Bisociative Creativity: Bisociative is a term coined by the controversial novelist Arthur Koestler in his celebrated bookThe Act of Creation to describe how our conscious mind, when relaxed, can connect rational with intuitive thoughts to produce eureka moments. In the Zen tradition this act of communion is called satori, meaning sudden enlightenment. Bisociative creativity occurs when a familiar idea is connected to an unfamiliar one to produce a novel hybrid. Though connecting ideas is often done through more contemplative means, it can also be stimulated by bombarding the mind with a barrage of random thoughts to see what catches. The general description for this type of activity is called brainstorming. For example, in 1994, while coming out of a near bankruptcy experience and working on Toy Story their first feature film, four of the original Pixar directors had lunch at a diner and brainstormed ideas about movies they wanted make. Building on each other’s concepts, from this one informal meeting came A Bug’s Life,Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo and WALL-E. The motion picture industry was changed in an afternoon by Hollywood outsiders throwing ideas together.
Bisociative creativity builds on the electrifying dynamics of the 3F’s:
- Fluency – It is more productive to have lots of unpolished ideas than a few “good” ones because the greater the diversity of ideas the wider the range of possible solutions
- Flexibility – Often we have the “right” idea but we’ve put in the “wrong” place so we have to move them around to see where they best fit to meet our challenges
- Flow – We aren’t creative on demand. We need to be both simulated and relaxed to draw out the energy required to create. Ideas pour out smoothly when we get into a groove
Bisociative creativity can be a solitary and tranquil endeavor but more often in America is a chatty, humorous and free flowing group experience. Brainstorming sessions often look like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during trading hours – noisy, chaotic and animated. Stimulating, interacting and capturing ideas as they pour out requires some means of energizing and documenting the workflow – play toys, music, white boards, sticky-notes and the like. The key is to create momentum to activate bisociative thinking while keeping the group on task.
How to Improve Your Bisociative Creativity:
- Random Words – Pick up a dictionary or any book for that matter and open it up and point to a random word. Connect your challenge to that word. For example, let’s say you are trying to find funding for a new restaurant and you finger lands on the word “bicycle”. You might get the idea to put your restaurant on wheels or provide delivery service only. Both ideas would lower the amount of money needed to start the business. Several companies sell idea checklists and phone apps to make this process a little more structured.
- SCAMPER – Adverting executive extraordinaire Alex Osborne is largely credited with coining the term brainstorming in his 1942 book How to Think Up. Osborn posed six questions that were later turned into the acronym SCAMPER: What can we…Substitute? Combine? Adapt? Magnify? Put to other uses? Eliminate? Reverse? By asking these simple questions you connect ideas and actions in new ways to easily produce useful variations.
- Thinking Hats – Physician Edward de Bono developed a method for indirect creative reasoning he calls lateral thinking. The basic idea is to think around a problem instead of trying to solve it directly. This allows individuals and groups to have a wider range of creative approaches to a challenge and to identify their blind spots. The six thinking hats represent different types of thinking and roles played by group members: Blue- Objectives, White- Information, Red- Emotions, Black- Judgment, Yellow- Optimism, and Green- Creativity. This technique is often used when you want to get a new angle on a problem.
Here are some resources to help you jumpstart your creativity:
- Random Words – A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creativeby Roger von Oech. There is also an app: Creative Whack Pack by Creative Think.
- SCAMPER – Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking by Michael Michalko
- Thinking Hats – Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono
What bisociative creativity methods and resources do you find most useful?
To learn more about how bisociative creativity works you might want to read The Act of Creation by Arthur Koestler.
It’s time to start connecting some dots to see what great ideas emerge. Remember, a creative life means you make it up as you go along.