Ask "What If?"
"Creativity is as much about identifying possibilities, as it is to do with flashes of clear direction." -Tony Smibert
Propose a hypothetical situation and then imagine its implications. This is the formula for asking "what if' questions and discovering new possibilities. What if people had edible clothing? Fashions would change as different foods came into season. What if men also had babies? Welfare laws might be structured quite differently. What if the earth had no moon? Our planet's tilt would be less consistent, thus increasing the likelihood of climate instability. What if you had an "entropy meter" to measure the amount of order and disorder around you? You could use it to help you find just the right amount of stimulation or serenity you need in your life. What if human beings always told the truth? Living in a world where you knew exactly what others thought of you could lead to more honest relationships. It could also cause more people to suffer mental breakdowns.
Much of creative thinking involves looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.
What imaginative "what if" questions can you ask? What if you knew that you had only three months left to live? What decisions would you make? Switch senses. There is a great variety of information available to us - visual, auditory, tactile, intuitive, olfactory, etc. - but often we dwell on only a small portion of it. Exercise all of your senses as a way of stimulating your thinking. For example, suppose you're visiting an auto assembly plant. In addition to noting the various steps in which the vehicle is put together, you might also pay special attention to the sights and smells of large-scale car fabrication. Suppose you're in a fragrant vegetable garden on a summer morning. What sounds do you hear from the growing plants? What other senses can you use in your current situation?
Let Furies Become Muses.
For the cosmos to be “ordered", most things have limits within which they function. For example, the sun must rise in the east, set in the west, travel close to the horizon in winter, and be nearer the zenith in summer. If it rose in the west or remained stationary for hour at a time, there would be chaos. The mytho-religious metaphor of the "avenging Furies" represents the horrific force that prevents things from overstepping their bounds.
But fear not! Strict limits can be a powerful stimulant to the creative process. If you've ever been asked to solve a challenging problem with a small budget or a tight deadline, you've probably found that you were much more resourceful than if you had been granted a ton of money and time. As architect Frank Lloyd Wright repeatedly told his students, "Limits are an artist's best friend." That’s because they force us to think beyond conventional solutions and find answers we might not otherwise have discovered.
For example, skyscrapers were not developed by people with cheap, unlimited land, but rather by innovators who wrestled with the problem, "How do we create abundant office space on small pieces of expensive real estate.
Similarly, a poet may be more inspired by the challenge of writing a sonnet, which must follow a standard pattern of rhyme and meter, than by writing free verse. Indeed, some people enjoy adding constraints to their problems as a way of spurring their thinking. Composer Stephen Sondheim says, "If you ask me to write a song about the ocean, I'm stumped. But if you tell me to write a ballad about a woman in a red dress failing off her stool at three in the morning, I'm inspired."
How can you turn the constraints of your situation to your advantage? What limits can you add to your problem?
Think About the Consequences.
When we alter something (for example, the dynamics of a personal relationship, the wording of a classic advertising slogan, or the compensation system of the military), forces may be set in motion that lead to undesired results (your spouse leaves, sales decline, or the army revolts). It is fear of these consequences (the Furies) that prevents some of us from changing things in the first place. What Furies hold you in check? What havoc would be wrought if you changed something that seems unalterable?
Expect The Unexpected Or You Won’t Find It (A Creativity Tool Based on the Ancient Wisdom of Heraclitus)
– Roger Von Oech
The Six Hats Method of Creative Thinking (part 3 of 5)
“Would you consider me as an alternative to suicide?” –The Princess Bride
Thinking is the ultimate human resource. The main difficulty of thinking is confusion. We try to do too much at once. Emotions, information, logic, hope and creativity all crowd in on us. It is like juggling with too many balls.
The six thinking hats method allow us to conduct our thinking as a conductor might lead an orchestra. Putting on any one of these hats defines a certain type of thinking. Green thinking hat is concerned with new ideas and new ways of looking at things. Green hat thinking is concerned with escaping from the old ideas in order to find better ones.
Creativity involves provocation, exploration and risk taking. Creativity involves "thought experiments." You cannot tell in advance how the experiment is going to turn out. But you want to be able to carry out the experiment.
In school mathematics you work out a sum and get the answer. You move on to the next sum. There is no point in spending more time on the first sum because if you have the right answer you cannot get a better one. Many people carry that idiom over into their thinking in later life. As soon as they have an answer to a problem, they stop thinking. They are satisfied with the first answer that comes along. Real life is, however, very different from school sums. There is usually more than one answer.
We may have a perfectly adequate way of doing something, but that does not mean there cannot be a better way. So we set out to find an alternative way. This is the basis of any improvement that is not fault correction or problem solving.
The acknowledgment that there might be alternatives and the search for these alternatives is a fundamental part of creative thinking. Indeed, the different techniques of lateral thinking are directed to finding new alternatives. The willingness to look for alternatives (of perception, of explanation, of action) is a key part of green hat thinking.
Many people believe that a logical scan will cover all possible alternatives. In a closed system this may be the case, but it is rarely so in real life situations.
Be prepared to generate alternatives within the specified level. Creativity gets a very bad name when creative people always make a point of solving a different problem from the one they have been given. The dilemma remains a real one: when to work within the given framework and when to break out of it.
We come now to what may be the most difficult point in all of creativity -- the creative pause. The creative pause is not there unless we choose to put it there. Something is going along very smoothly. We have looked for alternatives at the obvious points. We have spelled out different approaches to the problems. What more could we want from creativity?
I once spent ten minutes trying hard to turn off an alarm clock that was not ringing. I had not paused to consider that the sound might have been coming from my other alarm clock. The creative pause arises when we say, "There is no obvious reason why I should pause at this point to consider alternatives. But I am going to." In general we are so problem-oriented that when there are no problems, we prefer to move along smoothly rather than to pause to create more thinking work for ourselves.
Six Thinking Hats
-Edward De Bono