Thought For The Week March 6, 2012
"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." -- John Steinbeck
There are two important parts to John Steinbeck's quote. The first is learning how to handle an idea when you get one. That refers to the overall creative process. Getting an idea is not the end of the process.
A new idea is fragile so you need to protect it. Criticism can easily crush an idea. Look for the strengths when you begin evaluating an idea. According to animation director Chuck Jones, the writers and directors at the Warner Bros. cartoon studio had "yes" sessions when a new idea was presented. Everyone was permitted to comment on any aspect of the idea as long as their comment was positive and constructive. He said that did not mean they accepted bad ideas. A bad idea quickly died because nobody could think of anything to say. It did mean that they were able to take a weak idea and build it up into a strong one. Even if you do not use an initial idea by looking for strengths you may discover an element that you can combine with another idea to make it even stronger.
An idea by itself is worthless. You need to make it a reality. It has been said, "Hard by the yard, but a cinch by the inch." Break your project down into easily manageable steps. If it is a prop you want to make determine the first step in construction. Perhaps the first step is to gather some more information. Perhaps you can do one part while figuring out the next. I recently built a pinewood derby car that looked like a circus wagon. I designed the shape of the wagon and built the basic shape first. I designed what I wanted the ornamentation on the side to look like, but I wasn't sure what to make it out of. I considered constructing it out of existing objects, for example cutting apart a doily, but couldn't find anything that fit my vision. I considered sculpting it out of clay, pouring a mold, and casting duplicates. However, I felt my design was too delicate so the castings would be too fragile. I remembered using gesso to build up a surface before painting, but it was too thin. Then I tried using modeling paste on a scrap of wood. It turned out to be the perfect solution. I probably wouldn't have persevered to finding that solution if I hadn't already built the basic shape which gave me confidence that the overall project would be successful.
If your idea is for a new routine, don't try to learn it all at once. Break it down into segments. Practice the first segment. After you know that part well, add the next segment.
The second half of Steinbeck's quote deals with ideas leading to other ideas. In a book celebrating 100 years of the publication of Boys Life magazine I read, "What kind of dog does a chemist have? A laboratory retriever." That got me started thinking about profession and dog jokes. A breed of dog that came to mind was a collie. Next I thought of collie flower as a pun. I started thinking about professions associated with a cauliflower. My first idea was a boxer with cauliflower ears, but that would take too long for an audience member to understand. My next idea was, "What kind of dog does a vegetable farmer have? A collie flower." That is better but still not great. I began considering other collie puns. My next idea was "melon collie." "What kind dog does a person have who grows cantaloupes? A melon collie." I like that better, but the set up line seems awkward. What other line would set up the same punchline. "What kind of dog does a person have who is always depressed? A melon collie." I kind of like that one. Instead of verbal jokes, how can I turn the idea into a visual pun? A large blossom in an invisible dog leash would be a collie flower. That is five new ideas based on one, but I am not finished working on profession and dog jokes. I try to generate at least ten additional ideas because many creativity experts agree that you use only ten percent of your ideas. So if I generate ten ideas, one of them should be useable.
How do you handle a new idea? How can you learn to handle it better? How can you turn one idea into multiple ideas?