Like many, I've spent a lot of time at home recently with the kids. One of the things that I worry about as a parent is whether or not the kids are getting enough engagement and activity. Right now I must confess there is a lot of sitting around the house and an embarrassing amount of screen time. I can almost hear their tiny little brains rotting away in their skulls. I've definitely been feeling like I was in bad Dad territory. So what is a parent to do? Well, I sat down and wrote a list of all the things that I could think of that the kids and I could do. I included the fun stuff and the chores. The wacky ideas and the sane. It was no holds barred - everything went into this list. When I was done, it was a pretty decent list of activities. And you know what? I felt a hell of a lot better having written it. Some of those ideas were pretty good.
I felt better because now I had options. Some of them were ideas that I hadn't considered before. So I ran the list past the kids to see what they thought. As you might expect, there were a certain percentage of, "That sucks Dad." However, the kids also had a few suggestions of their own. They saw ideas they liked, and they combined them with ideas of their own to create something new. So now the list was even longer! I was feeling pretty proud of these ideas. At this point the list got posted on the fridge because obviously the world needs to see this stuff.
Now before I submit for a nomination for Dad of the Year (Let's see how much of that stuff we actually get to), I want to suggest that the list served a purpose beyond finding things for the kids to do. You see, that list made me feel a lot better. I felt smart, capable, creative, and maybe-even-just-a-little-bit in control. Now I don't know about you, but in today's world of Eco-Geo-Anarcho-Political madness, that particular set of positive feelings felt pretty awesome. It dawned on me that doing a little brainstorming really helped to lift my mood. It allowed me to explore my hopes and dreams just a little bit, and it gave me options to help overcome a challenge I was facing as a parent.
I've started to wonder if there is a relationship between ideation, brainstorming, or dreaming and mood. To put it even more explicitly: I wonder if the simple creative act of coming up with ideas can improve your mood. Well, we live in the marvelous age of the internet, so even an average guy like me can find out the answer to these questions. So I looked it up. What I found sort of surprised me. There is lots of research into the influence of mood on creativity, but I really couldn't find much on the opposite condition. There's lots of research on how good or bad moods can influence creativity for better or worse. Here's a quick sampling if you care to explore further:
Understanding the relationship between mood and creativity: A meta-analysis, Mark A. Davis, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 108 (2009) 25–38
The Effect of Mood On Creativity in the Innovative Process, Kaufmann, Geir, , The international handbook on innovation (p. 191–203). Elsevier Science.
A Dynamic Perspective on Affect and Creativity, Ronald Bledow, Kathrin Rosing and Michael Frese. Academy of Management Journal Vol. 56, No. 2
Yawn, snort. With all due respect, I think these honorable folks have it all backwards. Moods may or may not enable creativity (In fact, at least some of the evidence suggests that starting in a bad mood may actually be beneficial). The more important and significant causality is actually the other way around. Creativity helps enable or create positive moods. If we can get people to start to play with ideas, they will feel better. That's the important hypothesis.
It seems to me, that finding ways to encourage people to play with ideas has all sorts of positive outcomes. The question is, how can we encourage more brainstorming? How can we get the dreamers to awaken? Right now, more than any other time in recent memory, we need lots of good ideas. There are challenges from the mundane to the sublime that we face every day - and they are begging to be solved.
So I set out to work on coming up with more ideas for myself. I needed to keep a list. I wanted a place to keep those spontaneous ideas that come up throughout the day. Someplace that I could go to review that list of awesome ideas for the kids. It didn't need to be must, just a name for the idea and perhaps some statement of benefit or description. Maybe a picture or drawing to go with it.
So I wrote an iPhone app to do just that. I called it OneSwiftIdea, it's free and it's available on the App Store (you can find it here on the Apple App Store). The concept is simple: it's a place to keep all of your ideas. Not just the good ideas - any ideas. This is where you can put the zany ideas, the mad ideas, and they are just for you. Whatever tickles your fancy.
I'm hoping for two humble, but useful outcomes:
I want people to be encouraged to come up with more ideas. I believe that people feel better when they are able to be creative. So I want to encourage everyone to spend more time dreaming up new ideas. I think there are few things more important than fostering our own ability to come up with new ideas right now.
I want people to have the tools to capture their ideas and refine them. All too often our ideas are written on post-it notes or scraps of paper and promptly lost. You have great ideas, and I want to make sure that you keep them.
I think this is important enough, that I'm working with local small businesses that have been impacted by COVID. Many were shut down and needed alternative ideas for how to do business. That's where I can help: coming up with new ideas is a blast. Together we can come up with new ideas to help overcome these challenges.