Watch and read the full transcript of professor Giovanni Corazza’s TEDx Talk: Creative Thinking: How to Get Out of The Box and Generate Ideas at TEDxRoma Conference.
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Giovanni Corazza – Professor at Alma Mater Studiorum at the University of Bologna
Sometimes, easy meets difficult. Have you ever been assigned an easy task which for you is actually very difficult to perform and maybe for anybody else? And that is when you experience frustration. I have experienced that when I started taking singing lessons, and my teacher told me to breathe with my diaphragm. That’s easy, it’s our natural breath, but actually very difficult to do. And it’s a secret of the great singers.
And it’s similar to what happens when a boss comes into a meeting and tells you to think out of the box. Come on, give me your creative ideas. Think out of the box. I want to hear that. I need innovation. Easy, simple, but actually very hard to do. You need to practice. You need to know how to get out of the box, where to go, and how to come back inside the box, because that’s where we live. We actually live inside our boxes.
So I want to ask these questions. I asked those questions to myself. And this presentation is a little journey through my answers. I hope that some of these will resonate with yours. So the first thing is to ask, why. Why should we really go out of the box? Because inside the box, we feel safe. We agree with everybody else. And when we go out, we risk our reputation.
We worked so hard for a lifetime to build it up, why should we risk it? Is this something which is a luxury, that only a few people can do, or is it really a necessity? Why? Think of our lives today. We are really a part of a network. We are nodes in a network. We share information in real time, and we, in the end, all possess the same information. That’s the end of it, and that is a scary thought. If we all possess the same information, what makes a difference between ourselves? Where does our dignity as human beings lie? It really depends on what we generate with that common shared information. So to think creatively, to go out of the box, is not a luxury. It’s a necessity for us and for our dignity as human beings.
So which box are we talking about? We must have a clear definition, so that we are really talking about something specific. It’s not our mind; we cannot think out of our minds. It’s a boundary within our minds. The boundary between what we know, and what we haven’t still, or yet, thought about.
What is our mind? What is our knowledge structure? It’s an emergent phenomenon out of the complex mechanism, which is the brain. We start with initial conditions, our genetic heritage. We have boundary conditions, the environment. We have indirect experience, years and years spent in school and University to learn what other people have thought, what other people have discovered, what other people have created. And then, we have our own direct experience, our successes, our failures that really make what we are. All of this builds the anthill within which we live, and we live very well in that. And whatever we think inside that anthill, that box, we feel safe. Whatever is outside, it’s invisible to us. We don’t know what it’s outside. That is why it’s so risky, because nobody else knows.
And so we are faced with something which is necessary to our dignity, but actually it’s very difficult to do. How do we go out of the box? How do we do that? What are the mechanisms? Do we need to wait for an apple to fall on our heads, or are there some specific techniques? Well, reality is out there for us to perceive it. It’s beautiful. You see these flowers. And we have a lot of ideas, which is our convergent information, the dominant ideas. Whenever we need to think about an area, a focused area, we have ideas on how things should be. We have requirements, we have specifications. We know how things are, because that’s the way they always have been.
But if we want to go out of the box, we need to add something more, a little spice, something which goes beyond the convergent information. Something wrong, something absurd, something which apparently is not relevant, something which takes us far. This is what we call divergent information. We need a little bit of that divergent information to cross the borders within our minds, from what we know to what we haven’t yet thought about. So this is the essential mechanism that is necessary, and it takes us to a place where we don’t really know where to go. We are suspended. It’s like the middle game in chess.
Where do you go once you’re out of the box? You have no preset direction. So it’s really a potential situation that brings us to a feeling that we should immediately go back. This does not make any sense. Let’s go back to safe place. Let’s go back inside the box. That’s a temptation that we need to resist. We need to value long thinking. Normally, we talk about brilliant thinking, fast thinking, deep thinking, but here we’re talking about something different: long thinking. What does that mean? It’s some thought that takes us far. It’s as if you were reading poetry or listening to music. You don’t judge the single notes. You don’t judge the single words. It’s the ensemble that gives you a feeling, and takes you far. We must do the same thing with our concepts. We need to go far.
And so we can use association of ideas, combination of ideas, extraction of principles, and application of those principles to areas where they were never applied before. We need to be open-minded. We need to be fluent. Look for alternatives, and not for the correct answer. Because when you think creatively, there’s no single correct answer. There are many possible alternatives.
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