Personal Experiment 5: Can Creativity be Trained?

Xue Zing
5 min readJul 17, 2021
Image from Unsplash by Toa Heftiba

I always loved creative thoughts.

Those kinds where you suddenly get enlightened or get a paradigm shift.

These ideas and concepts come only from two places.

My head and other people’s heads.

Reading, podcasts, videos, or even just by hearing people speak, I might stumble onto an interesting idea.

Those are other people’s ideas

My ideas stem from my observations, my experience, and my thoughts about other people’s ideas.

So, the experiment today is, how to generate creativity.

Awareness of the issue,

The experiment started with a simple thought.

Can we train to be creative?

That’s it

I was curious about this thought and it lasted a while in my head. During that time, I happened to stumbled upon the writer

and two of his posts.

The first was becoming an Idea Machine

The second was about Idea Combination.

Ideas were the basis of being creative, so I figured if I could strengthen the Idea Muscle as mentioned in the article above, that would answer the thought I had.

Furthermore, creativity was a broad skill that would definitely help in the future, be it creative problem solving, creative work like my writing, or even coming up with new ideas for experiments.

Goal Setting,

The goal for this experiment was twofold,

  1. Able to generate more ideas and better quality ideas.
  2. Think more differently by drawing on different disciplines.

The first goal was easy to understand, an abundance of ideas that could be applied to real life.

However, there were many ways to be creative and generate ideas.

We could take an existing product or service and make it better.

We could create something totally from scratch.

We could delve into world-building and story-making.

We could do art or poetry.

So the second goal was to narrow down where we would let our creative juices flow.

I decided that it would be interesting to base the theme of this experiment on combination, that is by combining ideas from different fields and seeing what could appear from them.

Following Altcuher’s reasoning, I decided to set it at 10 ideas per day. This is because as he mentioned,

If I say, “write down ten ideas for books you can write” I bet you can easily write down four or five. I can write down four or five right now. But at six it starts to get hard. “Hmmm,” you think, “what else can I come up with?”

We want to break through the idea 6 and 7 where we usually run out of ideas.

Just like gym, that’s where the most gains come from.

Even though the recommended time by Altucher was 6 months. I decided to do it for 3 months first.

Process Building,

Time to build the process.

10 ideas a day were the repetitions I needed to do.

For the idea combination, I decided to use the concept from Altucher in his article as mentioned above.

I decided that every day, two random words would be picked and 10 ideas would have to be generated from those.

Now to make the process fairer, I enlisted a friend to help with the experiment.

This was also the very first time I had someone participate in one of the personal experiments I designed.

I was quite thankful to him because most people would have dismissed this rather odd idea and also be put off by the time commitment needed.

It also meant that I would be able to obtain two sets of results from the experiment.

Through a google drive, we would each give a word each, every day, then we would have to generate 10 ideas from that.

An example would be, I gave the word “scum” and he gave the word “cardboard”

So some of the ideas would be recycled cardboard made of scum to save resources or cardboard that can absorb scum or cardboard that won’t be affected by liquids.

Every week, we would take some time to go through the week’s ideas as some of them would be very odd and needed further explanation.

Execution,

The execution was considerably smooth, similar to what was planned in the process building.

However, the idea generation was not easy, especially around the 6 or 7 ideas.

The first 5 were usually smooth and took about 10 minutes, the latter half would take around another 15 minutes.

Furthermore, the quality of the ideas would be drastically different.

The first 5 would be simple and ordinary, ideas that most people would be able to think of.

The last 5 started to get really wild, about 90% would be terrible but the 10% that were not would be better than the first 5.

Those were the breakthroughs in creative idea-making.

The execution was quite consistent as well. Since we would only discuss it at the end of the week, we could afford to skip a day but just do 20 ideas the following day.

Closing up,

The results were interesting.

I personally felt there were no changes after the experiment.

Perhaps it was because I had always enjoyed making creative leaps and thinking outside the box, hence the experiment didn’t provide much benefit to me.

However, my friend said there were more tangible results on his side. Unexpectedly, it wasn’t at getting better at generating ideas.

He got better at linking topics in conversation.

Treating two topics as the two random words we practice, he would be able to link them and speak on a 3rd new topic more easily and could transition more smoothly

In other words, the result of his experiment was becoming a better conversationalist.

I also found out from our weekend discussions, that most people would come up with the same idea for the first 5 to 7 ideas.

It’s the latter half where you are wracking your brains in desperation that the really different ideas would come from.

This means 80% of the ideas are nothing special, the game changers lie in the 20% of ideas.

However, the result of this experiment would be a poor as all the reps were made but I could not feel any significant improvement.

In Conclusion,

This experiment gave me a bit more insight into how to generate ideas and the difficulty that came with them.

I believe it is also suited for some people who have a more structured thought process.

If you have problems coming up with ideas on the fly like for table topics, this personal experiment should be able to help.

This is one of the experiments that are also low cost, both in time and effort, and no real means of failure.

So give it a try, it is fun and only takes a half-hour a day.

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Xue Zing

Writing about thought provokers that go against conventional self-help