The More the Merrier

Sean Kelly
"The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas." — Linus Pauling

Presentations in Sean Kelly's Creativity Seminar emphasize the importance of developing multiple ideas — as many possibilities as possible. The more the merrier. If you only go with your first idea, it’s likely that it’s also the first idea that everyone else will have. And then you’re just stuck with something obvious.

When photographers are looking for an image, they shoot a lot of images. In the old days, that meant using up a lot of film, which got expensive. Today, with a seemingly endless supply of memory on our digital cameras, it's still always worth the time to keep shooting. Even if they need only one picture, good photographers — especially photojournalists — shoot dozens, perhaps hundreds of images for any project.

Even if they might think they got some good shots right away, and even if they got the one that fulfilled the assignment, they stick around and keep looking, keep exploring, finding new angles, waiting for something unexpected to happen.

When you look at the contact sheets of the multiple pictures captured by great photographers, you can see proof that the best images — the real masterpieces — are hardly ever the first shots on the roll of film.

The same holds true for writers, and problem-solvers in any field. The greater number of ideas you come up with, the greater likehood of creating really winning ideas. Generate as many ideas as possible, both good and bad, instead of just settling for the first few and giving up too soon. Usually, the most elegant idea is just around the corner.

Later in the creative process there will be plenty of time to be more selective and more critical. That second stage is when you'll shift from looking for quantity to looking for quality.

But because you made the extra effort to invent a lot of concepts early on, the job of picking the best one is going to be so much easier than if you had stopped after the first one, or merely been lazy and gone with an obvious one. Giving yourself lots of choices makes the final choice so simple.

And, any left over ideas that didn't get used are yours to keep -- to reuse, recombine, revitalize on your next assignment. Now you're building an archive of ideas.

More importantly, you're building mental muscle: the stamina to keep producing concepts.

Sean Kelly's Creativity Seminar explores how this goal of producing many ideas can be easily achieved through the use of tools and techniques such as lateral thinking, divergent thinking and convergent thinking.

Similarly, Michael Michalko — author of Cracking Creativity: The Thinking Strategies of Creative Geniuses, among other books — encourages creative thinkers to go beyond their first notion, through a deliberate challenge: Setting a quota.
Ask the average adult for ideas and you will be amazed at how few ideas they have. For example, ask a friend to come up with alternative uses for the common brick and my hunch is your friend may come up with not many, perhaps, three or four. 
However, if I asked you to come up with 60 uses for the common brick as fast as you can, this forces you to come with 60 ideas. By forcing yourself to meet a quota, you put your internal critic on hold and write everything down, including the obvious and weak. 
The first third will be the same-old, same-old ideas you always get. These ideas are the familiar and safe responses that lie closest to your consciousness, and therefore, are naturally thought of first. The second third will be more interesting and the last third will show more insight, curiosity and complexity because now you are stretching your imagination. 
To meet your quota, you find yourself listing all the usual uses (build a wall, fireplace, outdoor barbeque and so on) as well as listing everything that comes to mind (anchor, projectile in riots, ballast, a tool for leveling dirt, material for sculptures, doorstop, device to hold down newspapers, a portable step to carry with you so you can stand on it in crowds, stone crab cracker and so on) as you stretch your imagination to meet your quota. A quota allows you to generate more imaginative alternatives than you otherwise would. 
We are taught to be exclusionary thinkers, which means we exclude anything that is not immediately related to our subject. If there is any ambiguity, the average person will invariably censor it and the thought dissipates back into nothingness. This exclusionary way of thinking is how we lost our natural capacity to spontaneously generate ideas. 
This is why the average person produces only a handful of ideas when brainstorming; whereas, a creative genius will produce great quantities of ideas. Thomas Edison, for example, created 3000 different ideas for a lighting system before he stepped back to evaluate them for practicality and profitability.  
All geniuses produce great quantities of ideas because they uncritically search for all possible alternatives. Albert Einstein was asked once what the difference was between him and the average person, he answered “If you ask the average person to find a needle in a haystack, he or she will stop when they find a needle. I, on the other hand, will go through the entire haystack looking for all the possible needles."
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