“She jumped as high as she could, and finally saw what she was looking for.”
“You really should go get that checked out you know.”
Three unrelated sentences; an infinite number of possibilities when combined and used as material for a story.
That is the magic of the creative process where you take a number of deliberately unrelated items and bring them into proximity to see what surprising new options emerge. The author Edward de Bono has made a career out of an approach called lateral thinking that uses this approach to creativity.
I’m not arguing that a lateral or non-linear approach to creativity and problem-solving is better than a linear, more pragmatic or ‘logical’ approach. But in my own experience there are times when it can be extremely powerful to look beyond the rational, where steps and analogies are not so obviously connected. This is especially true when you are trying for something totally new rather than something merely different. It is also effective when you are totally stumped, having tried to apply more traditional problem-solving approaches.
Three Sentence Story
The game Three Sentence Story is short and focused, involving only two players. It is an excellent warm-up. One player provides the other with three unrelated sentences. The other player then builds the shortest story possible that uses and connects the three sentences.
Take-home learning from this game:
- Active listening. Active rather than ‘just’ listening because as quickly as your partner reels off her three sentences, you have to find words or images that allow you to remember them. As this scene is solo, you can’t rely on your partner to prompt you. You have to start making meaning for yourself as quickly as the sentences come out.
- Memory. In meetings, chance encounters, and sales situations, to name a few, the ability to remember names, details, and pieces of stories is a useful skill. It enables you to weave the contributions of others into a conversation that communicates to others present that they matter. This game is a test of how good your memory is in these ‘live’ situations.
- Thinking on your feet. Improv is about learning to think on your feet. This game distils that to its pure essence. It is improvisational public speaking. Your partner plays no role in your story other than to provide the raw materials. After that you are on your own. You have to create meaning, be concise, and entertaining. Can you think of a better way to prepare your executives for press scrums or boardroom exchanges?
- Creativity. What makes this a true improv game rather than a simple public speaking exercise, is the fact the three given sentences are not related. In fact the more unrelated they are (at least on the surface) the more fun the audience has watching you try to put them together. This is a great example of lateral thinking turned into a game. The best stories end up not being about any of the three sentences at all, but about something entirely new.
- Getting it done. One of the biggest obstacles to creative thinking and productive ‘idea jamming’ in life, is overthinking the process. We start editing before we have finished creating, and we start to outthink where something is going before we have barely begun. The best way to attack this game is to just start. Start with the first sentence, keep talking, let the words find their own sequence, keeping the next two sentences just dimly lit in the hallway of your memory. Before you know it, a word, phrase or image will leap out and make the connection with the next sentence. If you overthink the whole thing from the beginning, you’ll never get there.
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