Develop More and Better Ideas: Your Vivid Mind
The picture on my friend’s HD TV was so “Vivid” I could feel the leather grain of the football. Poetry and song lyrics evoke “Vivid,” imagery. A scent I took in at a flea market was so “Vivid” it took me back more than forty years to my grandmother’s kitchen.
Vivid is the most potent component of what I have named, Ideative.
Ideative is better than Creative
In my last article Idea Generation for Product Managers I wrote that Ideative is: The ability to proactively and regularly produce unique and valuable ideas, a far better skill for a product or marketing manager to possess than to be “Creative,” a term most people, even highly experienced product managers deny possessing. We need tangible, quantifiable, ideas to build into new products, and services. Creative, the standard term for ability in these areas, has a subtle, passive connotation that is often associated with the kind of people that have no ability to face real business challenges; Purpled haired people with nose rings! While creativity is a skill few people are born with Ideative can be achieved by anyone willing to grow their Knowledge and Experience by stretching themselves, exploring, and having fun.
Ideative people collect their life’s learning, travels, education, business, parenting, and social experiences, and combine these “building blocks” in unique configurations. They live dynamic lives filled with opportunities to reshape their blocks and add new blocks. Psychologist and researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote that to be an original thinker you “Have to have a tremendous database of information.”
This is where Ideative comes in. Ideative is quite simply the combination of your Knowledge (K) and Experience (E) enhanced by the Vivid-ness (V) of that Knowledge and Experience. You have the foundation to be Ideative with just the building blocks that are already part of your life. To begin developing ideas using the Ideative process, select the area(s) or subject(s) in which you want to develop ideas, then:
- Saturate your brain with Knowledge and Experience in your Ideative area. Then add more Knowledge and Experiences. Know everything possible about your Ideative subject, its history, successes and failures, how your Ideative subject works and doesn’t work, its future possibilities and risks. Think, eat, and sleep on your subject until the subject follows you into your dreams.
- Live life, learn, and grow beyond your Ideative subject. Learn and experience things that are different for you. By breaking routines routinely you’ll learn to take “blocks” from one field or discipline and use them in other fields to develop ideas. These Universal blocks will stimulate your Ideative constructions the way unique blocks enable a child to build distinctive structures with building blocks
- Craft ideas in your mind’s Idea workshop. Your brain can be thought of as an Idea workshop where you build Ideas the way children build with building blocks.
It is critical to your understanding the Ideative theory to note that K, E, and V, are all about your memory; your ability to store and retrieve blocks of information at will and at random. Jeff Hawkins in On Intelligence, states that the “Brain doesn’t “compute” the answers to problems; it retrieves the answers from memory… The entire cortex is a memory system. It isn’t a computer at all.”
To be Ideative, to take full advantage of the Ideative process, you need to build that memory by living and learning more vividly.
Focus on Vivid: Ideative’s most potent variable
This month I want to focus on the importance of Vivid in the Ideative concept. Vivid is the most potent component in the Ideative concept because:
Vivid represents the aggregate of the inputs from your five senses and all of the emotional inputs attached to that K & E.
The higher the level of Vivid, the greater the number of connections created in your brain, bringing into play more areas of your brain in the form of larger neural circuits. Richard Restak, author of the Naked Brain, explains that there are two brain structures crucial for the formation of the memories; the hippocampus which handles the initial encoding of all of your memories, and the amygdala with the primary role of processing emotions. Stated simply, senses and emotions draw more areas of your brain into the storage and use of a memory. In Ideative terms, this means that the blocks you use to build your ideas will be connected to more blocks of greater variety, giving you more options for your Idea constructions the more you engage Vivid.
Thanks to phenomenal advances in neuroscience we know that each block that makes up our K and E, the visuals, sounds, scents, and emotions, are stored in multiple areas within the brain and that each block has multiple blocks connected to it, creating an exponentially expanding chain of resources to use in building ideas. Because Vivid represents the aggregate of inputs from your emotions and all of your senses, Vivid memories are made up of more inputs (blocks) and therefore effectively light up more areas of your brain than less Vivid memories. Your challenge is to dramatically expand your K & E with as much Vivid as possible in your Ideative area and beyond.
Hide your inner stoic: The Emotional component of Vivid
Let’s start our exploration of Vivid by examining emotion. Marketers understand the incredible power of emotions, that’s why almost every kind of advertisement, from cars to deodorant, IT consulting, to presidential campaigns, are emotional and not logical appeals. Yes, I know that you, personally, selected your car for the brilliant engineering that went into the design of its suspension system, the low total cost to operate, and of course the rear spoiler that adds stability (Does anyone really know what those spoilers are there for?!), but the rest of us chose our cars to show off our success or counter self image problems caused by hair loss, expanding waistlines, or both. Study after study from marketing, election campaigns, and neuroscience reveal that emotion and the resulting irrationality trumps logic for emotion’s power to influence us and cause us to remember.
Bringing emotion into your work does not mean that I am suggesting you break down and cry the next time you miss a deadline or beat a forecast (Note that tears of joy over a major business case that is approved on your first effort is perfectly acceptable). Emotions can easily become a powerful tool for Ideative without any embarrassing or uncomfortable acts. For example, reading a report on the challenges faced by your customer support is a good way to build your K & E. Working with your customer service team to solve customer problems is far better because you will trigger emotions such as pride, anger, even fear.
Your Sophisticated Five Senses: More than just five Vivid inputs
You probably learned about your five senses in elementary school; seeing, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Simple? Hardly. Your senses are sophisticated tools for supplying a wide array and tremendous depth of information to multiple areas of your brain.
Taste, for example, is not a single sense but a combination of both taste and functions; sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and glutamate. While your sense of taste for sweet and salt probably developed to help you meet your body’s nutritional needs your taste for bitter developed as a self defense mechanism to protect against poisoning. Very different functions, very different areas of your brain.
Your vision is produced by distinct receptors in your retinas. One group of receptors responds to black and white and very low light while others are receptive to color. Each group follows unique paths to distinct storage areas of your brain.
Sound is also powerful. If you learned during your school years that reading aloud was a more effective study tool than reading quietly than you had a significant advantage over those that did not know this, and if you had the means to associate touch or smell to the subject you were studying you were way ahead.
Your senses interact with your emotions to facilitate memory and recall, creating multiples of unique blocks for Ideative use. This combination of senses and emotions results in larger and more potent K & Es than the sum of the individual blocks. The senses appear to be a sort of catalyst for emotions and for overall memory. That a scent triggered a rich, emotional, vivid memory of my grandmother that I described at the beginning of the article is not unusual; scent is an incredibly powerful sense for memory storage and recovery. Scent is especially potent at inducing déjà vu, according to David Bainbridge, author of Beyond the Zonules of Zinn.
Adding emotion and extending your senses to, say, a new product development effort may sound silly, and for many efforts, impossible, but it can be done. In my last article Idea Generation for Product Managers I took you through an exercise to identify new product opportunities. The exercise led to a search for opportunities to make a game that kids can play in the car on long family trips. We followed the steps of saturating your brain, living life, learning and growing, and crafting your ideas. We developed a family game that would include the driver with a simple button mounted to the steering wheel and might include the ability for the driver to play through audio as a safety feature.
How did you fit Vivid in to this exercise?
To develop theses ideas you thought about entertainment across cultures, age groups, and history. You combined ancient Egyptian children’s games with the lyrics of a favorite song among skateboarders, and the problems of travelers getting through airport security. So you learned how a variety of cultures and groups entertained themselves then layered in music (sound) with the frustrations, anger, fear, and yes, occasional pleasure (emotion) of dealing with airport security. You added more K with a course on anthropology and layered in depth visuals (sight) by reading a couple of books filled with pictures on Renaissance painters. You took in the sites and sounds, scents in the air, touch of the wind, perhaps even empathy with the people during visits to historic sites, and encountered whole new range of scents and sites at a and botanical garden. Best of all, you felt pride, joy, and love because you included your children or a significant other and saw the world through their eyes.
How to Boost Vivid
When you’re focused on fun ideas Vivid is easy. Vivid for work, in our PowerPoint /Excel burdened environment can seem much more difficult, even unobtainable. That, readers, should be all the reason you need to try to boost Vivid and have fun in the effort. Product and marketing managers that I have spoken with are weak at Vivid because they lack the time, resources, and financial justification to conduct Vivid boosting activities. The reports, presentations, and business cases we use for K, and the work that develops E provide what we need to perform well at our jobs. Besides, what can you do at work to increase the depth of the emotional and sensory components of your K & E?
Answer: A lot.
First, I can’t say enough about the need to enjoy Ideative and the development of ideas. The most fundamental component of Ideative is to immerse yourself into your Ideative subject and to do that thoroughly you have to enjoy what you’re doing. So even if you’re stuck reading a report, find Vivid ways to read that report. Listen to music while you read, find a buddy and read and discuss the report as you go along, or draw charts and work through the data.
Whenever possible get closer to the data by getting out in to the field to work with customers, your sales, and your support. Expose yourself to your customer’s problems and opportunities. Be the one to tell your customer, “No,” face to face to something you wish you could offer, or take on the annoying little problems that irritate customers but are somehow too small to warrant priority in the allocation of resources. That’s emotional. Reward yourself by enjoying success when you exceed customer expectations and the customer expresses delight. Direct, in depth interaction with customers during good and bad situations is an incredibly rich opportunity for building Vivid K & E that you should not miss.
I still recall with amazement a conversation I had years ago with a toy company executive. The holiday season was well underway and I asked him how often he acted as a department store Santa. He told me he had never played Santa and he seemed almost insulted that I would suggest he lower himself to that job. Take a moment now to think about the opportunity to boost Vivid that this exec deliberately avoided;
The opportunity to sit his target market on his lap and enter into one of the most open exchanges imaginable. What a range of sensory and emotional input he could have gathered with that opportunity!
Don’t miss these opportunities. Be Ideative Vividly by using every opportunity to get into the field with your customers.
Get Ideative about other ways to boost Vivid for your Ideative K & E:
- Use the underutilized K & E from school or past jobs to help your customer with problems outside the areas impacted by your product. You have a great education but in your current job you’re probably ignoring most of your learning. Freshen that learning up by putting it to work.
- Conduct your own marketing research. Create a survey and contact customers as though you were the telemarketing researcher, or if your company conducts marketing research listen to some of the actual phone interviews. Too much is lost from the customer’s comments and questions when a third party writes a couple ‘verbatims’ for the respondent’s answers.
- Take ownership of your product. Ownership creates an emotional attachment that will add excitement, as though the business were really yours. If you can’t work up a feeling of ownership, find someone that has that feeling and work with them; the feelings will be contagious.
- Turn routine meetings into Vivid interactions by encouraging robust debate, dramatic presentations, storytelling, and demonstrations. Publicly praise Ideative approaches to meetings.
- Pass this article, along with my first article Idea Generation for Product Managers, to your colleagues and work together toward Ideative meetings, reports, and overall interactions.
- Play inventor and visit the plant or lab (or build your own lab) and try to invent a product to compete with your own.
I want to leave you with one more exercise. When you finish reading this article don’t move on to something else right away. Stop. Experience what you have just read, Vividly. Notice the type, the pixels, or the ink (if you printed this article). Notice the shapes of the letters, their serifs, colors, and the background. Think about the colors of the page and the website. Think about how you would encourage someone that had not read this article to become Ideative. Who could you send this article to and what do you hope they would gain? Imagine a scenario where they thank you for opening their eyes to their opportunities. How would that help you to become more Ideative? Now imagine a scenario where that person reacts badly, berates you for sending this article? What could you gain from this situation?
Ideative is a powerful process for creating new products, services, developing opportunities, and solving problems. You are already Ideative. Focus on Vivid and you will become much more Ideative.
Ten Ways to Routinely Break Your Routine - Vividly
Hold a conversation with a new person everyday. Expand your world beyond people similar to you. Talk to people from other countries, other cultures or just try talking to the maintenance and cleaning people, the mail room staff. You’ll learn about ways of life and outlooks on life that are incredibly different from your own.
Avoid wasting time. You have far too little. Don’t watch television. Yeah, I know, you mostly watch the history and science channels. People tell me that all the time. Turn it off and go do something else. Anything else.
Waste time. Relaxation frees the subconscious to connect the blocks of your knowledge and experiences. When you free your mind your subconscious has more power to bring in random thoughts or connect items that are not necessarily related to each other. Just don’t waste your time watching TV.
Use your lunch, not just for lunch with friends or to run errands. Go to museums, new restaurants, new parks, try new foods. So many people waste this time (this writer could certainly do better) working at their desks or going to the same restaurant with the same people and eating the same food. New friends, foods and activities are Vivid.
Read books from the Dummies series on subjects you have no use for. Even better, read children’s books; they’re faster.There are millions of subjects you could expose yourself to with a few minutes each day. I have had a refresher course in fundamental science and history by helping my children study for tests. I have accompanied the kids on school field trips. I learned a lot, saw my children interact with their friends, and even took the opportunity to scare the little boys in my daughter’s class right at the critical age when they seem to be developing an interest in the girls. That’s Vivid learning plus Vivid fatherhood!
Play with Legos and Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs. The building challenges, the creation of something quickly and easily is both a puzzle solving exercise and builds visualization skills. In addition, anything that triggers childhood memories is good. If you’re currently under a lot of stress it might be best not to let your spouse see you at this one.
Create apiece of art and enter it into an art exhibit. My guess, call it an educated guess, is that most of my readers can not even take this suggestion seriously. You have “No talent, time, tools, techniques, yada yada yada.” So I am going to approach this from a different angle--- Product and Marketing managers that have survived more than a two years in their jobs all share a combination of tenacity and courage; I know this because without those traits you wouldn’t have succeeded. So how about taking some of that tenacity and courage and give art a try? Carry a camera with you and capture some interesting scenes. Try drawing. See what you get.
Try writing a short story. You don’t have to be Hemingway. Trouble coming up with an idea? Write the story about a character doing what you do, at work, home, having fun, whatever. Two thousand words are all you need.
Expose yourself to a wide variety of music (I draw the line at disco however and no amount of creative inspiration will cause me to cross that line). Thanks to the internet you can now listen to anything you can imagine and more. Search for Native American songs, popular or folk Indian music, and if you normally listen to American Pop then it’s time to try some jazz and classical.
Change your schedule: If you normally arrive at work at 8 a.m. try 9 a.m. and 7 a.m. You’ll see your world differently, you’ll sense different emotions in the people you meet and hear different sounds. Try getting up with the sun and going outside to listen to the birds and feel the early morning breeze. It’s wonderful.
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