On Creative Repetition

Ralph Ammer
Jun 13, 2016 · 3 min read

These days a lot of designers develop „smart“ things that promise to enhance and empower our minds, productivity and wellbeing. I personally like to shift the focus from making the things around us smarter to making ourselves smarter. So this is about a rather simple method to help you learn and come up with ideas: repetition.

When it comes to learning something difficult, such as programming for instance, repetition is a great way to get your foot in the door. Every time you feel overwhelmed by a difficult tutorial, just find some code you can repeat and type it several times.

This is a great way to familiarize yourself with the new. And it is fairly relaxing since you don’t feel any pressure to understand anything yet. You simply massage new data into your brain!

When you learn something by heart, this is different from, let’s say storing data on a USB stick. Every time you repeat something, new information will be integrated in a rich web of existing information.

So from the outside it might look like you are doing the same thing over and over again but in fact no two repetitions are ever the same. After a good deal of repetitive exercise the initial problem (in our example the programming tutorial) will be easier to understand.

Repetition and learning facts by heart have a bad reputation. We sometimes think that we don’t need to know the details, only the connections. But if we want to understand the bigger pictures and connect the dots — we first need… the dots!

Knowing historical dates, vocabularies, or programming commands — by heart gives us an understanding of larger contexts and helps us come up with new ideas. An “idea” is basically a new combination. Your brain takes pieces of knowledge and sometimes, some of them connect to form a solution, exciting us with a nice shot of rewarding hormones.

A simplified model of the generation of ideas might look like this: You fill your mind with knowledge (facts, experiences, emotions, etc.) on your topic. Then you let your mind marinate in that and make the connections. (Of course things are a little more complicated than that and creating perfect circumstances for such connections is an art form — hence the many books on creativity.)

Obviously chances are higher to come up with ideas when you have more information at hand. But it is even higher if you have knowledge learned by heart because your mind has effortless access to it! Using external knowledge and looking things up would take far more time and effort.

Internalised knowledge is an ideal soil for new ideas because you have effortless, speedy access to highly interconnected information.

So instead of designing “smart” things that remember for us we might sometimes rather come up with things that help us to learn and remember.

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Ralph Ammer

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I love to draw and write about art, design, and the rest. | Munich, Germany