Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Listing Point

During a brainstorm I often find that an idea (or broader concept) is created that can be easily developed into more ideas by merely replacing one word in the idea. I call this the listing point; clever thought experiments and cerebral dexterity are forgotten for the moment and the focus is one activity alone -- listing.


Suppose I have created the idea "Put adverts for hangover remedies on the bottom of beer bottles (or glasses)". I can step up to a broader concept level with a directive such as:

Put adverts in an unusual place

Now at the listing-point all I have to do is make a list of places and then consider if each of the places could be an interesting location for an advert.

Listing places

List George place
Possibilities: George Harrison's house. The "By George" clothing section of ASDA supermarkets. George Galloway's constituency. The Big Brother house (George Galloway was a housemate in Celebrity Big Brother).

List light place: a street light, the London Planetarium, the sun, lampshade section of a shop. Oxford Street at Christmas.


Forcing ideas

With a gun-to-head mentality I ensure that I force an idea from each of the places listed:

The blue plaque on George Harrison's house could be shaped like a guitar, with the body providing the information and the fretboard showing an advert for a guitar shop (sacrilegious, I know).

The mirrors in the changing-rooms of the "By George" clothing section could have adverts for image consultants.

George Galloway's office could advertise cat food (what else?)


The joy of the listing-point is that I can continue listing all day and I know that ideas will result; I can expect a high "failure rate" but I know that quantity eventually breeds quality. Here are some recent ideas I've created by considering interesting places to put adverts:

Adverts for headache remedies on the soles of a boxer's shoes.

The white sphere of a nuclear power station painted to resemble and advertise a make of golf ball.

The phone number of taxi cab offices on the bottom of glasses.

Adverts (for any product) on the walls of the tunnels on the underground.

Cut off their dicks

In the early days of BrainReactions' Brainstorming Tool I decided to test the site by posting the following challenge: How can you stop people urinating in public swimming pools? One of the responses was "Cut off their dicks". Now, I suppose flippant responses could be viewed as irritants, but the interesting thing is that BR brainstorming forum doesn't suffer from the problem that many forums suffer from: lack of posts. There seems to be a steady rate of new challenges and suggestions.

Any brainstorm can benefit from a wide range of responses ranging from the outrageous and ridiculous to the sensible. The outrageous suggestions (or challenges) surely help to reduce the inhibitions of new posters..."If others are clowning then my own ideas won't seem so ridiculous". It helps to keep the posts and suggestions flowing.

Gathering momentum

To help a forum maintain its momentum I reckon that answers to brainstorms could be made within six categories: standard, outrageous, two/three word only, two/three word outrageous, redefining the problem and magical solutions. Here are some examples of the six-categories approach used with the above problem:

Standard - add dye to the water that changes colour when someone urinates
Outrageous - make offenders drink chlorinated water
Two/three words - Life bans
Two/three words outrageous - Name and shame
Redefining problem (using "why and why again" technique) - Why do you want to solve the problem? Because swimmers will know that the water is clean and healthy. New problem = how can we ensure (and make patrons aware) that the water is clean and healthy?
Magical solutions - Create organisms that eat pollutants

I'm sure that more categories could be devised; naturally, one would have to be mindful of the KISS rule (Keep It Short and Simple) to avoid overcomplicating things.

A lifespan for responses

It could also be worthwhile giving posters the option to state the lifespan of responses: maybe a poster could opt for their response to 'die' after 24 hours? Thus the clowns could go on clowning with impunity :)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Coat hangers: advanced labeling of the subject

Sixixis CityScape coat hangerSee previous post: Coat hanger: creating variations of an idea with X-versions

With this approach I use a more advanced method to label my X-version. In the previous post my labeling of the coat hanger was simple, such as:

City version
Name version
Fictional-city version

With this approach I use adjectives (and words/phrases with an adjectival function). I create a list of adjectives and, considering the coat hanger, form a prompter question in the format:

How X is it?

where the 'X' is an adjective chosen from my list.

There are two ways to respond to the prompter questions. The 'retort' method and the TAD (to a degree) method.

The Retort Method

Suppose that my random adjective is "glass". My prompter question reads:

How glass is the coat hanger?

For my "retort" I can say "It's not glass, it's wooden". Thus "wooden" becomes my "X" for my X-version:

Wooden version of coat hanger.

I can then go on to consider alternative materials for the coat hanger. Plastic coat hangers and metal coat hangers are obvious choices, but the methods discussed in the previous post can expand on these possibilities.

The TAD (to a degree) Method

With the TAD method I consider how the adjective in the prompter question is true to a degree. For example, if my random adjective is "mountainous" then my prompter question reads:

How mountainous is the coat hanger?

Usually I would consider that the hanger isn't mountainous in any way or form, but I want to consider how this is true to a small degree. Perhaps I could say:

The coat hanger is mountainous in that it has buildings of varying height, like the mountains in a mountain range.

Now I use this information to create the "X" for my X-version:

Buildings-of-various-heights version

and I can use that at the start of my search for alternatives, as discussed in the previous post. Here are some initial thoughts:
With my focus on the varying heights of the buildings I can consider the possibility of varying the heights of the buildings even more -- maybe some of the buildings could extend beyond the frame of the coat hanger? Another assumption uncovered there -- that the thing depicted by the coat hanger must be inside the frame.

More examples of the Retort and TAD methods using random adjectives

Random adjective = liquid. Prompter question = How liquid is the coat hanger? Retort = It's not liquid, it's solid. TAD = It's liquid in that some human sweat will be on the hanger.
Solid version:
Alternatives possible: half solid/half liquid version. Idea: perhaps a hanger made of clear plastic with a 'snowstorm' kind of effect inside?
Human-sweat-on-hanger version:
Alternatives possible: versions totally covered in sweat. Thought: the sweat would have a cooling effect; what about coat hangers that warm clothes? (A slight tangent there.)

Random adjective (actually, a random word forced to function as an adjective) = book. Prompter question = How book is the coat hanger? Retort = It's not a book, it's a coat hanger. TAD = It's a book in that you would probably read the name of the manufacturer on the hanger.
Coat hanger version:
Thoughts: why not consider other types of coat hangers and clothes racks? Idea: A coat stand with a city depicted in some way? A Nelson's Column coat stand perhaps?
Features-the-name-of-the-manufacturer version:
Alternatives: a coat hanger that features the name of the owner? Idea: caricature versions sent as a gift?

Random adjective: lively. Prompter = How lively is the coat hanger? Retort = It's not lively it's static. TAD = It's lively in that it moves about when you remove your clothes from it.
Static version:
Thoughts (cheating a little by considering a homonym): static electricity could give the hanger a charge. Idea: dab the buildings on the hanger with fluorescent paint so that they glow at night as though light is coming from the windows.
Moves-about-when-you-remove-your-clothes-from-it version:
Idea (an interesting tangent): some means to prevent coat hangers falling off the rail when you remove clothes.

Random adjective: free. Prompter = How free is the coat hanger? Retort = It's not free you have to pay for it. TAD = It's free in that wood comes from trees, which grow freely from the ground.
Have-to-pay-for-it version:
Thoughts: an alternative way to pay for a coat hanger? "Buy X, get a coat hanger free?" What if: the lower bar of wire on cheap wire coat hangers from dry cleaners was twisted to form the name of the dry cleaners?
Wood-from-trees version:
Thoughts: finding another source for the wood? What if you could have a coat hanger made from old junk furniture? Also, what other ways could old furniture (or any household waste, in fact) be used constructively?

Coat hanger: creating variations of an idea with X-versions

I spotted this idea -- the CityScape coat hanger --on BoingBoing and thought I'd use it to demonstrate my latest thoughts on the X-versions technique.

Sixixis CityScape coat hanger

Labeling the idea as an X-version

I want to label the idea above and a good way to do this is to pick a word from the name -- or brief description -- of the product. In this case: CityScape coat hanger. Choosing "city" gives me:

Idea is city version


At the next stage I want to consider alternatives for the city. I can do this in three ways: by simply choosing a random word to replace the "city", by naming/listing cities, or by using reverse-reach.

Random word approach

With the creative directive:

Create X version

I choose a random word for the X. "Penguin" gives:

Create penguin version

which simply suggests that the coat hanger would feature penguins instead of a city. "Create name version" leads to an interesting idea: coat hangers that feature names --personalised coat hangers (right).

Naming/Listing approach

With my coat hanger labeled as a "city version", I can name/list cities to create more ideas for coat hangers. Initially some possibilities are obvious -- featuring other capital cities from around the world, for example. But the naming/listing approach will help to suggest many more options and uncover some assumptions too.

Name ex cities: cities that were destroyed in the past
Name write cities: fictional cities
Name 10 cities: cities that are in Europe

Converting these into X-versions format gives:

Create historic-city version
Create fictional-city version
Create cities-in-Europe version

"Fictional-city version" is an interesting one. An assumption has been uncovered that the city should be real. A hanger could be made featuring a fictional city -- Gotham City perhaps? "Cities-in-Europe version" leads to some interesting ideas too. A hanger could be made that features several famous buildings from different cities. Or maybe a hanger could feature the tallest buildings from around the world?

Using reverse-reach

With reverse-reach I imagine that someone has set a directive that made me give "city" as an answer. For example, a directive could've been "Name a really busy place in a country". I use that to complete my X-version directive:

Create really-busy-place-in-a-country version

I can name/list busy places in a country. "Football grounds" is one possible answer. "Create football-grounds version" suggests that hangers could be made that depict the stadium of a famous football team. Or if the idea is combined with the personalised hanger idea above, the hanger could feature the name of a famous team.

See also: Coat hangers: advanced labeling of the subject

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A blank-page Brainstorm

Searching for a subject

I want to start by listing activities. I do this with the template:

List X activity

with a random word providing the 'x'.

List smile activity: taking a photo, laughing, watching a comedy, seeing a friend, laughing at a joke, having your photo taken, having a passport photo taken, receiving 'funnies'.

List electrical activity: watching television, cutting the grass, using the microwave, replacing a battery, inserting a plug in a socket, replacing a fuse, replacing a plug

Choosing a subject

I choose "inserting a plug in a socket" as my subject.

Using "inserting actions into actions" to generate ideas

I use the inserting actions into actions method to generate ideas. I choose a specific moment of "inserting a plug into a socket" for attention. I choose: the moment the prongs enter the holes of the socket. I imagine that that action is extended to last an hour and then create moments:

Create people moment
What if: the strength of two people was needed to complete the insertion of the plug? Or if a plug could be inserted by one person only? Idea: I'm sure this has been done in some shape or form, but a plug could have a combination 'lock' that needs to be operated before the plug will work.

Create visit moment
What if: you had to 'visit' another plug in the house before you could use another? Perhaps you would have to remove the plug -- there could be a limit to the number of plugs that can be operated at any one time? (Reminds me of this: Visible display to show rate of electricity use .)

Create Saturday moment
What if: the plug, in some way, told you how many times the plug was used on the last Saturday? Idea: weekly itemised electricity readings, to show you weekly usage rates for lighting, television, computers etc.

Create talent moment
What if: instead of inserting the plug by guiding it in with your hand, you could throw it across the room and the plug would enter the socket? First thought: a device that would automatically insert plugs. And: a device that automatically removes a plug. Idea: a household could have a single "everything off" switch that would, as you leave the house, switch off all the non-essential electrical products -- lights, televisions etc. (obviously fridges wouldn't be affected.)

Create Trevor Baylis moment
What if: you stopped to ask a question such as "What ideas would Trevor Baylis devise regarding the insertion of a plug?" What if: there was a "standard challenge" that would be set when considering creativity? The challenge could be: "Devise ideas regarding the insertion of a plug". Any writings on creativity could discuss the challenge -- the challenge could be a standard entry-point for considering creativity, perhaps.

Other ideas from this brainstorm

A weekly consumption-rate provided for each street. This would work well with the water supply too: each street would be provided with a consumption-rate on a weekly basis. In times of drought, households would have a clearer idea of how their consumption rate affects shortages. Perhaps it would also set a kind of target.

A burglar alarm triggered by the removal of plugs (or the switching on of lights). Or maybe the electricity meter could detect any fluctuations in consumption rates (caused by burglars unplugging appliances and switching on lights) and activate an alarm.

A sensor that detects REM sleep and switches the TV off.

A sensor that turns on the TV when you wake up.

A sensor connected to a device that opens curtains when you wake up.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A blank-page brainstorm

Starting out: the search for a subject

To get the ball rolling I choose a couple of random letters and make words of one syllable from those two letters.

Re = red. Re = rest. Un = urn. Ma = max. Ma = mad. Ma = mark. Mc = mac. Mc = mace. To = top. To = torn. To = two. Ds = days. Da = dees. Da = dab. Th = thwart. Th = thick. Th = theme.

Refining the search for a subject

I choose 'top'. Now I will use naming/listing to list different types of tops:

Table tops = the top of tables. Ascot tops = the top hats worn at Ascot. Ascot tops = the top events at Ascot racetrack. Side tops = The replica shirts of football teams. Side tops = The greatest (top) achievement of sporting clubs. Mexican tops = the places of highest altitude in Mexico. Mexican tops = Mexican hats. Delivery tops = The tops of delivery vans. Delivery tops = The most popular foodstuff that is delivered to homes. Motivation tops = The times in your life when you feel most motivated. Good tops = Clothes tops that you like. Good tops = Tasty toppings on desserts.

Choosing the subject

I choose: 'the tops of delivery vans'.

It is possible to order goods from supermarkets via the internet. The supermarkets deliver the goods to your home by van. I am focusing on the tops of those vans.

Using the grid technique to create ideas

Using the grid technique I create areas for the top of delivery van:

Create cycle area
Thought experiment: there could be an area of the van's top that has a cycle that the driver sometimes uses to power the vehicle. Making that idea workable: there could be cycle-type delivery service where the delivery man uses a bike to distribute products such as lollies, ice creams etc. Idea: The main delivery van could stock lollies and ice cream and offer additional goods not ordered by the customer. Tangent thought: ice cream vans could tell households that they will arrive at the same time as the supermarket delivery van. Benefit: households would know what time the ice cream van would arrive. Challenge: ice cream vans play music to alert people of their arrival. What other ways could the ice cream vans alert people? Possible solution: drop leaflets through the door to inform about a set-time of the ice cream van arrival. Possible solution: the ice cream van could send text alerts to all phones in the vicinity.

Create far area
What if: part of the van's top was removed and placed somewhere else in the street? Benefits: neighbours would become aware of the service. Idea: the delivery person could drop leaflets to the neighbours of the house where a delivery is made. The leaflets could inform them what time a regular delivery is made and ask them if they'd like a small delivery to be made. Benefits: the neighbours would be slowly introduced to the service.

Create hole area
What if: part of the van's top had a hole in it? Consequences: the food would get warm and no cold products could be delivered. Idea: cheaper deliveries that deliver 'room temperature' products, such as bread, biscuits or beans. Idea: the option to pay a premium for a 24 hour instant delivery (have you ever been a party where you run out of drinks and ciggies?)

Create microscope area:
What if: you could climb on the top of the van and be able to see a microscopic view of one of the products? Idea: the side of the van could show a sizeable picture of one of the products carried. Further idea: the van could have a surplus of that product with a 'stop me and buy one' policy. Further idea: with every delivery the customer could be supplied with a small sample of a product - or products. The customer could specify a different type of sample they'd like each week. For example, one week they could ask for drinks samples, next week herbal samples, next week dessert samples.

Create sink area
What if: an area of the top was sunken into the van? Consequence: the 'sink' would collect water. What if: the delivery van sold that water as 'pure' water? Idea: the van could distribute bottled water, but the customer would provide the bottle, thus saving money on packaging. Further idea: all deliveries could be 'packaging free' (to the greatest extent possible), thus saving more money.

Create warm area
Consequence: if part of the van's top were warm then obviously some of the deliveries would be heated. Idea: deliver meals, ready to eat. Further thought: every neighbourhood has restaurants that deliver to your door (our area has pizza shops and curry houses). Each of these employs their own staff to deliver. Alternatively, could a single agency provide all the restaurants with their delivery service? Perhaps that agency could be the first call made when you want food delivered. 'One number covers all'.

Create trip area

What if: the roof has a handle where you hold on and and travel with the delivery van? Consequence: you would find out what people in your area do and do not receive deliveries. Idea: if the number of deliveries in an area reaches a certain level the deliveries could be cheaper.

Create damage area

What if: an area of the top was damaged? Consequence: some of the food would be damaged. Idea: the delivery service could sell food (at a discount) that has passed its sell-by date but is still edible.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A museum with simulations of extreme weather conditions and natural phenomena

I would like to see a museum created where visitors can experience simulations of extreme weather and natural phenomena. Visitors would be able to:

Experience the temperature of the Sahara
Experience increasing Richter magnitudes in an earthquake simulator
Experience the hardest rainfall recorded on earth
Lift weight-accurate models of the largest hailstones
(Briefly) enter an environent at the temperature of the poles
See the effect molten lava has on different objects
See models of giant icycles
Create artifical lightning

There could also be areas with simulations of extreme weather conditions recorded in each country.
A new type of athletics record?

I've been thinking about the wind resistance in Roger Bannister's four-minute mile. To a certain extent, an athletic performance is in the 'hands of the gods' - wind resistance is a factor, as is altitude. I would like to see a perfect environment created that is conducive to good athletic performance. This enviroment would consist of a chamber where there is no wind resistance (or assistance) and a constant supply of oxygen. An important factor in running races -- pace -- would be considered, with the environment providing constant feedback on the pace needed to break a record.

The new record would be known as a 'cell record' - with the perfect environment created taking place in a chamber known as a cell. These records would not compete with existing athletics records, but would exist to prove that human performance can be improved with perfect conditions.
The problem with theme parks and fairgrounds

I always worry about the same thing at fairgrounds and theme parks: will my wallet/money/keys fall out of my pocket while I'm on the ride? The solution as a youngster is simple: 'dump everything with mum'. My other worry is that my glasses will fall off; if you remove them for the ride then the blurred vision makes the ride less enjoyable.

If I were a theme park boss I would manufacture cheap - flimsy even - bags that can be attached simply to a belt or belt loop. The idea is that the bag would contain all the 'pocketables'. The bag would also contain an elasticated cord that can be attached to the ends of a pair of glasses.

Of course, these problems are preventable with a little foresight, but how many realise the problem when it's too late?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

More on rubberducking

I like to use the rubberducking technique:

Place a rubber duck on your monitor and describe your problems to it. There's something magical about stating your problems aloud that makes the solution more clear.

(See also Rubberducking and creativity.)

I'm also experimenting with defining my 'audience' during rubberducking: I create a list of people and choose one to be my audience. I imagine how I would explain the problem to that person. I ensure I create a multifarious list that includes children ('how would you explain your problem to a child?' is good advice), the great and the good, and even eccentric people.

Thinking during brainstorms

Since 1994 I've always scribbled on paper as I brainstorm. As a result I've come to find it difficult to think without pen and paper in front of me! I've experimented with ways to think without paper: thinking to songs is one approach I enjoy. Recently I've been using an approach where I select a person from a list and imagine that the person is in the same room talking to me about a problem I'm working on (or a creative focus). I make an effort to mentally hear their voice.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Blank-page brainstorms

In the coming weeks I will be posting some 'live' blank-page brainstorms. With these BP brainstorms I start out with a blank page and with no (initial) objectives. During the brainstorm I often find new tangents and directions of thought; it called almost be called 'meandering' brainstorming. During the brainstorming I am not just looking for new ideas - the brainstorms can:

Create new ideas
Highlight problems
Provide thought-provoking questions
Reveal ideas bubbling on the edge of consciousness
Highlight gaps in knowledge and areas for further research
Trigger memories of 'forgotten' ideas from the past.

Blank-page brainstorm, 22nd July 06
23rd July 06

Idea generation: inserting action into actions

This technique has several stages:

1) I consider an action or activity
2) I focus on a specific moment of activity within that activity
3) I imagine that that moment of activity is, in some way, extended to last an hour (without having any detrimental effects or reducing the effectiveness of the action)
4) I insert actions - momentary actions or ones of longer duration - into that hour's activity


For this example -- and the first stage -- I'm choosing the action of: an acupuncture session. For the second stage -- the moment of activity -- I choose: the moment the needle has first penetrated the skin.

For the third stage, I extend what would be a momentary action -- the first penetration of the needle -- to an hour's duration. I imagine in my mind that that stage occurs over an hour, without having any detrimental effects or reducing the effectiveness of the action.

I find that this time-expansion approach helps to open-up the mind for options for development, and helps the focusing on an action that would perhaps be considered insignificant.

Stage four

The fourth stage is the creative stage. At this stage I create/insert actions into the hour's action. The template for the creative directive is:

Create X (time)

For the 'time' I either specify a duration of time or use a word to represent a time.

Create X moment
Create X 10 minutes
Create X half-hour

I can also specify a duration that is longer than an hour:

Create X afternoon
Create X era

For the 'X' I pick a random word (or phrase, term etc) to have an adjectival function. So with the random word "dream" my final creative directive could read:

Create a dream ten minutes (within the hour of the penetration of the needle)

Immediately this suggests that, as the needle penetrates, the person would go to sleep. An assumption has been uncovered that patient is awake during acupuncture. Further questions are raised: could an acupuncture session been administered on someone who sleeps through the whole session?

More examples using the acupuncture moment

Using: create X moment (within the hour of the penetration of the needle).

Create stowaway moment
First thought: this to me suggests that the blood would rise ('stowaway') into the needle. Consequences: this would cause the temperature of the needle to rise. Which leads to: would there be any benefits from heating the needles before use? (Indeed, there would. I did some preliminary research and found that heating the needles is a known AP practice)

Create connect moment
First thought: the needle could be attached in some way to all the other needles being used in the session. Benefits? This arrangement could be used to measure the patient's GSR. The practitioner would know if the patient was finding the situation stressful. Which leads to: are there other stressful situations where feedback could alert the practitioner and help them to reassure the patient? Perhaps in a dentist's surgery a patient could be connected to a device to show their heart rate. Or, for a driving test the use of a heart-rate device would prevent the need for any pretence about not showing nerves.

Create swimming moment
First thought: What if the needle actually went all the way into the body so that the whole of the needle was below the skin? Which leads to: would it be possible to find an arrangement that would safely allow the patient to leave a needle in for extended periods? Would that have benefits?

Create seconds out moment
First thought: how would it be possible for the practitioner to withdraw a needle at a constant rate over say, ten seconds? Could a device achieve this? Perhaps a device could be created for 'slow injections': the device would take an hour to penetrate the skin. Systematic desensitization for people with phobias of needles?
Also: would there be any benefit in repeatedly entering the needle and removing it? Could the needle be kept moving for the duration of the session?

Idea generation: the grid technique

I use this grid technique to generate ideas. With this technique I choose an object and mentally superimpose a grid onto the object. With any/each of the squares of the grid labelled as a "square/area" I create a creative directive:

Create X square/area

where the 'X' will be replaced by an adjective or word with an adjectival function.


For my starting object I'll use an object that already has a grid and individual squares in its structure - the tennis net of a tennis court.

I choose a random word to complete my creative directive: in this example my random word is "blood". My directive reads thus:

Create blood square/area

I can consider that the "square/area" part of the directive applies to one specific square, any square, or all the squares. I then ensure that I complete the challenge and guarantee newness - either by creating a thought experiment (or lateral thinking provocation) or by creating a specific new idea.

Here are my thoughts on blood square:

A square that absorbs any blood that lands on it.

My immediate thought is that if the net was from a top tournament like Wimbledon then somebody could sell that part of the net on eBay. Which leads to the idea: cut up the net after tournaments and auction/sell the sections to raise money for a charity.

More tennis net examples (from a 'live' brainstorm)

Create chemist square/area
First thought: the "+" of the squares could be coloured green to advertise a chemist. Which leads to: the squares could alternatively be circular (sponsorship from a tennis ball manufacturer). Further thoughts: some of the circles could be filled in, with the name of the ball manufacturer on the circles.

Create flow square/area
First thought: all of the squares on the net could constantly move (flow along). Further thoughts: sometimes a shot will hit the net and 'bobble over' to the other side, winning an easy point. Is the chance of that happening the same if the ball hits the other side of the net? Problem to highlight: unfair advantages caused by players being at different ends (I'm aware that players swap ends). Example: the problem of the sun in the eyes of a player at one end. Preliminary thoughts on solution: a small portable blimp to block the sun?

Create beg square/area
First thought: a square on the net with the message "please advertise your product/service here for £10,000". Further thoughts: some value is apparent here -- the message would act as a kind of advertising teaser; due to the unusual nature of the message people would be more likely to notice any advert when it eventually appears. Here I also notice an assumption I've been making: that the net is at a top tournament. What if that message appeared on every tennis net in the country? Stepping to a broader concept level: perhaps an advert could appear on every example of a specific thing throughout the country. For example, marathons have a blue-dash line on the road to show runners the route. Perhaps each of the dashes could be replaced with a photo of an energy drink?

Create molecule square/area
First thought: would it be possible to create a version of tennis played at a molecular level? Table tennis could be considered to be a miniature version of tennis -- how far could the miniaturisation continue? What if: the game of miniature tennis occurs on a 'court' the size of a shoe box? Each participant could play the game via a computer which would control the 'rackets' in the box. Further thoughts: maybe there could be a computer game where participants play their opponent via the internet and the game is played on a type of real tangible court at some location.

A second level grid

If I choose to, I can select any of the squares of my grid and again mentally superimpose a grid onto that. With the tennis net example, I can either visualise my grid on objects only (the strands of the tennis net) or imagine my grid within the space of the square (in effect, some of the resulting squares would be in 'thin air').

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Songwriting and the big problem facing songwriters

I wrote a pop song in January (well, it kind of wrote itself, but that's another story) and I've been pursuing ways to make a demo for the song. There's a problem: making demos isn't cheap - the minimum cost is about £300 but if I want to make a decent demo I am looking at £1000 minimum. In modern times a demo has to be of the highest quality possible to have any chance of being listened to by any record company. There must be many people 'out there' with the same problem.

I think there could be a solution to this problem - a website could be started called 'A capella A&R*' or something along those lines: any individual would be able to simply sing their song into a microphone unaccompanied and have their rendition of the song recorded and listed on the site for other people to listen to. The barest minimum - the songwriter singing the song unaccompanied (or perhaps with just one instrument) - would be encouraged ahead of demos with full backing. Any site visitor would be able to vote for any song and the voting system would highlight the songs that are deemed 'most commercial'. Then, outside parties would be able to assist the songwriters in developing (and hopefully releasing) their songs. The participation of big names would add to the gravitas of the site. Perhaps the big names would only listen to the songs that had achieved a certain rating or received a specified number of votes?

*A&R = talent scout.

Project: name five hundred uses for a paperclip

I've been meaning to get this project started and blog about it for some time. The project is based on the classic brainstorming/creativity challenge "Name as many uses for a paperclip as possible". The purpose of this project is to find the most productive ways to create and find uses for the paperclip, explore how focus switching and changing of perspective can occur and, of course, find five hundred uses for a paperclip.

Looking at the uses for a paperclip there are the usual offerings : a toothpick, a bookmark, a hair pin, a key ring, a nail cleaner etc. But I also want to look into how focus-switching and changing of perspective can occur. I mean the kind of focus-switching that can lead to these considerations and ideas:

Start a 'Name a million uses for a paperclip' blog
Contact paperclip manufacturers and ask them for inventive uses
Find more uses by Googling "uses for a paperclip"
Ask other bloggers to post about the challenge on their blogs

Feel free to contribute any uses or new perspectives on the problem.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A creative challenge: captions for a caption competition

If I have started a creative challenge (creating a caption for a caption competition) a good first step is to switch to present moment awareness. This takes the form:

Now here me creating a caption

For the action of 'creating a caption' I can create a word: maybe caption-creating or cap-creating. The switch to the present moment and creating of a word ensures that I don't rush headstrong into creating an actual caption. Options become apparent: I could invite someone else to participate in the creating. I could Google "caption creating". I could research captions that have won competitions before etc.

Creative directive

I can also create a creative directive for my current creative goal. For this challenge this is:

Create a caption

I can texture the creating by introducing adjectives (and words/phrases with adjectival functions). This takes the format:

Create a X caption

With the random word "symmetrical" my directive now reads:

Create a symmetrical caption

This could lead to something like this:

I drink your lemonade because: I drink your lemonade

With a gun-to-head mentality I consider how I can make this work. Here's a possibility:

I drink your lemonade because: I drink YoUr leMonade

More examples

Create ground caption
I drink your lemonade because: it's better than the coffee my wife buys

Create old caption
That creates an interesting idea: I could Google "I buy your lemonade because" and write an actual link instead of a normal caption. Or I could do something like this:

I drink your lemonade because: it's

Create space caption
There's usually a word limit (usually twelve) on caption competitions. Why not use one word, but make it occupy all the space?
I drink your lemonade because: mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Create question caption
I drink your lemonade because: well, why do you buy it?
which leads to:
I drink your lemonade because: of the same reasons you do

Create sanctuary caption
Hmmm. Enclose the caption in something? ((((((())))))) means 'hug' which could give:
I drink your lemonade because: it (((((((my throat)))))))

Specific focuses, problem finding and listing thinking

The following methods can be used to find specific focuses and highlight problems in need of solutions.

For this example I want to list different types of thinking - ranging from the obvious choices to the less obvious. I will use the naming/listing approach; so the template I'll use is:

List X thinking

I pick random words to specify the 'x'. My first random word is "rash" which gives:

List rash thinking

I can consider what this means:

1) Thinking that is done quickly
2) The type of thinking done when someone panics

and also use some interpretation/imagination:

3) Thinking that is done when an individual knows they are about to have an accident
4) The thinking of a dermatologist

My next word is "bad" which gives:

List bad thinking

At this point I can treat bad-thinking as a single word in its own right and I can imagine that it has a dictionary entry. The definition would be obvious (but I can look beyond the obvious if I choose). I can now use that new word to list further examples of thinking. The template reads:

List X bad-thinking

Here are various random words and their possible definitions:

Heat bad-thinking = the thinking that is the result of an individual in unpleasant high temperatures
In bad-thinking = introspective thinking that has no feedback from another person
Group bad-thinking = the thinking that occurs in groups (or groupthink)

Creating new words

If my random word is "red" and my template reads:

List red thinking

I can interpret that to mean: the thoughts of people when they are angry. I can create a new word from that - say, "ap-thinking" - and then create a template and list specific cases of ap-thinking:

List delivery ap-thinking = angry thoughts when a delivery is late or repairman doesn't arrive
Mead ap-thinking = angry thoughts resulting from too much alcohol

Two letter reverse-reach for finding a creative focus

This is a useful technique that can be used to step up to a broader concept level and name further subjects for creative attention.

With this technique I take a subject -- the Olympics, for this example -- and imagine that "Olympics" was my answer to a prompter question that was created using two random letters.


My subject is "The Olympics" and I choose two random letters to form a possible prompter-question. Examples:

SP = Name a Sporting Party
DS = Name a Decent Spectacle
AT = Name an Athlete Tester

I can form longer phrases if I wish:

DD = Name something that provokes Drug Debate
EL = Name a future Event in London
PW = Name something with a Police Watch
RS = Name something that Requires Stewards
DQ = Name something that Decides with Qualification

Naming Subjects for creative focus

I can use any of the prompter-questions to name more possible subjects for creative attention:

Name a decent spectacle:

Firework night
London marathon
Christmas lights in London
The Red Arrows
The Natural Seven Wonders


Name something with a police watch:

A police station
A surveillance operation
The camera in a police car
A speeding trap
A speech by a leading officer

A thought experiment: demon conversion

This is something I've been thinking about recently and I think it could provide insights into creative challenges. It's a product of my fiction project.

Demon conversion

1) I was eating my dinner when an evil demon appeared. He told me I had to convert the fork in my hand into the Angel of the North...or face dire consequences. Thinking about the challenge for a moment I considered the task easy and that I could approach the challenge in a couple of ways that would complete the challenge:

I could melt down the fork and make a model of the Angel of the North.
I could travel to Gateshead, melt down the fork and spread the molten metal over the Angel.

However, the evil demon then stipulated that the challenge must be completed in thirty seconds. Desperate to complete the task in any way possible, I panicked, ran out of my house into the front garden, plunged the fork into the ground and said to a passer- by: "This is the Angel of the North".

2) I was eating my dinner and an evil demon appeared. He told me that I had to convert my front garden into a gym. I considered the task easy: I could buy some gym equipment, set it up and charge locals to use the equipment. However, the demon stipulated that the task must be completed in thirty seconds. Desperate to complete the task, I rushed to my front garden and said to a passer-by: "do some press-ups and I will stand on your back".

As a thought experiment, example 2 generated thoughts that led to an idea: that a website could be started called 'the home gym' (or maybe 'free gym'). The purpose of the website would be to teach visitors how to achieve physical fitness without any expenditure whatsoever. An achievable goal?

3) Another time the evil demon appeared and told me to convert the potato on my plate into a fish. With the time limit of thirty seconds I panicked, rushed to the fish tank and plunged the potato into the water. I said to the demon "This is a fish".

This made me think that this approach could be used as a free-association tool to find a subject for creative focus. Asking myself "What would plunging my hand into the tank look like?" I remembered the practical joke where someone conceals a slice of carrot in their hand, plunges their hand into a fish tank, brings the 'fish' out of the water and proceeds to eat it. It also made me think of trout-tickling.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Creating ideas for TV shows and articles

This approach can quickly provide a number of ideas for possible TV shows or articles. Using this technique I choose a person as a subject and then list information about that person.

Choosing a person as a subject

I start by creating a diverse list of people (real or fictional). This can be done using the naming/listing technique (or I can simply choose two letters as initials and recall someone with those initials - PM = Patrick Moore etc). Here is one list I created:

Heather Small, Roger Moore, Robin Williams, C Nortcote Parkinson, Anthony Burgess, Goldfinger, Jane Torvill, Mr Motivator, Captain Caveman, Nostradamus, Eric Williams, Patrick Swayze.

For this example I choose Roger Moore as the subject.

Listing information about the chosen subject

I now profile the subject. To profile the subject I simply select a word from a list of random words and, instead of using the random word to create ideas, I use the word as a trigger to recall and list information or create questions about the subject.

For example:

Roger Moore. Random word = repeat

Here is some information and questions on Roger Moore suggested/triggered by the word 'repeat':

His films that have been shown most often on TV, The fee he receives for each repeat, the films or TV shows who would like to see repeated, his favourite films and TV shows, how long it takes him to learn his lines. Does he think there are too many repeats on TV?

I can also allow myself a degree of interpretation of the word 'repeat' (and use information listed to help trigger yet more information and questions):

What food 'repeats' on him? Does he/did he have a stammer? Is his accent his natural accent or did he take elocution lessons? Has he ever had to learn a different accent? What process do actors go through to learn a new accent?

The last question is a very interesting one and would make for a good article or focus for a TV documentary.

Next example:

Roger Moore. Random word = silicon

Information/questions triggered:

Does he have a PC? Does he surf the net? How many 'hits' does a Google search for his name produce? Does he play PC games? Has he played a James Bond computer game?

Next example:

Roger Moore. Random word = work

His first job. His first acting job. Does he think of acting as work or play? Other work he does. What work do his children do? How much 'work' does his famous eyebrow do? (!)


Most of the above examples used a degree of interpretation. However, as an alternative approach I can start by naming a specific thing and then consider the relationship between the subject and that thing. This takes the form:

(Person A and B)

With the random word (term) 'Loch Ness' the couplet takes the form:

(Roger Moore and Loch Ness)

I can track the 'relationship' between Roger Moore and Loch Ness:

Has he ever visited Loch Ness? When did he first hear about the monster? Does he believe in the monster? What did he think of the film 'Loch Ness'?

I can then use the above considerations to 'springboard' to new considerations and ideas:

What is Roger Moore's most bizarre belief? What are the most bizarre beliefs of famous people?

Another example of couplet use

With the random word (term) 'IBM'

Couplet = (Roger Moore and IBM)

Considerations triggered:

Does he use IBM computers? Has he ever worked for IBM? Has he ever endorsed their products? Have IBM featured as 'product placements' in his movies? Does 'Q' use IBM technology in the Bond cars?

and springboarding to other considerations:

Which people have been paid the most to endorse products? How much does it cost to have a product as a product-placement in a movie? How much would it cost to actually make a car with the technology of a Bond car?

A technique for listing information about a subject

I use this technique for listing information about a subject. I call it the possession string. The technique is used in the following format:

A has B
B has C
C has D


It's a quick way to generate a sizeable list of information about a subject.


Suppose my subject is: airport. I start by listing something an airport has:

(A has B) Airport has plane (s)

then list something that a plane has:

(B has C) Planes have passengers

and continue thus:

Passengers have luggage
Luggage has contents
Contents have weight

More examples

Cinemas have seats
Seats have moviegoers
Moviegoers have popcorn
Popcorn has flavour
Flavour has recipe

Olympics has competitors
Competitors have events
Events have records
Records have record-book
Record-book has categories

Underground has trains
Trains have maps
Maps have layout
Layout has designer
Designer has brief

Where does the subject come from?

If I'm doing 'blank page' creativity (Starting out with no particular creative focus in mind) then I can use the reverse-reach method; that is, I imagine a prompter question (or questions) that someone could have asked me that made me give that subject as an answer. Example:

Subject: London underground

Possible reverse-reach question(s) that give 'London underground' as an answer:

Name a polluted part of London?
Name something under the ground?
Name something that uses trains?
Name a way to get into London?

I can then pick any of these questions and then think of other answers that could have been created. Example:

Name a polluted part of London?

Possible answers: the roads, the Thames, the car exhausts, Oxford Street, smog clouds.

Then I can pick one of these as my subject for a possession-string exercise:

Oxford Street has shops
Shops have workers
Workers have hours
Hours have limit
Limit has legislation