I opened two gifts this morning. They were my eyes. – Zig Ziglar
At one time I would not have recognised a good idea if it jumped up, took me gently by the hands and waltzed me round the room, whilst whispering into my ear ‘I’m a darned good idea …!’
Fortunately, that has changed, though I can’t claim that all my ideas are actually ‘darned good ones!’, but the two components that have helped me the most are gaining an understanding of the psychology behind the creative process and how the type of learner I can optimise my chances of being inspired.
The Creative Process
Here I worship at the altar of Professor Margaret Boden, a research professor of cognitive science, who believes there to be three forms of creativity – Combinational, Exploratory and Transformational, which are distinguished by the different processes involved:
Combinational relies on a mix of two or more ideas which, on the surface, may not appear to have an obvious relationship but closer examination often reveals the interpretation being conveyed. Examples include poetic imagery, collages and political cartoons where the creativity involved can be highly creative. Combinations should always have a point and not be so random as to make interpretation impossible and will depend very much on our understanding of the creator’s point of reference or, as Professor Boden says – depend on a ‘shared conceptual base.’
Exploratory tends to have its grounding in something already in existence – whether an actual item or a concept such as a painting or a type of music, where you would take the idea and explore ways of creating something else using the existing stylistic conventions.
Transformational is grounded in ‘transforming the space’ – it goes into territory not previously thought of and can lead to incomprehension in those trying to understand the meaning of such work. Because of its absolute originality, perceptions of what the work means in terms of value or contribution to the world in general are difficult to arrive at because there is nothing really to compare it to.
That’s a basic precis but I’m sure you get the drift though, if not, do have a read through some of Professor Boden’s fascinating work.
There are those who can find inspiration everywhere, but I ain’t one of em! Like creativity, I believe you need to optimise the conditions when looking for inspiration and finding out what type of learner I was has been a huge benefit. It’s not, of course, the be all and end all but a great place to start nonetheless.
You may already know what kind you are but if not here are a few pointers to the three main learning types (and, of course, another opportunity for me to put pastel splotches on the page …) –
You will find other learning types/combinations listed elsewhere, so if you don’t feel you fall into one of the above then do research further. For example, I am a visual learner but also on the global (big picture thinker) spectrum. As a visual learner I use layout and spatial organisation to great effect in making connections, I adore using colour and am a monster mind-mapper to boot! Although, I am also supposed to prefer working in places that have little or no noise but the reality is that I love background music so, I guess, a caveat is that not everything is set in stone!
I’m hoping the above proves useful, which leaves just one more thing – to be ‘taken gently by the hand, waltzed round the room and have whispered in your ear ….’
I’m a darned good idea!
But how do you know that it is?
Well, and it is completely subjective, I see a good idea as something that –
Builds my skills and experiences
Enhances my life
Creates value for myself or others
Isn’t dependent on success
Really is all about the journey and not the destination
Getting ideas can be a matter of luck to hit on the big one, but luck alone is not enough and to maximise your chances you need to be –
The more you go looking then the easier it becomes to sift out the good ones. I believe there are three steps –
(You may by this point have noticed that I am really rather partial to an acronym, I also absolutely adore alliteration, so it is more than a pity that I utterly detest avocados, or I may have been able to conjure up something brilliant and healthy on the ‘A’ front ….)
I don’t wish to subject you to acronym anguish but merely to highlight a few mini frameworks that may help you in turning thoughts into ideas. They can certainly be used in any way you wish (or not at all!) but could prove useful if you want to tie something down quickly and just need a few pointers –
Keep-it / Kill-it
Possibilities come from the material we collect – whatever you see that inspires you or fires your imagination, keep a record of it – whether a picture, notes, a recording – collect it.
Once you have your material in tangible form then you are free to expand on it – you can investigate it further to see if aligns with your values and goals – if it does – keep it, if you are not yet sure – keep it, if it doesn’t – kill it.
What is it about the material you have collected that excites you? Think about that and snatch the essence of it – whether a colour, a technique, a concept or something that could send you in a new direction – capture it.
Where could it take you? Explore your thoughts on advancing it further – where could it take you? What could it do for you?
Are these thoughts realistic? Will further exploration support moving it forward? Has this mini framework enabled you to conclude that the idea is something you can work with?
It will not take too long to have a stable of ideas that you can consider working with, and those that have passed whatever prodding and poking you have subjected them too so far are now ready to grow.
Take one or two and have a look at what you can generate from them by researching the specifics further. Can you use your idea(s) in isolation or a foundation for yet more ideas?
Once you have reached a point where you are pretty certain then draw up your outline of how you think it will work, what steps you need to take, and then work-it!
However, at any stage, don’t be wary of putting any ideas on the back burner again – sometimes we must accept that the timing becomes wrong, conditions are not right or, indeed, your original idea has produced so many more that you need to re-think it entirely – it is your creative process and you are in charge.
Happy waltzing …