Neil Mach

Author – Fantasy Realism

I like to be an “early adopter” of undeveloped technology and one adventure into a clumsily performed service led me into an altogether peculiar, profound, and yet productive creative direction.

I was one of the first guys to ‘sign up’ for online grocery delivery here in England (they reckon about ¾ of UK customers now choose groceries on-line. But back then, nobody did.)

Michael Aldrich
Michael Aldrich

The idea of ​​the online grocery store was “invented” by the Englishman Michael Aldrich in 1979 (he used existing technologies such as television and the telephone ten years before Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web) but, anyway, that’s not what I’m trying to monograph here, what I’m going to tell you will help you get creative. Yes, quite a claim, huh? But read on…

Creativity is not a single product of thought or a single idea… but it arises from an influx of thinner and perhaps less promising insights…

— Neil Mach

One point we must address before delving into this exercise is that creativity is not a single product of thought or a single idea … but it arises from an influx of thinner and perhaps less promising insights. So imagine the progress of your creative thinking as a great river being fed and fattened by a smaller selection of random tributaries in the delta of understanding to produce the key concept.

If you’ve ever taken part in a brainstorming session, you’ll know what I mean by this. Some of the earliest proposals will be quirky, ridiculous, or just plain useless— but they all help “steer” and motivate the deliberations towards a workable concept.

And by the way, the haphazard nature of those streams of thought persuades people to believe that there is some serendipity or magic in creating thoughts, but there just isn’t! Creating ideas is hard work. It’s about drawing comparisons, interpreting what you feel, appraising results, planning for greater creativity and learning from experience.

So in summary: a vigorous flow of associations can lead to some fascinating conclusions … so let’s move back to my first dalliance with a rudimentary form of online grocery shopping. 

Among other things, I ordered, if I remember correctly, a dozen small eggs. Now please remember, this was in the early days of online grocery shopping, so not only I, the consumer, was experimenting here, but also (so it seems) was the retailer. Anyway, when ordering I clicked on the “agree to substitutes” box (would I accept a substitute? I clicked yes) and when I checked my purchases, upon delivery, the guy at the door said, with a smile, “there are a couple of substitutes…”

salad potatoes

I gave him a puzzled look and examined my purchases, but I couldn’t find my fresh eggs. “I can’t see the eggs,” I told him.

“Yes, the item has been replaced,” he replied.

“How can you substitute fresh eggs?” I asked, metaphysically, and not actually expecting any kind of sensible answer. “Unless, of course, you replaced them with Easter eggs,” I added.

He grinned, and said, “Potatoes.”

He pointed to a small box containing about fifteen salad potatoes, those little brown ones you cook, then put in a bowl with mayonnaise. “Potatoes?” I said. I remained befuddled. “I don’t get it…”

“I guess the people at the store thought they looked like eggs…”

“Looked like?” I shook my head. “That is craziness. Just because a thing resembles another thing, it can’t represent it, can it?”

“Sorry buddy,” he commented, “It’s not my fault. You checked the box to allow substitutions.”

“But when I checked the box, I believed my substitutions would be rational,” I argued. “And you said a couple of substitutes. What was the other one? ”

He pulled a pack of dry spaghetti from the top bag. “This.”

“What does that replace?” I asked.

“Cocktail sticks.” 

You’ll have heard of comparing “apples with oranges” an idiom which is used to explain what occurs when two items (or groups of items) are insensibly linked with each other to produce something that might be illogical but, nevertheless, is superficially viable. But, as we learn from my home delivery experience, the consequences of oddball categorisation might lead to unexpected paradoxes, and some of those absurdities might be helpful in our creative thinking. To give a good example of this type of creative connectionism, the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí substituted swans for elephants in his 1937 artwork “Swans Reflecting Elephants” (above) and created a positively wonderful concept. The artist explained his artistic thought generation process. He said it involved:

“A spontaneous method of irrational understanding based upon the interpretative critical association of delirious phenomena…”

Salvador Dalí

Young thinkers might prefer to think about Dua Lipa and her 2017 “New Rules” music video where (perhaps in tribute to Salvador Dalí) the protagonist and her clique temporarily reshaped themselves into flamingos reflected in the blue of a swimming pool. That image might bring a flashback to Alice (in Wonderland) who was advised to use an upturned flamingo as a croquet mallet (the hoops were playing cards and the balls were curled-up hedgehogs) in the garden belonging to the Queen of Hearts.

Dua Lipa

So in closing, labelling and categorisation might lead to happy accidents and unexpected (but exploitable) ideas. (I used the spaghetti as impromptu cocktail sticks for my nibbles, if you must know, and they proved quite satisfactory. I also learned to never check the substitute items box ever again.)

cocktail sticks

So here is today’s exercise:

Try to find the corresponding substitute item in the basket of ideas (shared below). Try to link them all. You may find you are one of those thinkers who gets caught-up in categorizations or conventions, but with a carefree & playful approach to this exercise, you might break free from any “rules” you have set yourself about segregating things into pigeonholes based upon preconceived notions, unconscious biases, or expectations. This is an exercise to free-up some thinking!  Tip: use all your senses!

There are sixteen incongruous connections to make in this exercise. You can find two blocks of pictures below group page: Let me know how you get on

I’ll provide answers (if there are any ?!?) some time later on! Join the Max Imaginicity Group for more free exercises:

@neilmach 2021 ©

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