How to get started having great ideas: types of thinking and inspiration tools
Francesco | 25.07.16
Imagine some creepy horror-movie style sounds...enter the Blank Page...SCREAM! This is the worst nightmare of every writer or creative person.
It is somewhat comforting to know that a best selling author such as Dan Brown has to fight against the blank page every day:
“I still get up every morning at 4 A.M. I write seven days a week, including Christmas. And I still face a blank page every morning, and my characters don't really care how many books I've sold.” Dan Brown
This fear is so widespread that it has an official name: vacansopapurosophobia. I dare you to remember how to spell it accurately! So, if you have a creative job, no matter how skilled you are, sooner or later you must face the blank page - or screen.
Fear of blank screens
The blank screen is a strong demotivator and can cause you to avoid creative work. We sit there in front of our computer, the clock is ticking, but no clever ideas come in our minds. The blank page is looking at us in a nasty way, as if to say, 'Don't you dare to stain me with your foolishness'.
Don’t worry though! There are things we can do to overcome this fear, and it’s a key part of our product, Neonce, that you never experience it.
There are several interesting ways to combat it, such as taking a shower or a nap (Wagner et al., 2004), or even better, go walking outside (Oppezzo & Schwartz, 2014). There is scientific evidence that while we are engaged in these kind of activities, our mind is still working on the problem, even if we don't recognise it, and can produce also brilliant ideas while in this mode.
Two ways of thinking
This is the 'magic' of our twin automatic-controlled information processing system. Indeed, the dual process theory says that we have developed two distinct processing modes for many cognitive tasks. The first, called very originally 'System 1' or 'Type 1', is fast and automatic. We cannot decide when to start or stop these processes, since we are usually not aware of their existence! They require little to no cognitive effort and includes processes based upon intuition and associative thinking.
'System 2' (or 'Type 2'), instead is slow, controlled and requires more cognitive effort, for example a heavy loading on the working memory. It includes deliberate and rule-based processes.
The great thing about these two systems, is that System 1 processes can be executed in parallel with other System 1 or System 2 processes. This means that our mind can work on a problem even when we are engaged in other activities, and can do so without our deliberate effort. Moreover, since we have almost no control over this kind of automatic thinking, our imagination is free to run wild. This is the reason why many of us have experienced a great "Aha!" moment under the shower!
In Neonce we are implementing a set of powerful inspiration tools for sparking your creativity whenever you need. We know that sometimes you're in a situation where you can’t nip out for a shower, nap or walk, but still need to access some great ideas! So our tools are on your computer, mobile or tablet, built right into Neonce.
The first technique we have included in Neonce is random word association. This technique is very easy, yet extremely powerful. With a click you are presented with a randomly selected word, and you have a space for writing other words that come to mind when thinking about that word. You end up with a cloud of new words and concepts, and the trick then is to think about the association between the starting word, your associations and the original problem statement.
This technique is very powerful as it exploits the way we think and recall concepts from our memory. Researchers call it 'associative thinking': when we retrieve information from our knowledge base, we activate other related ideas and concepts.
Local vs. Distal
When we have to solve a creative problem, we usually do what is often referred as a local search. Starting from our knowledge of the problem, we recall previous solutions and activate other ideas and concepts that are strictly related to this starting point. As you can imagine, this process mainly doesn’t produce original solutions.
A random input, such as the word generated by the random word tool, can serve as a starting point for doing a distal search. Our mind is actually very good at making connections, and will do it no matter how far two concepts are from each other. The unpredictability of this new input can make us look at the problem from a different, unconventional angle, and prompt new associations that would have not emerged otherwise.
You'll find that this technique will provide you with original insights and new ways to attack a problem. And you'll have brilliantly broken the fear of the blank screen!
Of course, this technique is helpful but it is not magic, nor will it automatically create something great without putting in any effort. In the rare case that nothing good happens, no problem, with a click you can start again with a new random word and hope that this time it will be the right one.
This is the first inspiration technique we have so far but we'll be adding more according to demand, if you have an idea let us know!
This is just one feature of the Neonce method. Curious to see the others?
Read the rest in this 5 part series:
- Oppezzo, M., & Schwartz, D. L. (2014). Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Journal of experimental psychology: learning, memory, and cognition, 40(4), 1142.
- Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan.
- Stanovich, K. E., & West, R. F. (2002). Individual differences in reasoning: Implications for the rationality debate?.
- Wagner, U., Gais, S., Haider, H., Verleger, R., & Born, J. (2004). Sleep inspires insight. Nature, 427(6972), 352-355.