Tools for provoking the imagination – 2

A shortlist of creative thinking tools must include the work of Edward de Bono.

Dr Edward de Bono has written many books on productive thinking. He is responsible for coining the term ‘lateral thinking’.

Lateral thinking allows your creativity to sidestep the impossible, into new realms of potential. One if his best known lateral thinking tools is PO, the provocation operation. Using a PO statement, the group imagine a scenario which sparks off ideas. In this sense, PO is a bit like ‘suppose’.

For example, ‘PO cars have square wheels’ sparked off a discussion about how to make this happen. This led to ideas about a self-adjusting suspension, which were actually developed on modern 4x4s.

Using metaphors has long been recognised as incredibly creative. A metaphor compares something (e.g. a clock) to something which it is not (e.g. a ticking timebomb). In this instance, the metaphor gives the user a powerful sense of urgency.

Another important feature of metaphor is its ability to make the mind of the user active. In order to truly understand the connection, you must imagine it. This ability to engage allows the user to participate, and therefore can be very memorable.

Think of Shakespeare. His plays are full of incredible metaphors and imagery, and somehow his work is remembered 500 years after it was written.

As a metaphor exercise, try asking a question such as “In what way is our project like an elephant?”. The answers given will unlock different perspectives on the subject and spark new ideas.

The Personal Ideas Pad or PIP from The Accidental Creative is worksheet which actually guides you through the productive thinking process. Here you list your challenge, its main subjects, and use brainstorming to generate as many related words as you can. Lines connect these new words and this network will inspire new ideas.

The Creative Whack Pack from is another easy-to-use tool for productive thinking. This is available in a card version or as an iPhone app. You select a card at random which suggests a creative thinking strategy, for example ‘See The Obvious’ or ‘Take the Second Right Answer’. Although a quick hit and a bit like using Tarot cards, they are another effective way to see a problem in a new light.

Like all productive thinking sessions, any negative statements, criticism, or the fact that the idea might be impossible are best put aside for now. Critical thinking has its place, but not during imaginative playtime for the mind. During these phases you want to leapfrog obstacles into new ideas. Being negative or analysing will close doors too early and prevent excitement from building. So let these sessions be free and enforce a strict ‘positive only’ rule.

There’s nothing worse to a creative than feeling stuck. Try these tools next time it happens. Your mind will enjoy being playful, and can quickly become a fertile soil on which to grow new ideas.

Imagination and visions

Great art always begins with great imagination, or vision. As creatives, we are always looking for inspiration, for that next idea. Sometimes that idea will tumble into our lives by accident. Sometimes an intuition will guide us on a creative adventure. Sometimes we might even call upon a deity or muse to bring us divine inspiration.

Sometimes it is because we as artists have trained ourselves in new ways of looking at life, at what my old English teacher Mr Hoare calked “making the ordinary extraordinary”.

The painter and poet William Blake was a great visionary. Often his art would be inspired by a heavenly vision, and he would call for his paints immediately. His view of the world was certainly extraordinary. When William Blake looked at the sun he did not see a yellow disc, emitting light. He saw a bright star, surrounded by hosts of angels, singing “Holy, holy, holy.”

Using the imagination does not just help with creative productivity. It can aid us in personal growth and transformation.

A young student of mine, Joe, had great ability but struggled in timed tests. He felt pressured by his awareness of the time limit, and this gave him a tendency to hold his breath and become tense. This impeded his ability to answer questions correctly and easily. We worked on this every week. I would give Joe a five-minute test and listen carefully to see if he was breathing. When he stopped, I gently reminded him to breathe.

One day, about halfway through his test, I noticed something change. Suddenly Joe ‘got it’, and started to both relax and speed up his answering. At the end I asked him what had happened. He said that all of a sudden he had started to pretend that he wasn’t being timed. His new idea of suddenly having all the time in the world altered his perception and his behaviour. His imagination had unlocked his potential.

Remember how powerful the imagination is, and how it can not only inspire us, and benefit us personally, but also improve our results.

For authentic inspiration, go on a media diet

Try this detox from popular media for two weeks and see how you become more authentically inspired. This can help you listen more to your inner voice and less to voices from outside.

In those two weeks, you can listen to music, read, see friends, watch films but do not not tune into popular media like TV or radio. You must only pay attention to those things you really want to bring into your life: inspirational, positive things.

Tune into how you are feeling during your free time and only engage in activities you really want to do.

This is an ideal time to rekindle old artistic flames: that life drawing you used to love; that old album you haven’t listened to for years. It is also a good time to take a class or start new ventures.

It’s easy to replace watching ‘American Idol’ with an activity close to your heart; maybe reading that poetry you used to love.

After just two weeks, notice how your thought patterns and ideas have changed. They will seem more authentic, more attuned to you.

That’s because you are now consciously bringing what you want into your life, and eliminating what you don’t want.

You’ll shed pound and pounds of mindless entertainment you never needed anyway.

Try the Media Diet and detox your mind. It’s liberating.