Associating seemingly disparate elements in new ways by finding a novel connection between them is the backbone of creativity. It is also the backbone of this book. To associate elements in new ways, you must think flexibly. Flexibility of thought is the ability to produce a large number of original ideas.
For a quick test of your mental flexibility, try the Remote Associates Test developed by Martha Mednick. For each set of three words, the goal is to find an associated word that all three have in common. For example, the words “wheel,” “electric,” and “high” can all be paired with “chair.”
- piggy green lash __________
- surprise line birthday __________
- mark shelf telephone __________
- stick maker tennis __________
- blue cottage cloth __________
- motion poke down __________
- gem wall stepping __________
- chorus bee side __________
- lunch car gift __________
- foul ground pen __________
How did you do? If you are like most people, you probably did not make all the associations.
In addition to thinking flexibly, one needs to use a variety of creative thinking techniques to keep your creative fire stoked, you need variety. Variety is the essence of all sensation; our senses are designed to respond to change and contrast. When a stimulus is unchanging or repetitious, sensation disappears.
Hold your hand over one eye and stare at the dot in the middle of the circle. After a few moments, the circle will fade and disappear. It will only reappear if you blink or shift your gaze to the X.
What happens is that the receptors in your eye get “tired” and stop responding, and nerve cells higher up in your sensory system switch off. This process is called sensory adaptation. You become blind to what is right before your eyes. The same phenomenon explains what is going on when you can no longer smell a gas leak that you noticed when you first entered the kitchen.
When your method for getting ideas is routine and unchanging, your imagination gets bored and switches off. One might term it “imagination adaptation.” You become blind to the opportunities right before your eyes, but do not realize it until someone else points out your blindness. Then, and only then, can you see what you had been looking at all along. If you can no longer recall your last original idea, you are suffering from this condition.
(The answers to the remote associates are: back, party, book, match, cheese, slow, stone, line, box, and play.)