In Which a New Way of Creative Thinking Begins to Take Shape
Posted 25th November 2014
Here’s a one minute creative task to get your brain going.
Grab a pen and paper, and in sixty seconds draw the word “year” as a shape. Mark on the months if that helps. Go!
Finished? Nice job.
Understandably, many people set this task draw one of two shapes – a straight line or a plain circle:
Two Ways to Think About a Year
But can basic shapes like these really convey the idea of a year? Maverick 1960s ad man Howard Gossage didn’t think so. To Howard, a year was “an irregular figure closer to a triangle than anything else.*” Here’s how he drew it:
Howard Gossage’s Idea of a Year
Like lots of folks, Howard felt some months flew by more quickly than others. That’s why the shape of his year dips, flattens, and then climbs sharply from September until Christmas.
So while Howard believed that ideas have shapes, his drawing suggests they’re often more intriguing and personal than you might first think. And that by thinking about your ideas more creatively, you may be able to have more creative ideas.
Do ideas have colours too?
Howard’s wife Sally has an equally interesting take on things. Sally sees all her ideas as colours. To her, a year isn’t like a triangle at all. Instead, Howard tells us, a year resembles a:
“child’s hoop. . .with the rim divided into brightly colored segments representing months, weeks and days. Holidays have special colours: Christmas is yellow, New Year’s is brown, her mother’s birthday is orange, and Halloween is black. I should also mention that only the holiday Halloween is black, the word Halloween is green.”
According to Howard, Sally’s visual year starts on August 4th – “halfway between the Fourth of July, which is fittingly pink and orange, and my birthday, which is emerald green.”
Follow the yellow brick road. . .
I think it’s important to be super clear about what we’re talking about here. Presenting your ideas in visual form is one thing. Chances are we’ve all used charts, diagrams, and graphs at some point.
But what we’re talking about now is thinking about ideas themselves as colours and shapes. As a creative from a writing background, this is a whole new world to me. And it feels a bit like a jump from black and white to Technicolor.
If you have a brain like Howard or Sally, you’re probably wondering what all the fuss is about. But if you’re lucky enough to think in colours and shapes as well as words, what’s to stop the rest of us learning to join you?
I’ve already been chatting to Dean Melbourne, Jenny Theolin, and Cait Watson about putting this new insight to practical creative use. As always, this talented trio have given me lots to ponder. Updates to follow soon.
In the meantime, why not try shaking up your own way of approaching ideas?
Thanks for reading.
All of Howard’s quotes come from his article “The Shape of an Idea and How to Draw One”. You can find it in “The Book of Gossage”.
To discover more about this remarkable advertising man, check out Steve Harrison’s outstanding book “Changing the World is the Only Fit Work for a Grown Man”.
The technical term for thinking in colours is synesthesia.