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How Can You Be More Original?

How Can You Be More Original?

Christopher Simmons

This article is a continuation of my previous column in which I looked at our need to be different as a condition of considering ourselves creative: In it I shared an example of a Bielenberg-inspired “think wrong” technique for uncovering new and authentic ideas. Of course, there is no single method for generating new, interesting and relevant ideas, but here are a few you may wish to consider the next time you find yourself stuck:

1. Forget Perfectionism

In Chasing the Perfect, Natalia Ilyin writes that modern design is based on deeply idealist notions and a quest for perfectionism. She says she wrote the book because she started to “become aware of this collusion, this silent pressure that a language of design based in perfectionism had brought to bear on how [she] developed as a person.” As designers, our obsessive nature can sometimes get in the way of free thinking. When we imagine that perfect endpoint we can get so caught up in refining the details that we miss the big picture entirely. It’s important that we allow ourselves to be loose, sometimes even sloppy (with our craft and our thinking). Sometimes from amidst the mess new relationships are revealed and new ideas realized.

2. Collaborate

It’s true that two heads are often better than one, but more isn’t always merrier. Working a trusted collaborator (or collaborators) is one of the surest ways to produce more compelling, relevant and original ideas. Building a truly collaborative environment isn’t easy, and it requires several elements to succeed. First and foremost it requires that every contributor is treated as equal. I work in a small office that includes myself, a designer and an intern. When we brainstorm projects everybody has an equal say. As creative director, I may set parameters and/or have make final decision, but when we’re in brainstorming mode we’re all in it together. Our interns offer up brilliant concepts; I often contribute horrible ones. The important thing is that the atmosphere is nontoxic to new ideas. The second requirement, then, is that all ideas are equal. There’s no editing in collaborative brainstorming, and no judgment. The object is to generate as many ideas as possible and for people to later react and respond to those ideas with thoughts and perspectives of their own. A third and critical component is to make sure all the ideas are recorded so they can be revisited discussed and dissected after they’ve been collected.

3. Define the Problem

Start by following the the Reporter’s Formula and ask the famed five Ws: Who? What? Where? When? Why? (and How?). Each of these provides an angle of insight into your creative problem. If it sounds simple and obvious, it is. It’s also essential and can sometimes lead to profound conclusions.

4. Make Lists

Lists are not just aids for remembering or prioritizing; they can be tools for discovery. List making can be a valuable first step in many situations, particularly in those instances that require you to recall or realize something you already “know.” For example, you might list the steps in a process or list images that come to mind relative to a particular subject. You might also list arguments for or against something (pros and cons). I like to create parallel lists — one list of adjectives and one list of nouns — then create odd or interesting pairings between the two.

At the start if a creative process, making a list is often an easy activity to help get you started. Lists can also cause you to have associations you might not otherwise have thought of, and they provide a framework for your thinking at that initial moment. It always helps to title your list (it will keep you focused) and to make them as quickly as possible, without editing.

I’ll round out this list of creative techniques in my final column. Meanwhile see if some of the above don’t work for you..


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