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Creativity Tools

Did you see the episode of The Big Bang Theory where astrophysicist Rajesh has to work with theoretical physicist Sheldon to solve problems in quantum mechanics and string theory? When they "get to work", their work is to stand there contemplating the mathematical equations written on a large white-board. Their creativity tool is their brains.

The human brain is indeed an amazing creativity tool, but most of us, not being physicists, might occasionally require something a little assistance. There are actually hundreds of creativity tools, but here I'm going to describe the three main ones: mind mapping, brain storming, and random associations. Plus, I'll describe a few other tools that artists and writers might find useful.

A mind map

A mind map is a diagram used to visually outline information. It looks similar to the branches of a tree. The word or phrase that you need creative ideas about is placed in the center (the trunk of the tree). Major associated ideas create large branches that radiate from the trunk. Ideas associated with the ideas of the large branches create sub-branches of the larger branches.

Mind maps can be drawn by hand, or with a graphics application, or by using special mind map software. There are even online mind map applications. FreeMind is a free open source mind mapping application written in Java. There are versions for the Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems.

Brain storming is where an individual or group spontaneously presents ideas related to the thing that you seek creative ideas about. It's usually done by a group of people with a moderator keeping a list of the ideas presented. Sometimes it's done by going around to each individual requiring them to submit an idea. Sometimes people are allowed to submit ideas at random. Usually a brain storming session starts out going around to each individual until the rate of idea generation slows down, after which people are allowed to submit ideas at random.

The idea is that all ideas submitted during the brain storming session are accepted without criticism or judgment. Then later, after the brain storming session is over, the ideas are analyzed, either by the group or buy a selected individual. Duplicate and totally useless ideas are eliminated. Then the remaining ideas are analyzed for which are the most workable.

In the normal corporate environment there are several possible problems with a brain storming session. One problem is when the moderator writes down each idea, and then one individual submits an idea that the moderator obviously does not record. The moderator is obviously rejecting the idea off-hand, not obeying the no criticism or judgment rule. Another problem is that the brain storming session is viewed as a meeting, with time constraints, so members of the group are in hurry up mode, they don't have time to think of really great ideas. A third problem is ideas being accepted or rejected for considerations other than workability, for example, for political reasons.

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