This new book by creativity guru Rod Judkins offers an impressive range of exercises to widen your perspectives on ideation. Try them to see how they can spur your creativity in your innovative journey.
“The real currency of our age isn’t money. It isn’t data, attention or time. It’s ideas,” says Rod Judkins, lecturer at Central Saint Martin's College of Art, and blogger at Psychology Today.
His latest book is Ideas are your only currency: 100 creative projects to open your mind and inspire great ideas. See my book reviews of his other bestseller The Art of Creative Thinking, and the related titles 12 Steps to Creativity (Michael Atavar), Creativity Now (Jurgen Wolff), and Steal like an Artist (Austin Kleon).
Ideas surround us in the physical world and are coming to us fast and from afar as well, thanks to the global always-on internet. While skills are becoming obsolete faster and faster, what will help us thrive and survive is to become idea generators, says Rod.
Creative thinking unlocks the potential of everyone, from scientists and artists to politicians and geneticists. It helps solve problems and unlock doors that conventional processes cannot. Becoming an idea generator is a way of future-proofing oneself, by becoming open-minded, adaptable, and adept at problem-solving.
“An ideas person is never content, they always want to push in a new direction. They create new opportunities by asking intelligent, provocative and innovative questions. They are restlessly ambitious,” Rod explains. “Ultimately, all conceptual design thinking is about the search for meaning,” he adds.
“The creative are a mixture of intelligence and optimism,” he says. They have a mix of realism, imagination and humour. “Instead of mindlessly consuming, they mindfully create,” says Rod. Creative people regularly train their imagination the way athletes train their bodies, and come up with ideas that at first seem absurd to others.
The pages in his new book are not numbered and the sections are not labeled either, which may be puzzling but perhaps fitting for a book on creativity. The book’s 230 pages (I counted them manually!) are packed with illustrations and witty quotes.
The book is more of a “do” book than a “read” book, with 10 activities for each of the 10 themes: technology, time, opposites, power, future, body, reality, values, purpose and language. The exercises are meant to develop conceptual ability and creative potential regardless of age or background.
Here are brief overviews of the sections in the book; it makes for a useful workbook for awakening and accelerating your creative side. Some of the exercises come across as provocative and surprising, and others may even seem silly – but perhaps there’s a method to the playful madness!
“Technology has widespread communal and philosophical consequences,” says Rod, and cautions that we run the risk of becoming tools of our tools as social media overwhelm us. “We must upgrade our thinking and tune in to new mediums so that we can use them more effectively, and master them before they master us,” he advises.
Some activities to think creatively about technology are drawing a diagram to show human devolution in the face of tech advances, designing a cheese grater with personality, a coat of arms for Bill Gates, a flag for cyberspace, a tattoo for a robot, a robot’s painting, an anti-technology placard, and supersonic shells for snails and tortoises.
Time management is becoming a serious challenge in an age of information and activity overload. Everything seems to be speeding up but there is still a perceived scarcity of time.
Activities to envision time better include designing a firework for the end of the universe, a gift for someone about to die, a new currency, a personal watch face, a new infinity symbol, and a cover for Einstein’s book on relativity.
“Our sensationalist society polarises people and events. Everything is exaggerated and extreme,” Rod observes. It is important for us to recognise, juxtapose and even reconcile opposites.
Creative activities in this space include designing an extreme hamster, a bridge that connects East and West, an extreme wedding cake, camouflage for an urban animal, a ray gun, a pacifist hairstyle, a deep-fried chocolate bar, and even a shoe tread for a “modern sinner.”
How do we assert control and power in a consumer society, where we are often unaware of the sources of content and messaging in our lives? Some creative exercises to think about who is in control include designing contemporary playing cards, a crown for a president, the label for a Molotov cocktail, a postcard for utopia, an inflatable cathedral, a modern Egyptian fresco, a nuclear button, and even wrestling costumes for Karl Marx and Adam Smith!
What is the future going to look like, and how can we shape it? “Design is more than simply future forecasting or problem-solving – it transforms imagination into reality,” says Rod.
Here are some activities to spur our thinking of the future and our role in it: design a commemorative flower and plaque, a garden gnome of the future, a modern chess set, a money laundering shop, a vending machine for sperm donor packets, the gates of paradise, a retrofitted mule, and a nuclear dustbin.
How does our body govern our perceptions of ourselves and of the world, and how are we altering our own body through an unending range of products? As our body changes with age, who do we become and not become?
Some exercises for provocative thinking about our body are designing the label for a bottle and a vinyl doll that represents us, a pinball machine, a superhero costume for ourselves, our life narrative as a comic, an artificial arm, our fingerprint with a message in the form of words or images, and a self-awarded diploma.
What exactly is real, and how do we know how real it is? “Matter itself begins to seem ethereal and conceptual,” says Rod, as atomic science unearths new interpretations of matter. What exactly is truth, fact, knowledge or reality?
Try to design a coffee cup for a philosopher’s café, a clown costume for a philosopher, a new drug, a tomb for a toy, a truck for firestarters, and the contents for a zombie cure kit.
What do you value the most, and how much do you value it? How much do your values overlap with those of society? How are real wealth and virtual wealth valued? “The real world is full of compromise, and we constantly adjust our values to fit into it,” observes Rod.
“Our most costly failure is our obsession with success,” he rues; but we are wrong about what it means to be wrong. It would be good to have awards that celebrate failure and not just success. (See also my reviews of the books Failing to Succeed, Fail Fast, and Fail Better.)
Exercises to map and question your values include designing a statue for the Federal Reserve, a label for cash as if it were a perfume bottle, a stained glass window for a mall, a new banknote for your country of origin, a homeless person’s sign, a trophy for the world’s biggest loser, a seductive moneybox, a personal credit card, a valuable plastic bucket, and a welcome sign for your city.
Increasing choice in a rapidly changing globalised world leads to a lot of confusion as well. Definitions of identity and correctness keep changing. What are some ways to deal with and overcome confusion in a post-modern world?
Try to design postage stamps for the middle of nowhere, a business card for a ghost, a virus, packaging for bottled or boxed air, a mashup building, and a logo for an anti-brand.
“The structure of language is the key to meaning,” says Rod. From typography to media, we need to be increasingly aware of how to deconstruct language before it deconstructs us.
Creative activities in this space include creating a fanzine, a new letter for the alphabet, a quirky bookshelf, a CD cover for the sound of chaos, a non-verbal poster that promotes literacy, the front cover for your autobiography, the masthead for Typography Monthly, your own seal of approval, and a word to describe the sound of your dog’s bark.
“This book proposes ideas are currency,” Rod signs off. Regular creative activities can flex and develop idea-generating muscles. (It would be great to have an online companion to see how readers around the world responded to the 100 creative activities in the book!)
Ideas create small incremental progress as well as revolutionary advances. “Although computers increasingly take over, a nomadic, entrepreneurial mind surpasses them in fields requiring creativity, emotional intelligence or entrepreneurship,” Rod sums up.