July 06, 2007

Scott Adams – How To Be Creative

People often ask me how I come up with ideas. The fast answer is I’m just wired that way. But there’s also a large element of technique that I can teach you.

Once I have a topic that makes me feel something, I imagine myself as the reader and ask what my thought pattern would be on this topic. I start my writing process by acknowledging the most common view on the topic. And then I violate it. It’s the violating that makes it fun. The pattern looks like this: 1, 2, 3, 4, taupe.

I’ll give you an example from today. I saw an article in Time magazine about General Petraeus, the top military guy in Iraq. I skimmed the article, but a basic assumption was that he knows more about what’s happening in Iraq than you do. That seems obvious enough. And it made me think of all the comments on this blog from people who said our soldiers in Iraq know than anyone else more about how the war is going.

That’s the 1,2,3,4 part: Soldiers in Iraq know the most about the war effort in Iraq. It seems obvious. Okay, so that’s my topic. Here comes the creative part. I ask myself this question:

What if it’s the opposite?

That’s the universal creative question. It works on any topic. What if your doctor tried to kill you instead of heal you? What if your obedient dog considered you his slave? What if your H.R. director stopped pretending the company policies were designed with the greater good in mind?

Once I figure out the opposite position from the normal, I concoct an argument to defend it. You can make a case for just about any point of view. When that opposite argument turns out to be about 50% sensible, it’s often funny. When it is 90% sensible, it’s thought provoking.

Let’s try the “opposite method” on this Iraq topic. What if the troops fighting in Iraq are the ones who know the LEAST about whether or not we’re winning the war? Could I make that case? Tada!

You can read the complete post here.

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