UI12: Creative Thinking Hacks

by Luke Wroblewski November 8, 2007

Scott Berkun’s Creative Thinking Hacks talk at User Interface 12 in Boston outlined the characteristics of creative thinking and proposed a number of lightweight “hacks” people could use to tap into these attributes.

Ideas are made of other ideas

  • Using a methodology to be creative runs counter to creative thinking itself. No single formula will make you more creative.
  • Understanding that ideas are made of other ideas removes the inhibition of creative thinking. Every idea can be broken done into other ideas that already exist.
  • Most people learn from imitation and remixing. The highest ranked source for creative ideas from a survey of innovators was: exploring ideas from other domains.

Attributes of Creative Thinking

  • Inhibition: which rules are you willing to go outside of to accomplish. Removing the assumptions you have increases the number of combinations you can try. We filter out ideas all the time. Cognition and perception are filters that often prevent sub-conscious ideas from making it to the surface. Freud pointed out that creative people are more in touch with their sub-conscious.
  • Environment: everyone is more creative in different environments. Where are you when you have the best ideas?
  • Kinesthetics: body thinking. Many great thinkers use physical activities to help solve problems. Moving helps them think. We are built to be physical. Our mind works better when our body is in motion.
  • Persistence: one way to be creative is to brute force try lots of combinations. 99% perspiration. There is no escape from failure. If you are doing something new that guarantees lots of iterations. Have to work many possibilities away.

Creative Hacks

  • Escape: Our brains need a chance to catch up with all information around us. Incubation takes over when conscious mind runs out of ideas. Eureka moments happen when the sub-conscious takes over. Don’t beat your head against the wall. Switch tasks, move to different projects. Let your sub-concious processing make it to the level of cognition.
  • Invert: solve the opposite problem you are trying to solve. Come up with ideas that won’t meet your goals. Then invert the bad ideas to make them good.
  • Partner: more ideas surface than could when you were alone. Find a partner to work with.
  • Fail: take enough risks to ensure you fail. If you are not failing, you are not doing something sufficiently creative or difficult.
  • Plan for roadblocks: why did your last three ideas fail? Politics, loss of motivation, ran to of money, gave up, someone else took idea, etc. Commit effort to overcoming these obstacles.
  • Switch modes: some ideas can be explored visually, verbally, physically, audibly. Find a new way to represent a problem to communicate it.
  • Do something different: learn from other disciplines.