Join Stefan Mumaw for an in-depth discussion in this video Graphing the process of creativity, part of Creativity Bootcamp.
- Let's draw our horizontal. Okay, there's a horizontal, a vertical, I'm sorry. Our vertical is Q, our vertical is Q, the quantity or quality of the ideas that you generated. This is our horizontal. We're going to call that T, that's time. Every ideation session you ever enter into, whether you're by yourself in the car on the way in or you're in a formal brainstorming process, has a certain amount of time. In this particular instance, it was three minutes, right? Here is the quantity or quality of the ideas you generate.
So this is what happened. We're going to graph the process you guy just went through right now. First of all, as soon as I put the problem up, as soon as you read the problem, you started inherently solving it in your head. That's what happens with adults. We don't need everything else. As soon as we get to the problem and understand it, we start to secretly solve it in our heads, so that, when I said, "Go," you already had three or four ideas in your head that you were able to write down. I said, "Go," and the two of you both had a bunch of ideas.
Because you had some, you had some, and then you reacted to the ones that you had, right? Then, as you're writing ideas down, it starts to wane, doesn't it? It starts to go down, and the amount of ideas that you have start to lessen, okay? You start staring at each other, you start staring at the paper. You start staring at the problem again. How many of you wrote Cowboys, Indians, Horses, or Blacksmiths? I gave you four right there. You're, like, "Dah!" Kids, by the way, kids write those four things down first. "Teacher gave us four, I got these four right down," right? So they started, you started to wane, right? The energy level started to come down and boy, you're staring at each other.
When you're at a brainstorm session, people are pulling up their phones, (whistles) starting to think of other things, right? And then something happened, and you turned. Something happened and you turned. Someone said something stupid. And you went, "Ah, if that's where we can play, "I've got a bunch more ideas in that space," before the session bottoms out. Now, that bottoming out can happen organically or mechanically. Organically is, you really are out of ideas.
Mechanically was me calling time, in this particular instance. When a brainstorm session starts. This shape right here, that's the shape of ideation. Here's what's interesting: it plays out this way every single time. Every time you generate ideas, whether you're alone or in a group, this is what it looks like. You have a bunch of ideas at the beginning, and then you wane, and then something happens right there. There's a creative coach here named Sally Hogshead. Sally Hogshead calls this the Throne of Agony. Every creative goes into it, like, "Oh, "I'm never going to have any good ideas.
"Every idea I come up with stinks. "I'm not going to be any good at this." And then someone offers something stupid. Somewhere on your list, somewhere around the middle of your list, middle to lower end of your list, is an idea that you wrote down that's stupid. It's a terrible, horrible, it doesn't fit in a box, it's not an idea that really works for anything. But what it did is, it sparked a whole bunch more after it. In almost every case, you can find that idea on your list, that one idea that's just absurd. And it gave you more ideas to generate from, right? In theory, there's a couple of things.
If this is really the shape of ideation and it plays out this way every single time, then there are certain byproducts to this, as well. The greatest byproduct to it is, if it plays out this way every time, you can plan for it. You can schedule it. If you know you're going to need something to turn, you can bring it, you can be willing to say it. You can go, "Okay, let's think of really absurd things "to turn the tide, to generate more ideas." My job as a creative director, if I could boil my job as a creative director down, is to extend this arc 15 more minutes.
If I can get 15 more minutes out of my team, I get gold right here. So part of what I have to do, from a brainstorming and ideation standpoint, is to plan for that right there, because I know it's coming. I know it's coming every single time. There's the other thing with this. You're now going to see this in your sleep. Because now every time you generate ideas, you're going, like, "He's right. "(indistinct speech) and planned for it." You're going to have this in your dreams. I should get this tattooed right here, like, this is the shape of ideation. I should play it out this way, right? Because it plays out that way every time.
That's just the first exercise. That's just one. Let's find out what else we can learn from the other exercise. You guys want to do another one? Let's do another one.
Interested in learning more about the creative process? Check out Stefan's other courses on lynda.com.