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The Idea Generator Brings Brainstorming to the iPhone and iPod Touch Platform

The Idea Generator Brings Brainstorming to the iPhone and iPod Touch Platform

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    Considering the variety of applications you can download for the iPhone and iPod Touch from Apple’s comprehensive AppStore, it was only a matter of time until someone introduced a brainstorming tool for these popular devices: The Idea Generator. Developed by creative consultancy The Director’s Bureau, this intriguing tool uses randomly-displayed words to help you generate ideas for your next creative project.

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    The user interface of the Idea Generator is a marvel of elegance and simplicity, and it’s fun to use. Three concentric circles fill the screen, emblazoned with random words. Situated horizontally across the middle of the screen is a display bar, which appears to have a magnifier embedded within it. This window displays the words selected by the Idea Generator. At the hub of the wheel is an icon with two arrows, which, when pressed, spins the counter-rotating wheels. You can also spin the wheels by shaking the iPhone, adding a fun element to your brainstorming session. When the wheels stop spinning, the display bar shows three words, which you can use as stepping stones to creative ideas.

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    For example, one recent session displayed the words “multi-lingual,” “rubber” and “hotel.” Sounds kinky, eh? Actually, you’re not supposed to take the words literally. Their main value is to be a stepping stone to productive ideas. For example, the words multi-lingual and hotel could lead to a new concept for a chain of hotels with the atmosphere of an international youth hostel. Or you might take the word rubber and spend some time thinking about its inherent qualities (cushioning, resilient, etc.), and how you could apply one of those to your current creative challenge.

    If none of these randomly-selected words connects with your muse, you can simply push the spin button or shake the iPhone again, and three more random words will appear in the selection window. If you find one or two words that you really like, you can use small lock buttons embedded in the display bar to lock those words in place, and spin the remaining wheels to generate additional keyword stimuli. I found this to be a little bit like playing a hand of poker, in which you hold on to one or two cards, while discarding the rest of your hand and asking the dealer for several new ones. You don’t know what you’re going to get, but there’s always the potential to improve your hand!

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    The Idea Generator is simple enough that you can begin brainstorming with it immediately. But you can vastly increase its utility by customizing its word database. Clicking a small button in the lower right hand corner of the program’s screen gives you access to a “word lists” screen, where you can delete words from the left, middle and right word lists and add your own ones to customize it to your needs, your industry or your profession. Another possibility is to find a list of words that are known to stimulate creative thought, and add them to your Idea Generator. One source for those is Michael Michalko’s excellent book, Thinkertoys. Another is Gerald Haman’s popular brainstorming tool, the KnowBrainer.

    In short, the Idea Generator is a marvelous little tool that can help you to generate valuable ideas and can take your thinking in fresh new directions. It’s available for download from the Apple AppStore, accessible from your iPhone or iPod Touch. At $.99, the Idea Generator one of the least expensive brainstorming tools you’ll find anywhere.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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