The Dividend from Being Prolific
If we are to believe the social scientists and assume that (in round numbers) we are on the receiving end of about 1000 ideas a day, does that mean that every day a real charmer starts worming its way into our mind and takes up permanent residence?
Probably not, due to another piece of maths known as the normal distribution or bell curve. This theory suggests that most biological populations arrange themselves with a lot of people around the middle and increasingly less numbers toward the edges. So if the average man is 5’10” tall then there are loads of men who are 5’8” or 6’, quite a lot (but not so many) who are 5’6” or 6’2” but not many at all at 5’0” or 6’8”. And when we get to 4’6” and 7’2” then these are rare flowers indeed
And this is the case too with ideas, which are, just a product of the biological phenomenon that is mental innovation. Many more ideas are in the 40% to 60% range than in the 80-100% range. And so encountering an idea that has 99.9% memorability power is not a one in a thousand (or daily) event but something much rarer than that.
Creative people are not so arrogant to think that all their ideas will be at that level, so they instinctively generate far more ideas than they will ever need. This may seem wasteful for those who don’t create ideas for a living. Why not just think of the good ideas first? Unfortunately, much like extracting gold from low grade ore, you need to churn through a lot of stuff to find the value.
Sifting through a lot of material is the core challenge for the creative industries. If ‘natural’ creativity is clustered around the 50% mark then it will decay rapidly to something like 0.4% within week, and not be memorable or useful. Even 90% creativity isn’t that much better. So the job of the creative organisation is to deliver creativity that is way up in the high nineties, for only then will it have real commercial power. In the kingdom of ideas, many are called but few are chosen.
Now that we can see how creativity works mathematically, what can we do about it?
As a starter, the obvious thing to do is not agonise for ages about searching for the perfect solution. Much better to generate a lot of creative ideas; dozens, hundreds even. The explanation for this (although this is not how they would put it) is just basic probability theory.
If you have one idea, then on average, it will be…er…average. As above let’s call it 50%. If you have three ideas, then one of them will probably be a bit above average (say 66%), and one a bit dodgy (33%).
If you keep adding in ideas then they will tend to spread out into a ‘normal’ distribution much like human heights do, or as if you were dropping grains of sand on the same spot. We always need to remember that ‘prolific pays’