August 9, 2020

How to ‘kick’ start your creativity (or what I learned from Roger von Oech a creativity consultant)

The ‘kick’ is a reference to Roger von Oech’s book A kick in the seat of the pants. A patient goes to see a doctor and he tells the doctor that he is stuck in a creative rut. He can’t think of new ideas and he has tried a number of things without success. Suddenly, the doctor gives him a kick and gets the patient out of the creative rut.

Roger is also the best selling author of A whack in the side of the head, along similar lines, the book provides specific tactics and strategies to be creative and generate ideas. This book outlines a specific framework that breaks down the creative process into four roles: the Explorer, the Artist, the Judge, and the Warrior.

Let’s take a look at each role and the specific tactics that I will be using when I go through the creative process:

the Explorer

The Explorer is the first part of the creative process. They are looking for new information from which they can generate ideas. Think of the Explorer similar to a real explorer. The explorer is looking for new land, for undiscovered parts of the world, for new things. As an Explorer, you can also find new sources of information. For example:

  • Use obstacles to break out of ruts. You probably have a typical route that you take to go to work or the coffee shop. Have you ever experienced construction or a traffic jam and had to change your route? It made you find new ways of getting to your destination. Perhaps you found that it was faster. Or you discovered restaurants that you normally would not go to. In the same way, you can use obstacles in your life to break out of a creative rut. Do you normally generate ideas by meeting with people and brainstorming? Try constraining yourself in some way, such as limiting your ideas to something that can only be found in the kitchen. Or ideas that start with the letter ‘k’.
  • Look beyond the first right answer. All throughout school and life, you were rewarded for providing the right answer to a question. If you did not provide the right answer, you were not rewarded. This also means that we have developed a habit of only finding the one right answer. If you ask anybody who is ‘creative’ and ‘successful’, they may have had one good idea, but nineteen bad ideas (if they were lucky). The more ideas you generate, the better chance you will stumble upon a good idea. Unfortunately, you cannot just come up with the good idea, you need to slog through the bad ideas to get there.

The Artist

The Artist is about creating new ideas. Maybe you have found new sources of information, but the Artist really ‘molds’ the idea into something fresh and unique.

  • Reverse. Sometimes, if you reframe the problem in a different way, you can find new ideas. One scientist was trying to find ways to eliminate an insect pest. The problem was defined as “how can I kill these insects”. The scientist decided to reverse the problem. Therefore, the problem was re-defined as “how can I prevent these insects from living”. In this way, the scientist focused on birth control for insects.
  • Adapt. Humor me for a few minutes. Imagine a red brick that you would use to build a house. Take one minute to write down as many uses as you can think of for that brick. Now pause and let us do the same exercise again. This time, we ‘adapt’ the brick to a situation. For example, think of as many uses for the brick as you can in the home, maybe even specifically the kitchen. Write down as many uses as you can think of for that brick in the kitchen in one minute. If you did the two exercises, you will find that you will likely have many more ideas when the brick was adapted to the kitchen then broadly speaking. How do you use adapt to generate ideas? Take a look at the different characteristics of an idea and focus on that specific characteristic. A brick for instance is red, you can crumble it up, mix it with water and use it as paint. Or you can focus on the weight and heaviness of the brick. You can use the brick as a dumbbell. You can use the brick as a door stopper. You can use the brick as a hammer. A brick is also rectangular. You can use it as a guide. You can use it as a small ruler.

The Judge

The Judge decides whether the idea is worth implementing. Here, Roger provides a number of good questions to think about and considerations to judge whether an idea is worth implementing and to plan in advance.

  • Bring in the fool. I especially like this idea. It’s similar to a devil’s advocate, except the fool takes the side of ridiculousness. When we are first exposed to an idea, we often have a number of assumptions about the idea. The fool helps us to think whether these assumptions are still valid. For example, imagine that the policy at work is there is no alcohol. A fool might say that alcohol is good at work. Communication would be better because people would tell others what they really think. There would be less vacation because people would go to work instead. There would be less absenteeism at work because people could come in hung over from the night before. The fool really questions the assumptions that we have.
  • Think of the positives. Whenever someone proposes an idea to me, I often think of and say all the negatives of the idea. Why the idea won’t work. Why the idea is stupid. Why the idea isn’t feasible. But when we focus on the negatives, we miss out on all the possibilities of the positives. One trick to help you with this: the next time someone proposes an idea to you, suspend your judgment and ask ‘how?’ Learn more about the idea. Learn more about the benefits. Figure out what other positives there are. These positives will likely lead to new insights and ideas.

The Warrior

The Warrior brings the idea to reality. Again, there are a number of interesting things that Roger raises when you play the role of the Warrior.

  • What is the product of the product. I liked this concept of a product of a product. A manufacturer of drills came up with a high-tech and well-engineered drill. When they went to market the drill, it did not sell very well. When they did market research, they found that people did not want well-engineered drills. They wanted well-drilled holes. When they repositioned their drills to emphasize that they could create well-drilled holes, the drills sold a lot more. The holes were the product of the product.
  • Strengthen your shield. Any time we try to execute and implement an idea, you will have naysayers. You will have people criticizing your idea. You will have people blockading you from trying to be successful. Recognize these in advance. What kind of criticism will your idea face? How can you shield yourself from the criticism so that you can persist forward?

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