Hasso-Plattner-Institut
Prof. Dr. Tobias Friedrich
  
 

Creativity

Author: Anna Melnichenko, Maximilian Katzmann

The process of how someone solves a creative task can be broken down into several steps. While we explain these steps one-by-one in the following, it is important to note that this should not be seen as a step-by-step guide. It is meant to raise awareness about each individual step. When solving a creative task you might need to do several steps repeatedly, skip some, or mix and match them however necessary.

Go into the World Open-mindedly

Solving a creative task often requires you to get rid of preconceptions and to try to look at the things with fresh eyes. This is useful when trying to find a creative task to solve or when trying to find ways to solve one.

Two important aspects to consider here are the following.

Question what you believe to know about certain things!

It is important to not take everything for granted. Questioning certain aspects about a topic can help in finding open questions.

Do not interpret things prematurely!

When collecting ideas, for example when looking for a new research topic or when trying to find a solution to a problem, do not dismiss ideas early. If you interpret your approaches too quickly, you tend to miss details and maybe discard a valid solution before actually thinking about it.

Clarify your Goals

Once you have determined the creative task you want to solve, it is important to clarify what you are actually trying to accomplish. This includes finding out what a solution to your problem should look like, e.g. specifying what properties your solution should have. If you do not know what your solution is supposed to look like, how will you recognize it when you find it?

Gather Information

When you have defined the problem you are trying to solve and are clear about what a solution should look like, it is important to gather information about your problem. Usually an idea about a solution for a problem does not come out of nowhere, but instead it is based on things you already know. An interesting TED Talk about this topic was given by Vittorio Loreto: Need a new idea? Start at the edge of what is known.

Gathering information can be done in several ways. In the following we present two of them.

Mind Map

A Mind Map is a tool for fixing the process of thinking, most similar to how thoughts and ideas are born and develop in our brain.

Ideas grow and develop nonlinearly. One thought gives rise to a number of others, more narrow and related to some particular aspect of the problem being solved. And suddenly you realize that your conclusions lead to a new idea from a completely different category. Our thinking is radiant. We can develop any idea almost infinitely in various directions. Mental maps allow you to cope with such an uncontrolled flow.

A mind map is a diagram in which the main subject is located in the center, and all the generated ideas are branches of a more general term.

Mind Map Guideline (See Mind Map on Wikipedia for more.)

  1. Start in the center with an image of the topic, using at least 3 colors.
  2. Use images, symbols, codes, and dimensions throughout your mind map.
  3. Select key words and print using upper or lower case letters.
  4. Each word/image is best alone and sitting on its own line.
  5. The lines should be connected, starting from the central image. The lines become thinner as they radiate out from the center.
  6. Make the lines the same length as the word/image they support.
  7. Use multiple colors throughout the mind map, for visual stimulation and also for encoding or grouping.
  8. Develop your own personal style of mind mapping.
  9. Use emphasis and show associations in your mind map.
  10. Keep the mind map clear by using radial hierarchy or outlines to embrace your branches.

More information about mind maps can be found here.

The CORE-Principle

The CORE-principle consists of four steps that you can go through when gathering information about a topic.

  • Collect everything you know about the topic.
  • Order your findings into different areas and give them headlines.
  • Rate your findings according to how relevant they are to your problem.
  • Extend each area with more details.

At this point it is again important to Go into the World Open-mindedly. Do not discard things early because you think that they are irrelevant.

Get some Distance to the Problem

Take a walk. Listen to some music. Get into a conversation. Get some rest.

Taking breaks helps in being more open-minded. It forces you to stop focussing on a particular aspect of your problem, which makes it easier to consider new approaches instead. (Actually, your brain unconsciously starts to process the information you gathered.)

Develop Ideas

Using the information you gathered about your problem, you start thinking of solutions. How can the information you obtained contribute to a solution? Think of analogies: Are there problems that are similar to yours? How were they solved? Can you transfer this solution to your situation?

Evaluate and Select Ideas

In this step you check which of your ideas are actually valid: Do they fulfill the criteria you set for a solution when clarifying your goal? If not, can you adapt the approach to fit your needs? Maybe you learned in the process that you need to adapt criteria for what you characterize as a valid solution? Evaluate which idea is the most promising.

Collaborate!

Throughout the entire process collaboration can be very helpful. Whether it is a discussion about possible questions that need to be answered, clarifying goals, gathering information, developing ideas, or evaluating ideas, all of them can benefit from a nice conversation.

Reminder

Again, we want to remind you that this is not a step-by-step guide. Being aware of which step you are currently dealing with can help you get a more structured look on what you might need to do next. Additionally, each step might need a different way of thinking. This is captured in a tool called Six Thinking Hats.

However, the order in which these steps are taken is totally dependent on your needs during the process: When you are gathring information you need to be open-minded. Maybe, while gathering information you learned that you need to reformulate what you think is necessary for a valid solution. As a result, you might need to gather new information...

Acknowledgments

We want to thank the whole group for their thoughtful discussion during our meeting about creativity.