Creativity is a cup of jelly beans

Imagine that you have a transparent, plastic cup placed in front of you and thousand of brightly colored jelly beans off to the side of it.

Your job is to fill the cup up. You take one jelly bean at a time and place it into the cup, one after another stacking them sporadically until the cup is a mess of color.

When the filled cup is held in front of you, all you can see is the color of the beans on the outside, right? As you spin the cup in your hand you can see the other colors of the jelly beans that dot the inner perimeter as well. Maybe, if you try hard enough, you can make out the faint colors of jelly beans behind the outer most ones.

What happened to the jelly beans at the center of the cup? They’re there, undoubtedly, but what colors are they?

This is how creativity in the mind works. Every day new thoughts and ideas fill our brains, in the form of our senses reacting to our experiences. Our eyes alone send hundreds of thousands of signals to our brain every second.

To be creative is to ask what color of “jelly beans” have been tucked away in the center of our minds.

Back in front of our imaginary cup, you have to shake it up in order to move all the beans around and see what’s inside. The brain, too, needs to be mentally shaken (not physically) in order to uncover what’s hidden away inside.

By asking questions that start with “what if?”, “how would?” and “why?” we shake the ideas in our brain in order to see what other ideas have been hidden beneath. By adjusting our perspective, rattling our knowledge, exploring new and exciting areas, that’s how we shake our mental jar of beans.

It’s through uncovering those hidden ideas, by shaking our thoughts, that new insights become available to us.

Sure, you could be content to admire the ideas on the perimeter, but if you instead wonder what’s inside, you’re bound to find a lot more color.


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Asking the right questions to invoke creativity

The perfect formula for creativity

Photo by Steve Koukoulas.