NCN Creativity Group

Creativity Method Part (III)

To recap: Koestler's thesis is that new ideas are always a product of the conjunction of hitherto separate ideas, or concepts, or impressions. My own version allows this to be done as a "forced-fitting" process, by systematically using some principles of how the brain works.

My personal reason for reviving it now is that the imminent arrival of Windows 95 will probably catalyse the use of the Internet in all sorts of ways and, in particular, the use of Intuit (and perhaps other financial systems brought in by Visa and Mondex) will vastly accelerate the creation of many new businesses, particularly small and novel businesses rather than variations of existing ones. (As regards the latter, I believe that many existing businesses which think that the Internet will allow them to expand enormously will, in fact, be greatly disappointed. But that is by the way.)

As previously mentioned, I used my system about 20 years ago at (what is now) Coventry University in showing redundant business executives how to create new business ideas. I've also used it for myself some years ago in order to start a new business after my retirement from industry in the Midlands and moved to Bath. I am also seriously considering using it again quite soon in order to produce a catalogue of new business ideas for sale on the Internet.


At Cov U, I used a children's encyclopedia as my source of concepts. I chose the Hamlyn All-Colour Dictionary because this has about four excellent colour illustrations per page. It contains about 800 illustrations in toto, so the possible number of new ideas one could create would be at least 800 x 799 x 798 x 797 x . . ., etc, etc, a truly astronomical figure which I couldn't possibly compute.

(Edgar Allen Poe, who independently discovered the process used to stick a pin three times into a dictionary and weave a story around the three words (thus, a trisociation process, actually!). Ken Dodd, probably the most brilliant comedian in the UK, creates jokes by opening the pages of two newspapers at random and constructs a joke using common elements from two news items.)

At Cov U I would open the encyclopedia in two places at random, choose the first illustration on each page and project both of them onto a screen. This would usually produce consternation on the part of my audience--and also in me--because this first stage is always very daunting.

This is exactly the same sort of experience that writers often have when facing that gleaming sheet of empty paper. (What used to happen, anyway; now it's more a matter of facing an empty screen on the monitor!) Sometimes, this is so debilitating that writers never get started and have a "writer's block" that can last for days, weeks, months . . . In these cases, what's the advice that experienced writers give? They say: start writing . . . anything . . . even if it's nonsense. It will soon give way to something sensible and then you're on your way and you can scrap the early sentences.

It will be useful to consider this slightly more scientifically, by considering the part of the brain that is importantly involved in this "warm-up" stage. This is the short-term memory organ, or the HIPPOCAMPUS.


The Hippocampus is an unusual part of the brain because it predominantly consists of large pyramidal-shaped neurones which act as powerful "drivers". After a good night's sleep when all the junk has been dreamed away, the hippocampus is largely empty but gradually fills up with sense impressions in the course of the day. The "drivers" send these on to the long term memory in the cerebral cortex which, for the most part, knows what to do with them by virtue of specific past memories and training.

The sense impressions which don't "connect" with memories or well-practised procedures in the cortex return to the hippocampus and continue to cycle round, being periodically re-transmitted to the cortex just in case a home can be found. It's all rather like a Radar scanner. Those that remain at the end of the day get dreamed away during the night (unless they're associated with an on-going emotional or intellectual problem).

But, if you're a writer, or are studying something new, the purpose is to fill up the hippocampus as quickly as possible with new material. And this is very hard work because the brain, like the rest of us, is basically lazy and doesn't want to use more energy that it has to. So there's no short-cut here. You've simply got to spend at least 15 minutes hammering the new impressions into the hippocampus from which they start to make connections with pre-existing material in the cortex. After then, it gets very much easier. Not only easier, but positively enjoyable. This is one of the greatest pleasures of the creative person that many people never experience except perhaps at the superficial impressionistic level only (horror films, video games, etc).


When impressions leave the hippocampus and enter the cortex, they split into separate streams and go to four main processing areas--mainly the visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory. Even purely visual impressions (for example) go to the other areas, too--just in case there's anything to be gleaned from them in addition to the visual perceptions. For example, if you see a cube and then imagine what may be on the invisible face, then the tactile areas of the cortex will be turning it over with its "finger areas" for you so that your visual" area can "see" it. In fact, micromessages are actually sent to your real fingers while this is going on, even though these messages are not powerful enough to activate the muscles. (Some people see colours when they hear music, etc.)

The stream of perceptions that enter each area is then analysed both sequentially and in parallel, and at definite stages, so that they can be gathered together simultaneously (and together with the results from the other processing areas) for an "instant photo" of the total impression. We are, of course, totally unaware of all these separate processing steps. We are simply presented with the final product. (Also, it takes about 0.6 seconds for this to be done, and this is then subjectively backdated to coincide with the actual temporal occurrance of the event which caused the impression--but that's by the way.)

However, if we could artifically break down the impressions we are considering for creativity purposes (e.g. the two illustrations chosen at random from the encyclopedia), then we not only make the task easier for our hippocampus, but we also considerably expand the number of possible new ideas, because what we are doing is to interrupt the habitual procedures that occur in our cortex. We prevent our minds automatically running on to concepts and ideas which, although they might have been new once, effectively prevent us considering new ones. (As Gilbert Ryle once wrote, "step words" inevitably become "stop words".)


I'm now able to show how my own variation proceeds. It is to recapitulate, but in a slow and conscious way, the steps by which the cortex usually analyses sense impressions, being prepared at any stage to stop it if something novel turns up, and then jot it down on paper. Within the four main areas of cortical processing, I normally consider 18 different analyses of the two randomly chosen objects. Not all the following are necessarily strictly what the cortex does as separate processing activities (though most are), but they are useful equivalents.

The procedure is to consider each of the following in turn as it applies to each of the chosen objects (or sense impressions) and force them together in your mind. Try to forget about the totality of each of the objects: just consider the specific aspect of each (even if, at first sight,they don't appear to be present):


Typically, after 10 or 15 minutes of hard-going while the hippocampus warms up, ideas start to emerge at a rate of about 30 or 40 an hour. Usually, the first Visual analysis is the most productive, but some of the most unusual ideas often occur from (say) Tactile or Olfactory considerations. An hour is probably as much as you can probably manage at full concentration. Some pairs of "objects" might produce 50 or 60 ideas in an hour; other pairs might only produce 10 or 15.

Carry out your session as early in the day as possible while the hippocampus is still largely empty because, if you have an intensive session, then you are likely to continue producing new ideas during the rest of the day--they'll just pop up out of the bue, seemingly, and some of these will be particularly good.


As with most creativity methods, the ideas produced are extremely variable in quality, most being trivial (many of them hilarious), and they need to be assessed in a separate session, preferably by independent assessors. Typically, in my experience, about 10% of ideas are worth studying further, and about 1% emerges after further study. In an extended trial of my own which lasted for two months (an hour a day), I produced about 1500 initial ideas of which only 30 ideas stood up after further assessment. Only one suited me for financial and personal skill reasons. Of the remaining ones, I came across mention of most of them in subsequent years--that had been independently created by other people, and either became successes or failures.

My feeling is, therefore, that although this is a prolific method of producing new ideas, most of them are probably already in the "cultural pipeline", as it were, and, at best, ou will only get perhaps two or three years' headstart. It is most unlikely, in my view, that you could create anything that is so ideosyncratic that no-one else is likely to discover it independently sooner or later.


Thus ends the description of my own variation of Koestler's Bisociation Theory. Even if you haven't got a great deal of capital, you would be able to find a suitable idea for a business sooner or later. Like most worthwhile things in life, it's a matter of putting effort in and not expecting instant enlightenment.

Keith Hudson 6 Upper Camden Place Bath BA1 5HX England>