Working With Ideas

The most valuable thing we have these days are ideas. Ideas are the means of payment of the post-industrial age (I believe they always were). By definition, ideas are made up by the mind. They are invisible before you have them, only of duration if you remember and make a note of them, and worthless if you forget them, or you do not make them reality. Little beasts.

There is something, which is capable of complicating the work with ideas, or even kill them: words. Words have power, more power than you would need sometimes. If you choose the wrong words, a good project can be spoiled, and with the right words, you can help even a bad project to survive. So much for the power of words.

A sloppy and mindless use of the wrong words can make things harder than they have to be. In creativity, words often stand in the way of creativity. So it is natural that words also stand in the way of ideas.

Things are made more complicated (human love making things complicated) because we are sloppy, lazy, and often not careful enough in our selection and usage of words. See this example:

“Do you have a solution (strategy, concept, plan) that solves this problem?”

“I have no idea.”

“I didn’t ask you whether or not you had an idea, but I asked you whether you had a solution, strategy, or plan to this problem.”


“I want to force this card in the most convincing manner. Do you have any idea?”

“Oh yes, I have an idea. If you do the Vanishing Birdcage, you could unhook the pull used to the microphone stand, which would free you of the pull system, and enabled you to put off the jacket to show the cage wasn’t hidden there.”

Get the idea? :-)

It is easier when we agree on a set, and clearly defined vocabulary, and use this with care. Clear definitions that do what a definition is for: define exactly what the word stands for. So, when using that word, everybody knows exactly what it means. In working with other creatives, it was of tremendous help, because all used the same vocabulary, and I avoided the Babylonian mix of words and meaning.

We have an awful lot of words we love to mix up:

Brainwave flash

These are just examples, I am sure there are more to find. Each of them is something that may be related to an idea, but it is not an idea. And we mix them up in our spoken language. Why? Maybe because we are careless, lazy, or didn’t think enough about making these distinctions.

But each one has a distinctive meaning. Each one differs from the other and has another meaning. And each one has to be handled individually. My suggestion is to make clear definitions for each of them: what it is, and what it is not.

Another hurdle to a clearer definition and precise communication is the lean toward more impressive sounding words. If you say “I have a concept”, then this sound more impressive because it suggests high-level thinking. “Concept” sounds big, important, impressive, and even supreme compared to “idea”. It is tempting to use that word, to heighten the importance of what you want to say.

When creating, this can be time consuming and it can suck a lot of energy. It will create confusion, which throws you off the track. Eventually, you will be stuck in the middle of the creative process. Better to have some clear rules, and make precise definitions of what means what, and when to apply it (to what).


Creating in Magic

When you want to create magic tricks, it helps if you follow a system. Please remember what is to follow is meant for helping you to create magic tricks and not changing the world’s problems. It is what I use in my creation work, and I found to be the easiest system to understand, and to follow.

When I wasn’t aware of this, my “creative process” when trying to solve something, or create something, was a sort of this: I had an “idea” (I thought). I notated it, then I had the next idea. Again, it was notated. And so it went on until I had twenty of them.

All this time, I thought I was contributing solutions to the problem. In fact, the mere act of idea-finding misdirected me. I didn’t notice that most of the flashes I had were not related to the solution of the original problem (the chain-reaction idea phenomena), but they were just a collection of thoughts, flashes, visions, and thoughts. There was no concept, no strategy, and no plan in my efforts.

This went on for two days and made me unhappy and angry, because none of these “ideas” led to a practical solution. I needed something of a system to get through that.


A Suggested System

Many get thrown back, mixed-up, or loose the track, when working on and with ideas. The problems creep in when you mix an idea with the strategy, or the concept for a solution, in the initial phase. You get tangled up and mix-up things.

We must separate the idea from the solution, strategy, or the concept. If you present the idea, talk or write about it, don’t bother with the strategy or anything else. Just picture the idea. It will also help you judge whether or not the idea is any good.

Then, and only if the idea is planned, and you winked it through, ponder with the workings on how to realise the idea, means the concept and the strategy.

There is no “creativity system” but there are easy to follow guidelines that help declutter the process. It is about defining what the ideas is, what concept is used to solve the technical problems, and what strategy is used to put the concept into reality. This gives you three separate working areas, each with its own rules.


The Barebones of the Concept:

1. Idea.
2. Concept for solution(s).
3. Strategy of how to put the solution(s) into practice.

Now the whole problem becomes simpler, because we defined exactly what an idea is, what it is good for, and what it is not. The same for the concept and the strategy.

Take three file cards, devote one for each of the three points, and notate on these cards what belongs to each topic. You could end up having this:

Idea = the effect will look like or this. The performer will take this, then do this, and this is what the spectators will see.

Concept = we use this or this method, and all rely on sleight-of-hand, and no gimmicks. The method is so we can do it stand-up and surrounded. We use only a minimum of props.

Strategy = we research this and that book. We ask this or this creator, friend, or outsource the information gathering. We buy this or that from here or there. We do this in that place, and with that things. And we use the help of that person, or that whatever.

See how different, and much easier to grasp, the whole project now is? Look at the illustration. The lightbulb is the idea, it rests in a socket board (concept), and the strategy (the plug to the electricity) is what makes it shine. A simple picture, but effective.

Now, if you have some “ideas”, or “flashes”, or “thoughts”, it is much easier to put them on the corresponding file card, where they belong, and it will clear the whole project. You are using the Salami-tactic, and you separate the problem into segments and work on them individually.

I call it the ICS-formula. Try it.

P.S.: I hint this article at creators, to ease their life in finding and defining ideas, which then are put into practice with a fitting strategy. I worked with this strategy for a long time, and can assure you it works. A time- and nerve-saver.