Wednesday, October 7, 2009

High frequency thinking

For this, my 100th post, I’m going to review the familiar notion of creative productivity and outline some steps and offer one exercise to get the “genius” juices flowing.

In Scientific Genius: A Psychology of Science Dean Keith Simonton contends that the distinguishing characteristic of genius is immense productivity. This may be an overstatement, but there is no doubt that productivity is a distinguishing characteristic of genius. Simonton studied 2,036 scientists throughout history and found that the most respected thinkers far outstripped the average in the sheer volume of their output. In terms of quality they produced both great works and many mediocre to bad ones.

Admittedly it’s a leap in logic to say that the more ideas you generate the closer you'll get to genius. But if you don’t try to generate a lot of ideas you’ll have a poor shot at coming up with some good ones.

In a 2005 web article “How to think like a Genius” Tina Konstant explores some of the qualities the world’s great thinkers had in common. Among them, “The idea generation was in pictures and images rather than words. . . . Ideas were explored using association. They looked at ideas from different perspectives. They were prolific and recorded everything. They fuelled their imaginations with knowledge. Their thinking was focused. . . . They saw mistakes and unexpected surprise results as valuable opportunities to learn from. They never gave up.”

The Study Guides and Strategies website outlines nine steps to thinking like a genius: 1. Look at problems in many different ways. 2. Visualize! 3. Produce! 4. Make novel combinations. 5. Form relationships. 6. Think in opposites. 7. Think metaphorically. 8. Prepare yourself for chance. 9. Have patience.

If these steps are too abstract, here’s one concrete exercise, compliments of Tony Buzan’s The Power of Creative Intelligence (2001/2002). In what he calls the fluency game the object is to pick at random any two words from the first group below and try to make associations between the pair of words, the wilder the better. He scores you as follows: 10 similarities = exceptionally well, 15 similarities = in the world’s top 1 percent, 20 similarities = creative genius (in this area). If you’re so inclined, go on to the second group of words; rinse and repeat.

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