If I asked you to draw an alien, what would you draw? Have a go now before you read on. It doesn’t have to be a work of art, just spend a minute or two doodling.
Where did you start? It had to have eyes right? And some kind of head. And legs, a few arms, maybe some spikes, or big teeth…?
It’s interesting, don’t you think? That when we’re given the ultimate challenge in creativity: draw something unimaginable, we use such familiar imagery.
Of course this doesn’t just happen during extra-terrestrial-illustration. Whenever we undertake an activity our minds, usually without us realising, will use previous memories and experiences to guide us. Working from memory is essential for our everyday life, it leads to reflexes and automation which frees our brains to learn new information. But it can often be counterproductive in creative work, because we’re usually trying to come up with something new.
“Breadth of view, my dear Mr. Mac, is one of the essentials of our profession. The interplay of ideas and the oblique uses of knowledge are often of extraordinary interest.” – Sherlock Holmes, The Valley of Fear.
Holmes is no designer (as far as I’m aware), but he is definitely a creative thinker, or at least, through his famous detective, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was. The quote above is something all creative professionals should live by. The more information you have in your brain means the more memories it has to work with. Therefore giving you a better opportunity to make associations between seemingly unrelated categories, which leads you to new ideas, or at least new ways of looking at old ideas. The best thing about this process is you’re pushing yourself to learn. Read new books, listen to different music, eat in different restaurants and talk to different people. All this, and more, will give you new insights and new ways of solving your creative problems.