One of my favorite tools to inspire radical new thinking is a technique I call forced connections. It is, fundamentally, a cognitive math problem: x + y = ? (assuming, of course, that x and y are seemingly unrelated things). This concept, also described as combinatorial creativity, is amazing because human brains are wired for it. The brain experiences cognitive dissonance when you try to hold two or more dissimilar things in your mind at the same time. It wants to resolve that tension so it creates resolution in the form of a new idea. Understanding how ideas work helps us design tools that facilitate idea generation. The articles and talk below explore ideational procreation through the lenses of neuroscience, quantum theory, psychology, and anthropology.
Musical Creativity and the Brain [The Dana Foundation] – This article explores some big theoretical and empirical questions about creativity, namely what it is and how we do it. My researcher heart jumped for joy with the introduction of an operational definition of creativity that comfortably applies across a range of artistic and business contexts: a fundamental activity of human information processing. The researchers discuss the brain functioning behind creative problem solving and the processes that make up creative behavior. Not surprisingly, it is a study in polarities: creativity is deliberate and spontaneous, cognitive and emotional, improvisation and composition, productive and consumptive. One of the authors, Charles Limb is a surgeon who also studies creativity and talks about your brain on improv.
During any creative act, from language production to marketing techniques selling the latest iPhone, ideas or past experiences are combined in novel and significant ways via the interaction of such cognitive capacities. The creative cognition approach is the current model dominating the neuroscientific study of creative thinking. According to this approach, creativity is far from a magical event of unexpected random inspiration. Instead, it is a mental occurrence that results from the application of ordinary cognitive processes.
How the Mind Creates Ideas [Psychology Today] – I often use forced connections when facilitating brainstorming as a deliberate idea-generating activity with specific stimuli (i.e. research insights). Quantum theory offers a more expansive approach to thinking about ideas as unmanifested sub-atomic particles that represent endless possibilities and countless possible combinations. The key to harnessing your quantum creative potential is to harvest as many ideas as you can: observe, record, interact, react.
We are taught to be exclusionary thinkers, which means we exclude anything that is not immediately related to our subject. Creative geniuses do not think this way. They know that the sky is a billion different shades of blue. When they brainstorm for ideas, their first objective is to observe and record all thoughts and ideas as possibilities. They observe without judgment. This is why all their thoughts and ideas come into existence as possibilities. Creative geniuses also think inclusively which means they include everything no matter how unrelated or absurd. This is a basic requirement of creative thinking. Creative thinking requires the generation of associations and connections between two or more dissimilar subjects.
Matt Ridley: When ideas have sex [TED] – The notion of ideas having sex is not, in fact, a new idea and the fruits of idea coupling have been applied and studied in a variety of areas. Ridley brings to life this concept with a tour of human evolution that offers material culture as evidence of our inescapable need for cross-germination in the collective brain. If you are interested in such creative romancing you can also find some practical tools to set the metaphorical mood here.
What The Karate Kid Can Teach Us About Agile and UX [UIE] – While the selections above discuss the process of ideational procreation, this article illustrates the progeny of forced connections: Daniel-san + UX=Lessons in Agile Mastery. Gothelf suggests that ritual and repetition breed expertise in both the hard skills (i.e.rapid rendering) and soft skills (i.e. trust and transparency) necessary for collaborative cohesion. Mr. Miyagi would certainly approve of this evolution of “Wax on. Wax off.”
Daniel found this level of mastery in the final tournament where he anticipated his opponent’s moves and ultimately defeated him. An Agile team achieves this when they trust each other implicitly, react as a cohesive unit to change and manage that change as well as any conflict with little impact to productivity or quality of work.
*Nota bene: The forced connection as metaphoric literary trope is not necessarily novel. In fact, some might convincingly argue that it is overplayed for its linkbaiting ability to seduce readers with catchy headlines. Personally, I am a sucker for such headlines and I have yet to grow tired of this tactic because I liken it to creative calisthenics. Reading and writing such pieces forces the brain to contemplate a familiar topic through a new lens. It requires the brain to constantly make new connections and it nurtures our divergent thinking capabilities. If you are looking for such exercise, try some of these: What Jay-Z Can Teach Us About The Future Of Education,What Downton Abbey Can Teach Us About the Future of Energy, What Nature Can Teach Us About Design, and What Visual Designers Can Learn From Biggie Smalls.