Several months, I was reading and commenting in a group discussion on LinkedIn where the facilitator was curious if creative techniques might be organised more efficiently, such as developing a periodic table of (creative) elements. The conversation had the typical voices: the Activists started devising charts, the Theorists sorted and graded the techniques, the Reflectors asked questions to clarify questions, and the Pragmatists criticised the whole exercise by asking Why? What’s the point?
But in the days that followed, the thought stuck in my head. Not specifically about a table of elements, but could you isolate the different mental processes that the brain uses to make ideas into … well, recipes. And, if you knew how to make an idea, wouldn’t it also make sense that you could make them more often and easily?
Here’s what I came up with.
These are fairly easy: many authors have already listed the elements although not always using the same words.
First, the brain needs to have a clear understanding of the Problem or Conundrum. Sometimes the problem can be seen as an Opportunity, as in This is a problem, but it’s also an opportunity for us to do something about it. Not necessarily bad or good, the Problem is the…
- Issue, corner or obstacle to be addressed, removed, marginalised or resolved
- Need or a wish, something that’s desired, to be fulfilled and satisfied
The second ingredient is a Stimulus – something (anything!) that your brain uses to spark or inspire its imagination.
The recipe is basically this: 1) take a problem, 2) combine it with the stimulus, and 3) AHA! you have a new idea.
The recipe can be adapted in different ways. Here’s four variations.
Attributes and Elements – Break or separate a portion of the Problem down to one isolated attribute – for example, its size, colour, taste or one of working parts. The stimulus triggers us to change or adapt the attribute, or remove or replace it with something else. The new order creates a new idea.
Metaphors and Analogies – A Stimulus prompts us to compare the Problem with another similar or unrelated problem. By comparing or contrasting the two Problems, we get a new perspective – and thus, a new idea.
Free Association – Sometimes a genuinely random thought (the Stimulus) pops into our head. Our imagination bumps this Stimulus against the Problem and sparks an entirely new idea.
Force Fitting – Where Free Association is random and often unconscious, Force Fitting is conscious and deliberate. You force two elements together, usually against logic or reason, to create a new idea.
Once I came up with these four areas, I began to organise the brainstorm techniques into each category. Some techniques were simple, others elaborate. Other techniques – like Mind-Mapping or Synectics – are a combination of two or more recipes.