09 March 2012

Counter-Intuitive Creativity Boosting, New and Old

A U. Mass Amherst researcher with degrees in computer science and philosophy, Anthony McCaffrey, has won a $170,000 National Science Foundation grant to develop new tools to boost creativity and creative problem solving. His ideas revolve around the acrononyms OFH (obscure features hypothesis) and GPT (generic parts technique).
Looking at more than 100 significant modern and 1,000 historical inventions, McCaffrey analyzed how successful inventors overcame various cognitive obstacles to uncover the key obscure information needed to solve problems. He found that almost all innovative solutions follow two steps, as articulated by the OFH: Noticing an infrequently-seen, obscure feature and second, building a solution based on that feature.

...Psychologists use the term "functional fixedness" to describe the first mental obstacle McCaffrey investigated. It explains, for example, how one person finding burrs stuck to his sweater will typically say, "Ugh, a burr," while another might say, "Hmmm, two things lightly fastened together. I think I'll invent Velcro!" The first view is clouded by focusing on an object's typical function.

To overcome functional fixedness, McCaffrey sought a way to teach people to reinterpret known information about common objects. For each part of an object, the "generic parts technique" (GPT) asks users to list function-free descriptions, including its material, shape and size. Using this, the prongs of an electrical plug can be described in a function-free way to reveal that they might be used as a screwdriver, for example. _ecs.umass.edu
Part of McCaffrey's approach offers parallels to Edward de Bono's "Lateral Thinking" theories and creativity training programs.

Lateral Thinking Techniques

  1. Alternatives / Concept Extraction: Use concepts to breed new ideas
  2. Focus: Sharpen or change your focus to improve your creative efforts
  3. Challenge: Break free from the limits of accepted ways of operating
  4. Random Entry: Use unconnected input to open new lines of thinking
  5. Provocation: Move from a provocative statement to useful ideas
  6. Harvesting: Select the best of early ideas and shape them into useable approaches
  7. Treatment of Ideas: Develop ideas and shape them to fit an organization or situation

"Great business competitors are great lateral thinkers . . ." - Edward de Bono

How Might You Use Lateral Thinking?

The Lateral Thinking techniques are useful in a variety of applications.

  • Constructively challenge the status quo to enable new ideas to surface
  • Find and build on the concept behind an idea to create more ideas
  • Solve problems in ways that don’t initially come to mind
  • Use alternatives to liberate and harness the creative energy of the organization
  • Turn problems into opportunities
  • Select the best alternate ideas and implement them 
Yet another parallel counter-intuitive creativity approach comes from a website called Brainstorming.co.uk.
So, what creative thinking techniques are available?

Many! The techniques we specialize in, and will be training you in, are listed below. All of them will provide you with fresh stimuli and a new way of thinking. You will be able to incorporate them into your brainstorming sessions (individual or group) to generate new ideas easily and they will make sure you'll never be stuck for a new idea.
  • Random Word
  • Random Picture
  • False Rules
  • Random Website
  • Search & Reapply
  • Challenge Facts
  • Escape
  • Analogies
  • Wishful Thinking
  • Thesaurus
_Brainstorming.co.uk CreativeThinkingTechniques
This webpage provides more detail and allows actual practise with a few of the techniques.

All three counter-intuitive creativity approaches are likely to provide positive results to those who are willing to put in the time and work. But that is not what most people want to hear. Most modern wannabe legends -- in their own minds -- would like to have world-shaking ideas pop into their heads on demand, effortlessly.

But as Daniel Kahneman explains, fast intuitive thinking is not trustworthy unless a person puts in the hard work to hone it to a fine edge. Besides, fast intuition is not generally creative, but rather tends to arrive at more obvious -- and often more fashionable -- solutions.

That is why most creativity training programs which produce relatively good results, tend to be of the "counter-intuitive" variety. Because you are looking for solutions that are not typically obvious or intuitive.

One final example of the counter-intuitive approach to creative problem-solving, is John David Garcia's "autopoietic" method. Garcia's technique is meant to be utilised by an octet -- that is, eight people in a group -- consisting of four men and four women. But according to Garcia, a doublet consisting of one man and one woman can also achieve good creative results. Al Fin's experience with this method convinced him that single individuals could also achieve good results, in many cases.

The central idea behind the autopoietic method of creative problem solving, besides a significant mental preparation, is to have a problem presented, at which point the the early, easy, automatic intuitive solution is summarily rejected. That is just the first step, of course, but it is the crucial step. The goal is to enter a deeper, creative state of mind.

Creativity -- like much humour -- is typically counter-intuitive, at least in the sense in which most persons are intuitive.

If we want our children to be creative and powerful problem-solvers, they will not only need to hone their intuitions to a sharp edge, but they will also need to learn when to reject fast and easy intuitive solutions in favour of deeper, less obvious (except in hindsight) solutions.

More for those interested in the John David Garcia autopoiesis techniques: The philosophy of creativity and ethics behind the technique is described in the freely accessible online book by Garcia, Creative Transformation. More detail regarding Garcia's technique and philosophy of autopoietic creativity is presented in Chapter 5 of Creative Transformation.

As developed by Garcia, the experience can be extremely powerful and effective at eliciting a wide range of counter-intuitive solutions and ideas. But it is certainly not for everyone, or even for most.

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