Why I Hate the ‘Describe as Many Uses for a Pen or Brick’ Creativity Exercise

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How to be as Creative as a Brick

The ‘Think of as many Uses for a……’ Exercise. You know the one. Usually set in a business workshop where creativity hasn’t been seen since someone sat on it and squashed it back in 1971. Someone hands you a pen and says “How many uses can you think of for this pen, excluding the one it was originally designed for”. Or words to the effect. If you haven’t surmised already – Did you even read the title of this post? –  I hate this exercise with a stupefying passion.

It’s a ‘Brick’

Another variation of the exercise that I’ve heard more recently is ‘a brick’. The idea is to imagine as many uses for your imaginary, heavy, orange, rectangular solid as possible, within the timeframe given. It is “supposedly” meant to show how amazingly creative you are (or not). The more uses that you can list and the more bizarre the ideas, displays how much more stunningly creative and laterally thinking you are than the person sitting next to you.

That person who is already chewing on the end of their pen, stressing because they can’t think of any other use for a brick other than to use it as a door stop. That person, sitting there with their brain slowly grinding to a clunky, painful stop, ready to cry into their notebook is highly likely to be me.

The only other use I can probably imagine, is what a great blunt object the brick would be, to knock some sense into whoever proposed this creative thinking exercise in the first place.

I don’t think it is helpful at all. But I am sure that the smug twit in the room – and there is always one – will say it’s great, because they’ve already listed an entire page of nonsense uses within seconds of the exercise beginning. Whilst I’m still chewing my pen and blaming the coffee for not having kicked in yet.

I think the exercise has about as much to do with creativity as memorising the names of things from an encyclopedia has with learning and understanding. Hint: It doesn’t.

I think it’s limiting and slightly ridiculous. It’s a brick. We all know it’s a bloody brick. It’s a test of surreality and the illogical maybe. Give that guy who has already written down 45 alternate uses for a brick a drugs test before you try to attribute reason to compare and contrast our creativity.

Thinking Outside the Brick

I think that creativity is more about being curious about the brick and the multiferous stories we can imagine has happened to that brick. How old it is? What shape is it? How does it feel/look/smell/taste? How was it in that place, on that day, at that time, in that position, facing that direction? What is it stood on? What was on it and where did it come from? Who has it belonged to?

Why was it made the way it was? Who took it? Who left it behind?  What did it used to be a part of? How did it became separated from the other bricks? Were there others? Did it ever reach where it was meant to go? Has it changed? Is it the same as it has always been? Why and how has all of this happened to it?

How much time has passed. How many people have passed by the brick and noticed it? Who were they? What did they think about the brick being there? Why did they go? Did they take the brick with them? I bet that guy who thought of a squillion implausible uses for a brick would have picked it up and taken it.

I could write you a hundred stories about this brick, the people who have passed it by and interacted with it, but maybe I am just not creative enough to list the ‘uses’ of a single brick.

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