Ever heard of ‘combinational creativity’? It’s when unlikely things are paired up to see what ideas result. And it might just shake up your creative thinking…
There is a common challenge I get asked about in relation to creativity in the workplace. And that’s how to tame the seemingly ‘unpredictable’ nature of idea generation. The truth is, it’s not always quite as random as people imagine.
Renowned creativity researcher Margaret A. Boden used many different studies to identify three different ‘types’ of creativity:
- Combinational creativity – combining existing ideas to make something new
- Exploratory creativity – experimenting with the new outside of your space
- Transformational creativity – changing up the game
Thinking about creativity like this can help us to start to define the kind of creative ideas we want or need and adopt process and tools to do so. In fact, I was reminded of this when I bought a cream cheese and marmite spread combo at M&S yesterday.
It’s pictured above – alongside another winning blend… of peanut butter and Marmite.
I’ve been combining soft cheese and marmite (much to my son’s disgust) for years, and wondered how the brand’s new spread came about. For instance: was it via customer insights via design thinking or was it, perhaps, using the combinational creativity method?
So what is combinational creativity?
Combinational creativity is defined as the ‘generation of new ideas through the combination of old ideas.’ Boden looked at reams of neuroscience research which focusses on the brain activity that leads to making those connections.
The premise is that we have ‘old’ ideas in our brains, both conscious and unconscious and in the world too. We can make unfamiliar combinations of familiar ideas to form something new.
When described like this it’s easy to see examples all around us, and it’s a simple way to try to trigger product innovation like the Unilever teams have done with Marmite and peanut butter. Can you think of any examples of combinational creativity, food or otherwise?
What’s an unusual combination I can think of? Certainly The Art Institute of Chicago and Air BnB is not obvious but definitely worked winning awards for impact and creativity.
What assets or elements do we already have that we could combine?
Combining an issue for your customer with your sponsorship assets is a great take on this that Dacia cars has used to great effect with Dacia Sponsor Day.
What could you combine to create something new? Love it or hate it, the method works (boom boom)!