Association- the key to creativity

I  have already mentioned in the previous posts this point : that ‘association’ is the key to creativity. When you look at examples for innovation, you would find a lot of them pointing to ‘association’. A self cleaning glass inspired by lotus leaves is a good example. If you need a famous one, you have the benzene ring. Steve jobs came up with the idea of fonts while doing some calligraphy lessons. In each of these cases, there was an association of two things which brought forth a new fresh idea.

You can find ‘association’ as a key element in many creative works, especially literary and visual forms. And needless to say, for those logical minds, there is this technique called ‘forced association’ – yes you don’t need to have the art of associating, but put yourself through a technique and you might hit upon something brilliant. To be frank, like most of the other systematic innovation techniques which try to force the mind to do something different, I have not really seen this produce anything really creative. It is interesting for people who have been using mind in a specific way to do something like this, but I firmly belive that we cannot imitate a creative mind.

There are people who can spontaneously tell a joke or a phrase or an incident which is not just relevant for the situation, but sometimes brings a totally different perspective. This is a classical example of ‘association’. Here is an example:

Few of us settled down around a table with a plate of chats and coffee each in our office (for those who do not know, a chat is typical Indian snack which is typically a mixture of potato pieces, crispy fried bread, gram bean , yoghurt and some spicy masala powders. None of them are eatable individually, but a chat is usually very tasty (You can find some receipies here)) We were hungry, but as we began eating it, everyone looked at each other. It didn’t taste great. But no one spoke anything. There was a total silence for a short while. Then someone said softly “A committee is a group of people who cannot do anything alone and then they come together to find that even then they cannot do anything”. Everyone burst out laughing.

You can see , what he said contained the essence of the situation.

But this is not that easy, because the way different people associate differs drastically. Here is another example:

I was talking to a colleague about what is called ‘cognitive dissonance’. Another friend of mine joined us in the conversation. To explain the meaning of ‘cognitive dissonance’ I told him the following example – Imagine you walking past a beggar on the street. One part of your mind says – be compassionate, give him something. But the other part says – no, you are encouraging begging. Now you have two conflicting thoughts simultaneously in the mind and you do something to escape from this uncomfortable situation- like walking fast. My colleagues smiled; he had got what I was telling. Then my friend said – you know what Swami Vivekananda said about begging?….

It is evident that associations happen at different levels : words, rhymes, shapes etc to begin with are common and easy. But what is tough are associating by patterns, deeper meanings etc. And the latter plays a key role in creativity.

Is there something that helps you associate things better? Yes. You associate things when you are present, when you perceive something wholly without thinking. And this happens in the lives of any creative people, there are times they come across a trigger that is potent enough to unfold something great in them. And the creative people spent enormous time in fact in search of these triggers.

Will continue in the next posts..


One thought on “Association- the key to creativity

  1. Murali

    i think there is probably a relationship between level of abstraction and the fitment of the association.
    if more of your thinking is at higher abstraction levels like patterns, meanings, symbols etc, the more likely you find an association trigger that could produce a creative output (for lack of a better word).


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