How to do more, thing better, and be different (with or without AI)
- How to do more, thing better, and be different (with or without AI)
- The Creative Algorithm (+>≠)*
- Preface for the Impatient
- The many definitions of Creativity
- Creativity is…
- Creativity is the act of connecting things in exceptional ways.
- More Better Different (+>≠)
- The Act (more)
- 10 Ideas in 10 Minutes
- The Law of 1%
- Winning the Pottery
- 10 Titles in 10 milliseconds
- Nothing does quantity better than these generative AIs
- Connecting Things (better)
- Mind Mapping
- How Might We… (HMW)
- Question Formulation Technique (QFT)
- Exceptional Ways (different)
- Outlier not Alien
- The 3% Rule of Change
- Impostor Syndrome
- Brain Borrowing (Lateral Thinking)
- Self-Destruct Button
- Random Word
The Creative Algorithm (+>≠)*
Please note that some of the resource links are affiliates and I may earn a small commission from the sale. However, none of these are paid advertisements. Everything is hand-picked and curated.
Preface for the Impatient
If you don’t care a lick about the history or definition of creativity, and just want to know how to do more, think better, and be different, then jump down here.
As a trained graphic designer, an eventual creative professional and executive, and as huge process nerd, I have been keenly interested in creativity for decades. I want to know exactly what it is, how it can be harnessed, and ultimately to unlock the world’s innate creative potential. In it’s simplest form, it all comes down to these three words: More, better, different. Let me explain.
The many definitions of Creativity
Back in the mid 2000s, and after years of research, I still hadn’t come across a universally accepted definition for creativity. Even Wikipedia admitted this.
Many of the definitions were anecdotal or snippets of conversation with actors, entrepreneurs, or chefs, often taken slightly out of context. While these coloured my perspective, they still weren’t giving me the full picture. Many of these quotes are included in the sections below.
Creativity is not a talent; it is a way of operating. (John Cleese, 1991)
Creativity is just connecting things. (Steve Jobs, 1996)
Creativity means not copying. (Jacques Maximin, 1987)
And then there were the psychologists and neuroscientists with their own ideas based on their focus of work:
Creativity is kind of like pornography—you know it when you see it. (Rex Jung, 2010)
Creativity is the ability to take the elements of thought and break them down and reorganize them into something that is new. (John Kounios, 2021)
Creativity is the production of effective novelty. (Carol R. Aldous, 2012)
I wanted a definition that could help me differentiate between the many different types of creativity I witnessed on a daily basis: craft, art, design, intellect, wisdom and empathy. I also wanted it to be in sync with the latest scientific studies, but also future proofed and loose enough to, flexible enough, to expand its meaning as new discoveries are made. I desired a phrase that could stand on its own three feet, like a well-grounded chair, and act like a stepping-stool to allow anyone to reach greater creative heights.
In time, I came to the following conclusion: it doesn’t matter. A framework, however imperfect, can still be used as a benchmark, a starting point, or as reference material to whatever comes next. The following is my definition of creativity and the subsequent body of work that has evolved from it over the years.
I hope you find it as stimulating to use as I found it to make.
Creativity is the act of connecting things in exceptional ways.
There it is:
My simple, yet ridiculously complex definition.
Action results in quantity.
First, creativity contains action; the act of creation. This is important to establish that creativity involves momentum and tenacity, that it is something that requires work. In order to create, to make things that don’t yet exist, to overcome inertia, you need to do more.
Connection results in quality.
Second, creativity is about connecting things. It is about searching for knowledge, having a mindset of perpetual curiosity and learning. It is about diving deep and searching broad. It is about asking the right questions, and seeking the best associations so you can think better.
Exception results in uniqueness
Thirdly, creativity is about exceptional ways. An exception is not like the other things around it. It stands out, but it also stands in. It’s about being an outlier, not an alien. It is a deeply personal (therefore subjective) reaction, drawing on empathy, memory, perspective, and one’s innate sense of oneself in the context of others. It is about finding the courage to be different.
ACTION → do more → Quantity → (plus) +
CONNECTION → think better → Quality → (greater-than) >
EXCEPTION → be different → uniQueness → (not-equal-to) ≠
More Better Different (+>≠)
The reason I named my company More Better Different is because these are the direct benefits of applied and enhanced creativity. You will end up with more, better, and different work. Through your actions, your connections, and your exceptions, you will unlock your own creative potential. I have a gazillion methods, exercises, systems, tricks, and tips for you to try, but in this presentation I will try to limit them to a few favourites that have always worked for me.
The Act (more)
The question of whether creativity is innate or learned (nature vs nurture) has long been debated. Are some people just lucky geniuses, born more creative than others?
I don’t think so. If you are human, you are creative; only, perhaps, in different ways. There are many facets to creativity, with a few standout attributes.
Some of these attributes you may naturally be better at than others. Some you will have had more exposure to in your environment. And still others can be honed and trained. When it comes to creativity, the more you put in, the more you'll get out.
Creativity is not just a skill or a talent. It is also a drive, a force. It requires action. As author Brenda Ueland once said, "If you want to be a writer, you have to write." It's as simple as that. Action is the key to unlocking your creativity. It is that physical act of jumping the gap between zero and one, between facing nothing and making something.
Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide
by John Cleese
"Many people have written about creativity, but although they were very, very clever, they weren't actually creative. I like to think I'm writing about it from the inside."
But taking action is not always easy. There is a powerful force that pumps the brakes on your momentum, that builds up inertia. In The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield calls this force the “Resistance" and believes it pushes back in proportion to how important your work is to complete. Like Newton’s Third Law of Motion, for every action in nature, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That force is procrastination—the first major hurdle in creating something from nothing.
It's easy to get caught up in planning, researching, or brainstorming, without ever actually taking action. We tell ourselves that we're not ready yet, that we need more information or inspiration. But the truth is, there will never be a perfect time to start. The only way to create is to take action, even if it's imperfect, even if it's messy.
And once you start, you have to continue. Do the work, keep chipping away. The more you make, the more momentum you’ll build. Eventually you’ll look back and see a body of work you never could have imagined.
But this is easier said than done.
Here are a few tools to help break through the action barriers and do more.
Deadlines are a powerful tool in the creative process. They create urgency, focus, and accountability. They force us to prioritize, make decisions, and take action. Deadlines are the difference between an idea and a finished product.
The use of deadlines is not a new concept. In fact, the first recorded instance of a deadline was in 1864 when Confederate army officer Henry Wirz created what he called a “dead line” around his prisoners of war. This consisted of a circle drawn in the dirt around the prison camp, and any prisoner who crossed the line was shot on sight.
By the 1920s, the word was adopted by hyperbolic journalists and content marketers, whose publishing schedules made them feel like their lives were on the line.
In the creative world, deadlines come in many forms. They can be self-imposed, such as setting a personal goal to finish a project by a certain date. They can also be external, such as a client deadline or a competition submission deadline.
Regardless of their origin, deadlines are a powerful motivator. They create a sense of urgency and help us focus our efforts. They force us to make decisions and prioritize our tasks. Without deadlines, projects can easily drag on indefinitely, with no clear end in sight.
Of course, deadlines can also be stressful. They can create anxiety and pressure, especially when they are tight or unexpected. However, with practice, we can learn to use deadlines to our advantage, embracing the challenge and using it to push us to create our best work.
One of the keys to using deadlines effectively is to break projects down into smaller, more manageable chunks. By doing so, we can set deadlines for each task, giving us a clear roadmap and ensuring that we stay on track. We can also build in buffer time, allowing for unexpected setbacks or delays.
In addition to traditional deadlines, there are also a number of techniques and tools that can help us stay focused and productive.
One such technique is the Pomodoro Technique, created by developer and entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s as a university student.
The technique involves working in 25-minute blocks, with a 5-minute break and reward afterwards. It is named after the Italian word for tomato, as Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to keep himself on track.
For some reason, this little timer technique works wonders for short bursts of focus. There’s just enough time to move a project further ahead, but not enough time to fritter around.
10 Ideas in 10 Minutes
Another tool is the 10 in 10 exercise, which I have used for years with my creative teams. In this exercise, you have 10 minutes to come up with 10 ideas, concepts, titles, URLs, or anything else related to the project at hand.
There are only three rules:
- Write down everything without judgement (the good, the bad, and the ugly)
- Make sure you each have 10 things before the timer runs out (so if you have 3 people, you need to have 30 ideas)
In the end, deadlines are a critical component of the creative process. They help us stay focused, motivated, and accountable. They keep us putting one foot forward on the long journey of creation.
60m Visual Timer by AIMILAR
I call this my Rotten Tomato Timer, and try to score 4 to 5 ‘Tomatoes’ (blocks of focused 25 min) on a major project every day.
The Law of 1%
"Isn't one good idea enough?"
That depends on how good you want your ideas to be.
As Thomas Edison once said, "Creativity is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." Actually, Edison used the word 'genius,' but 'creativity' fits better into my narrative (also, that's not really a photo of him—it was created by the generative text-to-image service Midjourney V5) Such is the nature of artistic license. 😛
Edison's famous quote is a testament to the power of hard work and persistence. To get the right element for his lightbulb filament—something that could burn bright without disintegrating—he did many experiments, finally settling on carbonized bamboo after 2,774 attempts.
The point here is that bamboo wasn’t discovered during his last attempt. He wanted to try everything to see if there was something better. While perfecting battery storage (yes, Edison invented the Edison battery, too) he conducted over 9,000 failed experiments in his workshop over a six month period. When a visiting reporter lamented that Edison had failed to get any results, the inventor replied:
"Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won't work!"
Edison was tenacious. He didn't stop after he found a solution. Instead, he tried everything he could think of (and more) to get to a better answer, the best possible answer. Creativity is hard work. I call this the Law of 1%.
Not only do we need to break through inertia, resistance, and procrastination, but we need to keep going. We need to do more.
Imagine you want to get to a brilliant idea, or an amazing work of art. Your first version might be quite good, but in order to achieve greatness, you must wade through the mediocre ideas and the bad ideas first.
It’s not that these ideas are in the way of your brilliant idea. Quite the opposite. They are helping to form your best idea. You see, each time you come up with a bad idea, each time you make a mistake, your creative brain pivots and turns, seeks and learns.
Through persistence, greatness is uncovered.
Let’s take Annie Leibovitz for example. Even though she’s a world famous fashion and portrait photographer with decades of experience, she doesn’t just attend a photoshoot, snap a few pictures and leave. Instead, she takes her time with her subjects, gets them comfortable, and then takes thousands of photos to find the one that captures what she intends.
Often the best path to quality is through quantity.
Winning the Pottery
In the book Art & Fear, there's a famous story of a ceramics teacher who divided his class in two.
Half the class was told they’d get an ‘A’ for producing fifty pounds worth of pottery, which would be weighed at the end of the course. The other half was asked to make just one perfect pot.
As the story goes, the students who focused on quantity, the ones who made mistakes but kept pushing for more, overwhelmingly beat the group of perfectionists who were meticulously sweating over every detail without gaining any experience through failure.
While this tale isn’t entirely factual (the original experiment was done by a photography teacher, not a pottery teacher), the wisdom, as with most good stories, holds true.
Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
by Davide Bayles and Ted Orland
Art & Fear explores the way art gets made, the reasons it often doesn't get made, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way.
10 Titles in 10 milliseconds
I went through many, many titles for this talk before finally settling on The Creative Algorithm: How to Do More, Think Better, and Be Different (With or Without AI). You might say I’ve been writing the title for this talk since 2006, when I first became interested in defining, refining, and codifying my views on creativity. I’ll save your eyes the trouble of scanning such a long list, but trust me when I say that there were some terrible titles, including Prompting Powers: How to Enhance Creativity with AI (which I ended up submitting to the conference—done is better than great, am I right?)
Later, I compiled my notes into a document and asked GPT for a list of titles. It came up with 10 almost instantly. To be honest, most of them are mediocre, but reading them triggered the title I eventually wrote and used. So often you need to wade through the “bad”(💩) ideas to get to the better ones.
Based on our conversation, give me 10 alternate titles for my presentation that would appeal to creative professionals, strategists, and engineers.
Sure, here are 10 alternate titles for your presentation that could appeal to creative professionals, strategists, and engineers:
- "Beyond Brainstorming: Unleashing the Power of Creativity"
- "The Creative Edge: Unleashing Your Inner Innovator"
- "Breaking the Mold: Techniques for Disruptive Thinking"
- "Unlocking Creativity: Strategies for Overcoming Creative Blocks"
- "Think Different: Tools and Techniques for Creativity and Innovation"
- "The Art of Problem-Solving: Unleashing Your Inner Genius"
- "Innovation Unleashed: Strategies for Radical Problem-Solving"
- "Creativity Unleashed: The Key to Unlocking Your Potential"
- "Think Outside the Box: Unlocking Your Creative Potential"
- "Mastering the Art of Innovation: Techniques for Creative Problem-Solving"
And here's the thing: AI won’t make you lazy, it will make you crazy—because instead of judging ten new ideas, you'll be judging thousands.
Nothing does quantity better than these generative AIs
When it comes to creativity, Quantity is a critical attribute. And there's no doubt that AI is the best tool to boost it. In an MIT study, two groups were asked to complete basic knowledge work. One group was given GPT to do the second task, while the other remained as a control group. The results were significant, with people using GPT taking half the time to complete tasks and scoring higher in competence when graded by a third party.
It's clear that if you're not learning and playing with these tools, figuring out how to incorporate them into your processes to drive up quantity and speed, you will be left behind. AI won't completely replace creative professionals, but creative professionals using AI will replace those who don't. Of course, there will always be a market for traditionalists, but expect it to be even smaller.
In it’s own way, quantity might be the single most important consequence of creativity. It jumps the gap between zero and one, from nothing to something.
AI dramatically boosts quantity, for good and for bad, allowing anyone with a computer to stop looking at a blank page and bring something into the world.
My son recently started writing his own original songs, after years of practicing and perfecting the music of others. When I asked him what had encouraged this behaviour, his answer was ChatGPT. In previous times, before the AI Spring of ‘23 (McKinsey, 2023) he always hit a roadblock with lyrics. Not having words to sing prevented his brain from finding pleasure in finding a hook or melody. With AI, those barriers were shattered. Now he could start with something, and change it, play with it. In this way alone, it is a game changer.
Hopefully my theory holds true, that the more you create, the more you have to choose from, and the more you have to choose from, the greater your chances of being great.
Quantity promotes Quality, and a virtuous cycle of creativity begins.
Connecting Things (better)
In 1994, Steve Jobs famously said in an interview with WIRED magazine that "creativity is just connecting things.” Jobs himself demonstrated this by creating the Apple ecosystem and connecting all of our credit cards to the App Store, which has made Apple the world's most valuable company at around $2.4 trillion. Everything within their beautiful walled garden is connected, from Sidecar to AirDrop to Universal Control.
Jobs' simplified definition of creativity mirrored his world view of simplifying technology: learn everything so that you know what to do with it, how to process it, and how to present it.
Creativity is intrinsically intertwined with curiosity and information seeking, of finding insightful connections between various spheres of knowledge. It traverses culture, art, science, technology, literature, and every other discipline known to humanity.
Finding connections encourages us to dig deeper and go further afield, encountering ‘Eureka’ moments when you least expect them, but having done enough legwork to recognize them when they arrive.
But where and when do you stop making connections, going down the next rabbit hole? The shadow side of having access to an almost infinite amount of information is that there’s always more to know, ways to improve.
This connection to everything, everywhere, all at once can cause overwhelm. It can prevent us from ever finishing a project. What if I got it wrong? What if I could have done it better?
This fear can be paralyzing (analysis paralysis is real!) which is why it's crucial to set boundaries. One friend of mine says that when he reaches 75-80% he ships his work. Again, done is better than perfect (unless you’re building software for the International Space Station, in which case perfect is better than done). Usually our boundaries are time (see Deadlines above) but they could just as easily be limits on size, cost, or even ethics and morals.
One way to make better connections is by creating a mind map, or as I like to call it, “connect the thots.”
If you’re not familiar with mind mapping, it’s a simple and effective way to spread out the depth and breadth of your knowledge, and to poke around the fringes of your idea or topic, probing the borders and often uncovering interesting associations.
Put your topic or subject in the center and write down all the things you might associate with it, connecting them with a line. Then continue branching out, getting further and further away from the center. Each initial spoke becomes a mini-topic, its own section. This is a quick way to see how and where your idea might connect to other concepts, disciplines, metaphors, culture, science, etc. Doing this with a diverse set of people with different backgrounds and experiences and vocations makes this even more valuable.
When making connections, look for things that make you go "huh?" or "aha!" Things that stand out to you as surprising, interesting, or essential.
And of course, GPT is fantastic as a partner in this task. It puts the "T" in T-shaped learning, being quite capable of going both deep and wide on just about any piece of information that has been published.
The T-shape is a metaphor for the depth and breadth of knowledge. The vertical line represents expertise, discipline, and knowledge of a specific field or topic, what people refer to as a "specialist." The horizontal line represents cross-discipline competencies and the ability to collaborate with professionals in other industries or roles, what people refer to as a "generalist" or jack-of-all-trades (or jane-of-all-trades). It's always useful to have a mix of both to get the best out of your ideas and creations.
Create a detailed mind map of the term "rabbit hole". Include about 20 nodes.
Sure, here is a more detailed mind map of the term “rabbit hole”, with about 20 nodes branching out:
Stanford professor Tina Seelig is a renowned expert in the field of creativity and has lectured around the world. One of the techniques she is known for is "framestorming," a customized version of the QFT, or Question Formulation Technique (which we’ll get into below ⬇️).
Seelig believes that quality of our answers depends heavily on the questions we ask. There are closed questions and open questions, both with their own outputs.
For example, if you ask what does five plus five equal, there is only one answer.
But if you simply ask the same question in a different way, like what two numbers combined will give you ten, you suddenly have an infinite number of answers.
How Might We… (HMW)
The How Might We (HMW) challenge statement is a common way to stay focused on a particular issue you are trying to solve. It is popular in design thinking sprints and UX design. But it can really be used for anything.
I call it a “challenge statement”, because it presents the ultimate goal or wicked problem in the most articulate way possible without getting too bogged down in details.
I also prefer the term “challenge” over “problem” because it immediately frames the question in more positive terms. It’s a way of framing a question to open up the possibilities and spark the brain to start making connections.
Each word has a purpose:
“How” frames the challenge statement as a question, opening up the possibilities and sparking the brain to make connections.
“Might” gives you the permission of impermanence. This isn’t final, these are just ideas. Anything goes. Speak your mind, you won’t be beholden to your ideas.
“We” is inclusive and encourages collaboration and sharing of Ideas. It doesn’t put the sole responsibility on any one individual (unless of course, you are doing the exercise alone, in which case you simply blame ChatGPT for any faulty ideas 😏)
Ultimately, it is phrased like a formula, which is perfect for ChatGPT input:
You are my creative assistant who will help me write an HMW (How Might We) challenge statement. These statements include something I want to change or accomplish, who it is for, and the benefits of making that change or accomplishment.
An example HMW Challenge Statement might look like this: "How might we organize our existing assets and present them in a way online to attract potential customers so we can increase our revenue?"
First prompt me with the first of five questions you will need to ask me to complete this task. Then stop and wait for my answer before continuing with the next question.
Repeat this until all five questions have been answered.
Finally, after I have answered the fifth and final question, incorporate my answers in a concise HMW Challenge Statement. Try to keep it open and positive. Try not to present a solution within the statement itself.
Great! Let's get started.
- What is the main issue or challenge you want to address with this HMW statement? Please state the problem you want to solve or the change you want to make.
I want to publish my speaker slides and notes
- Who is the target audience for this change or accomplishment? In other words, who would benefit from this change or accomplishment?
This is for the people who attended my talk in person and want to refer back to the slides and concepts for further exploration and interest.
- What benefits do you hope to achieve from making this change or accomplishment? For example, is it to increase knowledge sharing, improve accessibility, or something else?
The benefits are two-fold: the audience will learn more about creativity and hopefully be more creative in the world, contributing more to humanity, but also I have an opportunity to gain followers who, in greater numbers, could contribute to a new way for me to make a living.
- Can you identify any specific pain points or problems that your target audience might be experiencing that this change or accomplishment could address? For example, do they struggle to take notes during your talk, or find it hard to remember everything you said?
They're probably fine at taking notes, it's just that my talks are usually quite dense and there just isn't time to go over everything in great detail. With an online version to browse, they can read it at their own pace and explore and experiment with the exercises and prompts that are provided.
- What is one specific aspect of this change or accomplishment that you want to emphasize in the HMW statement? For example, is it the convenience of having the materials available online, or the opportunity for further exploration and experimentation?
I think the opportunity for further exploration is more the impetus for this publication.
Based on your answers, here is a possible HMW challenge statement:
How might we provide an online platform for attendees of my talks to access and explore speaker slides and notes, enabling them to dive deeper into the concepts and exercises presented, and empowering them to cultivate their own creativity and contribute to society in new and meaningful ways?
Remember, the HMW statement should remain open-ended and positive, without including a specific solution. It should invite exploration and ideation to discover new and innovative ways to achieve the desired outcome.
Once you have your Challenge Statement, it can be explored further using the QFT!
Question Formulation Technique (QFT)
The QFT, or Question Formulation Technique is a systematic way of asking questions to improve the quality of output. This technique was established by educators Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana in their book, "Make Just One Change," which was written to help students improve their critical thinking skills.
A quick breakdown of the QFT is as follows:
- Ask all the questions Record every question you have regarding this challenge. (eg. How long is it going to take? Will you need help? What tools or services are necessary?) This is where you can use your HMW Challenge Statement as a focal point. The rules for asking these questions are simple:
- No solving (you will be tempted to try and answer these questions, but that is not the point of this exercise)
- No editing (write down the questions exactly as they are asked)
- No judging (there are no wrong or ‘stupid’ questions, especially during a QFT session)
- Refine the questions After recording all the questions, the next step is to refine them.
- Close open questions (If a question is too open-ended, try asking it in a way that requires a yes/no answer. For example, “How will we consider where to open our next office?” might be turned into, “Are we going to open a new office this year?”
- Open closed questions (Exactly the same as above, only the opposite. Take yes/no questions and ask them in a way that opens them up to multiple answers. Instead of, “Are we going to revise the images in this book?” we could ask, “How are we going to revise the images in this book?”)
Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions
by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana
The authors of Make Just One Change argue that formulating one's own questions is "the single most essential skill for learning"--and one that should be taught to all students.
- Evaluate the questions Finally, evaluate the questions and select the three or four most important questions to answer to move your project forward or meet your challenge.
There are different ways to judge the questions, such as voting on or choosing the most important ones, using a Dotmocracy exercise or a quadrant or matrix like How Now Wow. This process is meant to eliminate unnecessary questions and prioritize the most critical ones.
By continuously diving deep and going broad, being curious, setting the right frame and focus, and asking the right questions, we can consistently improve the quality of our output. I know a lot of these examples come from the innovation and product design universe, but with a few tweaks and some imagination, they can be applied to just about any creative endeavour.
As we fine tune our focus, and ask the right questions, we get a better understanding of the challenges we have set for ourselves in any creative setting.
As the quality improves, and we go wider and deeper, our ideas and connections become more specific and unique.
Focusing on quality, niching down, and expressing ourselves more intentionally can lead directly to novel ideas that haven’t been broached before.
Quality promotes uniQueness, and the virtuous cycle of creativity continues.
Exceptional Ways (different)
Exceptional ways of creativity are not limited to the realm of art or design. Spanish Chef Ferran Adrià’s approach to molecular gastronomy and his search for perpetual novelty is a testament to the power of thinking differently.
Adrià was adamant that everything he created be different. His mantra, which he internalized from a talk by French Chef Jacques Maximin in 1987, was “Creativity means not copying,” sending Adrià on a lifelong quest for culinary novelty.
This mentality launched the molecular gastronomy movement: from liquid olives that popped in your mouth, to dishes made entirely of foam. Adrià even had custom cutlery made for certain dishes, like a spoon with a clip on the handle that held aromatic herbs that affected the olfactory senses while eating his soup.
Creativity is the act of connecting things in exceptional ways, or what scientists call the production of effective novelty.
For some, this is the crux of creativity, the holy mountain, the element sometimes referred to as ‘creative genius’: originality.
But finding the right ratio of originality to familiarity can be a difficult balancing act. We want our work to stand out, but we also want it to stand in—to be accepted and loved.
Outlier not Alien
In other words, we are desperate to be original, maybe even a little bit weird or strange, but we don’t want to be completely alien. We don’t want our work to be utterly unrelatable (unless that’s the point, in which case you’ve already succeeded with your audience of one: yourself).
The 3% Rule of Change
The 3% rule, coined by the late fashion designer and entrepreneur Virgil Abloh, is another technique that emphasizes the need to balance familiarity and novelty. To sell something familiar, you need to make it surprising, but to sell something surprising, you need to make it familiar. He often stated that “a creative only has to add a 3% tweak to a pre-existing concept in order to generate a cultural contribution deemed innovative.”
In other words, turn a big twist into a small tweak.
So what’s the right amount of different, of uniqueness? We often compare how we think, feel, and create with those around us. But remember this, comparison is the death of joy (which is why Instagram is so depressing).
We see tend to over-estimate the creative abilities of our idols and under-estimate our own.
We convince ourselves that our unique perspective, our way of thinking, somehow isn’t good enough—even if and when we obtain a measure of success (sometimes especially then).
We psych ourselves out. We worry about being exposed as a fraud and lose confidence in our innate ability to express ourselves in our own way.
But different isn’t something you have to do. Different is something you have to be. And to do this, sometimes you need to get out of your head and into someone else’s.
Brain Borrowing (Lateral Thinking)
Edward de Bono was a fascinating thinker on the subject of creativity, often talking about preconceived notions and entrenched neural pathways.
He made it his life’s mission to teach “lateral thinking,” a term he coined to promote the idea of thinking sideways, of jumping tracks, of being in someone else’s brain for a few moments.
“Breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way” was essential to de Bono’s creative philosophy.
by Edward de Bono
Edward de Bono (the inventor of lateral and parallel thinking) has created 62 different games and exercises built around random words, to help encourage creativity and lateral thinking.
So how do we overcome the paradox of using our own brains to think differently?
One method is called Problem Reversal, or as I love to call it, the Self-Destruct Button exercise.
Essentially, you imagine what it would take to fail—to fail so spectacularly that everything around you would be destroyed. Your reputation, your body of work, your ideas, your company… everything.
What’s great about this exercise, especially in a small group, is that it can be quite humorous to imagine all the ways in which a creative project could fail (and fail bad). It loosens people up, and relaxes them. It also gives them permission (and rewards them!) for expressing bad ideas, which is usually something people are afraid of.
An amazing things about the mind is that it will always try to fix or think its way out of a problem. Starting with the Self-Destruct Button may reveal great new ways of doing things simply by virtue of avoiding catastrophe.
This is by far and away my favourite creative exercise, and the one that best replicates borrowing someone else’s brain, because it will always make you think of something you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
Random Word asks you to pick an object, any object, preferably something unrelated to your project, or perhaps something already sitting in the room.
Next, you come up with three attributes which accurately describe that object.
Then you take these attributes and force fit them to your project. You can be literal, analogous, or metaphorical—as long as you can twist your idea to fit these completely random criteria.
It works every time. And the ChatGPT prompt is pretty incredible as well.
You are my creative assistant who will help me improve an existing idea.
First, prompt me for my idea for a product, service or project, then stop and let me tell you what it is.
Next, come up with an interesting random word, preferably a non-obvious noun, and ask me if that noun is okay.
If yes, then continue.
If no, then come up with a different random word and ask again.
Next, list and describe three attributes related to this random word.
Then, one by one, explain how each attribute might be applied to the idea.
Use both abstract and direct associations to find the best way to expand on the existing idea.
Describe the context and give specific examples and commentary in your answers.
Sure, I'd be happy to help you improve your idea! What is your idea for a product, service, or project?
I'd like to create an AI chat bot that people can text to when they just want to bitch about their day and have someone listen.
Interesting idea! Before we get started, let me give you a random noun: "Sundial". Is that okay for you to work with, or would you like another word?
Great! Here are three attributes related to "Sundial":
Now let's explore how these attributes might be applied to your idea:
- Time: A chatbot that listens to people's complaints about their day can be designed to have a certain time frame for each conversation. For instance, the bot can ask users to describe their problem within a specific time limit, say 10 or 15 minutes, after which the conversation is concluded. This time limit would help users to express themselves efficiently while keeping the conversation focused and the bot available for more users.
- Sunlight: Sunlight can be associated with brightness and positivity. The chatbot could be designed to encourage users by asking them to talk about something positive that happened during their day, even if it's something small. The bot could also use positive language in its responses to help lift users' moods.
- Precision: Precision is associated with accuracy and attention to detail. The chatbot could be designed to ask specific questions to users in order to get to the root of their problem. This would enable the bot to provide more relevant and accurate responses to users' complaints. The bot could also be designed to identify patterns in users' complaints and provide more personalized support over time.
By combining these attributes, the chatbot could be designed to be an efficient and effective listener, encouraging users to express themselves, providing support, and helping them to feel better about their day. For example, the bot could start by asking users to describe their day and then, using precision, identify the key issues that caused stress or frustration. The bot could then provide relevant tips and suggestions to help users deal with those issues. Finally, using positivity, the bot could end the conversation by asking users to focus on the positive aspects of their day and encouraging them to have a better day tomorrow.
These exercises allow for lateral thinking and help to come up with unique and innovative ideas.
Ultimately, creativity is about expressing oneself and putting new things out into the world. It can inspire others to follow and alter your path, leading to more creation. Getting people motivated to make their stuff is a powerful force, and thinking in exceptional ways is the key to unlocking it.
As we’ve seen these tools paradoxically can help you to be more of yourself and express your unique characteristics and way of thinking, but also to be less of yourself and not get stuck in your own synaptic grooves.
So whether you want to change something by 3% or 97%, the point is to express yourself and let new things out into the world.
This might inspire others to follow, get them motivated to make their own unique creations, which wondrously leads to even more creation.
Creativity is the act of connecting things in exceptional ways.
The creative algorithm can be summed up in three simple words:
More. Better. Different.
- action requires tenacity and creates quantity.
- doing the work is essential for creation to happen, and persistent action creates a body of work that consistently improves over time
- connection requires curiosity and creates quality.
- thinking of the right questions will reframe the answer and get you closer to your desired purpose
- exception requires courage and creates uniqueness
- being vulnerable, stepping out of your comfort zone and thinking laterally will get you to new places