A conversation about creativity

May 18 2015

During the start of this second week at Reese News Lab, our newly formed team has been brainstorming ideas for the data challenge. How can we use local data to inform and improve the lives of others? Though we’ve come up with many ideas, not many of them seem to stick.

Lindsay: When I first came into Reese News Lab, I had this worry about my technical skills versus my creative skills. As a double major in journalism and computer science, I constantly have to strike a balance between how to implement a project and what that project involves. For instance, if I’m making a website analyzing the campaign expenditures in a federal election, I have a lot of things to consider: how the site is going to be coded, how the information is going to be organized, how the story itself is going to flow. Because I’m so detail oriented, it can be hard to see the big picture of an idea, so when we’re brainstorming, I’m worrying too much about the how and not the what. You know what I mean?

Li: For me the biggest challenge in the past few weeks has actually been almost the opposite. The lack of constraints in our prompt has allowed us to go in almost any direction we wish; the issue is narrowing it down to a product or service’s key features and making sure the idea hasn’t already been done in the context of data. Although we’ve generated hundreds of ideas, I have a habit of limiting myself to assumed restraints, such as avenues of revenue and whether the idea is even interesting enough. The process is both most interesting and most difficult when I have to place myself in the shoes of consumers who are not like me, and imagine what unmet needs they have that we can solve.

Carbonell and Nett use one of the Lab's windows as a brainstorm matrix.

Carbonell and Nett use one of the Lab’s windows as a brainstorm matrix. Photo: Samantha Harrington

Danny: I’ve had similar issues. On one end, I’ve always struggled with creativity — and the outside-the-box ideas that do come to me are always framed in some kind of humor, just in case it’s the worst idea of the day. You can call that a byproduct of 14 years of standardized testing in public school. This dichotomy also manifests in how I handle other people’s ideas. As a copy editor, it pays to sweat the details. Breaking down an idea and analyzing the logistics is great when you’re editing someone’s column, but gutting your group member’s idea right off the bat isn’t exactly the most efficient way to run a brainstorm. I’m having to find ways to take my traditional journalism skills and apply them to entrepreneurship. As a field that trains you to write succinctly and formulaically, journalism is proving hard to reconcile with what we do here at Reese.

Lindsay: I think some of the reason we have trouble with creativity at times is just because we’re sitting in this lab for hours trying to come up with idea after idea, and it can get tiring. We tend to repeat the ideas that seem more straightforward, or even the ones that we’ve already come up with that we’re attracted to. But I think in general we’re coming up with good ideas, and we can continue to do so. We just have to keep finding different methods of idea creating, and different environments to put ourselves in where we feel more at ease with just throwing out random ideas. The best day was the first one, because we ended up just sitting outside and having a discussion about random hypotheticals. What if we could get funding from Taylor Swift? What if we made an app for dad jokes? Most of our ideas were silly, but at the same time, they led us to interesting places. If we could just replicate that environment of conversation again, we’d be golden.

 


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