DRMacIver's Notebook

You open one of the 999 boxes on this floor and find...

You open one of the 999 boxes on this floor and find...

Yesterday evening I was, for reasons, talking to someone and coming up with strange and unsettling things you could do with surplus rooms in a house. Here are some of my entries:

I could keep going pretty much indefinitely.

Each of these took me no more than a couple of seconds to come up with, and I feel like I could do this for longer, though I expect I'd start to get a little repetitive at the 100 mark.

There's only so much you can do with walls.

I'm using screens and speakers a lot, but that's because they're so versatile. I'm sure I could do without.

The reason I'm able to do this is that this sort of idea generation is something I just practiced a lot as a child. It's easy to the point of being slightly surprising that other people can't do this so easily. "How do you come up with all of these things?" "IDK I just think about the subject matter and reach for the place where ideas come from".

This sort of example is particularly easy because "normal" is so tightly constrained. Everyone does most things in broadly the same way - there's variation, but even the variation is within pretty tightly defined bounds. As a result it's easy to generate interesting ideas by moving at right angles. It's easy to make weird things - you just do something that makes people go "Sure, you could do that, but why would you?"

A lot of where I learned a taste for this sort of thing and developed this skill is, I think, in the Warehouse 23 basement. Someone on Twitter described the Warehouse 23 basement as a kind of proto SCP and that's not wrong but I think misses something important about it: The things in the Warehouse 23 basement are really quite low effort, and that's part of their virtue. It's seconds or minutes of work, not hours, and so you can iterate on the skill of generating them quite easily.

This sort of idea generation is what Edward de Bono calls "lateral thinking". As with all Edward de Bono books, his book of the same is quite annoying, but it is genuinely useful. I'm particularly a big fan of his suggestion of making lists of a fixed size. Committing to generating, say, 100 ideas, forces you to come up with things that you wouldn't otherwise.

Lateral thinking is foundational to a lot of creative processes, because often the way to come up with a good idea is to generate many bad ones and see what resonates, then improve on some of the best or most interesting parts of it, and practicing the ability to do it in a generalised sense is useful.

Often when I think about developing useful general skills I think in terms of very sensible reasonable exercises that develop the skill. The warehouse 23 basement is a nice reminder that you can also just develop skills by having fun.