1. Limit Possibilities and Shrink Your Options
The “open mind” image is associated with creativity and for that reason it can lead us astray! Creativity is multifaceted and one image can’t summarize it’s truth. One false interpretation of this picture, and you will be in creative paralysis.
The wrong interpretation goes like this…
“Creativity is thinking of all possibilities.”
Actually, creative ideas come from clearly defined limits. Humans know this intuitively, but “knowledge” of how creativity works can dehydrate our natural creative juices. Consult your intuition in the following example to confirm this.
Think about a high pressure situations when you need to be creative. You’ve shipwrecked on an island, and creativity helps you survive: you’re limited by the resources on the island, so you make a fire with friction, cook the rabbit you caught in the genius trap you made, make shelter with foliage, and guide rainwater through large funneled leaves into a hollowed out rock.
Now compare the creativity in limited resources (deserted island) to your typical Saturday night with the entire world open to you. Limits force the creative’s hand. But when you can do anything, you’ll probably do nothing.
You can be creative in an open world, but it’s like swimming upstream. It’s a constant challenge. Give yourself limits and a focus to make it easier!
Limits encourage creativity by presenting the brain with a clear focal point. Planning to write a short story is a creative challenge and a good start with some limit, but “short” and “story” are still too vague. Does short mean less than 100 pages or one page? Is it a fantasy or horror story? This type of openness is not a boon to creativity. It destroys it.
For further insight on this, let’s look to the creative writer, Ernest Hemingway and how a self-imposed limit on a short story brought out his creative side.
Ernest sat at a table with several writers, and claimed he could write a story in six words. Bets were made against him. Hemingway scribbled on a napkin, which was passed around the table, and it confirmed that he had won the bet as the six words did tell a story:
“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”
We must first limit our focus to give the brain a pivot point to dance around. From there, shocking idea number two comes into play and real creative progress is made.
Creative ideas aren’t always ripe upon conception. Corning created a damage-resistant glass called “gorilla glass” in the 1960s and could not find a use for it. The project was terminated. Forty years later in 2006, Steve Jobs decided that standard glass was unacceptable for the iPhone because it scratched too easily. Gorilla glass had finally found it’s use!
2. Bad Ideas
Now that you have a limited scope (i.e. I want to travel to Egypt in one month for less than $50 instead of the oh-so-vague I want to travel somewhere for free), it’s time to generate as many ideas as you can think of. Even bad ones.
Bad ideas have such a poor reputation, but they are a critical part of the creative process.
Look! There is our favorite creativity picture again! This time it is on the right side because it’s finally in the right section. Coming out of this green head are a multitude of ideas. The romanticist will claim they are all good ideas. The realist knows that most of them are terrible, but one or two might be workable if refined or combined.
Bad ideas must be embraced by the creative. For one, a bad idea can combine with another idea to make a good idea. Even two bad ideas combined can make a good one.
Bungee jumping is fun, good idea, and it combines two bad ideas – (1) jumping off a bridge and (2) tying yourself to a bridge. The inventor didn’t stop at “jumping off a very high bridge is a terrible idea!” He kept it around long enough to attach it, and the person jumping, to the bridge itself.
I think the idea of Twitter was absolutely ludicrous – they ripped off the status portion of Facebook. But they modified it enough with other ideas to make it a new and differentiated experience.
Are you familiar with these “bad” ideas that turned out to be brilliant?
- We could take out the ubiquitous CD drive. I type this on a 13.3″ Macbook Air. It is very thin and light because it lacks the optical disc drive that was essential for a laptop. Not anymore. When you’re the first to change like Apple was here, you’re going to get weird looks for your “bad idea.”
- Let’s name it ‘Wii.’ Nintendo’s console was a laughing stock when they announced the name. I remember reading countless jokes and predictions of doom and gloom. Wii is a creative name – symbolic of community (we), short, one syllable, unique, and near-impossible not to remember. It is the best-selling console this generation. If you’re keeping track, Nintendo had the last laugh.
So let those bad ideas flow! Give them second chances, combine them with other ideas, and shoot for quantity over quality.
Love it, hate it, or hate to love it, alcohol removes inhibitions. Whiskey weakens our internal filter, allowing more ideas to seep through. We’re less likely to thwart an idea before it forms because it’s “stupid.” Of course, sometimes it really is stupid, but that’s a part of the process.
In 2010, I was interviewed for a stockbroker job in a typical meeting room. But in the corner, I noticed a clear drink fridge with beer in it. They may have been creative, but they were obviously too drunk to see my talent.
Now have a drink and be creative. I said one drink (singular).
Well, you can try again tomorrow.