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Be Creative! : A Quick & Easy Guide to Brainstorming

How to Be Creative: A Quick & Easy Guide to Brainstorming

By Danny Thompson

Welcome to Danny's Quick and Easy guide to being creative. First, you need to realize that there is a difference between creative and artistic. They are related, but not synonymous. Art is the symbolic, interpretive expression of your perspective on a given subject. Creativity is shifting your perspective to look at a given subject in a new light.

Let's say you need a creative solution to a problem. want to come up with a really cool theme so you can plan a killer birthday party for a young child. Okay, so you've defined your probl--

...oh no! My pen burst and now I've got ink on my shirt. Geez, I liked this shirt, too. It came from...what was that store. The one between Brookstone and the pretzel place. Structure? Abercrombie? Oh well, it doesn't matter. My wife would probably know what to do to get it out. But by the time I get home, it'll probably be set. Her cell phone's off. Shoot!

Hmmm. Gotta find a new pen...Hey! My little stress ball shaped like a brain...forgot that was in this drawer. Hee-hee. *squeeze, squeeze* Fun times. I wonder if it will bounce off the wall?

Oops. (Note to self: irregularly shaped objects bounce in irregular trajectories.)

"Sorry, Bob! Knocked over your coffee? My bad." That sucks. I should take him to lunch. Or at least pay for his dry-cleaning. Speaking of dry cleaning, I need to pick mine up. Where'd I put my ticket?

Not in my wallet or my drawer. I bet it's at home. It is! It's on the dresser next to my autographed Don Knotts necktie. Now there's a funny guy. They should show The Incredible Mister Limpet on TV more. 'Course, he's not as funny as Tim Conway...but then who is?

What was I doing again? Oh yeah, kids birthday (stupid pen). Like we have any money to spend. We just got back from Disney World with the kids. Pictures! Gotta transfer the pictures to the computer and get them online. Grandparents are about to have a stroke. You've seen the kids. You've seen Mickey Mouse. Use your imagination, people!

I bet I could use the pictures to make a cool invitation. What if it's not a Disney Theme? We've got other pictures. Photoshop, too. Not a problem.

Grrr. Who's calling? I've gotta come up with some ideas. "Hello? Um, no. I'd rather not donate money to the policeman's ball, thank y--" Huh. Hung up. Rude. I'm probably on some list to get a ticket now. Maybe I should call around to take donations to pay for this freakin' party? That would be sweet.

Actually, I could go for something sweet. Cookies? No. Granola bar? No. Marshmallows? *look at belt...can't see belt!* No. Celery and carrots it is. Rabbit food.

No rabbit food. Maybe I should get in the car and go pick up some groceries. I'd pass Chick-fil-a on the way. Who needs rabbit food when you've got waffle fries? I should probably get a salad, though. Or just work out extra hard...

And there we have it. Plenty of party ideas to choose from. What ideas? You mean you weren't paying attention? Okay, let's go though our thought process again...

There's the ink stain on the shirt: Maybe we have a tie-dye birthday so the kids can make their own party favors (we could do a cool tie-dye effect on the cake). Or an underwater theme with a cake shaped like a squid or an octopus. Or maybe we do Rorschach ink blots (with finger paint, of course) and let kids make their own works of modern art...a Picasso party?

Pretzel: A cake shaped like a pretzel? A kid "twist" (ha-ha) on Oktoberfest? Barrels of Monkeys, root beer, lederhosen...okay, no lederhosen. German chocolate cake!

Structure: Tinker toys? Legos? Erector sets? Brain teasers? Mazes? "house of cards" contest? Lots of different scheduled activities?

Brain Stress ball: hmmm you can get stress balls in all sorts of shapes for cheap at party supply stores...great party favors. Wonder what shapes they have? A cake shaped like a brain? A Dr. Frankenstein theme? Play pin the bolt on Frank's neck? The tail on the werewolf? Fun with static electricity? Operation!

Bounce: rent a space bounce? Get a trampoline?

Bob: can we get Bob the Builder? (yes we can!) Bob Barker (and remember: spay and neuter your pets!...maybe not). Bob Costas? Dylan? Marley? Bobsled? Bobbing for apples?

Coffee: Juan Valdez...piñata! Mexican hat dance. Jumping beans. Taco party! (and maybe a little Jose Cuervo afterward to help me cope...)

Lunch: Have the party at a restaurant? Maybe an ice cream parlor? Pizza?

Dry Cleaning: Chemicals....a kitchen Chemistry party? A dress-up party?

Ticket: Movie? Zoo? Carnival games? Speeding ticket...go carts?

Don Knotts: Mayberry theme? Cops and robbers? Jail? Fishin' hole? Floyd's barber shop? Mr. Furley... seventies/disco clothing theme? Ha-ha...bunch of five-year-olds doing the hustle!

Limpett: Come as your favorite cartoon character? A deep-sea fishing party? An underwater party? Fishsticks! Or not...

Tim Conway: Multitude of characters to spur countless ideas: orchestra conductor, office party, little kids pretending to be old people...hee-hee...

Money: Monopoly, play money, cash prizes (okay, maybe not), presidents, bank.

Disney: Pick a movie theme, backyard theme park, hire a character?

Pictures: pair with party. Fashion show. Camera cake.

Stroke: swim party! Doctor-theme. Beach theme. Luau? Painting party?

Calling: Phone-shaped cake? Tin can & string phones?

Policeman's Ball: Again with the cops & robbers theme? Ballroom dancing? Masquerade ball?

Granola/Rabbit food: Nature...picnic? State park? Zoo? Farm theme? Garden...dirt cake!

Belt: Karate party? Alligator? Fan belt...mechanic/car party?

Waffle-fries: Waffles...breakfast party? Doesn't have to be in the morning...everybody likes waffles! Pull out the griddle, I could cook them on the grill...a breakfast barbecue?

Work-out: Exercise party? Trampoline, foam barbells, muscle suits....

See, tons of ideas. And that's just from five minutes of "thinking." When people try to get creative and brainstorm, they usually narrow their focus way too much. If you just sit there thinking "party, party, party" then all you're going to get are the same old ideas for parties. Take off the blinders. Let your mind wander. Let the distractions come...and then steer them gently back to your purpose and see what happens.

Don't judge anything too harshly. Write everything down, even if it seems silly. Plenty of the things I listed above are trite, boring or just plain impractical. But we're not done yet. Take your list and try combining two or three ideas. The less related the items you're combining, the greater your chance of discovering something magical.

Let's say you pick three ordinary ideas: dress-up, dirt cake and swim party. Can you dress up your pool? Can you get some plants, decorations and animal-shaped floats and turn it into a jungle watering hole? Dress up your dirt cake...turn it into a dirt-cake volcano, pair it with your jungle-themed pool and add a few kiddie pools filled with a couple of inches of sand...poof! Suddenly you're on a deserted tropical island.

Or another try: photo-shoot, cops and robbers, piñata. Decorate the party room like a jail. Have all the grown-ups wear sheriff's stars and make striped prisoner uniforms for the kids with white undershirts and black fabric paint. Be sure to "book them" as they arrive. Give them their shirt and an ID placard (use the date of your child's birthday as the number) and take their mug shot [send these out later with the thank-you notes]. Get creative with paper mache and make rock-shaped "piñatas" (sans string) with goodie bags inside. Towards the end of your party, get the chain gang together and let them have at it, breaking rocks to get at their prizes. Invites should be sent out as warrants.

See? The initial brainstorming is simply gathering the raw material. Then play with those ingredients to develop truly unique ideas. Don't work; play! •

Copyright © 2005 Danny Thompson

Danny Thompson is an award-winning copywriter. His heroes are Walt Disney, Alexander the Great, Leonardo daVinci and MacGyver.