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99's On the Go
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Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2014 Brian Remer
Updated Jan. 2014
99's on the 9th
Plan to attend Brian's popular public workshop, Boredom Busters
- Phoenix, AZ, February 27, 2014
- San Jose, CA, April 24, 2014
Read this story aloud or make copies for your group or team members.
Among all the wonderful choices at the conference, one decision was easy. I did not go to "Creativity: thinking outside the box." After all, I reasoned, how novel can the session be if it uses a hollow, rusted analogy to promote itself? Besides, breaking out of a box isn't very difficult. And when you're free, you're still in the same damn room!
I favor fresh metaphors that inspire. Why not "thinking beyond the horizon," "break-out-of-jail thinking," "cracking the creativity code," or "conjuring explosive ideas?"
If you can do it in the title, there's hope for the workshop!
You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discussion within your team or organization.
There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis.
How can two people co-author a novel? Wouldn't their ideas collide?
That was my initial reaction when I found Invasive Procedures by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnson at the bookstore. It's not that I've never known two people to author a book of fiction, plenty have. But Card is an established science fiction writer (Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, the Alvin Maker series, and many more) who doesn't need anyone's input to produce an engaging read.
Then, at the end of the novel, I stumbled upon an afterward by Card that described the genesis of the book. At that point I was reminded of a critical concept in creativity.
Choose any book on creativity and innovation (Amazon has 18,279 titles!) and I wager you'll find references to the importance of sharing ideas. Having a brilliant thought is good. Sharing that thought makes it even better. In his book Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson describes liquid networks, his term for fluid interactions among people and ideas. In liquid networks, there is greater access to ideas so they can be recombined in novel ways. Jonah Lehrer, in his book Imagine, talks about the work of economist Paul Romer who makes a distinction between objects and ideas. Once shared, objects are worth less - think secondhand clothes or cars. But when ideas are shared, they multiply in value because they are built upon and recombined. In Cats: The Nine Lives of Innovation, Stephen Lundin articulates the qualities of an environment that stimulates creativity by sharing ideas - what he calls "deliberate social and intellectual provocation."
In 1976, Orson Scott Card was an editor at a Salt Lake City magazine. He spent every lunch hour talking about story ideas with his friends. He says, "We all talked to one another as if we knew something about professional writing. All we really knew was how to get excited about each other's ideas, giving each other the courage to sit down and write." These conversations inspired Card to write a story about what might happen if a transplanted organ started taking over a person's body.
But Card's editor didn't like the story and became a part of the creative process when he asked a few questions: Why does the heart take over the hero's body? Whose heart was it? What happens because he was taken over? Why was the hero chosen to receive this heart? Who did the transplanting? The result was a successful short story, "Malpractice."
Thirty years later and having authored more than fifty novels on his own, Card met the screen writer, Aaron Johnson. Together they decided to turn "Malpractice" into a movie and began collaborating to expand the ideas. Card said, "The result was a very good screenplay, entirely of Aaron's writing, but thick with story ideas that came from both of us."
With the success of the movie, Card and Johnson were able to convince an editor to join their creative process and turn "Malpractice" into the full-length novel Invasive Procedures. As Card describes it, "The result was a collaborative novel based on Johnson's screenplay based on collaborative conversations based on my short story." Ideas shared, stretched, traded, and expanded over thirty years had produced a short story, a film, and a book. In addition, Card and Johnson have been inspired to collaborate on other novels.
The 99-Word Story suggests that whether it's a box, a jail, or a horizon, there is always some sort of limit to our creative thinking. If we cling to the notion of the creative genius working in isolation, those limitations will likely become reality. But if we set the right conditions, our ideas can collide, creating accidents of serendipity that multiply across time and topic.
Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.
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