Mindworks’ Weblog

Thinking Matters

Here Comes Everybody

Posted by Andrew Cooper on July 6, 2008

I’ve been siezed by an idea.  Almost literally.  It occured to Jacquie (Mrs Mindworks) and me a couple of weeks ago while we were taking a walk along one of my favourite places on the planet, close to where we live.  Since then it has been waking me up at 5.00am, kicking me out of bed and insisting that I pay attention to it.  I’ve written a good few thousand words about the idea, developed a couple of Powerpoint presentations, spoken to lots of people about it and subjected a few poor souls to an Email Storm as I attempt to get the idea out of my head and into the real world.  Yesterday and early this morning I spent some time mocking up a website home page which is relevant to the thing I have in mind. More on the actual idea later, I hope.

In the meantime, the idea was partly inspired by this rather excellent book.  I don’t often say this, but buy it – right now – then read it.  As you’ll see the subtitle is ‘the power of organizing without organizations’, from which you can guess that it was written by an American.  This one, in fact:

(I really liked his response to the TV executive!)

The other source of inspiration was an event that Jacquie, I and various others helped to organise with the school whose Parents’ Association I currently chair.  See the item on the ‘Music, Dance, Art and Drama’ event here.

I’m intending to post a few reflections on how my mind works (did you see what I did there?) at times like this.  Ages ago I came across a model of the creative process developed by a psychologist called Getzels. Getzels completed a longitudinal study of many people involved in creative design and problem solving of various kinds – engineers, artists, novelists and so on – and then drew some conclusions about the process they went through.  His model – which was simplified into question/saturation/incubation/ah ha!/verification/implementation by Betty Edwards in this book – seemed very familiar to me and, I’m sure, to many other people.  Particularly the incubation/ah ha! part, during which ideas bubble up out of nowhere.  (Andrew Motion talks about ideas bubbling up from the primeval swamp and as he’s the Poet Laureat who are we to think of a better metaphor?)

Incidentally, Betty Edwards popularised the use of the terms left and right brain thinking in her earlier book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.  I think contrasting left and right brain modes of thinking is quite useful, but whatever you do don’t mention those terms if eminent Harvard psychologist, Stephen Pinker, is around.  In his book How the Mind Works (did you see what he did there?) he gets very cross indeed with people like me who dare to over simplify the barely understood workings of the most complex objects in the known universe which sit inside our heads.

Yes Stephen, I know, it’s all terribly complex but I just find it useful to think in terms of the kind of creative/visual/connected/divergent thinking I’m doing now as ‘right brain’ and the kind I’m about to start doing, involving evaluation/numbers/dates/project plans/detail as left brain, OK?  Calm down, man.

To conclude this already over-long post, that email storm I mentioned.  I find that writing about things helps me to develop them, as ideas.  Writing is, to my mind, a very visual process.  You get a picture in your head of something you’re trying to do or understand, and then start describing that picture.  As someone once said, reversing the more common version of the phrase, a word can be worth a thousand pictures.

This is particualrly so if you think visually.  For example, when Andrew Motion talks about the unconscious mind being like a ‘primeval swamp’ I can see the actual swamp: bubbling, churning, green and slimy, full of potential life which may or may not make it into actual living and breathing species.  It’s a very powerful image and, for me, captures an important aspect of how we think: much of it is mysterious and (at present) un-knowable but clearly vital to our mental life.

So I like to write things down, but it helps if I think that I’m actually talking to someone other than myself.  I try to remember to explain this to the victims of my emails and say something like ‘you don’t actually have to read the wittering below, just set up an auto-respond which says ‘good thought Andrew’ and get on with the rest of your life’.  I’m going to use this blog in a similar way, particularly now that we’re reaching the point when it may be possible to release ‘the idea’ onto an unsuspecting world.

I will attempt to shorten these posts as things (hopefully) move on – WordPress is telling me that there are currently 780 words in this post alone, which is about half an essay: way, way to long for a blog post.

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3 Responses to “Here Comes Everybody”

  1. […] on 25th June walking by the Kennet and Avon canal, it has seized me somewhat, as I mentioned in my first post on this topic.  I ran through the current version of the idea – its potential benefits, the bridges and barriers […]

  2. […] find ways of tapping into what Clay Sharkey calls the ‘cognitive surplus’.  Watch the youtube at this post to find out what he means.  And I don’t just mean the cognitive surplus of civil servants, […]

  3. […] scheme as they’ll learn a lot as well and their learning will stay inside government.  Also, read Clay Shirky on the company which ran a competition for advertisements and saved millions they’d otherwise […]

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