Generating Ideas and the Force v Incubate Balance

When you use an activity to generate ideas it typically comes with a set standard creative pace. The way I see it the pace dial is usually set between Incubate/Slow OR Force/Fast. We might also consider this to be the intensity with which we are working or generating ideas.

Force

An idea generation activity we use at NoTosh is called 100 Ideas in 10 Minutes. It is really effective at generating lots of potential ideas for a problem in a short space of time. From the name you can tell the pace is high. Another activity I have written about recently is the Crazy 8s, in which you draw 1 idea every 40 seconds for 5 minutes. This sets a similarly intense creative pace for those involved.

As much as these higher pace, higher intensity tasks tangibly increase the creative energy in the room, they also force the hand of that creative thinking. There are limits and constraints and higher pace. As a result you create pressure, for some participants (and students) they love that edge. For others it becomes harder and actually works counter to the general mindset we need for generating ideas: divergence. Too much pressure and pace can be a block to creativity. So we have to handle this carefully and create opportunities for a balance in speed settings if we can.

Incubate

When we incubate ideas we are taking our time to mull and ponder them over. We cogitate on them and allow ideas to be twisted and turned at a more leisurely pace. No time limits, no facilitator telling you, “Next one, move on!” When we incubate ideas we actively create conditions for our brain to slowly generate new connections and new ideas.

When you look through these brainstorming routines from Melanie Pinola, for example, you will see that the majority of them require the pace setting to be quite low. Take a walk; in the shower; take a nap. The slower pace allows our brain to continue to work the connections. I have written before about Purposeful Napping, the deliberate use of sleep inertia to unlock our creativity. Take Edison’s lead on this one.

Suffice it to say that when we are engaged and motivated around a meaningful problem, we can guarantee our subconscious brain will continue to work hard. It has evolved to make connections from stimuli and will continue to work away at developing ideas or trying to break open a problem. We just need to give it deliberate time to work and create simple methods for capturing those ideas and connections if and when they are generated. Notebook in the shower type stuff.

Strike a Balance

A way to combine the power of these different pace settings is to seek out a balance, not only in the pace but the style of activity too. Here are few ideas for you to takeaway:

  1. Combine activities so that they complement each other, go fast and slow.
  2. Provide time after an intense activity to go for a walk or work on something else, deliberately choosing to switch off.
  3. Arrange for these Force activities to happen at the end of the day so that the pace shifts overnight.
  4. You may even ask your students or participants to not think about the task anymore. Invariably new ideas are created and developed.
  5. Plan for downtime. Don’t overfill time with your students or colleagues that is for idea generation. Plan for deliberate Incubate style sessions.
  6. Talk explicitly with your team about the pace settings of the different tasks. Build up a picture of the pace settings for each tool in your creative toolset, share that understanding.
  7. Differentiate. This comes straight out of Teaching 101. Each team member or student will respond to the pace and intensity of an idea generation task differently. Talk about how they feel after different sessions and plan for the most appropriate combination of tasks for teams in the future.
  8. Increase your awareness of the pace setting for tasks. When you debrief about different activities consider the intensity and pace. By staying aware of how others respond to them you are better equipped to choose suitable tasks. Understand the task design and the expected pace and observe how this impacts on those involved.

I find the Force Vs Incubate spectrum to be a really effective way to design idea generation tasks for any group. Just ask any group about when they generate their best ideas and it typically is not during a set-piece task. Strike the pace balance and we are much more likely to be utilising the best creative activities from our toolset.

As ever, let me know what you think by sharing a comment below.

Tom Barrett

Tom is a writer, speaker and consultant. He has been sharing his thoughts on teaching, learning, curiosity and creativity on this blog for over 10 years. Drinking coffee and writing would be his idea of a perfect day.

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