Asimov's Guide to Creative Thinking

Quote of the Day

Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs.

— Charlotte Bronte

Figure 1: Asimove in 1965 (Wikipedia).

Figure 1: Asimov in 1965 (Wikipedia).

I just read an interesting article written by Isaac Asimov (Figure 1) on the creative process. The article was previously unpublished, but has many ideas in common with the ideation folks today.

I saw a well-done list that summarizes Asimov's paper in an Electronic Cooling magazine editorial and I will include the list here.

  1. The act of generating good ideas is not well understood even by the ideators.
  2. Breakthrough ideas occur when a field-specific expert is exposed to significant outside influences and has a talent for making connections that are not obvious.
  3. Making these non-obvious connections requires some daring, and once such a connection is made, it often becomes obvious.
  4. An individual who is willing to be daring needs to be at least a little eccentric and be reasonably self-assured enough to shrug off conventional reason.
  5. Isolation is helpful to generate new ideas since sharing all the bad ones that come with the single good one can be embarrassing to reveal and can kill the experimental mood.
  6. While grouping experts in a particular field may not always be best for generating new ideas, it can promote greater sharing of information between participants.
  7. Sharing information only known to part of the group can lead to combinations of facts and theories that can yield previously unthought of concepts.
  8. Idea generation requires relaxation and a collective tolerance for foolishness.
  9. Unsympathetic individuals and those with elevated stature or reputations can inhibit the group.
  10. Groups should be made up of no more than five people so that everyone gets enough opportunity to express themselves, since having to wait to talk can cause undesirable tension.
  11. Informal locations are better than conference rooms.
  12. Joking and kidding are helpful to create the right atmosphere.
  13. A sense of responsibility to generate new ideas is harmful.
  14. Group sessions need an arbiter to play the role of psychoanalyst and stir the pot with the right questions.
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