.

I have been using these three free-association techniques. They can quickly create a large list of words that can be used as random stimuli, to profile a subject, or to suggest focuses for creativity.

'Suffix' method

To use the 'suffix' method I start out with an initial word and use the final letter or letters of that word to trigger another word (or phrase). So, for example, with a starting word 'usher' I select either one, two, three or four of the final letters and see if a possible word is triggered. Selecting 'sher' - for me - triggers the word 'Sheringham'. Then from that word I select the final two letters 'am' to trigger the word 'amateur'. I can also choose to set a quota and list several words (to take me beyond the obvious choices).

Example of Suffix method:

Amateur, urn, national, alley, eye, yes, estuary, Rymans, answers, erstwhile, leapyear, earpiece, century, Ryan Giggs, seed, editor

If I set a quota of ten at that point from the word 'editor' and its final three letters 'tor' I could make a list of:

Tory, torpid, tornado, toreador, torpedo, tornoi, torque, torn, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Tori Amos

'Prefix' method

The 'prefix' method is similar to the suffix method, but I use letters at the start of the word to trigger a new word/phrase. Example:

Banana, banish, bannister, Bangladesh, bandana, bap, baptism, barter, bartender, bat, battery

Suffix and Prefix methods used in conjunction

I use the prefix and suffix methods in conjunction. Here is an example of this (I have highlighted the chosen letters that were used to trigger the next word/phrase in red):

Comedy, communist, sternum, numismatist, numbness, essential, alimony, align, gnasher, gnat, national, Navratilova, ovation, Overlord, ordinal, altimeter, terrible, blemish, bleeder, blimp, Blowfelt, tankard, Ardal O'Hanlon

Catchphrase method

I use the catchphrase method in conjunction with the prefix and suffix methods. With the catchphrase method I select a word and use it to trigger catchprases, well known phrases or any phrase or sentence.

Examples with some of the words from the example above:

National: National Velvet, national miners' strike, national curriculum, Grand National, national pride,
Essential: essential oils, essential selection
Terrible: Terrible Tim Witherspoon, a terrible waste, terrible twos, infant terrible