The Minds of Others

Creativity exists within and between human minds, both deliberately and unexpectedly. In this post I explore how I have worked to make my clients more aware of this often unconscious element of the creative flow. 

So last week was a fun one. I ran a No Wrong Answers for a pretty huge company but that’s not the reason I’m excited. The exciting part was that I got to try out a new game!

Since No Wrong Answers was invented with the pub in mind most of the original games were relatively simple. I had to ask myself what would work with a rowdy bunch in a pub after a couple of pints. Anything too complicated would likely go wrong. But as I’ve begun delivering the event to businesses where teams are a little less rowdy and a lot less tipsy I’ve added new wrinkles to existing games to enhance the opportunities for learning.

For instance, in a simple idea generation game which for my after work audiences I would offer without additional rules I’ve begun o break down the thinking time into silent reflection, group discussion and incubation. This not only allows players to try out different thinking styles but more importantly offers them the chance to notice how hard it is to stop the mind racing towards answers.

The new game, however, was a different beast.

It has been an essential part of my philosophy that creativity is a flow that exists best when people don’t try to own or hold on to ideas, thoughts, insights and inspirations. We are not always aware of it but we don’t think entirely inside our own heads. We are social animals and we use the brains of others to remember for us, think for us, connect things for us. We do this so naturally that we often don’t notice how much of “our” thought process has gone on inside the heads of other people. My new game was designed to help make the players aware of this often unconscious element of creativity.

I had five teams to work with. To begin with I gave each team a simple task: write a short poem about a foodstuff you all enjoy and write it on a specially prepared form. Then things got interesting. The teams were instructed to pass their form to the next team along. In an envelope I had written a range of short transformation instructions. For example ‘What if this were a political campaign?’ or ‘How would this work as a piece of furniture?’. We chose an instruction at random from this set and each team would apply that instruction to whatever they had been given by the previous team.

This carried on until the original team had their own form back at which point I gave them an instruction which pertained to a real world challenge. They had to then take the output from the prior team which itself had been derived form the collective creative transformations of each team in turn, and use it as inspiration to solve a real world problem.

All five teams came up with something unique and surprising at the end but when I asked them who’s idea it was they had to admit that, in reality, no one person could claim it. Whereas in real life the creative flow between people is often subconscious here we had elevated it, placed it under a spotlight. Together we had increased our awareness of the true nature of the creative flow – something we take part in but cannot and should not try to own.

No Wrong Answers is a format which was designed to be fun and accessible. But ever since I started running these games the potential to use it for greater purpose has been apparent. Which in and of itself is an example of the creative flow between the me who was bored and needed a creative game to play and the me that exists now. I have passed myself the baton, so to speak. I can’t wait to see what the me of the future will do with it.

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