Thursday, August 17, 2017

Alex Osborn on Judgement in the Creative Process

Alex Osborn is generally remembered as the inventor of Brainstorming, but that characterization falls far short of the breadth of his experienced insights regarding creativity.

In chapter 13 of Your Creative Power Osborn explored the value of judgement in the creative process. He suggests that there are two types of thinking, one he called Judicial and the other Creative. Many of his ideas are still alive, vibrant and illustrated in today's best creative engineering practices.

This post is an edited version of Chapter 13 from Your Creative Power, with emphasis on Osborn's key ideas about judgement in the creative process.


Our thinking is mainly two-fold: We have a Judicial Mind which analyzes, compares and chooses and a Creative Mind which visualizes, foresees, and generates ideas. These two minds work best together. Judgment keeps imagination on track. Imagination opens ways to action, and can enlighten judgment. In creative efforts, judgment is good, when properly timed.

Both judgement and creativity call for analysis and synthesis. Judgement breaks down facts, weighs them, compares them, rejects some, keeps others—and then puts the resultant elements together to form a conclusion. The creative mind does much the same, except that the end-product is an idea instead of a verdict. Judgment tends to confine itself to facts, imagination has to reach out for the unknown, at times making two plus two something more than four.

Basically there are two kinds of judgment—critical judgment and constructive judgment. Critical judgment relies on knowledge. Constructive judgment needs help from our imagination. Answering the question; "Is Nylon better than silk?” calls for a process of critical analysis.

Asking “Should we do this or that?” requires us to think up all possible alternatives, and foresee the results. We have to ask ourselves questions such as, “What are the consequences?” . . . “What if others did that?” “What if conditions change?” And in each case we have to tap imagination for the answer.

Circumstances force us to use our judicial mind every waking hour. We also study mathematics, logic, debate, history, discuss pros and cons. Much of our educations train and strengthen our judicial faculties. Another consequence of well developed judgment is dislike of failure. We often praise the unerring judge. You will hear; “He’s a wonderful man—he never makes any mistakes.” ten times as often as you hear, “He has imagination and he makes it work.” We are more likely to call creatively imaginative people “nuts.” A good slogan for all of us would be, “Judge wisely, but at the right time.”

The right mood for judicial thinking is largely negative. “What’s wrong with this?” . . . “What’s bad about that?” . . . “No, that won’t work.” Such reflexes are right and proper when trying to judge. We also need a negative attitude for caution such as: “Beware of it—it’s too new.” . . . “Are we sure this won’t be a mistake?”

In contrast, our creative thinking calls for a positive attitude. We have to be hopeful. We need enthusiasm. We have to encourage ourselves to the point of self-confidence. At the same time, we have to beware of perfectionism. (A trait exhibited by both Thomas Edison and Walt Disney. - df)

Edison looking somewhat critically at his invention

Edison’s first lamp was a crude affair. He knew that it could be improved—if not by him, by somebody else. He could have hung onto his imperfect version while he tried and tried to make it better. Or he could have junked the whole idea. But, he didn’t do either. His first electric lamps were better than candles, kerosene lamps, or gaslight, so he introduced them. Then he went to work on improvements.

Positive attitude is a characteristic of creative people. Form the habit of reacting Yes! to a new idea. First, think of all the reasons why it’s good; there will be plenty of people around to tell you why it won’t work. (Today we call this improv; The Yes and... or Yes if.... responses. -df)

Judgment and imagination can help each other if kept apart when they should be kept apart. In creative effort we have to be a Jekyll-and-Hyde. From time to time, we must turn off our judicial mind and light up our creative mind. (Similar to Disney's Three Roles. -df

We must wait long enough before turning up our judicial light again. Otherwise, premature judgment may douse our creative flames, and even wash away ideas already generated. Especially in approaching a creative problem, we should give imagination priority over judgment and let it roam around our objective. We might even make a conscious effort to think up the wildest ideas that could possibly apply. (On the doorstep of brainstorming here. -df)

Let’s not let judgment throttle imagination. Instead, let’s check our ideas through tests. If we can’t test and have to rely on somebody’s judgment, let’s not allow our critic to sap our creative energy. Let’s judge such judgment. If it’s adverse—and we’re convinced it’s right—we should then get busy, do a backtrack and turn up more alternative ideas. If unconvinced, we should “damn the torpedoes” and go “full speed ahead.” (This is re-expressed in McKim's  "Express - Test - Cycle" -df)

Derived from; Osborn, Alex. Your Creative Power (pp. 88-95). Read Books Ltd.. Kindle Edition.

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