How our brains naturally group things together is great for sanity’s sake, but it does little to empower our creativity. That doesn’t mean our innate structuring of complex concepts can’t benefit our creative thinking however.
Most notably is our natural ability to group things in terms of relationships and proximity. We see an automobile not as an object comprised of an engine, doors, tires, screws, and bolts, but as one larger whole: a car. Similarly, we encounter ideas as being unified wholes, even when the thing we claim to be an “idea” is actually comprised of many different concepts. It’s the countless complex and varied stimulus, combined together, that we understand as any single idea.
In reality, an idea isn’t any single thing, it’s many different things combined to create a perceived whole.
Exactly how this plays into generating new ideas (and being more creative) is in the details…literally.
To spur creativity we should look to explore the individual aspects that “make up” any one thing. The aspects within any single thing are nearly infinite, no matter what it is we’re looking at, as long as we’re willing to look far or wide enough.
If we find ourselves stuck coming up with ideas, we merely need to look closer at the elements that make-up the topic or problem we’re dealing with. Those elements themselves are made of many different things as well, both in a physical sense and in a contextual one. It’s when we use our imagination to wonder what would happen if we were to remove, resize, or otherwise modify any one or more of those elements that interesting things begin to happen.
You can even use this insight as a simple creative exercise, not merely for solving problems creatively.
Look at the various elements of any singular thing and then imagine how changing them would alter the whole. For example: what would happen if you removed all of the screws from a computer? What if you replaced those screws with wooden counterparts? How would changing the machines that create the screws used for computers into wooden machines impact the resulting screws?
If you’re really stumped and want to generate creative ideas, you can follow the trail of complexity down a contextual line of cause-and-effect. Asking not only: “how can changing one element of this thing affect the larger thing?” but also by asking “how does changing this one element affect the use or perception of this thing?”
The best (and worst) part of this approach to creative thinking is that it is nearly entirely immeasurable. You can take the concepts as far as you want them. As long as you can link the depth of curiosity you decide to pursue with what it is you’re ultimately trying to do, the exercise will prove fruitful.
If you want to start exploring new ideas, look at the small parts that make up any one thing and how they interact with one another and their context.
Read this next: How to be creative on the spot
Illustration via Flickr.