Understanding Creativity:
from bad ideas to personality prosthesis

Alan Dix1,2

1 Talis, Birmingham, UK

2 InfoLab21, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK

Keynote at docfest 2011, RCUK Digital Economy Summer School, Lancaster 13-14 July 2011.

Download slides (PDF, 3.8M)


For the past 15 years I have tried to understand some of the processes that go on in technical creativity and distil this into concrete and practical techniques that can be applied.  This is not to turn everyone into little Einsteins, but to ramp up the level of creativity of ordinary people, to put them into a mental ‘place’ where their natural creativity can find novel solutions to hard problems.

I will talk about a number of techniques including ‘bad ideas’ and ‘critical transitions’, in each case showing how theoretical understanding and practical application work together.

There are several general themes within this.

  • Emphasis on child-like (but not child-ish) exploration.
  • Using both associative and analytic approaches in concert
  • Commitment to developing meta-level understanding of design domains: criteria, dimensions, properties and exploiting these to enable dramatic, but informed movements within the design space.
  • Developing personality prosthesis – cognitive scaffolding to enable people to achieve things given who they are.

Keywords: creativity, innovation, bad ideas, externalisation, personality prosthesis








Alan Dix 22/9/2011