Don’t plan for a great idea — play
Recommended by Greg Gage
There’s an amazing feeling when someone finally articulates an abstract thought that you’ve experienced many times but haven’t been able to put into words. I experienced this feeling while watching OK Go’s TED Talk on how to find a wonderful idea. I’m a neuroscientist, and I devote a lot of my time to developing demonstrations and experiments. Many ideas and experiments are failures, but some succeed — and when they do, I’m often asked, “How did you even think of that?” I answer that successful ideas come from time spent doing “honest work” at the lab bench, rather than researching in a library. But after watching this talk, I realized that there was a lot more going on inside my own mind of which I was only subconsciously aware.
OK Go is a band made famous for amazing videos, often done in one take, that challenge what we think is possible. This creates a feeling of “delight” or “wonder,” as you see these creative ideas come to life. How they come up with them is not an abstract concept — it’s surprisingly methodical (and quantifiable). The “wonder” constraint in their videos means you have to eliminate all the ideas that have been done before. Those are boring. What you want to do is find ideas that seem impossible at first but, in practice, is actually highly reliable. They describe a feeling that you didn’t “discover” these ideas … you “find them,” like it was a relationship between disparate parts floating out there that you simply unlocked.
So how do you find these ideas and relationships? This is where OK Go makes the method tractable and repeatable. You have to define a sandbox where the ideas can live, a space where creativity can exist. Then you set to work playing and experimenting. Don’t think; do! Then, rank the ideas that are surprisingly repeatable; these are the ones that contain wonder and delight. The result of this process is something remarkable. Watch the talk, which demonstrates the result in a few live performances with creativity on full display.