The Medici Effect: How Do You Make Creativity A Process?
Posted by Bob Warfield on October 25, 2007
This post in Jeff Monaghan’s blog struck a chord with a process I’ve used for a long time to stimulate creativity:
The basic premise is that true creativity can be found through the cross-fertilization of ideas from different, and unrelated fields.
I will broaden it a bit to reflect my own process: true creativity can be found through exploring the unknown relationships of unrelated ideas. In the most extreme, the ideas may even be randomly generated.
How can this work?
Consider a brainstorming exercise. Take as many ideas as you can that are interesting to you no matter what the reason. Write them on slips of paper (or do it in software if you prefer) and put the slips in a hat. Shuffle, and start pulling out pairs of slips. Write down the combinations. The idea for SmoothSpan happened because “Viral” and “Enterprise Software” happened to come out of a hat at the same time. I will say no more about SmoothSpan at this time, and people familiar with the idea will likely say it isn’t viral at all, but it was that unlikely juxtaposition (after all, what Enterprise Software even wants to be associated with the idea of being viral?) that got the creative juices flowing.
For some people, this process is automatic. These are the intuitive thinkers. If you are an overly top down and logical thinker, don’t underestimate the value of adding a randomizer to break you out of your rut and help you see around corners. There are two other helpful techniques I will add to this.
First, creativity is often stimulated by conversation if you have an open mind. When you start out explaining an idea, the other person will often leap to an unexpected conclusion about what you’re trying to say. Don’t scold them or drag them back on track too quickly. Register their misconception and think about whether it isn’t an improvement on your idea rather than an error.
Second, learn to think about isomorphisms and abstractions. Isomorphism is a fancy mathematical term for what a lot of folks would call a metaphor. Technically, an isomorphism is a structure-preserving mapping. Practically, if you think in those terms, you more reasily recognize when apparently unrelated things contain principles that apply to one another. Abstraction is related in this context. Abstraction involves eliminating details that don’t matter to the behaviour of a thing until we have the most generic possible view of the thing. It’s like jumping up to 100,000 feet to look at it. If you abstract unrelated things, it will be easier to see the isomorphisms that may link the two together because there is less detail to confuse the issue.
Perfect those techniques and you’ll be borrowing useful insights from everything you encounter.