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November 03, 2015 Tuesday 05:33:14 PM IST

Think original to capture ‘eureka moments’ in life!

Creative Living

We are born unique. There are no replicas of us in the world. So could be our thoughts also, if we are careful. It could be unique, original, fresh and refreshing. To be original means to be oneself! Be what you are with all your talents, dreams, confusions, defects, expectations and level of enlightenment! Think original to capture “eureka moments” of your life!


Originality a mirage?


Modern information age runs the risk of deserting people in a jungle of ideas, where they are left alone bewildered, confused and lost. Out of multibillion bits of information in circulation round the globe every other second only few are original. Others are carbon copies of already existing ideas. Novel information is a rarity; path-breaking concepts are scarce; original thoughts are scant. Repeaters of old concepts and followers of existing ideas are large in number. We are often content with registering our “likes” and “recommending” others’ ideas. The world today seeks novel thoughts and concepts to redeem it from the shackles of celebrated but fast-redundant ideas of the past. New perspectives are wanted; novelty is sought after; originality is solicited.


Originality is a precondition to get ideas protected under copyright. The rationale behind copyrights is to protect original ideas and to reward creativity. That is the  legal connotation of originality. To distinguish between the original and duplicate ideas is proving an extremely difficult task today.


In the World Wide Web, there are already mechanisms to track plagiarism. The aim is to promote original ideas. Many webbased services and programs enable users to identify copying of ideas or to limit them to a minimum.


However, can authenticity of original contributions be conclusively proven? Is it not true that synergy of old ideas generates new and effective ideas? Have not ideas and concepts undergone evolutionary changes in the course of time? Can we ascribe patency to ideas that had been in circulation for ages to a single person?


According to famous German-Swiss painter Paul Klee, creative people are just like a tree. They draw minerals of personal experience gradually processing them into new concepts. Creativity is a play with own experience. It consists of synthesis of new ideas in the mould of experience. It involves synergy of many ideas, transforming them into a powerful and new idea. It is like delving deep into the sea of vast personal experience to collect pearls from under the sea. It need not be creation of something out of nothing, ex nihilo, rather it is a creation of something out of the chaos of lived experience. It is a discovery of something that was hidden.


Abraham Lincoln once commented: “Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.” That might be our experience too. We often find our own thoughts reflected in old texts! Does it suggest that we have inherited them from those sources? Sure! But it might also include our contribution through synergy. Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson once jokingly said, is it true that “All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients.” Is originality a mirage?


What is originality?


J.P Guilford, the famous creativity expert, considers originality as one of the four pillars of creative thinking, others being fluency, flexibility and elaboration (FFOE). The ability to develop original thoughts, to synergize different ideas, to shape new concepts-approaches-outlooks-methods-practices- strategies-praxes is essential to creative thinking.


Originality can be defined as the ability to generate something that is unique or first of its kind: to produce ideas and products that have not existed before. Often it is someone’s spontaneous originality that makes us call them “creative”. Originality is the pinnacle of creativity. Of the four FFOE skills, originality is most difficult to force. It can only be reinforced. It often grows out of fluency but involves greater risk-taking.


An original idea is also delightful. Something original is a joy forever. It creates effects akin to the sudden turning on of a light, firework in the sky or gushing of torrents in a waterfall. The onlookers are enlightened, enthralled and refreshed at the  sight of it. It may trigger laughter or at least an inner smile.


Originality can be distinguished from creativity. Originality refers to the production of a novel idea, without distinction whether it is useful or not. A creative idea is not only original but also worthwhile, useful, effective and efficient.


Brainstorming is a usual technique used to trigger original ideas. The golden rule of brainstorming states: “No idea is a bad idea”. This attitude develops a positive spirit that boosts generation of a large number of original ideas. Creativity is one step ahead. It looks for effectiveness and practicality of ideas.


How to cultivate originality?


Original thoughts are often viewed as sporadic and serendipitous. It appears just like winning a lottery. Our lives are often framed around routines. Our daily chores are repetitions. It is only natural that our minds are not fizzing every day with new ideas. We seldom win a lottery.


However, there are ways and means to equip oneself for original thinking. Original ideas are not usually thunderbolts from out of the blue. Originality could be nurtured and stimulated. You cannot force it, but you can create the right conditions to germinate it. You can create enough sparks to ignite it. New thoughts are born with a fire in the brain. Neurons of our brain literally fire as you mull over an original idea. It is the way the brain gives birth to a new idea. Feeding fresh information into the brain thus helps to create an ecosystem for originality. It expands the horizon of your imagination. Some useful tips to facilitate originality are:


• Change your music: If you hear rap music, go for jazz; if you favour classical at times switch over to modern.


• Develop new tastes: If you love pizza, try also pasta; if you favour Chinese, try continental.


• Make new contacts: Make it a point to meet someone new, encounter a stranger and get in contact with him.


• Read new subjects: If you usually read romance try science fiction. If you normally read fiction, read business books. If you usually read business books, try philosophy.


• Alter your routines: Change your pattern of exercise, do yoga rather than go running, play golf instead of tennis. Routines have negative influences on original thinking.


• Change your attitudes: Change the chair you regularly sit on in a meeting: if you have a habit of sitting at the back, try to sit in the front row. If you are usually quiet, speak up. If you are usually loud, be quiet and listen.


• Keep your curiosity alive: Explore new words, understand new concepts and engage in life-long learning.


Schools are supposed to be nurseries of original thinking. Open acceptance and respect for original ideas is vital to nurturing students’ originality. How peers and teachers react to ideas can make or break originality. Most students will be reluctant to speak out original thoughts, if it risks themselves of being looked at as “crazy” by peers or “undisciplined” by teachers.


Schools shall not reduce themselves to the places of “right answers”. They must be places where students are trained to ask “right questions”, rather. Originality is the crux of innovation and it should be nurtured in schools by teaching students to ask right questions rather than stuffing them with right answers.


How to overcome mental blocks?


Roger von Oech in his book, A Kick in the Seat of the Pants (New York: Harper Perennial, 1986) has identified a number of mental blocks that kill original thinking skills. He suggests six ways to set ourselves free from the mental blocks and to engage in original thinking:


1. Use soft thinking than hard thinking: “Soft thinking” is more diffuse, more lateral, more able to deal with contradiction, and the most appropriate for creativity. “Hard thinking”, on the other hand, is more focused, linear and precise. These two poles of common thinking can be described by the following pairs: Metaphor-Logic, Dream-Reason, Humour-Precision, Ambiguity-Consistency, Play-Work, Approximate-Exact, Fantasy- Reality, Paradox-Direct, and Generalization-Specific. A shift from hard thinking to soft thinking is marked by a shift from the latter attribute to the former one in the pair.


2. Look beyond the right answer: According to Emile Chartier, “Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, if it’s the only idea you have.” We shall not limit our search to the “only right answer”; rather we need to search out for the “multitude of right answers”. It allows you to adapt solutions to the life situations.


3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: The fear of going wrong has to be removed. You should not be afraid to be wrong. Mistakes can be stepping stones to the right solution. As Thomas Edison has rightly mentioned: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”


4. Think ambiguously: Many problems can be tackled using different viewpoints posited by ambiguous thinking. A little bit

of ambiguity in thinking provides you with sufficient flexibility for creative thinking.


5. Adopt roles: Entering into the shoes of some role models could liberate you from the mental blocks. You may take the roles of a “joker” or a “magician”. The “joker” was the court jester in the palaces of kings. He had an important role to play in the proper functioning of the palace. He is supposed to save kings from falling into the traps of “yes-men”. Through his interventions, he is supposed to provide new perspectives. The “magician” deals with symbols which can boost creativity. The magician often “proves” that nothing is impossible.


6. Break rules: Very often we are limited by our perception of boundaries. It is important to go outside accepted norms in order to reach solutions. This sometimes means breaking rules.


Originality: Challenge of being oneself!

We are born unique. There are no replicas of us in the world. So could be our thoughts also, if we are careful. It could be unique, original, fresh and refreshing. To be original means to be oneself! Be what you are with all your talents, dreams, confusions, defects, expectations and level of enlightenment! Think original to capture “eureka moments” of your life!

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

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