How to think creatively
Posted by xsplat on December 15, 2013
Edward de Bono is the goto guy for ideas about creativity. He’s the guy who coined the phrase “lateral thinking”, has authored many books and is hired by corps for speaking engagements.
I’ve read a few of his books, and remember one principle, embodied by one of his tricks to generate new ideas. For a problem to solve he used the example of inventing a new type of windshield wiper. His creativity generating trick is to open up the dictionary at random and pick a word. Let’s say our word was “orange”. Now we use that word to come up with ideas for how to wipe car windows in the rain.
Before we go ahead and brainstorm, let’s look at why this works. The neural network is wired up with millions of associations. Using a trick like this we are scanning very broadly through all possible associations. Ideas will fly at us as we try to pattern recognize something that fits. In this way we are harnessing our massively parallel processing system.
How can an orange fit into pattern recognition about this problem? Oranges have qualities.
* They are round. Round things roll. We could roll something over the window. A sponge could roll over it, squeezing itself out as it goes or at each end of the wind-shield. The sponge would not have to roll, but could wipe. Sponges absorb water – how could absorbing water be an advantage? There are molecular arrangements that repel water instead of absorbing it. Can a hydrophobic treatment be applied to a window such that water can not stick to it, thus increasing visibility?
* Oranges have a certain colour. The problem with rain on the wind-shield is it obscures visibility. Can eyeglasses be worn to filter out the obscurations? Can a camera system hooked up to eyeglasses give better visibility than a windscreen? Can a computer filter out the noise of the raindrops on the fly and even digitally enhance the drivers view?
* Oranges have texture. They are bumpy and soft. Bumpy can also mean bumping up and down, which is like shaking. Can the windscreen vibrate away the water with some sonic device? Can a cushion of air be blasted out to prevent the water from reaching the screen and dry off whatever water lands?
* Oranges emit a volatile oil when you squeeze them – a fun trick is to pinch them near a candle flame. The oil smells nice. Can we use the sense of smell to warn us of impending crashes? Can we harness using different senses at the same time to feed greater information into the system than through just one sense? That could be useful instead of checking on the rear-view mirror – a computer could notice impending rear ends and warn us with a beep. Unrelated to the problem of cleaning wind-shields, but still car related, and so may be valuable.
I believe that it’s possible to have such a pattern of broad pattern searching happen all the time.
And I think the key to doing so is to not be a narcissist. That is, to have no taboos to thinking, such as the taboos that arise when confronted with an ego insult.
People protect their world views. You can’t talk to some people about their important views, such as God or Feminism, and expect reason to alter their mental map. Because they are ego invested in those views.
That hampers creativity – because your broad association seeking mechanism MUST shut down to protect the ego. DON’T GO THERE, the ego screams as it slams on the brakes.
“Even a single taboo can have an all-round crippling effect upon the mind, because there is always the danger that any thought which is freely followed up may lead to the forbidden thought.” – George Orwell.
To think creatively you have to learn the habit of being a systemic thinker, always putting each tiny little new bit of information into relationship with your entire mental map. One little contradiction is all Columbo needed to make his case. One cigarette but on the floor that had no explanation. To be creative you are not allowed any discrepancies in your mental map. If the information doesn’t fit, it means your map is either incomplete or inconsistent. That is a clue to sort that out.
Systemic thinking and narcissism, or the fake it until you make it PUA approach can not co-exist. Irrational self confidence means excluding reality such that you can maintain an emotion. It means believing that money and dick size and height and facial structure and clothes don’t matter – that the mental emotion is all you need. This will disable your creativity, because you have created mental roadblocks. Your massively parallel computer can no longer scan the whole database. You will no longer have access to a finely tuned database and instead your pattern seeking apparatus will work against you. It will function to creatively not let you think about the mental roadblocks.
Free associations can be habitual. We can practice them. But the habit does not work when we have to be wary of roadblocks while we drive. And a well organized database of associations can be called upon with much faster speed and coherence.
Therefore don’t fake it until you make it. Don’t believe in an afterlife because it takes the edge off. Habituate to not avoiding painful truths, and fitting them in properly to your workable system. In this way you will constantly carry around with you and refine a big picture view.
This big-picture view is called vision-logic. It’s where loads of information come at you all at once in a big picture insight. You can cultivate that.
But not if you fake it until you make it. You have to remove all the ego protecting road-blocks, and constantly fit things together coherently. That’s a creative endeavor of constant pattern recognition and making associations. That’s the mental habit you need to be effective in reality space – not merely emotional space.