Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Dec 7, 2005


Creativity is something that a lot of people have great difficulty learning. Almost everyone in a creative profession hears at some point in their career a question along the lines of "how do you do it?"

A lot of them offer some kind of bizarre mystical explanation for it, or words that don't add up to any particular explanation at all. The truth is that it's a skill like any other; it's something you work on and cultivate. I've read two authors that I thought were particularly helpful in pointing out how to develop creativity: Ayn Rand and, oddly enough, Scott Adams.

Brainstorming is one technique, unfortunately it's been my observation that no one uses it properly. Most of the brainstorming advice I've read was pretty awful. So, here's my tips on brainstorming technique:

Well, um . . . actually it boils down to one tip with a lot of explanation. That tip is: learn how to brainstorm by yourself.

The general theory of brainstorming appears to be that you get together with a bunch of people and somehow the company is supposed to make you more creative. It doesn't work. The only reason I can think of that people keep doing it is that it's hard to brainstorm by yourself. This is because the first thing everyone does when they're asked to think up something new is to choke. I've seen it a million times; the blank stare, followed by an expression of sheer horror and then, of course, the excuse. "I don't know. I'm not creative." Apparently when there are a lot of people in the room someone will be inspired to get past their choke point by the awkward silence.

You can, however, learn to overcome the choke point by yourself. Different methods work for different people. My own is comical to observe; I whine and complain about how I can't think of anything why do people always ask me my only idea is stupid . . . and then I come up with something, usually several somethings. It works because creativity requires enthusiasm, which, for me, is close enough to being irritated that the one sparks the other.

So, what should you do when you choke?

1. Remind yourself of your goal, or at least be sure that you have one. Ideas don't happen in a vacuum. If necessary, set some arbitrary constraints on yourself. You can always ignore them later once you've got your brain functioning.
2. Do some research. Often you have an approximation that doesn't quite suit you, in which case hauling out the thesaurus (or whatever) and looking at some options can help you get started.
3. Start writing things down. I find that looking at a few truly appalling ideas helps me come up with some better ones. It also helps you focus your mind on what you're doing instead of, say, thinking about your laundry or phone messages.

When you do come up with something, write it down, otherwise you'll forget it almost immediately.


Myrhaf said...

I heard on the radio that some interest group wants to replace the term "brainstorm" with "thought shower." "Brainstorm" is insensitive to people with brain damage.

You're insensitive, Jennifer. ;)

Jennifer Snow said...

But of course.