Please, switch off the lightbulbs

One of the most ridiculous ironies of people who like to espouse their creative chops, is that they seemingly like to focus on the same cliched image to represent it.

One wonders if its inventor, Thomas Edison, google searched 'creativity', would he be groaning with displeasure to see 6.8 billion lightbulbs appear? The man filed over 1,000 patents for his many different inventions. You'd reckon today's 'creatives' could come close to thinking of at least some other ways to express creativity than the same image?

But no, some creative people like to show this as seemingly the best way to visually represent idea generation. The real shame, apart from the lack of imagination, is that it's actually a crock. I guess at one stage some bright spark decided that the lightbulb referred to the now cliched 'lightbulb moment'. When inspiration lands in your brain as simple as someone flicking a switch on. Um. No. Doesn't work like that. Never has. When was the last time an idea instantly appeared when someone walked into the dark room you were in (and why were you in there anyway?) and simply turned on the light. Ideas don't just appear in your head that quickly - switch or no switch.

The reality of idea generation, and the formal technical skill known as 'creativity', is that ideas are forming in our brains over a very very long time. Think of the technique as more like slow cooking. You start with a slow cooker and you add in ingredients and let them marinate. As you add more and more ingredients, the more the dish changes. Sometimes you'll follow a recipe, other times you'll add something you haven't added before and it changes the taste completely.

Now imagine the slow cooker is your brain. You collect different, seemingly unrelated, thoughts over time and add it to the vast and varied pantry of your mind. Then when the time is right to cook, you go back to the pantry for your ingredients. Sometimes you actively go inside the pantry to choose them. Sometimes the pantry throws out something random out and it hits you in the head. Either way, the ingredients that you have collected are your starting point for any idea. You might not have used some of them for years, or decades, but they are all still there - waiting for the right recipe to come along to cook with.

Our job, as humans and therefore potential idea generators, is to learn how to cook with these ingredients.  All of us - creative by nature or not - are gathering ingredients all the time, but mostly we don't think to open the pantry and use them to cook. Creativity, like all arts, is a practiced pursuit. We are all born creative. That doesn't mean we'll all end up being Michelin Chef's, but we can all put food on the table if we try. You can't stand at an empty slow cooker and expect it to make a dish alone. The ingredients make the taste and your task is to cook them into something that's edible. It doesn't always taste good the first time you try new things, but if you don't try to combine new ingredients you won't get new ideas.

One of the new workshop programs I've created is like a cooking class for creativity. If you're interested to hear how I can come and teach you and your team how to cook better ideas, let me know. I'll bring the wine. And in the meantime, can someone please turn out the lightbulbs.