A Torrent Of Ideas — Quotidian 409

(Transcript of video originally posted on 01 Aug 2022)

This word, Idea, I tried exploring where this was originally from. And guess what, it comes from the Greek and the Latin root, and the meaning of that root? To see! And, not just see without any purpose… To see and recognise a pattern. That is an idea. To see and recognise a pattern!

Namaste! Ennakkaru Mazhai! Not just one idea, how to get a LOT of ideas! How to get a lot of GOOD ideas! That is what we are going to see today!

There is this book — How to get ideas — by Jack Foster. This man… the book… is extremely creative. Illustrations are amazing. And, it is divided into two parts. The first part is about how to get your mind ready for amazing ideas. And, while talking about that, he says things that we have already seen in all these 409 episodes. Nothing new really. But… the way he says it.. The example he uses.. They were really interesting, and I thought I should share them, at least some of them, with you.

Ten ways to idea-condition your mind. To prepare it. To get it ready. To keep it on the alert so that if the idea “flies by”, you will be able to immediately grab and catch it. That is the question in front of us. And here are ten beautiful answers.

Number One is Have fun! We have seen this already. Because the funny mind is the creative mind. We have seen a lot of examples for this. He draws the concept of a joke. He says, “Hey, take a look at this joke.” For example, “What is the best thing about Switzerland?” is the question. And, how do we give an answer to that? How do we make it witty?!” “I don’t know, but the flag is a big plus!” Do you see the double meaning? In the last turn? Suddenly a bulb glows and it makes it funny! This is the characteristic of any joke! The author catches on to this, and says, “An unexpected direction change. A 180-degree U-turn. Later, it sounds perfectly logical, though. That is the key concept of a great idea also, not just a joke.” In the 1970s, there was this new concept that came along. Regenerative Braking. It is by default installed in any new electric car these days. When you apply the brakes on your vehicle, instead of losing the energy as heat, burnt rubber, wear and tear, etc, imagine if we could convert the kinetic energy of your vehicle into charge for the battery, so it can be useful the next time you want to accelerate! It is that unexpected directional change, that later sounded, “Hey, that’s perfectly logical, da!” So, have fun, crack jokes, make way for ideas to come and take hold of you.

Number Two is “Be more like a child”. Like a child. Not childish. But, childlike. Curiosity. We have seen numerous examples — about capturing that childlike curiosity. He uses one from Dr. Albert Einstein himself. There have been countless stories about him, and there are quite a few interesting stories that feature him and his love for children. In one of his interviews, he has said this:- “Everybody when we were children, we ask questions about time and space. How large is this universe? How long will this still be around? What happened long ago? How fast is something? How heavy is something? We have always been asking these questions as a child. As we grow up, we stop asking those questions. In my case, probably my development was retarded. I didn’t grow up like everybody else. I was retarded. And so, when I had the tools, like calculus and other powerful tools, when I had them in my hand, I was still asking those childlike questions, and that is what probably helped me!” He said this in all humility. So, be more like a child. For a child, if it enters an environment, every day is a new day! Every environment is a new environment. Remember the movie, 50 First Dates? Like that! Can you be like that? That may pave the way to a beautiful, idea-rich world for you.

Number Three is to become “Idea-Prone”. If it starts raining, it should POUR! How do you do that? He gives an example of an advertising agency. He works at an advertising agency himself. Where, once, there was this assignment. “We need to create this billboard, and publish it tomorrow, for a Swiss Army Knife”. They think of a lot of options and alternatives, but all of them seem old and usual. They are not able to come up with something new. 24 hours pass by, nobody has any new idea, for they were looking for one single beautiful idea. The spec is changed… The boss comes and says, “I need ten ideas from each of you! By lunch time!” So, when a time tension is added, a deadline is added, and a large quantity is expected as the output, some of them brought twenty five!! So, what’s he trying to say? When you know that there is a solution possible for a problem, the way you approach the problem changes! When you are wondering whether this problem even has a solution or not, you approach it differently from, when you know that this problem doesn’t have just one solution but actually ten, and let us come up with some! Similarly, push away the self-doubt that echoes “Can I even do this at all?” You have to tell yourself that you can do it. So, there are two things to keep in mind. First, there are many many many solutions out there. And, the second, YOU can get there! You can do it! That’s how you make your psyche idea-prone.

Number Four is about visualising success. We have heard of so many stories, read so many books, about the power of creative visualisation. You know what the examples he uses are? He says, imagine you are walking along a very narrow path. Just ten inches wide. Between two tall buildings! They are calling you over. “Come! Come to the other side!” You are afraid. You are terrified. You are concerned about the wind, concerned about the height, concerned about one misstep, concerned about the sweat on your forehead, concerned about the crow that is coming towards you… But, imagine this same scenario with just a small twist. Your 12-week-old waif, that little helpless baby is being dangled from the other side. “Come! Or else..!” is the threat. Will you go now? — asks the author. Yes of course! And, what’s the difference? The difference is the visualisation that you do in the second scenario! What if the child is dropped?! It is not about all the other problems you were concerned about.. Your focus, your visualisation, is about that end goal. Just make that change to your approach. There was an experiment, in a college. They conducted this experiment on basketballer-girls. They don’t know the game much, the sixty girls. They are split into three groups of twenty. The first twenty are trained from Day 1 to Day 20. Their accurancy is measured on Day 1. Then again on Day 20. Free throw success percentage is measured. Of course it has improved for them. A full 24%. The second twenty, they are measured on Day 1. The next twenty days nothing much happens. No training. Nothing. Twentieth day they are measured again. Of course, zero percent improvement. But, you know what was shocking?! The third twenty of them, the coach said, “You don’t need to come to the court.. But, visualise yourself shooting. Visualise your body posture. Visualise the ball going through the net. Hear that swooshing sound as it slips without hitting the ring. Hear the crowd applauding you!” For twenty days, that’s what they did. Shock of shocks!! Twenty-three percent improvement, in free throw shooting percentage, just sitting in a couch visualising! So, visualise the end goal. Automatically ideas will come, he says!

Number Five is about Rejoicing in Failure. It is only through Failure can you actually Win — is something we have seen often here. We have also heard that Failure is the stepping stone for Success. He brings, though, two crucial professions. One of them is race car driving. The other is that chef in that restaurant who is experimenting. For both of these professionals, success, the highest level of success, when do they really realise that they have done it, they have reached it? When there is a crash for the racecar driver, he would tell himself, “I should try all but this!” When there is a disaster in the kitchen, “All but this, I should try!”, the chef tells himself. So, you have to explore the edges of Failure before you know to define Success for yourself. Isn’t that beautiful?!

Number Six is about getting more inputs! If you want to become really good at something, to be creative, you have to take inputs from EVERYWHERE! One guy,… I will read it out to you, it is so interesting…! His name is Jeff Weakley. This guy had sent the most interesting resume ever, to the author! So, what was so special about the resume? Well, it said, … The illustration showed a man’s head piled high with junk — broken pencils, old tires, bottles, and so on. The headline said: “Invest in a junk pile.” The copy said: “I read the labels on toothpaste tubes. I have been a disc jockey. I have been a door-to-door salesman. I have studied and worked with film, television, radio, and photography. I play sports, speak Spanish, and know the names of all the teeth in my mouth. I have read a lot of books and seen a lot of movies. I know of a disease that causes men to eat dirt, ice, and laundry starch. Most importantly, I know something dual-in-line-package 14-pin quad two-input NANS gates. I’ve always been like that. I’ve created in my mind this giant junk pile of seemingly worthless information. And then I discovered advertising. The junk pile became a treasure overnight. As I am at the earliest stages of my advertising career, I am offering you the opportunity to invest in this junk pile. For a very good price. If you’re interested in seeing the rest of my collection, please call.” How interesting!! Collect! Because, you never know when you may be able to make some interesting connections and come up with an amazing idea. Be a voracious reader. Be a voracious observer!

Number Seven is about courage! You need guts. You need the gumption to actually put it out in the open. There are a lot many stories. Rejection stories. About the number of failures faced by Thomas Alva Edison, the number of rejection slips that J K Rowling collected. How to face rejection though? Instead, listen to this story! In our office, there was this review happening of creative ideas, and the boss said, “Sorry, this is bad, come up with another!” At that time, a colleague gave me this good advice. It seems that guy next to him said, “Wow, this is an opportunity for us to come up with a better idea!” In other words, you look at yourselves as an engine that can keep creating ideas always better than the previous one! For, if you don’t create an idea as good as or better than your previous one, you will be replaced! You have to retire! So, as long as you are pumping them out, “Wow!, an opportunity to come up with even better!” should be your mindset. Bounce back, like a spring, higher than you reached, the last time. That is the attitude.

Number Eight is about teaming up. Instead of going it all the way alone, idea-brainstorming should ideally include two/three people. Together! The results will be usually special! As an example, he quotes the Schick shaving foam warming device. They had come up with an invention to warm the shaving foam. If you apply it on your cheek, it will be warm and comforting, particularly if you live in cold countries. Everything looked good, they surveyed potential buyers, everybody seemed to want one, but somehow, the product never sold in high numbers.. Wondering what to do, wondering why it wasn’t selling, worried that the advertising was perhaps below par, they brought the device to this advertising agency. A small team had been formed, they were discussing, they were debating, and then, one of them, thankfully a lady, she stood up and said, “Everything is perfect, except that you are selling it to the wrong people.. It is not to the men that you should be selling this, it is to the women who are looking for what to gift their husband on the coming Christmas. It is the perfect gift a woman can give a husband!” So, this is the benefit you get when you have some opposing minds, looking at the problem from two different directions, arriving at the solution in double quick speed… But, wait, he does give two additional bits of advice too. Don’t bring in too many cooks! Decision by committee is always flawed! And, similarly, brainstorming with your boss may be a bad idea, because, brainstorming expects you to be ready to be a fool, to be made an ass..! Check if your boss is ready for such treatment, or if you are ready for it in front of your boss!

Number Nine is about Lateral Thinking. Think different. Think from a different angle. The example he quotes for this is a story from a company in Korea. They set up an amazing training department. They told their employees, “We just need the right attitude. Even if you walk in with zero skills, we will train you, we will train you in all the skills needed, we will do everything to make you a well-rounded professional!” There was only one problem.. These people, after finishing their training, they were poached by other companies in the city. Why?! With such a consummate training program, the other companies were ready to pay twice, were ready to send a pickup limo to their home, give skyhigh perks, gift an iPhone to each employee, … they just wanted the person to jump ship! They were taken away by all those other companies who were probably having more money, but who didn’t have as good a training department as this company… They worried, wondered, debated, what was to be done about this, and then, one guy, in exasperation, commented, “I think we should take everybody into a room, and just chop their legs off.. That may be the only way to prevent them from walking off!” You know what happened? Just a little extension of that, just a few days later, that germ of an idea germinated a little more, and this Korean company decided they would recruit only handicapped people on wheelchairs. Because, their company was wheelchair-friendly. Sloped access ways near staircases, wheelchair-compatible elevators and toilets. The other companies could not do that, and there was no way they could recruit wheelchair-bound specialists. How interesting?!

And, finally, Number Ten is about connection, it is about combination. We have seen a lot many examples, but the one this author gave was pretty interesting! He said, we have always had coin punches — from way back in the times of kings and queens. Way back! Tens of thousands of years ago! Similarly, the winepress? The one that crushes the juice out of grapes? That too, has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. But, it took a person who knew how both of these work, to bring them together creatively, and create that Gutenberg printing press. The first printing press. He was able to bring one idea from somewhere, another idea from somewhere else, bring these two creatively together, like a mashup, and do this! Interesting!

My closing thought is actually an invitation, to know more about this guy, Randall Munroe. Randall Munroe is an author, a cartoonist, a physicist, an engineer. Overall big shot! Do you remember these cartoon stick figures? Some of you may recall the association with the XKCD series. He is the guy who produces these daily! He has published them as books too.

Amazing books. One of them is called “What if”. This book is filled with What If questions.. Like, “How would it be to swim in a swimming pool filled with nuclear explosion residue fluid?” Like “If I were to pitch a baseball at 90% the speed of light, how will you swing at it?” Like “If every human being on earth is taken to one location, one island, and everybody press their foot down strong and hard, at the same time, what would happen?” For questions like these, he gives answers, with proper proof and scientific support, and with wit too! Go, get creative! Thank you! And yes, we will meet again soon! Bye bye!

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Rajendran Dandapani

Rajendran Dandapani

Business Solutions Evangelist at Zoho Corp. President at The Zoho Schools Of Learning.