How we get ideas

Building on the concept of schemas, scripts, deltacts, and themes we can suggest how ideas may be generated and the role that creative problem solving aids can play in helping the ideas to emerge. It is supposed that we store all our information, knowledge, and experience in a huge ‘mental book.’ How we deal with a problem is influenced by our perceptions in relation to its content. Our perceived problem has features and attributes which constitute a particular pattern. We then search our memory for a matching pattern related to the subject of the problem (schema or script).

It may be that we do not find any relevant patterns in our memory which can match with those of the problem. Where this is the case, then creative problem solving aids can be extremely useful.

Pattern recognition

There are several theories of how we recognise patterns. In the context of creative thinking then template matching and prototype-matching seem to be the most appropriate theories to examine.

Template matching theory assumes every perceived object (schema, script, or MOP) is stored as a ‘template’ into long-term memory (Shugan, 2002). Incoming information is compared to these templates to find an exact match (Gregg, 2013). That is, all sensory input is compared to multiple representations of an object to produce a single conceptual understanding. The theory considers perception to be a recognition-based process. It assumes that everything we see, we understand only through past experience of it, which in turn then informs our future understanding of it.

In contrast, prototype-matching suggests incoming sensory input is compared to one average prototype. This point of view argues that exposure to a series of related stimuli produces a ‘typical’ prototype based on their shared features. There is then a reduction in the number of stored templates resulting from the standardisation of them into a single representation (Shugan, 2002). The prototype supports perceptual flexibility, because, unlike in template matching, it allows for variability in the recognition of novel stimuli and enables us to find an exact solution to the problem. This is either because we have previously successfully tackled and solved the same problem or because we have, at some time, learnt and stored information on how to solve this particular kind of problem.

Different individuals may exhibit a tendency towards one or the other of these two modes of pattern recognition. We might identify prototypematching with individuals who have a tendency to be divergent thinkers.

The following illustrates the idea of prototype pattern matching.

Suppose we have chunks of information (scripts, schemas) which relate to different kinds of ‘bottleneck’ situations. Imagine, for example, that one refers specifically to watching the emptying of liquid from a bottle. In looking for patterns in the information we might consider the following features about the process:

Feature 1. There is a large volume of water to be poured from the bottle. Feature 2. The bottle has a narrow outlet.

Feature 3. As we pour, water stops and start to flow as the volume builds up at the neck of the outlet.

Feature 4. The whole process of emptying out the water is slowed down by the narrow outlet.

Now let us turn to look at two other situations about which we have information and which appear to have similarities with that of ‘pouring water out of a bottle’:

1 Rush-hour traffic flow

Feature 1. Large volume of traffic.

Feature 2. Limited carriageway capacity at certain points forcing traffic to slow down to avoid accidents.

Feature 3. Traffic stops and starts.

Feature 4. The speed and process of passage slowed down in comparison with other times of the day.

2 Hospital routine operations

Feature 1. Large number of new patients on waiting lists.

Feature 2. Treatment of patients impeded by lack of available beds, staffing shortages, and need to give preference to emergency operations.

Feature 3. Hold-ups and increased waiting times for patients.

Feature 4. Slow down speed with which treatment is delivered.

For each of the above situations we may know ways of dealing with the problems each of the situations presents and this may be extremely useful where we are dealing with new situations that are directly comparable with one or other of the above situations. In other words, they would be TEMPLATES for how to deal with the new situation. However, it might well be that while a new situation which has arisen may concern ‘bottlenecks’ it does not have a matching pattern (set of similar features or attributes) with any one of the above template patterns. This where the notion of the PROTOTYPE pattern, based on ‘averaging’ the features of the TEMPLATES, comes into play. In the example illustrated here the prototype pattern might be:


Feature 1. Large volume/numbers flowing through a system.

Feature 2. Progress may be impeded by inadequacies in facilities at certain points of the process.

Feature 3. Flow subject to interruptions.

Feature 4. Progress is slower than desired/ expected.

Associated with the PROTOTYPE may be general ideas on how to deal with situations of this type. Trying to match the new situation with the PROTOTYPE may then enable insights into the new situation to be found. If these prove to be useful, then the new situation (and any insights gained) can become a TEMPLATE itself and in turn influence the nature of the PROTOTYPE on a future occasion. The process is summarised in Figure 1.3.

This approach to creative problem solving is mirrored in analogical thinking and the use of analogical reasoning techniques such as synectics. In the next chapter we will look at how the theoretical ideas in this chapter can be related to practice.

Example of "bottleneck”

Pattern matching using TEMPLATE and PROTOTYPE

Figure 1.3 Pattern matching using TEMPLATE and PROTOTYPE

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