This article explains the difference between the traditional creative technique of brainstorming and two new processes employed to achieve creativity. It elaborates on the need for adopting the new -- “Creative Aerobics” and “Imagination Management” – processes for creativity today, rather than depending on random solutions.

If one has worked for a corporation or an advertising agency for any length of time, or attended professional seminars and workshops, we will have come in contact with creativity development techniques in one form or another.

For many professionals, the traditional “brainstorming”, in other words ideation, is the most common result-directed technique to be creative. However, often it is an excruciating experience. We sometime wonder whether we will come up with good ideas, or merely humiliate ourselves. We often remain silent, nodding thoughtfully as others answer and debate questions and issues. If directly challenged, we justify by saying that we are not yet decided on anything, even if we have. It is not our fault. We have possibly never been taught an effective way to brainstorm and achieve creativity correctly.

It is also known that brainstorming – coming up with fresh new or creative ideas – wherein we interact with others to build upon ideas, can also be an exhilarating experience for some as well. Facilitators are often pleased, and management fined it a cost-effective method that can enhance creativity in employees and the company.

The question, therefore, is to know whether there is any other better way of going about effectively tapping the enormous creative potential lying dormant inside us?

The information age

Today, we live in an age of information and knowledge management. With the ‘NET’ we have huge volumes of information available to us at the click of a mouse. People and corporations thus live and breathe “right now” internal and external information and communications. Consequently, the lead-time for creative ideation and management is constantly shrinking. How quickly we come up with ideas is now often as important as our ideas themselves! We are expected to deliver creativity on demand! In practice this is not entirely possible. We can access information on our computers in seconds, but accessing creativity takes much longer.

Our challenge today, in this century, is to speed up the creative process without sacrificing on the creativity of our ideas. Traditional and accepted forms like brainstorming take a lot of time. Also in it often templates take the place of ideas! We, therefore, need newer methodologies to be creative and succeed.

Creative Aerobics – a new creative paradigm

One new and somewhat radical concept to express ideas and to develop creativity is the “Creative Aerobics” method. It utilizes a series of mental exercises that develop elasticity between the left brain and right brain – the analytical or rational and the creative or emotional sides. Thus allowing users to access solutions “out side of the box”, and which is different from their present problem-solving techniques and optimizing ideation and productivity of ideas.

Creative Aerobics is a process-driven technique wherein we complete a four step exercise, building layer upon layer of relevant information, and manipulating it to lead to multiple solutions (ideas) that most likely we may not have thought of when using conventional methods.

Recently nine employees and engineers in a San Francisco software development company undertook the exercise in Creative Aerobics for developing a name for one of the software. In just an hour and half they came up with 91 names to choose from, and all of them were appropriate. Ironically all these employees were exceptionally data oriented and left brain thinkers!

The corporate toolkit

We are all familiar with aerobic exercise programmes offered at health clubs to build endurance and body muscles. Creative aerobics is designed to do the same thing for our mind and for thinking – professional creativity.

In Creative Aerobics we begin with what we know. We move from exercising our left brain which controls the mental functions required for scientific thinking – the kind of thinking we do on our jobs; to exersising our right brain which controls functions used in artistic or creative thinking. In the process we discover ways to search out new creative ideas and connections. The exercises are easy to learn and to  do. But require practice. Repetition of these develops the creative elasticity between the two parts of the brain that is essential and for mastering creativity and creative problem solving.

We can do these excersises by ourselves or with others. It is, however, more fun with others – a collaborative effort where everybody participates, shares risk, and experiences discovery, and thereby contributing and speeding up the creative process. We thus take this individual and collective creativity further towards new, different, and more result-oriented solutions and ideas.

The first Creative Aerobics exercise begins with the process of making lists. Think of each list we build as a custom database (information) for the assignment on which we are working. Each database is time and topic sensitive, unique to the and situation when you create it. If we change the players or environment the information generated – the database – will also change.

The list is then used as a base for the second Creative Aerobic exercise. For instance, if our first exercise generates 20 pieces of information, we can take each piece and use it to generate lets say 10 more. We discover now we have 200 pieces of information! If you take these 200 pieces and do the third exercise generating 10 more for each of these 200, we will end up with 20,000 pieces of information or more.

We usually don’t need to take Creative Aerobics to such lengths. But it shows how exactly the process works and how you can have more solutions and ideas for a purpose than normally possible – solutions with connections and depth, far better than the usual problem solving techniques. New creative muscles so to say – layers of information, some of it traditional, some of it new, that is generated by the aerobics process.

Too many of us get bogged down and stuck because we think we should know where to start and which ideas to develop. When we discover we don’t, we get anxious and try to force things, or just quit! The Creative Aerobics process helps us improve our ability to move from the obvious to the less obvious, from the objective to the subjective, from the intellectual to the intiutive, from the expected to the unexpected. The more practiced you become at extracting facts, the larger number of facts you will be able to deal with without losing focus or getting confused.

Imagination Management -- another inner resource

Providing useful ways for creative thinking and creativity is in one way believing in what we think. One knows it is real and one expands what is real. This is described as Imagination Management, a process for improving our abilities to seeing new ways.

Imagination is a powerful creative process that allows us to develop ideas for seeing, organizing, and managing our everyday existence. It is a method that allows us to develop our own ways of navigating the twist and turns of the uncertain world wherein we find ourselves. Imagination makes things evolve and happen. In our “power of thought” we create can wonders.

Imagination Management is about improving our abilities to see new ways to create images in the mind. Imagination results in creativity. In creativity one sees, reads, and writes in new ways. Imagination empowers. It unlocks hidden modes, helps grasp new perspectives and opens up possibilities for development of ideas, insights, and even behaviour and new capabilities. Imagination develops the capacity for continuous change. It provides us a powerful means of breaking the constraints of bureaucratic thinking and launch into realities of the world. It gives us the capacity for continuous learning and self-internalization.

As an excercise take a dot. What is a dot? If we were to describe a dot in 20 words. The words and description will give you 20 ideas (thoughts). Visualize each of these words into forms and figures. The forms or figures you can  then put together to create a picture! That’s what in today’s hi-tech world computer pixels are also all about.

Looking at it in respect of commercial creativity. The dot can starts of as an idea – lets take 14th February, the Valentines Day. You give the dot (idea) 20 words describing the idea or the day.  Visualize each word and give it a form and figure. Then go on to structure the form and figures into shapes. And when we put the shapes together to create a package and a picture.

Its time to get started

Imagination Management therefore is an interpretive process that is fluid and dynamic. As interpreted in Edward DeBono’s “lateral thinking” (hats, boots, etc.) concept at the individual level, and in the present day marketing guru Tom Peters’ concept of “creative destruction” at the corporate level.

Experts today concur that consistency is a vice, not a virtue in the face of imagination and change. Imagination invites you to a way of doing things differently. Imagination is thus a capacity more than a technique!

In all this, just as physical exercise does not change body muscles in a week, so also is the case with the brain. We need to focus on the process – on what our objectives are, and what you are doing at a specific point of time. Don’t get ahead of yourself, looking for results. They will come. Concentrate on the learning process.

Get started on this. And practice, practice, practice.

Prof. Linda Correll
Sr. Professor, Florida University, USA

Sushil Bahl
Associate Professor, MICA, Ahmedabad