Connect the Unconnected
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." -John Steinbeck
Making connections is essential to life: it's the basis of invention, poetry, air travel, business success, romance, boxing, communication, humor, intelligence work, and crime detection. As design critic Ralph Caplan put it, "All art, and most knowledge, entails either seeing connections or making them. Until it is hooked up with what you already know, nothing can be learned or assimilated."
When the same ideas are brought together again and again, they lose their potency and become increasingly predictable. Examples include clichés, jokes with obvious punchlines, overused metaphors, and small talk.
Conversely it is the joining together of previously unconnected ideas that makes us sing out "Aha!" and see things in a fresh way. Indeed, this act of making new connections lies at the heart of the creative process. Inventors combine components to craft new products: Gutenberg joined together the wine press and the coin punch to create moveable type and the printing press. Entrepreneurs bring together resources from different arenas to build new businesses: Joseph Pulitzer added large-scale advertising to high-speed printing to create the mass-circulation newspaper. Engineers mix different materials to create new ones.
Artists draw on nature and technology to express new possibilities: architect Frank Gehry combined the scale structure of a fish with advanced aircraft-cutting technology to fashion the titanium skin design of the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum. Surrealists link unrelated objects to evoke feelings of confusion and wonder: painter Rene Magritte depicted a steaming locomotive emerging from the mouth of a dining room fireplace in his work Time Transfixed.
Naturalist Charles Darwin combined the idea of random genetic mutations with natural selection to arrive at his theory of evolution. Poets mix unusual images to create provocative metaphors.
Create a Metaphor.
A powerful way to join ideas is to make a metaphor. You can create this "wonderful harmony" simply by recognizing similarities between unrelated phenomena. Indeed, this is how our thinking grows: we understand the unfamiliar by comparing it to what we know. For example, the first automobiles were called "horseless carriages." The first locomotives were dubbed "iron horses." We see metaphorical resemblances all around us: appliances have "footprints," cities have "hearts," modems have "handshake protocols”, tennis racquets have "sweet spots," ideas can be "half-baked," problems "snowball," and consciousness flows like a "stream."
Expect The Unexpected Or You Won’t Find It (A Creativity Tool Based on the Ancient Wisdom of Heraclitus)
–Roger Von Oech
“Ideas pull the trigger, but instinct loads the gun.” -Don Marquis
Sparks of creativity often flow from new knowledge. Frequently it's information about things that are completely new to you. Sometimes, it's new facts about familiar things. And sometimes it's information about things that you didn't know you didn't know. This last category, usually filled with items that are silly and fanciful, can provide a platform for your imagination to jump from.
So here I present the: "Things you didn't know you didn't know" section (or the alternately titled: "Trivia to win bar bets" section).
Why Are There Dents on the Top of Cowboy Hats?
Of course, not all cowboy hats have dents. How about country and western star George Strait's? Or Bonanza's Dan ("Hoss") Blocker's ?
Yet the vast majority of cowboy hats do have dents, and no one we spoke to could give us any other explanation than that dents are there "for style." Ralph Beatty, director of the Western/English Retailers of America, theorizes that early cowboy hats may have acquired dents by wear, and later were intentionally added.
As one, better-to-be-kept-anonymous, western hat marketer put it, "Let's face it. Without the dent, you would look like a dork."
We wonder if he would have said that to Dan Blocker's face.
Do Penguins Have Knees? - An Imponderable Book