Free Association

More than any other situation Change is about cooperation and collaboration. No matter if your company is in serious trouble or just wants to find a new way to line itself up – it always needs people to initiate, moderate, steer, coordinate and live that Change.

So what? The problem is that often people simply don´t know how to cooperate. Of course people cooperate on a daily base, but this is mostly routine, it´s like a form of vegetative state. Change causes different needs and different needs urges people to modify their behavior.

Over years I have collected several “Creativity Techniques” to support Cooperation between people – not only in times of Change. It is always better to be prepared than surprised…

What are Creativity Techniques?
Creativity techniques are heuristic methods to facilitate creativity in a person or a group of people. They are most often used in creative problem solving.

Generally, most creativity techniques use associations between the goal (or the problem), the current state (which may be an imperfect solution to the problem), and some stimulus (possibly selected randomly). There is an analogy between many creativity techniques and methods of evolutionary computation.

Free Association

In problem-solving contexts, the random word creativity technique is perhaps the simplest such method. A person confronted with a problem is presented with a randomly generated word, in the hopes of a solution arising from any associations between the word and the problem. A random image, sound, or article can be used instead of a random word as a kind of creativity goad or provocation.

Free Association
Free association contains elements of several other idea-generating techniques and depends on a mental ‘stream of consciousness’ and network of associations of which there are two:

  1. Serial association, start with a trigger, you record the flow of ideas that come to mind, each idea triggering the next, ultimately reaching a potentially useful one.
  2. Centred association, (which is close to Classic Brainstorming) prompts you to generate multiple associations to the original trigger so that you ‘delve’ into a particular area of associations.

As a rule the serial mode is used to ‘travel’ until you find an idea that you find of some interest, you then engage the centred mode to ‘delve’ more deeply around the interesting item. Once you have exhausted the centred investigation, you being to ‘travel’ again, and so on. Three hints…

Suspend judgement
Try not to repress your natural flow of thoughts. Unusual ideas, that may seem ‘off the wall’ are perfectly acceptable, such as:

  • Rude ideas
  • ‘Not you’
  • ‘Silly’
  • ‘Taboo’
  • ‘Unethical’
  • ‘Tactless’
  • ‘Politically incorrect’

They are acceptable because they are thoughts you generally suppress; they could be an alternative starting point promoting all sorts of possibilities. Undoubtedly and ‘open’ strategy requires a ‘safe’ environment where the use of a variety of material is fully recognised and understood. Friendly laughter can be a breathtaking cure for any passing awkwardness that free-expression may cause!

Follow the intriguing and look for ideas that attract your attention as particularly strong, intriguing, surprising, etc. even if they don’t seem instantly appropriate to your problem. This attraction frequently signals links to a useful set of associations, and so could possibly justify a further phase of centred free association around the ‘attractive’ idea.

Use solution-oriented phrasing
The idea ‘blue’ is not much use as it stands. However, when transformed into a phrases such as:

  • ‘Could we colour it blue?’
  • ‘In what ways might I make it ‘blue?’
  • ‘I wish it were ‘bluer’
  • ‘How might it help it if were bluer’?’
  • Makes the idea ‘blue’ potentially a more useful one.
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