Thursday, July 28

Oh! The audacity!

In this week's post I'd like to use one of the best tools in an innovator's armoury: plagiarism!

To give you flavour of the kinds of ideas that entrepreneurs can arrive at with a pinch of creative thinking, here are my top 5 from the recent archives of Springwise.

In a loose attempt to add some value (and at the risk of trumpet-blowing) I've also outlined the reasons why I think they're extremely good ideas.

1. In retail ...
When a bookstore fails, rent the vacant space and open ... a bookstore. What wonderful bravado. This one is great, because it challenges conventional thinking head-on.

2. In education ...
We need more teachers +
people will pay for teachers +
India is well-educated +
teachers can add value remotely =
Bright Spark
(An obvious idea in retrospect.)

3. In transport ...
I love this one for it's simplicity.  Why on earth shouldn't you give up your car in return for a lifetime's free transport?  A simple solution to an often overcomplicated problem.  Come on Manchester, keep up!

4. In government...
Genius, genius, genius. What usually comes out of fountains? What else can do done with that thing? What varieties are available for the thing which comes out of fountains?  Leave the rest to the project manager!

5. In financial services ...
Social media is massive, and if you look hard enough there's value in all that "Big Data".  Why not apply it to unexpected industry sectors?

What's to stop us all coming up with ideas like these?  Just two things:
- Confidence to speak the unspeakable
- Determination to see it through

Both barriers are about state of mind, rather than concrete skills or experiences.  I believe that both can be overcome within half an hour, given the right environment.

Friday, July 22

Seven Faithful Serving Men

Even those of us not benefitting from a proper education will mostly know the Rudyard Kipling verse:
I had six faithful serving men
Who taught me all I knew
Their names were What and Where and When
And Why and How and Who

His suggestion is that we should question, question, question if we're really to understand the world, and best contribute to it.

As you might expect, I love that sentiment, but I grew-up with rather a narrow view of it.  I supposed that my incessant questions should be specific and rational.

Now I'm a proponent of general and irrational questions.   Let's cover the general ones first:

This is fairly straightforward.  Ask open questions if you don't want to close down the field.  Asking Henry Ford "Why does it have to be black?" is rather less powerful than asking "Could it be blue?"  But better still to ask "What other colours could it be?"

So far, so good.  We've invented spray paint for cars.

If we really want to work creatively though, we can start asking seemingly irrational questions too ...

"Can the paint be two colours at once?"
"Could the paint be added before the metal is moulded?"
"Does the car have to be painted at all?"
"Could the car change colour every week?"

This time we've tried our best to be borderline silly.  By doing so, we may have invented iridescent paint, pour-in metal dye, fibreglass bodywork and car fascias (Nokia's last stand, perhaps?)

When you're involved in creative thinking activity, alone or in groups, always try to ask silly questions as well as sensible ones.  If anyone laughs, they're probably laughing with you, not at you.

Formulating one of these irrational questions is only slightly harder than it sounds. Aim for totally unachievable superlatives and radical transformations of the normal associations with your chosen topic.  Think like a child if you can, and expect to marvel at the outcome.

I had seven faithful serving men
Who taught me all I knew
Their names were What, Where, When and Why
And How and Po and Who

Thursday, July 14

Do they care yet?

I only recently came across Google Insight - one of their latest experimental tools.

It lets you see how the frequency of searches for your chosen term has changed over time, as a proportion of all searches.

I was quite exercised by this, expecting that "creative thinking" would be making a well-earned resurgence.   So I checked, and I've embedded the graph above.  At time of writing this is anything but the state of play (except in Kenya, where it's at "100%")!

In fact, as a proportion of all searches, "creative thinking" has fallen to around 35% of its 2005 levels.   Similarly, "lateral thinking" has fallen to around 20% of 2004 levels.

"Brainstorming", "thinking skills" and "innovation" have survived little better, at around 40% of their former peaks.

At first glance this seems dispiriting, but it bears more consideration.  It's not that creativity is being displaced by formulaic thinking ("analysis" and "system" are both down to around 20%).

Rather, more of the world is going online, and using the web to manage more and more of their lives.   Workaday terms like "fridge" and "tv" are at their 100% peaks right now.  The web has become the medium of the proletariat, rather than just the borgeois knowledge-worker!   When considered in that light, the robustness of "creative thinking" might be cause for celebration, and in real terms might represent an upturn of interest for creativity in preference to purely analytical thinking.

(Incidentally, if you decide to play around, there's schoolboy fun to be had by trying out terms like "tax" and "wimbledon" which are profoundly seasonal.)


Write, hear, know

[A guest post by Mandy Haggith]

Here is a simple and surprisingly powerful method for loosening up your creativity. I have led many groups of people through this process as a warm-up exercise on creative retreats and creative writing workshops, and I do it myself, on my own, whenever I feel stuck. It is the best way I know of listening to myself.

You will need a notebook and a pen or pencil, ideally ones that allow you to write quickly. If you insist, you can type, although personally I find the quality of thinking that flows out of a pen and onto a page is completely different from, and much more helpful than, the words that arise out of double-handed action on a keyboard.

Step 1: Write freely and without stopping for five minutes. Do not correct spelling mistakes or grammatical errors or worry that what you are writing is incoherent or pointless or rubbish. Nobody else will read it unless you show it to them. Allow yourself complete privacy and freedom and let whatever words wish to get written onto the page. Just scribble. If you don’t know what to write then write, ‘I don’t know what to write’, over and over and over. Eventually you will get bored and write something else. After 5 minutes, stop. Read over what you have written, underlining any words or phrases that seem interesting. Choose one of the words or phrases and write it down. Do this quickly, without analysis.

Step 2: Use the word you have chosen as the start of a second burst of automatic writing. Write for 5 more minutes in just as free a manner as before. Read over the second section of writing, and again find a word that jumps out.

Step 3: Use this new word as the trigger for writing for 5 more minutes. Read over what you have written.

Very often, people find that in this process they have made a discovery of some sort, revealing something about themselves or their creative direction. Today, for example, I discovered that I’ve been denying to myself how much I miss the intellectual challenge of academia. The last time I led a group in the exercise, one of the members realised that in the piece they were writing the protagonist was gay, which changed the whole story.

Why does it work? I can’t give a definitive answer, but this is what I think. Metaphorically, our creativity is a stream flowing out of a personal reservoir of sensory life experiences, and stream-of-consciousness writing helps the water flow freely and keeps us in touch with where we are creatively.

What seems to be key about the ‘write, hear, know’ process is the act of stopping and reading back over, thereby listening to and respecting what the subconscious is saying. Choosing a word to continue with is an acknowledgement of what has been read, like picking out a glitter of gold that has been washed down the stream. During the second burst of writing, I often find that my body loosens, as if trust has been established. Often the ‘discovery’ or ‘revelation’ happens during the third period of writing after the choice of the second word has reinforced that the internal voice is being heard and attention is being paid to the creative flow.

To use a different metaphor, I sometimes think it is like diving and coming up for air, then diving again, with a greater sense of what is below. After a second breath, you can reach all the way to the bottom and retrieve whatever it was that you had lost overboard.

Perhaps it is simply about tuning into your mind, which requires a couple of turns of the dial.

Whatever the explanation, try it. I hope it works for you and something revealing turns up on the page.

Mandy Haggith blogs at

Don't Quote Me ...

... I'm not worthy!

But I've decided to quote other people.   Take a look at the new (nascent) page of quotations:

I'll build it up as new ones hit me, but please suggest your own too.