Reviewing the Wild Westios exercise: Understanding idea generation

From the course: Creativity Bootcamp

  • Course details

    Think you're not creative? Think again! Creativity is a skill—one you can develop with practice. And all it takes to start flexing your creative muscles is an hour of your time and our own Creativity Bootcamp. In this fun, hands-on course, creative director Stefan Mumaw guides you through five interactive training exercises that will help you (and a partner!) boost your creative output and produce even more innovative ideas. You'll explore some common misconceptions about creativity, learn the hidden value of the "stupid idea," and, through the course of the exercises, discover the three bootcamp commands for energizing your creative process.

    Interested in learning more about the creative process? Check out Stefan's other courses on


    • Click here to view Stefan Mumaw’s instructor page

      Stefan Mumaw

      Creative Director at First Person

      Stefan Mumaw is the director of narrative strategy at First Person, a story and experience design shop.

      In addition to his work with First Person—the San Francisco-based company where he currently leverages his storytelling expertise—Stefan has authored six books, the most recent being Creative Boot Camp, a 30-day crash course on creativity. Previously, he authored Chasing the Monster Idea, Redesigning Websites, and Simple Websites, and co-authored Caffeine for the Creative Team and Caffeine for the Creative Mind with Wendy Lee Oldfield. He has spoken at numerous creative industry gatherings over the years and has been known to embarrass himself and those around him if given the opportunity.

    Skills covered in this course

  • Defining creativity

    - All right, so if you haven't already, count them up, write the number at the top. This is the comparative time, isn't it? Everyone's looking over, how many did you get? What did you do? How many do you have? How many did you guys have? - 28. - 12. - 13. - 19. - 28 ideas. - Woo-hoo! That's fantastic! So this exercise teaches us three things about our own behavior and about creativity that I want to point out before we move forward with our three creative boot camp commands. What would you say is the number one reason why people would say I can't come up with more ideas, or I can't come up with better ideas? What would you think is the number one reason that people would give? I don't have time is the number one reason. I just don't have time. My other project's due tomorrow. I've got three other things I have to do. I don't have enough time to come up with more ideas. But as we can see, time really isn't an issue, is it? I gave you three minutes and you guys came up with 28 ideas, right? It's not time, it's motivation. That's actually good and bad news if you think about it. The good news is it is no longer out of your control because you don't control your own time, time controls your own time. But motivation is in your control. See there's an old sports metaphor about a team being able to turn and flip on a switch. You ever heard that? That if the team's not playing well, a really good team's not playing well, and they're like, you know what, at playoff time they'll flip the switch and they'll become who they're supposed to. Well that switch exists when it comes to ideation and creativity. At any moment you could generate more ideas if you want to. In this particular exercise, you wanted to because the problem you were solving was silly and fun, and because you only had three minutes, and because I'm staring at you while you're doing it. All things motivating you to generate more ideas, right? But at any moment, you are in control of the number of ideas you generate, of the quality of the ideas that you generate. It's all on you, which is the bad news because now you have no one to blame. It's all on you. So that's actually good news. It's not time, it's motivation. The second thing we learn. Here's what I want you to do. I want you to look at the first couple of items on your list. First couple of items on your list. Throw out, just yell out, a couple of the first items on your list. - Tiny saddle. - Saddle. - Sherriff's badge. - Sherriff's badge. - Lasso. - Lasso. - Whip. - Whip. I'm seeing a lot of head shaking. - Wooden cowboy. - A wooden cowboy. A little figurine, right? I'm seeing a lot of heads nodding as if you have those same things on your list. Like yes, those sound familiar to me. Now here's what I want you to do. I want you to look at the last couple of items on your list. Why are you snickering? - Face painting kit. - Face painting kit. What else? - Moccasins. - Moccasins. - Rattle snake. - A rattle snake. - There's a prize. - What was that? - There's a good prize. - Yeah, there's a good prize. Who wants to open the box of cereal? What's so beautiful about it is we have this idea that creativity's a moment, isn't it? Like there's this misconception that creativity is this thing that happens in the shower, the strike of lightning that you get out of nowhere, but the reality is creativity isn't a moment, it's a process, that it takes time to develop. But here's what we end up doing. As adults, we are serial problem solvers. We're really good at it. If the door's open and your hands are full, you kick the door. You don't worry about anything else, you just close the door. You're a serial problem solver, and you do it consistently over the course of your day because you have to get on to the more important things in your life. But the reality is if we want real novelty, relevance and novelty, our equation, if we want novelty, then we have to allow the process to play out. See, in my industry in advertising and marketing, this happens all the time. Because time is money, we'll get into a room and we'll solve a problem, and technically the first thing we come up with solves the problem. So why go any farther? Why spend another hour, or two hours, or three hours solving this problem when we've already solved it? So we go make one of the first three things we come up with and we put it out into the world and we go man, it looks like everyone else's thing. You know why? Because everyone else did the same thing. They came up with two or three items and went, hey, we solved the problem, let's go. That's the relevancy scale. See, adults are really good at solving problem relevantly. We struggle with novelty. As a side product, kids are the exact opposite. Kids are really good at novelty, and terrible at relevance, right? You can see it in your own kids as we look at how our kids behave. As adults, we do this flip-flop. We solve problems relevantly, but what we're really looking for in our ideation when we're looking for innovation, we're looking for novelty. Novelty plays out in a process. Creativity's a process. So there's a reason why the last couple of items on your list are more novel than the first because you have to get what's expected out, out of your head, onto paper, so that you can move on to things that are less expected. It's a process. If we want more novel ideas, we have to give it time to play out. Inside of corporate America, we just want everything to happen so fast, but you can't rush innovation. It's not a strike of lightning, it's something else. So that's the second thing that we've learned. The third thing we've learned is that if creativity really is problem solving, if it's a skill, then you should be able to measure it. You should be able to graph it, which we can, and we're going to do here in a second. How many of you ever heard of Kurt Vonnegut, American author Kurt Vonnegut, right? Kurt Vonnegut believes that every story falls into a certain number of archetypes, that you can take every story and you can put them into these buckets, but Kurt Vonnegut also believes that you could graph. Every story ever told can be graphed. He creates a vertical and a horizontal, and you can graph every story based on time and based on the main character's happiness if you think about it. So what's interesting is that because creativity is problem solving, we should be able to graph it, and we can, and we're going to do it here right now on this very convenient whiteboard that's sitting right here.

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