Linking disparate ideas and building musical sculptures out of trash

Creativity Techniques

“The best way to describe me is I’m an artist who thinks he’s a scientist” Felix Thorn

The short documentary below, produced by the folks at Motherboard, showcases the creativity of artist Felix Thorn. Felix spends his days transforming ordinary objects into music producing instruments.  After creating crude acoustic instruments out of discarded metal objects, pieces from old pianos and wood, Felix engineers them so they can be played by a computer program.  To me what is both strange and really cool is that it is a computer that is the player of a set of totally unpredictable acoustic instruments.  As Felix says, “I’m trying to make computer music with acoustic noises, which is actually impossible.  As it turns out, by the time I’ve finished I’ve created something completely different.”

I like what Felix is doing for a few reasons, but one of them is how he is taking the two disparate worlds of unpredictable acoustic sounds and connecting that with a predictable computer program in order to produce his unique art. Creativity is often about connecting seemingly disconnected or disparate ideas in new ways.  In fact, one technique for training our creative thinking abilities is to purposefully look for links between dissimilar or random ideas.

Watch the documentary and reflect how you might connect disparate ideas around a challenge you are working on.  Could you take some old ideas and put them together in a new way?

Try this…  Go to a dictionary, randomly open it up and stab your finger into it. Take the word your finger lands on and try to see a connection between that word and a challenge you’re working on. Or use this random word generator.  It may seem like a waste of time to our logical mind to try to force connections between disparate ideas, but it is actually a method employed by many creative people  and successful companies in order to find fresh ideas, novel solutions and potential innovations.

To make this exercise more clear here’s an example

The Problem

Start by stating a problem or challenge.

E.g. How might we strengthen connections among neighbors?

The statement should be clear, specific and says ‘How to… or How might we…’.

Go get a random word

MUD

Now we move away from the problem and onto the word. What does it make us think of?  You can also list the qualities of the person, place, thing or action the word denotes. list lots. Go for quantity. Don’t censor your thoughts.

Lalapalooza, Woodstock, wrestling, earth, growing, fertile ground, rain, dirt bikes, squishy, walking through it, muddy boots, getting stuck, getting help to get unstuck, getting pulled out, brown, gooey, festivals, singing in the rain, spinning tires.

Some associations are direct, others less obvious.

Make  Links

Now look back at your problem and think how the associations might help. This can be tricky at first but gets easier with practice. Below are some examples using the example question, How might we strengthen connections among neighbors?

Lalapalooza- Host a block party with live music and food

Wrestling- Go talk to a neighbor and wrestle with an idea together, like how to get cars to slow down.

Earth- Host a flower exchange in the spring on your block to share perennials and spark conversations.

Dirt Bikes- Neighborhood puts on a car and motorcycle show and shine

Muddy boots- Organize a neighborhood walkabout

Getting help to get unstuck- Go let some neighbors know that if they ever need a hand they can come by or call.

Note that you don’t have to use every association, and each can be used many times. Links can be indirect. Practice exercises like this regularly and you will find you’ll start looking at things less rigidly, see more possibilities and become more creative.  

Ben Weinlick

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