Sunday, January 15, 2006

Five sources of random words

Sources of random words for random stimulation:

Dictionary (see Lateral Thinking or Serious Creativity by Edward de Bono)
Pangram trigger
Directed free-association results
Flip-flop directed-association results
Three speedy free-association techniques

Some thoughts on using Google images for creativity

Future wife designs and makes her own greeting cards. I got to thinking about how I would approach the visual aspect of designing cards. There's peripheral viewing Here are two further approaches that could work.

The 'porthole' approach

With this approach I would place a small rectangle on any area of a random Google image and, with a gun-to-head mentality, force an idea from the selected area. It can help to take a step or two away from the monitor.
(c) I think the area in the 'porthole' has some visual appeal.

Images within images

With this approach I would peruse pages of random Google images and pick out the images that contain images within themselves and focus on those images.

I could also use this approach as a general creativity tool. As with peripheral viewing, I would set a directive such as:

What do you see in this image?

With the image above I initially thought it looked like a dog with a barrel beneath its neck and then I thought it looked like George W Bush with an inferno behind him.

I like the image-within-image approach because of the ambiguity of the images. An opportunity to let the imagination run riot :)

Reverse-reach technique using images

About this post

Technique in a nutshell: choose a subject. Imagine someone had previously shown you a picture that made you name that subject. What was that picture? Use that picture to generate more subjects. Repeat the cycle

Reverse-reach using images

This technique is similar to the technique discussed in the reverse-reach post. However, images are used instead of words.

Using the technique

I start with a subject in mind; I will choose the Olympics. To create a reverse-reach using images I imagine that someone has shown me an image and asked "What does this image make you think of?" I create a possible image that could have triggered my response: "The Olympics". So, a possible image could be:

At the next stage I consider other answers that I could have given in response to this image and the question "What does this image make you think of?"

Possible answer: the Star Trek teleport area

At the next stage I create a reverse-reach image for 'Star Trek teleport area':

Again, for the next stage I ask "What does this image make me think of?". Possibility: pelican crossing.

I continue and create a reverse-reach image for 'pelican crossing':

What does this image make me think of? Possible answer: an oar.

I can continue this cycle.


As discussed in the reverse-reach post I can introduce a quota at any stage. I can generate several images that would have prompted a particular response and generate several responses to each of those images.

Reverse-reach technique

About this post

Technique in a nutshell: pick a subject and imagine a directive that could have made you give that subject as a response. Use the directive to create further responses.

Example: Subject = dog. Directive = 'Name a household pet'. Response = goldfish.


The reverse-reach technique can be used:

1) As a free association method
2) In conjunction with other free association methods (perhaps to produce a list of random words)
3) To generate a list of possible subjects for creative effort
4) To step up a concept level

Using the technique

To start out I choose a subject. At the moment (15th Jan 2006) I am considering the Olympic games, so I will choose the Olympics as my starting subject. Thus:

Subject = Olympics

To effect a reverse-reach is simple: I imagine a directive that someone could have posed that made me give 'the Olympics' as an answer. Perhaps:

Name a worldwide event

At the next point I forget about the Olympics and list other possible answers to the directive 'Name a worldwide event':

The World Cup
Global pandemic
The black plague
The winter Olympics

Then I choose one from the list and apply reverse-reach again. So if I choose 'black plague' my reverse-reach directive could be:

Name a historic tragedy

I can opt to work to a quota. So a quota of five could result in these extra reverse-reach directives for 'black plague':

Name a serious illness
Name a fatal disease
Name a London 1666 event
Name a potential peril

I generally use two words but often I will use more. So for 'black plague':

Name a potential future peril
Name an infamous London historic event
Name an event that inspired a nursery rhyme
Name something you don't want
Name something with the initials 'BP'

Example of reverse-reach

Subject = football. RR = 'Name a ball sport' = tennis. RR = 'Name something that uses a net' = trapeze act. RR = 'Name a circus act' = lion tamer. RR = 'Name an unusual job' = human statue. RR = 'Name a street entertainment' = find the lady. RR = 'Name a money scam' = phishing etc.

Avoiding the predictable

I've added this extra element to be absolutely sure I avoid the habit of becoming lazy in the formation of my reverse-reach. I choose a random word, then pick two letters and force myself to construct a reverse-reach directive using words starting with those letters.

So, with the Olympics as an example, I could pick the random word 'argue'. From that word I choose the letters 'A' and 'G'. My template for the Olympics reverse-reach directive will read:

Name an A G

I now have to choose words that would result in the answer 'Olympics'. Thus:

Name an athletics games
Name an Athens germ
Name an archery gathering
Name an audience grabber
Name an anabolic goader (?!)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Peripheral Viewing With A Newspaper

About this post

Type of technique: random stimulation

Post in a nutshell: flick through a newspaper without looking directly at it. Try to guess what you see.

Peripheral viewing with a newspaper

A newspaper can be used to apply the peripheral viewing technique. To use this approach I choose a focus spot either on the newspaper itself (shown as a red cross in the image below) or just away from it (shown in blue). As I flick through the newspaper I ensure my eyes do not divert from the focus spot. I try to make sense of what I see.

As I flick through the newspaper I pretend that the newspaper is about a creative challenge or problem I am working on at the moment. I can even pretend that the newspaper is a specialist publication about that challenge or problem. As my current focus is the Olympics, I pretend that the newspaper is specifically about the Olympics. I can also use guessing. So a directive with this challenge in mind could read:

Guess what is in this publication about the Olympics.

or if I want to stray into fiction territory I can set a directive:

Guess what will feature in the newspaper during the Olympics.

Fiction project: starting points for stories

About this post

Post in a nutshell: create a sizeable list of people and places. Select a person and place from the lists. This is the starting point for a story.

Starting points for stories

The starting point for a story consists of a person at a place. The naming/listing people post describes how to make a sizeable list of disparate people by 'colouring' the naming: an adjectival phrase or word is included in a directive. Example:

Name an outside person

Possible answers: George Michael, Captain Oates, Grizzly Adams etc.

The naming/listing various subjects post describes how to colour the naming of a place. A possible directive created would be:

Name a play place

Possible answers: the Globe Theatre, my school playground, Wembley Stadium etc.

So a combination of a person and a place can be created: Grizzly Adams at Wembley Stadium, for example.

The 'tillgood' mentality

As explained in the hellbents post, with the 'tillgood' mentality I can continue listing people and places and try different combinations until I find a combination I find interesting. Alternatively I can just pick any combination and develop the story from there.

Fiction project: introducing hellbents

About this post

Post in a nutshell: a character has a goal they are utterly determined to realise. This goal is called a 'hellbent'. Hellbents can be created using this template: character does (verb) all (noun).


In a story, a character (hero or villain) has a goal they want to realise more than any other. They are willing to make any sacrifice to achieve that goal. I call these goals 'hellbents'. There is a systematic method to create hellbents.

The hellbent template

The hellbent template takes the form:

Character does (verb) all (noun)

The purpose of the all is to help aggrandize the goal. For the verb and the noun I can choose any two random words (regardless of their status as words - see creating new verbs).

Random words: belittle, Lourdes

With these random words I complete the template thus:

Character does belittle all Lourdes.

I now set a quota. In this case my quota is five and I try to think of five possible meanings for this hellbent. I try to make the hellbents a sizeable goal if I can.

1) The character goes to Lourdes and abuses everyone
2) The character investigates (and discredits) all the miracles that have occured at Lourdes
3) The character belittles Madonna's daughter Lourdes
4) The character finds every place in the world also called Lourdes and belittles them
5) The character finds children called Lourdes and belittles them or tries to unsettle them

The second tier

I can use the 'stems' from the words in the previous hellbent and use them as triggers to create new hellbents. So, with 'belittle all Lourdes' I take the stems - the 'bel' and 'lou' and create a new hellbent such as:

Character does believe all Louisville

and (assuming I am working to a quota)

Character does bellicose all Louvre, etc.

With either of these (as before) I can set a quota and create five possible meanings and thus five new hellbents.

The first hellbent created using 'believe all Louisville' could be that the character tracks down any person with strange/unusual beliefs at Louisville and - by some convoluted means - proves them right (or perhaps just champions them).

Internal and external hellbents

There are two kinds of hellbent - the internal hellbent and the external hellbent. With an internal hellbent, the character chooses the hellbent of their own accord: "I think I'll climb Mount Everest". With the external hellbent the character is coerced (by whatever means) into doing the hellbent: "Climb Mount Everest or else!"

The 'tillgood' mentality

If I am creating hellbents I may adopt what I call a 'tillgood' mentality: that is, I keep creating hellbents until eventually I find one that really hits me as a good idea and that I'd like to develop as a story. The alternative is to just take any hellbent (regardless of instant apparent value) and start developing the story - deferring my need to create valuable, exciting ideas until a later point of the story development.

Sources of random words:

Dictionary (see Lateral Thinking or Serious Creativity by Edward de Bono)
Pangram trigger
Directed free-association results
Flip-flop directed-association results
Three speedy free-association techniques

Sleep talking as a creativity enhancer?

Another thought experiment this. If someone is sleep talking you can sometimes hold a conversation with them (often a very surreal conversation). I'd like to create a device that, when you start sleep talking, switches on automatically and poses questions regarding a creative challenge or problem you are working on. The device would have a means to record any responses. The idea is that you may give a reply or offer insights not achievable in your waking state. The device could also attempt to induce sleep talking by posing questions when you are at the stage of sleep when sleep talking is likely. (Would this be REM sleep?)

A theory on fear and creative inspiration

Have you ever heard the advice 'face a fear every day' or 'surprise yourself with your own confidence'? During the incubation phase of creativity the subconscious mind continues to work on a creative challenge or problem and eventually an answer may 'pop into your head' as inspiration. I have a theory that the subconscious mind may withhold some ideas because it knows that some ideas, when 'presented', may make you fearful.

If you are in the habit of regularly facing fears then perhaps the subconscious may provide inspiration more frequently. The subconscious mind may also know that any ideas suggested may be confronted by the 'internal critic'. Using streaming techniques - write streaming, talk streaming or my own thinking-to-songs - could lower the resistance of the internal critic and invite the subconscious to provide more inspiration.

Just a thought. :)

Creativity and the 'gun to head' mentality

This post in a nutshell: when a creative directive (such as 'find a face in the dots') sets you a creative challenge, treat the completion of the challenge as mandatory - even if your completion is a little weak or a cheat.

Space Cadets

There was a programme on TV recently called Space Cadets. Participants were told they would be participating in a space mission. However, it was a practical joke - everything was filmed in a studio and at the end of the series the door of the 'shuttle' opened and the participants found themselves in a TV studio.

During the preliminary testing to find participants, the applicants were shown images of random dots and asked to find a face hidden within the dots. The programme explained that there wasn't a face in the dots at all, and that it was actually a test where a face would be found by only the most suggestible candidates (I think they mean gullible ;) ). But I also think the dots test would be a good test of creativity.

The 'Gun to head' mentality

If I were taking the test I know I would be able to find a face suggested by the dots. In fact, I would be able to find many. This is the 'gun to head' mentality. With the gun-to-head mentality I respond to the challenge set by a creative directive as if there is a gun to my head - as if completing the challenge is mandatory etc.

Even if a single yellow dot was shown and I was set the directive "find a face in the dot" I would adopt the GTH mentality and complete the challenge - even if my responses include 'cheats':

MSN smileys, acid man, Mr Happy, a budgie, Henry's Cat


I also incorporate the setting of a quota into the GTH mentality. Edward de Bono discusses the value of quotas in his book Lateral Thinking (Chapter 7: Generation of alternatives). Incorporating quota-setting into my single-dot creative directive results in:

Find five faces suggested by this yellow dot.

I can, for a moment, also approach the challenge with a different, more open mind-set if I imagine a ridiculously high quota such as five hundred.

Monday, January 09, 2006

A Global Ideas Bank publication: 500 Ways To Change The World

500 Ways To Change The World
The Global Ideas Bank book, 500 Ways To Change The World, is available from the Global Ideas Bank book store. Proceeds will help to fund the continuing work of the GIB. Three of my ideas feature, but my favourite idea in the book is the 'Alphabetical arboreal avenue' where an A to Z of common trees would be planted in a row along a park. An idea that suggests many possible applications, no? Perhaps there could be an 'A to Z park'.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The great eBay piece-of-paper auction

Reading about The Million Dollar Homepage reminded me of an idea I've had on my files for a while: 'The great eBay piece-of-paper auction'.

What we'd do is start selling a single, sizeable blank roll of paper on eBay. Obviously initially its worth would be pretty much zero. However, we'd ask celebrities to autograph (and possibly contribute photos) to the paper. The value of the paper would increase as it attracts more autographs (and bids) and thus the project would snowball as is gets more attention and publicity.

I'm sure a sizeable sum could be raised for a charity. Maybe the succesful final bidder could cut up the paper and auction the fragments to raise even more funds?

Tips on creativity from a million-dollar student

"It took a 21-year-old a few minutes to come up with an idea which has made him more than one million dollars in four months. So what's his secret?"

BBC News Story

The Million Dollar Homepage

See also:

The 'Great eBay piece-of-paper auction'