What the umbrella “assassin” can teach us about triggering wildly creative ideas.

The New York Times recently produced a wonderful little video, The Umbrella Man, featuring Joshua “Tink” Thompson, author of “Six Seconds in Dallas,” an analysis of the infamous Zapruder film depicting the JFK assassination.  Thompson devoted a good deal of his various careers to studying the complexities of reality, this is certainly a bending of reality as it relates to creativity.

This short film explains how the cockamamy theory of Kennedy’s umbrella assassin emerged, and shows us how introducing totally random data into a factual senario can lead to otherwise unfathomable conclusions – a pretty cool way to look at creative thinking.

When we’re seeking fresh ideas we’re all slaves to what we know.  It’s not wrong.  It’s just how the mind works.  We can only process what is in our minds; what we recall and what we observe in the present.  So the raw material for all of our new ideas is bits and pieces of what we know, all put into our mental Cuisinart.

But introduce a totally incongruous piece of data, and, BAM! the mind, still using rational process, tries to make it all make sense leading to some pretty creative concepts, as this film illustrates.

On many creative days we get these random cues and weave them into our thoughts consciously or not.  (More often we miss them, or even dismiss them.)  Stephen Tyler hears a Marty Feldmen line in the film Young Frankenstein, “Walk this way” and it leads to a great song hook.   Philip Pullman gets the core idea for His Dark Materials Trilogy when he sees a DaVinci painting of a young girl holding an ermine.

When I lead brainstorming sessions we use a simple tool called Intergalactic Thinking™ to trigger fresh ideas.  It’s easy and it’s fast.  The only thing that causes some people pause is that it forces them to deviate from the linear thinking that dominates their thought process virtually all of the time.  But this divergent thought process works.  The next time I lead a brainstorming session I’m going to use the umbrella galaxy and see what happens.

The Umbrella Man film was brought to my attention by fellow creative thinking enthusiast and all around creative guy Marty Baker of Inotivity.