Recently three things happened to me in close succession.
1) I attended a Production 101 at CP+B, where I am currently interning for the summer, and I got to see an ad series CP+B had done for Internet Explorer on the theme of ‘safe browsing’. Inspired by the scam e-mails all of us have received at some point in our internet lives – promising us money from a bank in Nigeria or an inheritance from long lost ancestors, they created physical equivalents of those in Manhattan to see how people will engage with them. Here’s what happened:
CP+B’s campaign for Internet Explorer
2) I read (still am reading) a book called Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman (referred to me by the beautiful @jdelc) in which the protagonist, a fictionalised version of Einstein, imagines alternative worlds if time was manifested differently. For example, he imagines a world in which the past does not exist, or a world in which people live in houses made on stilts because time moves slower with altitude .
3) I started watching South Park – two episodes were especially interesting. One featured a character called towelie – who in the beginning seemed like one of random those comic interruptions (that we frequently used in IIT skits and Music Manoranjan) until it became a central element in the story. In another episode, Cartman postulates that eating from your anus must imply that you will poop from your mouth, proves it, and then it becomes a nationally accepted and healthier method of eating. Definitely see the Martha Stewart turkey recipe based on this new eating trend.
The reason why I find all these examples interesting is that I can imagine in the beginning, when these would’ve been mere ideas, they must’ve seemed particularly idiotic. They must’ve met with skepticism – “Really, we are going to make a fake bank in Manhattan?”, “Or, time moving slower with height? That just sounds stupid”. “We are going to have a towel which the military wants to abduct?”
But in all of these instances, the creators really ‘ran with the idea’. Much as in Improv, they took a ‘Yes, and’ approach to build on what must’ve sounded idiotic. Cartman thinks if we eat from our ass, we should poop from our mouth. Yes, and he proves it to be true. Yes, and it becomes national news. Yes, and it gets scientifically proven to be the healthiest way of eating. And so on. Even as viewers, we often start off with skepticism, but eventually that evaporates. Here’s a little graph I made to represent this.
At Stanford, one of the basic rules of brainstorming is to go for wild ideas. Yet several of those wild ideas don’t make the cut in the post-brainstorm idea selection process. Infact, sometimes even the less outrageous ones don’t make the cut, because someone starts playing the Devil’s Advocate “This will not work because…”. (Read the introductory chapter in Tom Kelley’s 10 Faces of Innovation to learn why the Devil’s Advocate persona is not the best persona all the time http://www.tenfacesofinnovation.com/thebook/intro.htm). However, the reason why they are so wild is because they are challenging an assumption or an axiom or even a natural law that most of us believe cannot be superseded.
However, if you were to run with that idea – do a ‘Yes, and’, do a build (as one of my good friends often encourages me to do, instead of being a skeptic) – I think that will always lead to new insights – (or at least provide an entertaining diversion). I’d imagine even just crafting a narrative with them – something like what Lightman does in Einstein’s Dreams – a one page write up starting with “What if <insert wild unbelievable idea>” – can help unearth the assumptions that those ideas are challenging. Perhaps this alternative world that emerges in that narrative can be achieved through another means. Maybe there are other regions in the world where these assumptions can be easily broken. The wild ideas can be often adapted for feasibility. After all, isn’t all science fiction built on running with an idea – several of which become truths years after they get published.