Sunday, February 26, 2006

Ing-est: another technique for listing information about a subject

If I am considering a subject the ing-est technique is a quick technique for directing attention and listing information. With this technique I spot an action that is occurring to the highest degree.

For example, say my creative subject is: the Olympics. I use the format:

What's (action) est?

I choose an action - say, blowing, and insert that into the format thus:

What's blowing-est?

Which means: what is blowing the most?

Possible answers: the Olympic flame, flags, the wind, the javelin as it flies through the air, etc.


I can also use the method to list people. This time my question takes the format:

Who's (action) est?

So, with the Olympics example, I can choose an action and insert this in the format:

Who's shouting-est?

Possible answers: a patriotic fan, a coach, an athlete shouting as they win an event etc.

The superlative's superlative

As I go about my daily business I like to nurture a creative attitude - I'll spot problems, ask 'What if?' and be aware of the here-and-now. With such an array of creative techniques available to help think creatively it's possible to suffer from a kind of 'option blindness' -- or paralysis by analysis, like the centipede that doesn't know which leg to move next. The superlative's superlative is a great entry point for creativity and a simple way to set a creative challenge and get the thoughts rolling.


Aware of the here-and-now I'll consider an object near me or an action I'm doing at the time. With an object, I consider how I could make that object or action into the superlative/ultimate form. So if I was opening a door I could set the challenge in the format:

Make the door the door-est door.

This can be provoke many questions and lead me to consider what the ultimate door (the door-est door) would be like and how it would be defined...

The greatest door? The most efficient door? The largest door? The door that can be used 24/7? The door that can be used by the most people? The most famous door? The door most universally recognised as a door? A door that recognises people who shouldn't use the door and thus automatically locks itself? If I choose one of these possibilities (say, the most efficient door) I can consider how I would go about realising that goal.


I can also use the technique for actions. So if I'm in discussion with someone I can set a challenge in the format:

Make the discussion the discussion-est discussion.

If a discussion was the ultimate, perfect discussion what would it be like? Super efficient? Super problem-solving? Super honest and free from hidden-agendas?

See also: Fiction: a quick way to make up interesting characters

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Using adverbs to help write information about a subject

Adverbs and adverbial phrases can be used with 'prompter questions' to quickly create a list of information about a particular subject. Say, for example, my subject is 'Live8'. My prompter question is in the format:

What's done...(adverb)?

Using the techniques from the Listing Adverbs and Adverbial phrases post I list the following adverbs/phrases:

in the air, with eggs, secretly.

My first question thus reads:

At Live8, what's done in the air?

Possible answers: the airship/helicopters filming the event. Throwing something into the crowd. Waving hands in air.

My second question reads:

At Live8, what's done with eggs?

Possible answers: feeding the performers and stage staff. Throwing eggs at bad acts (!)

And the third thus:

What's done secretly?

Possible answers: smuggling in surprise guests, counting the money collected on the day, big stars leaving the arena.

Cyclical approach

I can use the information listed to list more adverbs. The question "What's done secretly?" led to the answer "big stars leaving the arena". I can now consider adverbs (or adverbial phrases) that fit the action of big stars leaving the arena. For example:

Big stars leaving the arena is done: in a limo, at the end, with bodyguards etc.

I can pick one of these adverbs ('at the end') to form another prompter question:

At Live8, what's done at the end?

Possible answers: the grand finale, the goodbye, crowd dispersion, the big clean up, a final collection at the exits etc.


I've found that using this approach can trigger ideas with very little creative effort:

Listing 'throwing eggs at bad acts' led to the idea of doing a comedic Live8 with bad acts such as those who failed in X Factor shows, or groups that released awful records.

Asking 'What's done with regret?' resulted in the answer 'Stars of the 1985 Live Aid watching the show at home sorry about not being included'. This led to the idea of a Live8 that would feature the acts of 1985 who didn't feature at 2005.

Defining/texturing listing activities

At various stages of creativity, when I am making a list of any kind I can opt to define/texture the listing activity by using adjectives (and words/phrases that function as adjectives).

So, for example, if I am listing information about a subject (say, the Olympics) I can state my directive as:

List information about the Olympics

and then define/texture the listing by using adjectives and words/phrases that function as adjectives:

List arrival information about the Olympics
List likely to amaze information about the Olympics.

(The first could suggest: the opening ceremony, flights into the country, order of arrival of events etc. The second could suggest: the records, the outstanding athletes, the distance traveled by the torch etc.)

Various stages of creative thinking

Listing information

The defining/texturing approach can be used when listing information about a subject. The defining/texturing templates for this would read as:

List X information
List X facts
List X problems
List X ideas
List X rules (with a view to breaking them)

Creating ideas

At the creative stage the defining/texturing templates would read thus:

Create X idea
Create X 'What if?' (See 'What if?' post)

Movement and using 'What if?' questions

If am using lateral thinking provocations or 'What if?' questions for thought experiments, I can use the defining/texturing approach to help list consequences, benefits, and the circumstances when the thought experiment would be beneficial. Thus the templates for this read:

List X consequences
List X benefits
List X circumstances when idea is beneficial

Listing Assumptions

I can use the defining/texturing approach to help list assumptions about a subject. So, if I my subject is the Olympics and I use the defining/texturing template "List X assumptions about the Olympics" a possible final directive could read thus:

List Simon assumptions about the Olympics

and a possible assumption listed could be: I assume that people called Simon are allowed at the Olympics.

Taking concepts from the defining/texturing directive

I can opt to lift (or create) a concept directly from the defining/texturing template. So if a directive was:

List scientific information about the Olympics

I can forget about naming a specific example of scientific information and just use 'scientific information' as a concept in itself. I can create a word from this if I like such as "sci-info".

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Refining and developing ideas by adding adverbs

Adverbs can be added to ideas to suggest ways to refine and develop ideas. With the following Global Ideas Bank idea:

Lottery entry slips - tick box for 10% to charity

I can add an appendage to the idea:

is done...X

Next I find some adverbs (and/or adverbial phrases) for the 'X'. Here are some possibilities:

Idea is done...prehistorically
Idea is the dark
Idea is done...inquisitively
Idea is done...for tourists

Next I consider each one and see if any ideas come about.

Idea is done...prehistorically

This initially suggests that past winners could volunteer ten per cent of their winnings. Not likely to happen. What if the idea was enforced? The lottery is relatively new in the UK so it wouldn't be possible to track winners further back than ten years 'to prehistoric times'. However, there were other possibilities to win money such as the Pools and Premium Bonds before the lottery. This leads to the idea that ten per cent idea could be applied to the Pools and Premium Bonds.

Idea is the dark

If a lottery slip were filled out in the dark the direct consequence is that the person wouldn't know if they'd ticked the ten per cent box properly. This gives me an idea: maybe a random element could be introduced; the lottery player would 'gamble' and agree that up to fifty per cent of their winnings could go to charity.

Idea is done...inquisitively

There could be an 'inquisitive' TV documentary that explores the direct effect the new income would have on a specific charity. Or there could be a 'inquisitive' study into what goes through a person's mind when they are ticking the box. This leads to the idea that the person could specify which charity they'd like to receive the funds.

Idea is done...for tourists

I'm not sure if tourists are allowed to play the UK lottery. Would this be for tax reasons? If this was the case then a new box could be added that is ticked by tourists that states that they agree to a percentage of their winnings being used to pay tax and thus avoid problems.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

'Must' commentaries for creative challenges

I've been experimenting with this 'must commentary' approach to creativity. I'm posting to see if anyone can bounce back any thoughts or ideas.

The must commentary

With this approach, I consider an activity - such as posting a Christmas card through someone's door - and run through the stages visually in my mind. As I go, I apply a 'commentary' in the format:

I have to...

So with the activity of posting a Christmas card the commentary could read:

1) I have to watch out for cars
2) I have to cross the road
3) I have to walk down the pavement
4) I have to spot my friend's house
5) I have to open the gate
6) I have to walk up the pathway
7) I have to open the letter box
8) I have to push the letter in
9) I have to walk down the pathway
10) I have to close the gate

I can also consider the ultimate outcome of all these actions: my friend gets a Christmas card.

Enforced limitation

At the next stage I consider how I could still achieve my objective if one of the stages were prohibited. So if action 6: walk up the pathway is prohibited how can I achieve the next stage - section 7 - of opening the letter box? Or alternatively, is action 6 is prohibited, how will I achieve the final outcome: my friend receives a Christmas card?

So far I've found that experiment with this technique can be very thought provoking and stimulating. The considerations from the above scenario actually led to a concrete idea I submitted to the Global Ideas Bank:

A person in each street to take in parcel deliveries

Refining the commentaries

Something I want to look into soon is refining the commentaries. So with the Christmas card example I could create a 'hand must commentary' where I would state the mandatory actions of my hand during the posting of the card. There are obviously endless possibilities for developing this approach.

Thoughts on optical illusions

Have you seen this optical illusion? The image can interpreted either as a red Indian or an Eskimo entering a cave. I got to thinking on how you could make up optical illusions like that. Perhaps you could access a page of random Google images and turn down the monitor's brightness and contrast to a very low level. You would try to recognise the contents of each image you see - and maybe even draw a quick sketch. Then you would turn up the brightness and contrast levels to normal and see how you were wrong. Perhaps - if you can draw well - between your incorrect image and the correct image you could draw an image that could be interpreted as both.

Similar illusions

Scary, Liar, Ships, Birds, Skull

And here's another one I like - it forms a different picture if you view it upside-down.

Sentence restructuring

I have been using these sentence restructuring techniques semi-automatically for a number of years, so I thought I would try to formalise the techniques in a blog post.

Focus word

If I write a simple sentence:

The Olympics has medals for winners

then the final word - winners - could be considered as a focus word, the word which, when I'm thinking creatively, is the main focus of attention. I can consider alternatives for the focus word to help write more information about the the Olympics:

The Olympics has medals for: winners, second place, great achievement, third place etc.

It's important to differentiate between the action of writing existing facts (as above) and the action of creating ideas. I can indicate 'creative mode' by writing the sentence in blue:

The Olympics has medals for winners

and I can now consider creative alternatives for the focus word 'winners':

The Olympics has medals for: loyal fans, fourth place, trainers, legends from the past, every competitor etc

Changing the focus word

I can change the focus word by choosing a new word from the sentence and rearranging the sentence so that the chosen word becomes the last word. So if I choose 'medals' then the rearranged sentence reads thus:

For winners, the Olympics has medals

As this is 'writing-information mode' I can continue with the listing of information:

For winners, the Olympics has: medals, kudos, interviews, lap of honour, appreciation, flowers etc.

If I switch to the creative mode I can start to create ideas:

For winners, the Olympics has: a text message from their country's leader, a 'visitor's book', a 'virtual lap of honour' (published on the net), blogs, a vote to choose the 'competitor's competitor' of the games - all the winners vote for the athlete they think has been most outstanding. The winner receives a platinum medal

Spaces for the focus word

I can insert spaces either side of the focus word to help suggest new information or ideas. Using the original sentence, this reads thus:

The Olympics has medals for _ winners _

and (if in creative mode) I can insert a random word into either space to suggest ideas. I can also choose a word from the following category headings:

Time (Duration), Place (Area), Thing, Object, Person, Activity

and insert that into either space. In creative mode I opt to insert 'person':

The Olympics has medals for _ winner's person

Which alone may be enough to trigger ideas (there could be a medal for the winner's coach) or I can choose to specify the person - perhaps with a technique such as naming/listing people.

Splitting the focus word

I can opt to split the focus word. I have two options: I can either define the focus word or step up the concept level.

With the sentence:

There are medals for winners at the Olympics

I can define the Olympics and include that in the sentence thus:

There are medals for winners at the...World's greatest sporting event.

If I opt to step up the concept level my new sentence could read:

There are medals for winners at the...sporting spectacle.

With the latter approach I can switch my subject of creativity by defining various sporting spectacles. This could result in a sentence such as:

There are medals for winners at the...Football World Cup.

Deleting the focus word

I can opt to delete the focus word. With the sentence:

There are medals for winners at the Olympics

I can delete 'Olympics' and 'the' becomes the new focus word. I can continue deleting more words until I am left with:

There are medals.

Here I have 'killed' the subject of the Olympics I can switch my creative subject. Example:

There are medals for heroic soldiers.

Example of the technique using an existing idea

With the Global Ideas Bank idea: Text alerts for astronomical phenomena

I can make 'text alerts' the focus word(s):

For astronical phenomena there are text alerts.

Then in information-listing mode I can list possible alternatives:

For astronomical phenomenon there are: experts, books, regions of sky, programmes, star charts.

and in creative mode:

For astronomical phenomenon there are: local observatories, calendars, fan clubs, university degrees, an octa-style rating to compare annually occurring events (such as the Leonids).

With the original sentence I can make 'astronomical' the focus word:

Text alerts for phenomenon that are astronomical

and then switch to creative mode. Choosing the random word 'local' gives:

Text alerts for phenomenon that are: local

Which suggest that people who see anything unusual and interesting can text people in the locality. (There are also possibilities for crime prevention.)

If I continue deleting the focus words until I am left with this stem:

Text alerts for:

I can either add random words or use the category headings: Time (Duration), Place (Area), Thing, Object, Person, Activity. I choose the random word 'doctor' and in creative mode this results in:

Text alerts for: doctors

This quickly directed my attention to a problem experienced by many doctors: people failing to attend. People living near the surgery waiting for appointments could register for a scheme where they are sent a text message if a patient has defaulted.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Thought experiments for creativity and fiction...three techniques

While X, X

I will start with a situation: a police station receives an urgent call and a police officer runs through the station to get to his car.

I set up the use of this tool with the template:

While X,X

For the first 'X' I insert the activity - the running:

While running, X

and then choose - at random - an action for the second 'X':

While running, cleaning.

The aim of this is to suggest that while the policeman is running to his car he is also cleaning. My objective is to find the action of cleaning in the action of running - even it is to the smallest, smallest degree. With a gun-to-head mentality I set out to find the cleaning in the action of running. My first thought is that -- to a very small degree -- some dirt on the floor is picked up by his shoes as he runs. The floor also kind of reciprocates - it 'cleans' the shoes by removing minute amounts of dirt as the shoes make contact with the floor. I can also consider opposites - that the shoes are dirtying the floor and the floor is dirtying his shoes.

If I am working to a quota I can consider other ways in which cleaning occurs. For example, as the policeman runs, he breathes and will inhale minute particles of dust and dirt -- he is cleaning to a small degree.

Increasing the degree
On a scene such as the one on the right I can use the Action-selection tool as described in the Profiling the Zone Of Attention post. This takes the form:

What's X?

and, at random, I choose an action. For example:

What's lapping?

I consider that 'waves' are an answer -- as they are lapping against the metal columns of the pier. Next I use the While X,X tool:

While lapping, X

and choose an action for the second 'X'. In this case 'rising'. Thus:

While lapping, rising.

It's obvious that a wave rises to a degree as it laps against the metal column (see image, right).

Next I start to increase the degree. The degree of rising will increase -- and go in increasing inexorably, up beyond the pier and into the sky.


The 10FALL mnemonic represents:

10 = 10 years
FA = (could) function as
LL = looks like

As the wave continues on its 'journey' - with the rising continuing - I choose a place to stop and freeze the journey. I visualise the scenario and then apply the three sections of the 10FALL tool.


I imagine that the frozen stage of the journey has either been at that stage for ten years or will stay at that stage for the next ten years. So, I'm skipping beyond the headlines stage ('amazing tower of water appears' etc), the initial shock of locals or the immediate ramifications. I consider that the situation is accepted as the status quo.

FA - (Could) function as

I consider what functions the tower of water could have at the chosen, frozen stage. So, in the case of the above image - where the water tower has just climbed above the pier - I could consider that the tower of water could function as an aquarium, a viewing point, a theme park ride (a type of slide?) or maybe just an unusual tourist attraction!

LL - Looks like

At this stage I consider what the water tower looks like - or perhaps merely resembles slightly. The tower of water looks like a constructed appendage of the pier (a viewing point?) a helter skelter, or a water spout.

The degree increases

I can opt to continue increasing the degree -- which results in the tower of water continuing to rise. The tower of water can reach space, moving into the solar system and beyond. Interesting questions and considerations occur as the water's journey continues. Where would the water come from? Maybe the sea level would drop as more water is needed to fuel the rising water. Maybe water would migrate across the globe; I don't worry too much about bad science - what's important is that the water continues to rise inexorably. Maybe chemicals reactions using the elements of earth (and perhaps the sun) would be needed. If I'm writing fiction and in a sci-fi mood then I could decide that the water should be stolen from other lifeforms throughout the universe.

If I'd applied 10FALL at the stage on the right I could've considered that the tower of water could function as, or looks like a space elevator.

Conclusion and thoughts on applications

Thought experiments: I think the above approach has potential when forming thought experiments (such as the 'What if?' questions or lateral thinking provocations). These thought experiments could be used for fiction-writing applications or real-world creativity. At the moment I am working on techniques to explore the ramifications and consequences of the products of the thought experiments. I'll post these soon.

Free association: I think the approach has potential as a free-association tool. As was shown above, the looks like stage can trigger associations - thoughts of space elevators and helter skelters were triggered in the example above.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Listing adjectives and adjectival phrases

Method one

With this first method I take some random words from directed-association results:

Example: officer, instructor, blame

and use the first three letters to trigger adjectives. Thus:

officer = official, off-side
instructor = instrumental, inside, insulting
blame = blameworthy, blatant, black

I can also use the letters to trigger verbs/actions and use them adjectivally:

instructor = insisting, insulting, inspecting

I can also make up new adjectives. So with a random word 'hair' I could create an adjective and a possible meaning:

Hairish = like hair

With a random word 'Constable' I could create:

Constable-ish = in the style of John Constable

Method two

With method two my aim is to go beyond the predictable: I name a specific thing or object before I consider possible adjectives (or phrases) that fit. I do this by using a template:

Name an X thing or object

and choosing a random word for the 'X'.


Name a crying thing = tears

From this I can name possible adjectives and adjectival phrases:

Wet, emotional, moving, from the eyes, onion-consequence.

I can also use the template:

Name an X X thing or object

to set more of a challenge and go beyond the obvious when naming a thing or object.

Setting a quota

With method two I can also set a quota for my adjectival phrase to go beyond the obvious choices.

So if I set a directive: "Name a parliament thing" and I choose "Debate" as an answer I can try to name adjectival phrases of several words:

Debate is: likely to be heated, among opposing sides, likely to make the news if it's deemed newsworthy.

See also: Listing adverbs and adverbial phrases

Listing adverbs and adverbial phrases

In the near future I will be making some posts about creativity techniques that use adverbs (and adverbial phrases) and I will be linking to this post.

Listing adverbs and adverbial phrases

Method one

With this first method I take some random words from directed-association results:

Example: priceless, parliament, improve

and use the first three letters to trigger adverbs. Thus:

priceless = privately, primitively, priggishly
parliament = partially
improve = imperatively, imperiously, importantly

I can also make up adverbs. So with a random word 'Boomtown' I could create an adverb and a possible meaning:

Booly = in a way that shocks people

With a random word 'puns' I could create:

Punily = in a way that uses puns

Method two

With the second method I pick off verbs/actions from the directed-association results:

Example: disrespecting, crying, learning

and consider adverbs or adverbial phrases that could 'fit' the actions:

Disrespecting is done: rudely, with attitude, angrily
Crying is done: tearfully, sadly, with the eyes
Learning is done: studiously, cerebrally, with books, by using the memory

I can also pick random words and create verbs before I consider adverbs that fit. So, with a random word 'trophy' I create the verb-form 'trophying'.

Trophying (winning a trophy) is done: triumphantly, gleefully, arduously, after lots of hard work

Method three

With method three my aim is to go beyond the predictable by naming a specific action before I consider adverbs that fit. I do this by using a template:

Name an X action

and choosing a random word for the 'X'.


Name a weapon action

From this I can name possible actions:

Loading a gun, firing a gun, choosing a weapon, hitting someone

and then pick one of these actions and consider adverbs that fit:

Firing a gun is done: powerfully, with bullets, with a target in mind, aggressively.

Method four

I can also list actions using the template:

Name an X X action

and choosing two random words thus:

Name an Haywain official action

Possible actions: guarding the Haywain, restoring the Haywain, explaining the Haywain (by a tour guide)

I then, as before, choose an action and consider adverbs that fit:

Restoring the Haywain is done: expertly, with oil paints, every ten years, with a relaunch date in mind.

See also: Listing adjectives and adjectival phrases