June 14, 2012

The Chicken or the Egg?

You are all familiar with the old causality dilemma of what comes first: the chicken, or the egg? This riddle puzzled many philosophers and scientists throughout history because in its metaphorical meaning it represented the fundamental question of the origin of life and universe. We can easily understand the law of causality, since it is rather obvious that one thing can easily lead to another, but in this case our mind is confused by the fact that we cannot determine which of these two closely related occurrences preceded the other. The answer to this question requires a shift in our thinking – we need to put aside the law of causality for a moment and look at the things from another perspective.

In the universe of creative thinking the similar analogy can be spotted between the two things which form the basic products of every creative effort - idea and concept. Creative thinkers create ideas and concepts all the time so it is useful to understand the connection between the two and how to use concepts to create ideas, and vice versa.

What is idea? Idea is a thought conceived in our mind. It is born in the moment when different information stored in our brain connect to form a new and original organization of elements. Some ideas are more and some are less creative depending on how unique they are for the particular situation. We all get different ideas in our mind but the best ideas are those that bring value to the people and the world around us. 

What is concept? Concept is very similar to the idea but much greater in scope. While an idea can be precisely defined, concept can be rather vague and can contain only the basic elements that will direct our thinking into creating a number of different ideas. Think of a concept as of a tree. We can have many trees/concepts in one orchard: apple tree, pear tree, cherry tree... Each tree gives fruit - apples with different hues of red, cherries in different sizes, etc. ... and although every single fruit is unique in its own way, all apples in the orchard come from the same apple tree and all cherries come from the same cherry tree. This is how one concept can give birth to many different ideas. But can it be the other way around? The answer is: yes!

Chick & Egg Creative Technique

So, what comes first: the concept or the idea? The answer depends on the situation. Sometimes we are lucky to come up with a good concept from which we can extract many creative ideas. More often we are able to think of many interesting ideas, but when we try to group or elaborate them, we face the dead end because they seem too diverse or they lose the point. Here you can use one clever trick - go contrariwise, look for a main feature of the idea and try to extract the concept from it. I will give you examples.

If we want to improve working conditions in an office, we may decide upon the concept of creating a green office. This concept can be fragmented into many different ideas serving the same purpose - the one of creating a green office. We can introduce plants in the interior; we can use recycled materials to furnish the place or we can recycle the printing paper. We can install solar panels and produce our own electricity or we can change working hours and work only during the daytime to avoid using electricity for the artificial light.

Now, imagine that you are required to design a table. The first idea that comes to your mind is to construct a table with steel springs instead of ordinary legs. This idea can inspire you to think of new concepts by extracting the two main features of this idea: flexible legs and table that is shaking/moving. So if the concept is to create a table with flexible legs, you can have a table with legs that change their length so that the table can be used as a dinner table, or it can be lowered and turned into a luxurious coffee table. It can be lowered even more and be transformed into a bed, or it can even disappear in the floor to empty the space. Another idea is to have a table with legs that are not placed in the corners of the table top but are dislocated to form an interesting, yet stable table construction. Or you can have a table with foldable legs that can be attached to the wall with hinges to save the space in the room. If the concept is to design a moving table, you can use steel wires to hang the table from the ceiling and forget about the legs all together, you can put wheels on the table instead of legs or the entire table could fold in itself (like an accordion) so that the user can easily customize its width (or length).

If you are clear about the difference between the concept and the idea, you will be able to constantly go back and forth in your thinking and produce many different ideas in less time.

Now let us go back to the question from the beginning of this article, the one about the chicken and egg. I already mentioned that the causality model does not work here. Instead, we will have to take a broader stance and think about the concept of creation. Ask yourself what created both the bird and its egg. As you already know, the birds evolved from the reptiles. This means that both the birds and the structure of their eggs evolved simultaneously. However, if we are to understand this riddle more literally, we will have to take a look into the origin of the chicken. The domesticated chicken-as-we-know-it belongs to the Pheasant family and is a hybrid between the red jungle fowl and the grey jungle fowl. This means that the parents of the first chicken were not chicken, but jungle fowls, which leads us to the conclusion that - THE EGG CAME FIRST!!!

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