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Developing originality

First a Story:

When I was in third grade our teacher gave us a weekend assignment: Come back on Monday with as many ways to use a toothbrush as you can. The kid with the most different, original ways will get a prize. I tried really hard. I thought of all the things you could scrub and scratch. I came up with a whole list of things you could poke with the handle or decorate with the bristles. I asked my mom and my big brother and the neighbor lady for ideas. By Monday I had over 100 ideas. But I didn't win. Curtis Dixon won. I was already in love with Curtis Dixon. I imagined marrying him and joining his family's vast pencil empire.

But what he did with that toothbrush assignment sealed the deal. In his world a toothbrush became a nest, a beard on a very long face, an interlocking bridge-building device. He had uses for the little bulge half way down the shaft, he had things to do with the back of the brush or the little holes when the bristles were removed. He used the toothbrushes' color. Some of his devices were only a single bristle. Others formed a spiky array. He used the insides of the thing, he used the negative space. Curtis somehow forgot or overlooked the whole "handle"-"bristle"-"brush" aspect. He didn't use language to parse the thing; instead he saw the toothbrush as it actually was - shapes, textures, interfaces. So here is my advice:

Practice seeing the world as it is

From time to time stop using language to filter and simplify your experience. See a room as planes and angles, as a trampoline for light and sound. Practice noticing the air around and between things. Include as much sensory information as you can. Experience metal as temperature and fabric as smell. Look at shadows to see what color they actually are. Notice how hard it is to stop seeing them as gray. But that shift from "gray shadow" to "yellowish stripe" is what you are cultivating. You want to be able to do that at will.

Stop Predicting Every Once In Awhile:

Forget that the animal in front of you is your "cat" - look at its front part, its middle, its end. Check out the bits that stick up and back and down. Discover how some pieces terminate against the ground, how others taper into the air. Notice the part that seems to want to interact with you. Observe how it moves, how its movements connect. Look at the cat as if it were a space alien, as if you didn't know what to expect. Do the same thing with your cup of coffee. Explore an apple for clues about what it thinks about you.

Practice shifting perspective:

Read Betty Edward's book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Cock your head like a dog. Look at things upside down. Use a mirror to navigate down your street looking only at the trees and sky and building tops. Imagine the horizon as a 2D projection, snap back to depth. Add an overlay of history - seasons or centuries. Notice the land below the buildings and trees. Imagine the landscape veneered translucently by what will one day be. See the ocean as water trying to push into the air, see waves as sky fighting back. To do what others are not doing, you must see what others do not see.

#creativity #howto #stories #education

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