Working solo

Prepare your mind

By Derek Jones

Feed your mind to increase your creativity

Background

This simple recipe is an often-overlooked classic, central to all creative cognitive processes. It follows from research that considers creativity to be a simple outcome of a functioning conscious mind (Craft, 2001; Heilman, Nadeau & Beversdorf, 2003; Sawyer, 2011) – something that designers have been aware of (consciously or otherwise) for some time.

In his little book ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’, Young (2003) considers the mind of a designer to be interested in all things; inquisitive, questioning, explorative. Take every opportunity that comes your way to do this and you will naturally engage in connecting and divergent thinking, which are two central cognitive functions for creative thinking (Heilman, Nadeau & Beversdorf, 2003; Abraham & Windmann, 2007).

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Working solo

Constraint as a seed for creativity

By Pawel Orzechowski and Derek Jones

Background

Do you ever get the feeling that your head is bursting with thoughts and ideas? This can actually be counter-productive for your research. When it gets too much, your thinking might need to converge to help you move forward.

Think about haiku: three lines, five-seven-five syllables. Haiku are very restrictive but lead to such creative output that it is worth considering why. While abundance can be an interesting and (apparently) effective environment in which to work, the truly amazing comes from limited resources.

In architecture, there is an urban myth that the best architecture comes in times of recession: fewer projects and limited resources encourage more time and thinking applied to what is available, leading to significant innovation. Jugaad, jua kali and rasquachismo are all international flavours of ‘make do and mend’ cultures that have existed since the start of humanity (U101 Course Team, 2013). Similarly, research shows that limiting choice can have a positive effect on the creative process (Costello and Keane, 2000; Stokes, 2001; Sellier & Dahl, 2011).

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Working solo

Just Describe

By Anitra Nottingham

Background

If you want to improve the place where you conduct your research, it pays to fully understand and document the current setting. This recipe works on the idea that the act of writing is a ‘lab tool’ of qualitative social research, and is a practice capable of generating data (Law, 2004), in the same way that a microscope produces data by enabling us to observe realities invisible to the naked eye. Here writing generates a narrative-style description of the field which is then used as data and subjected to analysis.

This dish is the fortuitous result of mixing a lack of human participants, a deadline, and a dash of panic. It springs from theories of the socio-material, in particular actor-network theory (ANT).   It is based on the idea that objects can be made to ‘speak’ – to tell us something of what they may contribute to the social – if we describe them well enough (Latour, 2005).

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Working solo

Keep loving your thesis (even when it hates you)

By Inger Mewburn

Background

Maintaining love for your thesis topic can be exhausting, basically because a thesis is such a hard thing to love. A thesis slowly takes shape over a period of years and must be closely attended to for most of the time. Many cooks find this exhausting and impractical, yet for best results, it is wise to keep your eye on it at all times.

A thesis doesn’t love you back. It demands a lot of energy and only gives you irregular rewards. Like any long-term relationship, it can be hard, at times, to remember the spark that got you interested in the first place. However, if you want to succeed, it is essential to try to keep the love alive.

One of the reasons we can become so estranged from our thesis is that the pressure to perform can spoil the enjoyment. This recipe shows you how to use ‘free writing’ to spend quality time with your ideas, without expectations. Free writing is advocated by many writing teachers as a way of overcoming writer’s block, but it is used here to help you break your habitual, mechanistic relationship with your thesis.

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Working solo

Relieving attention fatigue

By Richard Coyne, Jenny Roe, Peter Aspinall and Panos Mavros

Background

To concentrate on a task you need to block out distractions. In fact that’s what it means to concentrate – to inhibit other instinctual inclinations. Once that blocking function gets worn down by fatigue you are more likely to act on impulse, to run away if something challenges you too much, to take unnecessary risks, to become irritable, and to get distracted from your task by things that are more engaging but less challenging, such as video games, television programmes, or random images on the Internet. These are symptoms of attention fatigue.

Attention fatigue is useful. If you kept on with challenging tasks, no matter how important, without a break, then you would be less likely to notice what’s going on around you. You’d be like the dysfunctional inventor, scientist, writer or student cramming for an exam who has to be dragged from the laboratory or study desk in order to wash, eat and socialise.

How can you restore your ability to concentrate on the important task at hand? Sleep is one approach, but attention fatigue can disrupt it and can lead to irregular sleep patterns and sleepless nights. The solution seems to reside in taking a rest from direct concentration and instead redirecting one’s concentration to things that don’t require as much effort, i.e. things we find ‘naturally fascinating’ that command our attention effortlessly.

There are many candidates for recuperative attention, depending on your inclinations: reading a novel with a suspense element, checking up on whether an email or post has arrived, buying lottery tickets and following the results. Most people are fascinated by animals, so watching YouTube cat videos might do it, or even playing with a real pet.

Most people are drawn to extremes in physical appearance and circumstances. So watching car racing, cartoons and soaps, reading gossip columns, and experiencing unusual architecture may fit the bill. Whether through biological, social or cultural attunement these are sources of fascination for many. They easily arrest and hold our concentration, and offer some restorative benefits, though exaggeration in its own right can have other disturbing effects, a bit like the effects of watching a horror film or movie.

But there’s another kind of fascination that maintains our ability to concentrate, willingly, with little effort, and more effectively. This is soft fascination, as proposed by the psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989; Kaplan, 1995). Soft fascination is best for recuperation as it provides opportunities for reflection, is non-taxing, and deals less with exaggeration and its attendant disturbances.

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Working solo

My work is not me

By Alison Williams

Background

It is sometimes difficult for us to take criticism of our work. We are so bound up in it that the work somehow becomes us, and critique of the work feels like a personal attack.  This is damaging in two main ways:

  • If I feel attacked when my work is critiqued, then my confidence is likely to go down. I feel that it is not just the work that is inadequate, it is me.
  • If I can’t stand outside my work then it is more difficult to make changes and improvements.

This recipe is for people who come out of a meeting with a supervisor feeling completely devastated and stupid, and forgetting that they are in the top 1% of the world’s thinkers. Its aim is to help you detach yourself from your work so that even if the work is going badly, your confidence and self-esteem are not irreparably damaged.

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