Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Thinking creatively

Thinking creatively

Daydreaming - ‘random inspiration’ - is very valuable to us and is a way of utilizing the creativity we all possess but probably use only sparingly, at least in any conscious way.
  • Daydreaming is the spontaneously recalling or imagining of personal or vicarious experiences in the past or future.

  • Daydreaming can improve efficiency by enabling us to exploit free processing time learning from past experiences and prepare for future tasks.

  • Positive daydreaming improves creativity by generating fanciful scenarios and facilitating the discovery of analogies among seemingly unrelated tasks.

  • Positive daydreaming helps us regulate emotions.”                                             

Daydreaming can be considered a special form of conscious awareness because it reflects a state in which “conscious awareness is to some extent decoupled from the current situation” (Smallwood. 2003)

The extent to which daydreaming is 'decoupled from the present situation' represents the potential for thought to be creative.  Our own limitations, and the limits set on us by logic and the real world are sidestepped by this removal of our thought patterns from the reality of the present.  

In the 'unreality' created in a daydream, possibilities extend outwardly, and things that might have once appeared unthinkable, become real and possible, and show us that more conscious modes of thought are sometimes incapable of giving us the whole picture.  Stepping outside the frame, we can realize that there are other scenarios, other ways, other modes of behavior - other solutions to our problems.

Visualizing personal or vicarious, imaginary experiences in the past or future amounts to gaining insights into things beyond our own immediate and personal experience.  In a sense, it is our minds creating an alternative reality.  It is the synthesis of the totality of our knowledge from whatever source, be it things we have heard, conscious or not, or things we have seen but which our conscious thought hasn't yet brought into the realm of our conscious memory, or it may be recalled knowledge: things we know about past events, but may have forgotten.

I am reminded here of the advice given to new, would-be authors from well known, well-published ones:  "If you get an idea for a story, sleep on it, let your subconscious work on it."

Daydreaming often begins with wondering:  ‘What if…?’  ‘If only I could….’ ‘Suppose….’   ‘Wouldn’t everything be better if….’  

It often has a focus, and that is natural and normal.  It is in ‘generating fanciful scenarios and facilitating the discovery of analogies among seemingly unrelated tasks’, that we come to be creative, to make connections that are innovative.

That kind of thinking has been responsible for some of our greatest creations.  The subsequent planning and working through the logistics of many daydreams may well have rendered most of them totally impossible, but if even only a few get through, daydreaming is worthwhile.

Very often films play out the fantasies of writers, and audiences everywhere enjoy watching something that might well have started as a daydream.

Take the blockbuster film, ‘Forrest Gump’ starring Tom Hanks.  The writer/s surely entertained their wildest fantasies when creating their character and the things he did.  Where else but the cinema could you have your central character actually witness the events in the Watergate Hotel, show Elvis Presley how to move his legs, buy shares in Apple thinking it was a fruit company, and be the only person left with a shrimping boat after the worst storm in living memory – leading to Forrest and Bubba monopolizing the shrimp market and becoming millionaires.

Think of other films where daydreaming and then lots and lots of hard work lead to box office success.  
                                    ‘Star Wars’
                         ‘Secondhand Lions’
                         ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’
                         ‘Jurassic Park’

And while it is true that most of these films started out as successful paperback novels, the original ideas probably started from a glimmer of an idea, originating from the speculation and fantasizing that is normally referred to as daydreaming.

In the world of civil engineering, think of the Eiffel Tower, Burj al Arab, Jumeirah Palm Island, and the Millenium Dome in London, and in more idiosyncratic constructions, such as Mount Rushmore, USA, the terra-cotta armies in China, the sphinx and the pyramids in Egypt: the ancient and modern wonders of the world.    

The revolutionary shape and design of the Burj Al Arab, Dubai’s icon, is a good example of what I am talking about.  To design the Jumeirah Beach Hotel on the shore, in the shape of a gigantic wave, and then build an even more enormous wind-sail of a hotel overlooking it offshore is nothing short of sheer creative genius.  

Planning and putting such amazing concepts into steel, concrete, plastic and glass is a feat in itself, but it is a task that runs along logical principles once the original idea has been accepted.  

The beauty of daydreaming or doodling is that it costs nothing, involves no one, and need never be outwardly stated to anyone.

Such daydreams and doodles that come to fruition, however, can be earth-shattering, ground-breaking achievements once they come alive in plans and blueprints in the hands of skilled engineers, designers, draftsmen and builders, or film producers and directors.

A new way to get students to think of ideas for essays they have to write involves a sort of doodling.   Conventional brainstorming techniques involve a bubble on a piece of paper, and then branches out of it with words on the end.  This sometimes works, but more often than not it doesn’t particularly help and the teacher ends up labeling the diagram.  

My way involves writing a word that is central to the subject of an essay, in a new way on the board.

Write the word, Pollution, vertically.  Like this:-


Then ask students to copy this into their books.  Then  start writing words next to the vertical capital letters on the board.  Like this:-

                                  Poor controls of companies   and then--Pressing problem
                          Ordinary people cause pollution         Out of hand
Students  add --           Life is not good because of it                  Life is threatened
               Lots of animals die because of it             Living creatures suffer
               Up to us to stop it                  Untold damage to Earth
               Terrible future for mankind             Time to stop it
               In our rivers and seas                  If not, it will stop us  
               On television every day           Ordinary people can stop
               Nothing can stop it                  Nothing can stop us

Now, instead of a blank page in front of you,  you have a series of capital letters, and as everyone knows, the letters of the alphabet constitute the primary association of words in language.  Give someone a capital letter and a concept to think about and I guarantee that they will come up with a word, an idea, a phrase or a sentence in a matter of seconds.  Sometimes our daydreaming needs a kick-start.

Shapes, colors, numbers, letters, words, signs all achieve significance if they are allowed to.  All you need to get going is a concept.

Here goes: Concept = New hotel

Shape:   Tall lozenge (doodle)                       High
Color:    White or silver (like a sail)              Overlooks Dubai
Number: 1  (an upright figure)                       Tower
Letter:     D (the shape of the tower)              Easily remembered
Word:     Arab (In the name)                          Leader in the world of hotels
Sign:       Icon (Symbol of Dubai)

Result: Burj al Arab Hotel, Dubai

Anyone can be creative.  To begin with, you need the will to do it and a little bit of control over your thought processes.  When I say ‘control’ I really mean introspection: an examination of your own mental thought processes.  This is necessary to get things started.

The next thing needed is an object upon which your thoughts can settle and over which your mind can ponder.  

Objects stimulate you to wonder, then to ask questions, and finally to apply reasoning to provide you with reasonable answers to your questions.

An object gives your thoughts a direction, something to focus on.  Without that object to focus upon, you might wander aimlessly, possibly onto different objects, but never stopping on one long enough for you to apply your mental powers of reasoning to the objects.

I think finally, you have to have something of an inquiring mind to make this work.  The only way I know of keeping an inquiring mind is by constantly marveling at God’s creation:  our whole world and everything in it.  In that sense, exercising the creative faculties you possess is a joyful experience, and one that ensures that you stay young at heart.  Our children are the most inquisitive human beings on Earth, are they not? (
Robert L. Fielding
   Jean Piaget, Malcolm Piercy (2003)  The Psychology of Intelligence   (Routledge Classics)
Smallwood JM, Obonsawin MC, & Heim SD (2003 A). Task Unrelated Thought: the role of distributed processing. Consciousness and Cognition
Fielding R. L. (1996) Preparing students to write  In:  Teaching English  Winter 1996  #3. Oxford University Press  Istanbul


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