“There is something in our minds like sunshine and the weather, which is not under our control. When I write, the best things come to me from I know not where.”
German physicist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799) wrote these words in a journal in the final year of his life. Lichtenberg was right — creativity is a product of action. If you want to open your imagination and make it receptive to new ideas, you must do something physical. Simply sitting still and waiting for ideas to come, or trying to force them, rarely works.
Creativity is a crucial skill for foresight professionals. Fortunately, it’s one that can be developed through various techniques and exercises. Here are five actions I’ve used to generate new ideas or get unstuck when my creative engine has stalled. They all work!
DNA Poem Generator: Director Harmony Korine (Kids, Spring Breakers) demonstrated this connect-the-concept creativity exercise on a whiteboard at SXSW 2010. As he says in the video, “I think it is probably the future of a lot of things,” and "Something like this can probably take a person very far in their life." Try this with some keywords from a forecast you are developing.
Oblique Strategies Deck: In 1975, Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt developed a deck of 100 cards, each with a written instruction, to help them beat creative block. Examples: “Emphasize repetitions,” “Only a part, not the whole,” and “Give way to your worst impulse.” When I find myself creatively stuck, I’ll draw cards at random until I get one that helps. One that I find helpful is, “State the problem in words as clearly as possible.” It forces me to articulate an inchoate idea, which often leads to a breakthrough. Here’s a web-based version of the cards. You can also buy a physical deck from Brian Eno, or the iPhone app. (Bonus creative action: make your own deck with custom oblique strategies.)
The Thing From the Future: This is another deck of creativity-boosting cards, designed by IFTF friends Stuart Candy and Jeff Watson. The object of the game is to combine the color-coded concept cards to “generate the most interesting, funny, or thought-provoking ideas for artifacts from the future.” Play solo or with your foresight-loving friends. Download the print-and-play deck.
Lucid Dreaming: Have you ever woken up in the middle of a dream, only to realize you are still dreaming? This is called a lucid dream. In a lucid dream, you can conjure up future scenarios and explore them in astonishing detail. You will be surprised by your mind's creativity in this powerful state of consciousness. Stanford doctor Stephen LaBerge, the foremost expert on lucid dreaming, has a video of techniques to invoke lucid dreams and what to do in them. I learned how to have lucid dreams from his book.
Walking With an Audio Recorder: In the late 90s, I had a contract with a website to write and draw a weekly full-page cartoon on the topic of freelance work. The hardest part was coming up with a new idea every week. I soon learned that sitting at my desk and staring at a blank piece of paper didn’t do anything but make me panic. But walking in the hills next to my house with a tape recorder to capture snippets of ideas as they came to me was a surefire way to get story ideas. Sometimes I would come up with two or three usable ideas in a one-hour walk! (Today, I use my smartphone instead of a tape recorder.)
By trying out these methods and exploring what works best for you, you can tap into your imagination and unleash your creative potential. Good luck!