It turns out there might be more benefit to acting like a kid once in a while than you might have thought. Inc. magazine interviewed University of Massachusetts cognitive psychologist Anthony McCaffrey, who studies the thinking of inventors, and recently published his findings in Psychological Science.
According to McCaffrey, there are ways that those of us with less naturally creative minds can come up with more inventive ideas. He’s developed a toolkit of sorts to get people back in touch with the kind of “wild” thinking of their preteen years, when they started to lose the ability to freely associate. In fact, McCaffrey recently won a two-year, $170,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to turn his Obscure Features Hypothesis (the first systematic, step-by-step approach to enhancing innovative thinking) into software with a user-friendly interface.
According to a press release, the software’s initial users will likely be engineers. But he tells Inc. that anyone in the creative domain, from marketing to comedy writing, could benefit from the toolkit. Among the techniques is the “generic-parts” technique, in which people looking for fresh ideas should try and strip away their preconceived notions of an object by describing it without reference to its usual function. This is meant to “unconceal” features you could use. For example, “That plug? It contains two small, flat pieces of metal. Look at it that way and it could be used as a screwdriver, for example.”
Another method, the “thesaurus technique,” has would-be innovators using a thesaurus to find new words for all the ways something can be fastened together, for instance, to broaden their notion of how things can be attached.
McCaffrey’s philosophy background – and years as an elementary school teacher – helped him conceive components of the innovation software. In Nietzsche, for example, McCaffrey found his broad definition of "feature" that doesn't limit a theory of creativity. From Heidegger, he borrowed "unconcealment," the idea that any object can have an unlimited number of features that are gradually unconcealed within an endless array of contexts. “Follow your interests and you naturally can make connections between them that others can’t as easily see,” he advises Inc. readers.
Think you’d invest in software that would exercise your brain back to its 10-year-old state? Got a “eureka” moment that came as a result of wild thinking? Share it here.