How do we get ideas?
How Do You Get Ideas?
by Marcia Yudkin
Perhaps Rodin didn't intend this, but his most famous sculpture reinforces a myth about what someone producing brilliant ideas looks like. Sitting in a far from restful posture, The Thinker seems to be concentrating massive effort on a silent, inner task. For many people, however, his frozen pose and mute struggle represent what would be least likely to bring on an "Aha!"
Laurie Schloff, a Boston speech consultant, always plans new workshops and speeches lying on her bed in a fetal position with her eyes closed. Being creative a the office is hard for her until she closes her door and puts her head down on the desk. For June LaPointe, an international business trainer in nearby Cambridge, trying to write while sitting still made her jaw, neck, shoulders, and eyes hurt all the time. The stress eased after she set herself up in a conference room where she could spread her materials out, think while walking around, and even lie down on the floor for a change in position. For others, running, digging, or speaking accelerate a flow of ideas.
The forms that inspirations take vary greatly, too. Besides the classic burst of light in the mind, plenty of people hear new ideas in words, while some, like Einstein, experience fresh conceptions in muscular gestures. Revelations may be gradual, like a persistent magnetism in an image or song winding through your day's thoughts. With an understanding of the idiosyncratic nature of thinking, you can begin noticing and honoring your unique inventive patterns.
Here's a four-step program to expand your self-awareness and creative ease.
1. What were you doing when your last three brainstorms struck? Think about activity versus inactivity, your environment, whether you were alone or with others, and the perceptual channel through which you received creative suggestions. Then try to recreate these conditions when you need a breakthrough. Recognize that you don't have to wait for the muse. Edison courted new ideas by napping with nuts and bolts in his hands and metal cans on the floor; as he slipped into sleep, the bolts would clank into the cans, awakening him from an inventive dream state. Swimming, riding the bike at your health club, washing dishes--any rhythmic activity--tends to nudge brainwaves into creative patterns, says Elizabeth Davis, author of Women's Intuition.
2. Harvest ideas implicit in what you're doing. Often people explore new directions first and later realize the distinctive value of what they've been doing. Some people even create a living body of work without acknowledging what's new and important about it. Although verbalizing ideas may come last for you, putting what you've done into words will help crystallize and preserve your unspoken flair. Video or audiotaping yourself in action, keeping notes of the steps you're taking, or asking others to describe what you do all provide new perspective on what you know but haven't yet articulated.
3. Solicit input from others. Who said creativity has to be a private challenge? Invite others--especially friends with interests and careers unlike yours--to brainstorm with you. Mull over your goals and obstacles with a sensitive listener. San Francisco psychologist Alan Siegel recommends the "tingle test" to separate what's relevant for you from what's not in the suggestions of others. "An interpretation that elicits a 'tingle' in your body is on target. It warrants further exploration," Siegel says.
4. Use an idea-saving system. Collect ideas in a notebook, in a box or folders, on a bulletin board, in a 3-D model, in computer files, on tape. Again, experiment to find the medium or method that fits and enhances the ways in which you naturally think. Consider the system of Mickey Hart, the Grateful Dead drummer, who recently published Drumming at the Edge of Magic. While researching the origins of percussion, he kept posting data on pegboards that multiplied until they snaked sixty feet around his barn. He installed special lights so that he could spotlight and ponder selected sections. Affectionately he dubbed his collection of facts "The Anaconda."
Excerpted from the bimonthly newsletter The Creative Glow: How to Be More Original, Inspired & Productive in Your Work, written and published by Marcia Yudkin, Creative Ways, P.O. Box 1310, Boston, MA 02117; 617/266-1613; firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscriptions $49 per year; sample issue $5.00.