When’s the last time you sat down at your desk and said to yourself, “Okay, now I’m going to come up with a good idea.” Probably never. The thing about creativity, in my experience, is that trying to force it to happen simply ensures that it doesn’t. It’s a bit like a sixteenth-century woodcut I once saw that depicted a man gently cupping his hand so that it would hold a bit of water for him to drink: the message or moral of the woodcut was that if he tried to forcefully grab the water, by squeezing his hand tight, it would go squirting through his fingers onto the ground.
From a practical perspective, this means that good ideas often arise when you are relaxed and perhaps even thinking about something that, on the surface, appears to have no connection to the idea that you come up with. You might be driving to your child’s soccer game, or cooking an egg, or listening to Ella Fitzgerald when suddenly y0u come up with an idea that solves a thorny problem that was stymieing your research or afflicting a writing project. For centuries, thinkers dealt with the impromptu timing of creativity by using a device known as a notepad, which was carried about on their person, and used in conjunction with a writing implement. Smart phones, though, have improved upon that paper-based tool, at least in some regards: they feature apps that allow you to record an idea by simply speaking it. You can then keep the audio recording on your phone for later playback or email it to yourself or someone else. Some apps even transcribe your voice recording into text, in case you prefer to retrieve your note in that format.
My favourite app in this regard is Mi Mic because it offers a simple but unique feature: I can set it up so that it records while I am speaking, but then stops recording when I stop speaking; it then automatically starts recording whenever I begin speaking again, whether it’s a few seconds later or a few hours later. This means, for example, that when I’m reading, I can set my smart phone on arm of my chair and whenever an idea occurs to me, I can simply say it and the the Mi Mic app will record it. I don’t need to put down my book, or press any buttons on my smart phone: I speak, and it records, but it doesn’t record the sometimes long pauses between my ideas.
I’ve also tried using Mi Mic when I’m driving. There is, of course, a lot of ambient noise in the car, but you can set the sensitivity of Mi Mic so that this background noise doesn’t activate the automatic recording, but your voice does. I trust, too, that using the device in this way is perfectly legal, because you don’t have to handle your smart phone to make the recording. Just set it up, put it on the seat beside you, start driving, and speak your ideas. When you get home, the eight ideas that occurred to you during your three-hour drive will be on a single brief recording.
Mi Mic is available for the iPhone for $1.99. You can learn more about it here.