The Innovation Blog

Ideation Skills: Connection Making

Posted by Creative Realities on September 7, 2010

Making mental links between things that are not normally or have not previously been recognized as the source of a new idea

A core skill of brainstorming and creative-problem solving is learning how to make connections; those "a-ha" moments when two or more seemingly unrelated, even irrelevant signals in the brain suddenly come together to create a powerful new insight, idea, or conclusion.  Connections almost always require a lot of developmental work to make them real, but the core of the idea/solution is embedded in the connection.

Our brains are constantly sending us seemingly irrelvant stimuli that provide cues and clues towards creative ideas.  The difference between those people who we think of as being wonderfully creative (a myth!) is this talent/skill that gives them permission to "play" with these "irrelevant," often confusing mental hints.

We believe that a major impetus for innovation is the connection between disconnected observations and ideas.  Here is one classic example: inventor George de Mestral.

Born in 1908 in a small village in Switzerland, de Mestral grew up loving two things: inventing and the outdoors.  By the age of twelve he had already designed his own toy plane and later spent much of his time tinkering in the machine shop of a Swiss engineering company. While on a hunting trip with his dog, de Mestral noticed that small grass burrs stuck to his wool pants and his dog's fur. burdock seed
He Looked at these cling-ons (*note: not Klingons) under a microscope, and made an interesting observation: tiny hooks on the end of each burr caught onto loops in the wool of his clothes and his dog's fur.  After seeing this mechanism, he made the connection to a seperate observation that buttons, zippers, and laces were not the ideal fastening devices.  klingon
This connection led him to the development of Velcro. George de Mestral invented a new product that met a consumer need because his scientific curiosity drove him to explore the seemingly unrelated thought "I wonder how burrs stick to fur." velcro

children: terrific mental connection makers

The sad thing is that we are all terrific, natural connection-makers when we are little kids, before entering school where we are taught to focus on logical cold hard facts. This leads to self-censoring, where we simply refuse to play with the exciting clues our brain is constantly bombarding us with. And when we get really good at it we “draw a blank,” which happens when we get so good at self-censoring that we subconsciously refuse to deal with any idea that does not make immediatley make perfect sense

Connection making requires that we learn how to re-exercise the right-brain wonderment that we had as little children.

Topics: critical ideation skills, creative problem solving skills, connection making