This wasn't just for fun. We were going towards a goal.
Midway through the year, our team would go to a regional competition where 1/3 of our score would come from creative thinking exercise that we had to solve on the fly.
The seven of us would walk into a nondescript room with no idea what we were going to be doing.
The judges would read us a challenge--which could be everything from creating a non-verbal communication method, to building a weight-supporting tower, to thinking of all the unusual things we could that were green.
We'd have 2-10 minutes to think about it, and then we were on. We had a limited time to present, and unique, creative solutions were worth more point-wise than common, everyday ones.
Less than 30 minutes later, we'd be back in the real world.
So we practiced and practiced and practiced again. But that wasn't enough to take us to the next level because it's way too easy to rely on the ideas everyone thinks of when you're under time pressure.
In response, our coach came up with an "evil genius" method of teaching us to search for the best ideas.
(It was evil because we hated her for it. It was genius because it worked.)
During practice, she'd give us a creative challenge. We'd do it, but if our team didn't score high enough on creativity, she would make us do the whole thing all over again.
With no repeated answers.
It. Was. Awful. All our ideas were out on the table already. And we needed more.
You know what happened?
We would start off like we were slogging through molasses--in flippers. Nothing would come out, no matter how hard we tried to squeeze something (anything) out of our brains.
And suddenly, it was easier to think of new ideas again because we were all headed in a different direction.
Amazingly, we were always able to come up with a bunch of totally new ideas when we were repeating the challenge.
However, those sessions also why I winced badly when reading Litemind's article, Tackle Any Issue With a List of 100. Luciano Passuello, author of Litemind, advocates creating a list of 100 ideas to solve a problem in a single sitting.
It sounds like torture. It probably is. And I didn't know if I should recommend it... I don't want to be like the wicked, evil creativity coach who made us all want to beat out heads on the table. I actually want people to like me!
But you know what? I had to do it. Because this strategy works.
- When you start listing ideas, you first write down everything you've already thought about.
This clears out the backlog of ideas we normally keep in our heads. Luciano projects that you'll get about 30 ideas this way.
- After we run out of available ideas, we start struggling through the muddy recesses of our brain.
That's when we begin snatching at every possible connection and any pattern we can find. This is the warm-up, and it's definitely tough: it can take as many as 40 hard-won ideas to get past this stage.
- Then, the magic starts to happen.
The last 30 or so ideas are easier to come up with, and more "out there" than the middle set. This happens because our brains have gotten rid of all the "easy" ideas, and are used to stretching further for new possibilities.
But just as my creative problem solving teams eventually
prevailed--even when our evil coach made us do the same challenge 3 or
4 times--making a list of 100 ideas is definitely possible.
It just takes the dedication (or fear of a coach) to keep pushing forward through the mental mud until the ideas start flowing again.
So, try it. Read the article, sit down with a blank sheet of paper and a new pen, and start writing. You'll definitely hate me for it... but afterwards you'll be very amazed at how many ideas you can squeeze out of your brain.
And if you practice squeezing out extra ideas regularly, you'll be able to come up with better ideas when you really need them.