Evolution. This is the method of incremental improvement. New ideas stem from other ideas, new solutions from previous ones, the new ones slightly improved over the old ones. Many of the very sophisticated things we enjoy today developed through a long period of constant incrementation. Making something a little better here, a little better there gradually makes it something a lot better--even entirely different from the original.
For example, look at the history of the automobile or any product of technological progress. With each new model, improvements are made. Each new model builds upon the collective creativity of previous models, so that over time, improvements in economy, comfort, and durability take place. Here the creativity lies in the refinement, the step-by-step improvement, rather than in something completely new. Another example would be the improvement of the common wood screw by what are now commonly called drywall screws. They have sharper threads which are angled more steeply for faster penetration and better holding. The points are self tapping. The shanks are now threaded all the way up on lengths up to two inches. The screws are so much better that they can often be driven in without pilot holes, using a power drill.
The evolutionary method of creativity also reminds us of that critical principle: Every problem that has been solved can be solved again in a better way. Creative thinkers do not subscribe to the idea that once a problem has been solved, it can be forgotten, or to the notion that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." A creative thinker's philosophy is that "there is no such thing as an insignificant improvement."
Synthesis. With this method, two or more existing ideas are combined into a third, new idea. Combining the ideas of a magazine and an audio tape gives the idea of a magazine you can listen to, one useful for blind people or freeway commuters.
For example, someone noticed that a lot of people on dates went first to dinner and then to the theater. Why not combine these two events into one? Thus, the dinner theater, where people go first to eat and then to see a play or other entertainment.
Revolution. Sometimes the best new idea is a completely different one, an marked change from the previous ones. While an evolutionary improvement philosophy might cause a professor to ask, "How can I make my lectures better and better?" a revolutionary idea might be, "Why not stop lecturing and have the students teach each other, working as teams or presenting reports?"
For example, the evolutionary technology in fighting termites eating away at houses has been to develop safer and faster pesticides and gasses to kill them. A somewhat revolutionary change has been to abandon gasses altogether in favor of liquid nitrogen, which freezes them to death or microwaves, which bake them. A truly revolutionary creative idea would be to ask, "How can we prevent them from eating houses in the first place?" A new termite bait that is placed in the ground in a perimeter around a house provides one answer to this question.
Reapplication. Look at something old in a new way. Go beyond labels. Unfixate, remove prejudices, expectations and assumptions and discover how something can be reapplied. One creative person might go to the junkyard and see art in an old model T transmission. He paints it up and puts it in his living room. Another creative person might see in the same transmission the necessary gears for a multi-speed hot walker for his horse. He hooks it to some poles and a motor and puts it in his corral. The key is to see beyond the previous or stated applications for some idea, solution, or thing and to see what other application is possible.
For example, a paperclip can be used as a tiny screwdriver if filed down; paint can be used as a kind of glue to prevent screws from loosening in machinery; dishwashing detergents can be used to remove the DNA from bacteria in a lab; general purpose spray cleaners can be used to kill ants.
Changing Direction. Many creative breakthroughs occur when attention is shifted from one angle of a problem to another. This is sometimes called creative insight.
Basic Guidelines for Brainstorming
1. Suspend judgment. This is the most important rule. When ideas are brought forth, no critical comments are allowed. All ideas are written down. Evaluation is to be reserved for later. We have been trained to be so instantly analytic, practical, convergent in our thinking that this step is very difficult to observe, but it is crucial. To create and criticize at the same time is like watering and pouring weed killer onto seedlings at the same time.
2. Think freely. Freewheeling, wild thoughts are fine. Impossible and unthinkable ideas are fine. In fact, in every session, there should be several ideas so bizarre that they make the group laugh. Remember that practical ideas very often come from silly, impractical, impossible ones. By permitting yourself to think outside the boundaries of ordinary, normal thought, brilliant new solutions can arise. Some "wild" ideas turn out to be practical, too.
For example, when the subway was being dug under Victoria/state /> station in London/city />, water began seeping in. What are the ways to remedy this? Pumps, steel or concrete liners? The solution: freeze it. Horizontal holes were drilled into the wet soil and liquid nitrogen was pumped in, freezing the water until the tunnel could be dug and cemented.
We've already talked about gold plating electrical contacts. In another example, it's a fact that electric generators can produce more power if the windings can be kept cool. How would you cool them? Fans, air conditioned rooms? How about a wild idea? Make the electric windings out of copper pipe instead of wire and pump helium through them. That is what's actually done in some plants, doubling the output of the generators.
3. Tag on. Improve, modify, build on the ideas of others. What's good about the idea just suggested? How can it be made to work? What changes would make it better or even wilder? This is sometimes called piggybacking, hitchhiking, or ping ponging. Use another's idea as stimulation for your own improvement or variation. As we noted earlier, changing just one aspect of an unworkable solution can sometimes make it a great solution.
Example problem: How can we get more students at our school? Brainstorm idea: Pay them to come here. That sounds unworkable, but what about modifying it? Pay them with something other than money--like an emotional, spiritual, or intellectual reward or even a practical value-added reward like better networking or job contacts?
4. Quantity of ideas is important. Concentrate on generating a large stock of ideas so that later on they can be sifted through. There are two reasons for desiring a large quantity. First, the obvious, usual, stale, unworkable ideas seem to come to mind first, so that the first, say, 20 or 25 ideas are probably not going to be fresh and creative. Second, the larger your list of possibilities, the more you will have to choose from, adapt, or combine. Some brainstormers aim for a fixed number, like 50 or 100 ideas before quitting the session.
2. Organize the chaos. For groups of more than three or four, have a moderator to choose who will offer an idea next, so that several people don't speak at once. The moderator should prefer those with ideas that tag onto previous ideas, then those with new ideas. If necessary the moderator will also remind members of the group not to inject evaluation into the session (in case a member tsks, sneers, says, "Oh, come on," and so forth).
3. Keep the session relaxed and playful. The creative juices flow best when participants are relaxed and enjoying themselves and feeling free to be silly or playful. Eat popcorn or pizza or ice cream or make paper airplanes or doodles while you work, even if the problem itself is deadly serious like cancer or child abuse. Don't keep reminding everyone that "this is a serious problem" or "that was a tasteless joke."
As an aid to relaxation and a stimulation to creativity, it is often useful to begin with a ten-minute warm-up session, where an imaginary problem is tackled. Thinking about the imaginary problem loosens people up and puts them into a playful mood. Then the real problem at hand can be turned to. Some imaginary problem topics might include these:
- how to heat a house more efficiently
- how to light a house with a single light bulb
- how to improve your travel from home to work
- inventing a new game for the Olympics
- how to improve institutional food without increasing its cost
4. Limit the session. A typical session should be limited to about fifteen or twenty minutes. Longer than that tends to become dragging. You should probably not go beyond thirty minutes, though thirty is the "ideal" length recommended by Alex Osborn.
5. Make copies. After the session, neaten up the list and make copies for each member of the session. No attempt should be made to put the list in any particular order.
6. Add and evaluate. The next day (not the same day) the group should meet again. First, ideas thought of since the previous session should be shared (entered on the photocopied lists). Then the group should evaluate each of the ideas and develop the most promising ones for practical application.
During the evaluation session, wild ideas are converted to practical ones or used to suggest realistic solutions. The emphasis is now on analysis and real world issues. Some brainstormers divide the ideas found to be useful into three lists:
A. Ideas of immediate usefulness.
These are the ideas you will be able to use right now.
B. Areas for further exploration.
These are ideas that need to be researched, followed up, thought about, discussed more fully, and so on.
C. New approaches to the problem.
These are ideas that suggest new ways of looking at the situation.
Idea Generating Questions
The Journalistic Six
These are the six key questions that journalism students are taught to answer somewhere in their news articles to make sure that they have covered the whole story. For creative thinkers, these questions stimulate thinking about the idea in question and allow approaches to it from various angles.
1. Who? (Actor or Agent) Who is involved? What are the people aspects of the problem? Who did it, will do it? Who uses it, wants it? Who will benefit, will be injured, will be included, will be excluded?
2. What? (Act) What should happen? What is it? What was done, ought to be done, was not done? What will be done if X happens? What went or could go wrong? What resulted in success?
3. When? (Time or Timing) When will, did, should this occur or be performed? Can it be hurried or delayed? Is a sooner or later time be preferable? When should the time be if X happens?
4. Where? (Scene or Source) Where did, will, should this occur or be performed? Where else is a possibility? Where else did the same thing happen, should the same thing happen? Are other places affected, endangered, protected, aided by this location? Effect of this location on actors, actions?
5. Why? (Purpose) Why was or is this done, avoided, permitted? Why should it be done, avoided, permitted? Why did or should actor do it? Different for another actor, act, time, place? Why that particular action, rule, idea, solution, problem, disaster, and not another? Why that actor, time, location, and not another?
6. How? (Agency or Method) How was it, could it be, should it be done, prevented, destroyed, made, improved, altered? How can it be described, understood? How did beginning lead to conclusion?
These questions are especially useful for generating ideas for improving something (the evolutionary approach), but they also help to break thinking out of the evolutionary mode and put it into the revolutionary mode by returning the thinker to the origin and purpose of the idea or solution. By returning to the roots of the problem, a new vision can be created.
1. Essence. What is it? object, concept? What is it made of? What is its real, elementary nature? What are its parts? What is it like, unlike? (Similes and metaphors help in understanding abstractions). What is it related to? What are its various kinds, facets, shades? What is it a part of? Which part of it is unusual or outstanding? In what forms does it appear? Is it typical or atypical of its kind? What is it not? What is it opposed to? How is it different? What makes it different?
2. Origin. Where did it come from? How was it made or conceived or developed? What caused it? If an idea, how did it arise? Are its origins meaningful now? What makes it spread or multiply or gain adherents? What was the reason behind it? Is the reason still valid or useful? Why? Why not? Is it still needed? What influences it? Does it change? Can it, should it be changed, strengthened, eliminated? What could have prevented, delayed, encouraged it?
3. Purpose. What does it do? How does it work? What is its purpose? Is the purpose fulfilled? Better than by its predecessor? Can it, should it be improved? Is it helpful or harmful in intent? What are its implications; what does it lead to? Does it have obvious or hidden consequences? Does it have more than one purpose? What are its immediate effects and its long-term effects? Is its actual function the same as the original purpose intended by its originator? Can it be put to other uses?
4. Import. What is its overall significance? What is its significance to man, environment, civilization, happiness, virtue, safety, comfort, etc.? How is it important? Is it a key element in life, civilization, local area, one man's existence? Is it necessary? Is it desirable?
5. Reputation. What do you think about it? What are your underlying assumptions? What do others think about it? Do you find consensus, division? Is it good, bad, helpful, harmful in fact or in the opinion of others? Can you resolve any differences between truth and opinion, intent, and actuality, pro and con members? What weaknesses are commonly identified? Are there obvious areas of desired change or improvement or elimination?
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