Creative Free Falling

April 19, 2009

Have a problem to solve, a strategy to create, a market to decipher, or a product or service to design? But you just can’t seem to get going on it?

It’s probably because your logical brain is restricting the part that’s creative. We all need to use both sides of our brains today, but it’s a natural hazard in our task-oriented world for the logical and linear to always dominate.

One method to escape the imprisonment of logical thinking is a version of the writer’s technique of Free Falling, which was adapted from the exhilerating and freedom-inducing periods that parachutists experience after they’ve jumped from a plane and before they pull the ripcord.

Anyone who has ever written knows the dreaded blank page syndrome – where you stare at that blank page without a clue as to how to begin. Free falling gets you over that frozen state. It forces you to just start writing. Anything and everything. Eventually insights, images, and themes start to emerge.

Creative Free Falling has a similar purpose in that it frees the subconscious mind from the bindings of the logical, which always wants to order things. In that sense it’s like meditation or self-hypnosis in that it allows the subconscious to rise to the fore. It’s also similar to the old psychic’s trick of automatic writing, in which one was supposed to  commune with the “spirits” through writing.

When free falling, remember the objective is not to come up with a cogent argument, a perfectly crafted piece, or an orderly plan. Free falling results in a jumbled mess of images and thoughts, much of which will seem silly and inconsequential. But there will also be insights and idea nuggets that your logical mind can that work on later.

To engage in Creative Free Falling

  1. Sit down at a table or desk with a pen and a piece of paper. (Don’t use a computer! It blocks the process). Close your eyes, take a few deep and slow breaths to put you in a relaxed state, and imagine a situation. It could be an incident from the past, or, for those who insist all actions must be useful,  it could be a problem you once faced. It could be joyful or sad – it doesn’t matter, although funny and joyful is usually better than misery and gloom. The point is to take your mind off the issue that’s blocking your thought flow.
  2. Write every thought that pops into your head. They may be emotions, arguments, or visuals. Don’t judge, don’t analyse, don’t order, don’t look at what you’re writing. Just let it flow. Keep your eyes closed and write as fast as you can. You’re connecting your writing hand to your subconscious, and you want a torrent of thoughts.
  3. After a while, you may reach a blank moment, where it seems there’s nothing left. No problem. Leave a space. Take a couple of deep breaths and start again. If you need to imagine another situation, go ahead.
  4. After 10 or 15 minutes, stop. Leave it. Go get a cup of coffee, or move around a bit. Clean your desk. Sort your books. Whatever. Do something completely unrelated for about 10 minutes. Physical action usually works better than tasks such as reading your email.
  5. Then go back and examine what you’ve written. Don’t worry that much of it might seem like utter gibberish. In there somewhere will be insights that will form a platform, or foundation for a solution to your problem. You’ll start to see some directions.
  6. Practise this often, even daily, because the more you do it, the easier it will get. After a while, you’ll see less gibberish and more useful thoughts that require only a little touching up to be exactly what you need. The subconscious likes to perform, and by practising this, you’ll train it in what you want it to do.

Make Me Mess Up

March 28, 2009

Many years ago, while living in Amsterdam, I had the misfortune to work in an egg factory. Yes, that’s right. An egg factory.

In this place, a production line mechanically separated the yokes from the whites for further use in baking, cosmetics manufacture and who knows what else. But the mechanics didn’t always work, and sometimes the eggs and whites mixed.

My job was to sit on the line with an icecream scoop and flick these mixtures into a separate container. It was monumentally boring work, and after about an hour in this nightmarish and surreal situation, I would start experimenting with different flicking methods.

This usually resulted in gooey egg mixture covering myself, the floor and, often, the poor North African woman who was backing me up. Sometimes it even hit the bucket in which it was supposed to land.

This happened because it was impossible to maintain my attention for much longer than an hour or so (or my job – I only lasted two days). Apparently, I was incapable of being a good machine.

I thought of this while reading about new brain research that discovered increased brain activity occurs in humans just prior to their making mistakes in tasks that require attention.

Scientists hope that the research will help them determine when a person involved in a task is in a state that is conducive to making a mistake. The person could then be trained to self-regulate out of that state and so avoid the mistake.

Oh joy. I suppose this is important if you’re an air traffic controller, but for the rest of us, this sounds very much like industrializing brain activity to better keep us on some task.

And this is the antithesis of the creativity that’s needed in the 21st Century idea economy.

Other brain research shows that you need distractions from conscious methodical activity in order to find Aha moments. That’s because creative problem solving is facilitated when unconscious thought kicks in.

And unconscious thought is what creates those insights that we call Aha or Eureka moments. So, while these scientists research how to make us better machines, I think I’ll go with the opposite viewpoint.

Make me mess up. It produces more of what I need.


Intelligent Innovation

March 21, 2009

As organizations recognize the need to be more innovative in the creative economy of the 21st century, an ideological debate over methodology continues to rage.

Most creativity and innovation training falls into two camps – the systematic  “thinker” approach, and the right-brain-first approach of the “intuitives”.

Despite the growing adoption of whole-brain thinking, the two camps are still strong. As a result, many creative campaigns founder amidst warring over approaches.

But there’s another approach that might resolve this issue. Studies into learning have shown that people process information in several ways. Almost 20 years ago, Howard Gardner of Harvard, postulated that people can have one or a combination of seven types of intelligence.

These are:

  • Visual-Spatial people think in terms of physical space and are very aware of their environment. They visualize and daydream. Think architects.
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic people have a keen awareness of movement and use their bodies to interact with their environment. Think dancers.
  • Musical people are sensitive to sound and rhythm and put everything into rhythmic patterns. Think musicians and rhetoriticians.
  • Interpersonal people process information by interacting with others. They’re empathetic and agile. Think sales people.
  • Intrapersonal people have strong understanding of themselves. They are in tune with their own emotions so are often introspective. Think those who say “I feel in my gut.”
  • Linguistic people use words and understand the nuances that words can convey. Think poets or storytellers.
  • Logical-Mathematical people are reasoners. They conceptualize, recognize patterns and can quickly understand relationships. Think mathematicians and engineers.

Clearly, these different intelligences can also provide a good framework for creativity, which is really a form of information processing. In that way, multiple intelligences frameworks would be similar to deBono’s Six Thinking Hats approach.

A strong innovation team would probably have several dominant intelligences represented. When they work together, these different types of intelligences can be immensely productive for idea production and evaluation.

But they have to understand that everyone might have a different way of viewing the world, and thus a different way of forming ideas.

Tony Wanless, Knowpreneur