How can you trigger creative ideas?
“Insights obtained from conceptual blends constitute the products of creative thinking, however, conceptual blending theory is not itself a complete theory of creativity, inasmuch as it does not illuminate the issue of where the inputs to a blend originate.”
Mark Turner, author in “The Literary Mind” (Page 93)
How do you trigger creative ideas? Here’s one way. At the weekend, I struggled without success to find a topic for this article. Monday morning I went for my regular walk. I had a goal to climb Pinner Hill, a strategy to use a different route to the normal and no conscious thought of the Creative Gorilla.
I walked across a meadow, saw a gap in the hedge and cut through it. Surprise. I discovered a semi formal public garden I had not seen before in 20 years of living here. I wandered around looking for the exit and realised the only exit was the entry I had come through, away from the houses that surrounded it. It was like a secret garden. I was looking at the garden when my article came to mind.
The seed of a topic arose, “disrupt your patterns and you might discover something new.” Inspired, I completed the first draft of the article on the walk, using the recording app on my phone. What did I do to provoke this idea? I did nothing that I planned.
Let’s consider what I did do and elicit some creative principles:
- I had a goal to climb the hill and deliberately chose a different route, which meant that I broke my pattern. Creative principle? Regularly disrupt the normal patterns of your life.
- I was open to whatever the world threw at me. Creative principle? “Have an open mind?” “Live in the moment?” “Take small steps?” Which do you prefer?
- I saw the gap and wondered what was behind it. Creative principle? Be curious.
- I linked the discovery of the garden with my need for an article. Creative principle? Link ideas.
- I did something about it. Creative principle? “Act on your idea. Now.”
- I elaborated on my ideas during the walk. Creative principle? “Make use of free time.”
- I developed the article while walking. Creative principle? “Give yourself mental and physical space to think.”
Can you identify any other principles?
Small Steps to Take
The next time you are struggling with an issue or challenge, change your routine, break a pattern, use the principles listed above and below and see if this provokes an idea for that challenge.
My article was a useful outcome from my experience, but would such a small outcome convince sceptics? As I walked, I wondered what would be a more convincing example of the power of disrupting routine patterns to create original ideas.
I recalled a story from a radio programme that I had heard earlier this year and had downloaded, because it was a great story about creative thinking. I had no real idea when I could use it but replayed it after my walk. Creative principle? Make note of useful things when they arise. They don’t arise when you really need them. (My wife makes use of this principle by buying very appropriate birthday and Christmas cards for people, months in advance.)
The programme I had listened to was “The Life Scientific”, in which Anne Glover, a molecular biologist and Chief Scientific Advisor to the EU President, explained how she had discovered a test that is now used globally to identify micro organisms in soil, or conversely, to identify pollutants in soil that kill micro organisms. [Click here for link. Time in recording: 11:45].
She had been searching for a way to carry out the test before she attended a conference on the Algarve. In Portugal she went for a swim in the sea with her colleague at midnight and noticed that her colleague was glowing, “as if she were wearing a Lurex suit.”
On her return home, she researched what caused this effect. She discovered it was bioluminescence and she asked herself, “How could I use that?” As a result, she linked the idea of marking microorganisms in the soil with bioluminescence found in the sea. [Click here for an explanation of bioluminescence.]
This is an example of disrupting her pattern, by swimming at midnight in the ocean, (not something you tend to do in her home town of Aberdeen, Scotland), curiosity and being able, as Mark Turner explains in the quotation at the start, to use conceptual blending, the linking of two ideas from different areas, (or in this case, two scientific disciplines).
If you read the full quotation again, you might identify that in Anne’s case, the inputs he mentions originated from disrupting a pattern, which is where we started.
Anne Glover went on to found a company identifying pollutants in the ground for property developers, a tangible result for the creative principle of disrupting patterns.
I trust this story provides evidence that changing your routine, being curious and open to new experiences, however small, can lead to creative yet practical results.
Wishing you a week of curiosity. If you want to trigger more creative ideas, read our book, “Innovate to Learn, Don’t Learn to Innovate.”
John Brooker I Yes! And. Think Innovatively.
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