Serendipity and creativity. Go on, take a walk

An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.” – James Webb Young. A Technique for Producing new Ideas, 1940.

 ImageEver felt that you’ve wanted to run as far as humanly possible from something you’ve been working on just to end the stalemate occurring in your head?  And then you’ve been told to stay exactly where you are and just keep persevering?

Well, according to Ap Dijksterhuis and his fellow researchers, your gut instinct is, in this case, right. The teams’ investigations found that, against mainstream belief, the hardest intellectual problems are best solved by our unconscious minds.

By showing that our minds can still be focussing on a problem without any conscious awareness that they’re doing so on our part adds a huge spoonful of evidence to the general theory of creativity.  This is that there are two factors involved in creativity: divergence and convergence.

Divergence allows for the generation of many possible resolutions to a certain problem and the convergent phase brings this array of raw materials together for you to assess and pick the likely best course of action. It’s the divergent phase that is increasingly being recognised as the best time to give unconscious thought a free reign.

In other words, next time you hit the wall with a puzzle, problem, dilemma or stressful situation, go for that run or watch that TV programme or listen to a piece of music and let your powerful subconscious take up the challenge. Because often, it will do just that.

Another study, this one published by Haiyang Yang et al in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, asked participants to think about all the different possible uses for paperclips. Some were given 1 minute, others 3 minutes and the rest 5 minutes to answer. The participants were split into two main groups, the first group was asked purely to focus on the task set and the second group were asked to count backwards by threes, which affirmed the second group would not be able to consciously focus on paperclip solutions.

However, the results observed are really quite fascinating. Those participants in the second group (having to use their subconscious to propagate possible paperclip uses) came up with the most novel ideas for paperclip utilization in the 3 minute interval.

Even if we rewind to the 1940s, this conclusion was supported by James Webb Young, an American Advertising executive, who has been coined a ‘Marketing Master’. Webb Young agrees, in his book ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas, that the best way to generate an appropriate solution is to stimulate your unconscious by meditating, reading or walking.  He also offers a few more clauses, including building a rich pool of ‘raw material’ ideas that can help us to grow as creativity machines.

He also suggests letting our ideas simmer by mulling over the raw material and slowly letting it slip from the conscious mind via a relaxing walk or something similar. And then, BAM, the a-ha moment should hit us!

For the marketer, the big story may be this; throw away the box, because just when you think you know what you’re doing, you find yourself (once again) having to think outside it!

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