Friday, May 06, 2011


How do you generate ideas? A young engineer walked up to me today while working on one of the current assignments on LED luminaire design. Apparently, he got stuck after a few concepts. He was the one who had read many books on creativity including the Six Thinking Hats of Edwardde Bono. However, when I asked him, “didn’t this book teach you generating new ideas?” his answer was that reading the book was okay, but once it comes to application, it really is a different ball game.After listening to the tonality and earnestness in his plea, I articulated the following-

One of the problems we are facing in today’s generation is too much of ‘sensation info dumping’ i.e. too much of passive watching of TED talks, designer sites, YouTube videos filled with some gimmicks, reading too much of sensational news etc. It is like Coke which gives a tongue tingling sensation for a second and does no good to the body. Themind downloads tonnes of visual data that an average person goes through every day. But there is little time for churning and internalising.
Just reflect how many times we felt a pressing question inside, which made us look up the Internet or ask someone else. Most of the time it is either a direct work-related search or ‘sensation dumping’ as articulated earlier. After we watch a new promo online, which has exquisite shape or feature, how many of us actually discuss it, or write about it, or try connecting it to other knowledge bits that we have stored in our mind? Mostly when we ask our designers to update themselves with the latest trends and happenings, they take it as a license to browse all the sensational stuff, without really a scholastic internalisation. There is synthesis and hence no genuine urge to question and seek more. Thus the whole exercise of updating may end up in superfluous information dumping which is of no real use while ideating.

For generating new ideas, it is important to see the entire situation from several independent points of view and then connecting the dots. We should draw from several seemingly unconnected domains, experiences, memories, businesses, products and messages. My advice for this creative phase is to imagine ourselves in a palace with multiple rooms. Each room hides a specialist’s workshop. We must work with each of them quickly to synthesise a new idea and get out. Don’t forget to close the door.
For example, thinking of a new idea for a bottle, one can start thinking about a famous monument like the Taj Mahal. Then you are inside one of the rooms within, with the sculptor who made it. He is thinking of marble, elegance, whites, ornamentation, memories, Arabic calligraphy etc. Once you generate some ideas around it, close this door and let it not disturb your thought train once you enter the next room, which could be that of a ‘space shuttle’.

This room would be all techno, loaded with ceramic layers, compacted structures, aluminium composites, nutrients in tubes, floating exercises, shoes with grippers etc. These two rooms build two totally different inspirations. The two sets of ideas thus generated should look invariably different. Idea of closing the ‘doors’ is to prevent ‘cross breeding’ at this stage. Once all such ideas are sketched or put on paper, it is time to look at them in one glance and try cross-breeding for the next round.
If this structure is not followed, the result is that people fall in love with one or two of their ideas and keep chewing the cud over that. They infact become obsessed with it over time and lose the objectivity in the critical initial stages. It is worst if the idea was the boss’ own.

Thus a training of multi-door thinking and cross-connecting can make anyone a ‘creative’ individual in daily as well as professional lives. It really does not require a professional degree to ‘think creatively’ and yet follow it up with conviction.