Posts tagged ‘Cake’

April 26, 2011

Taking the “Cake” Challenge in Combinational Creativity

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.” – Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss)

After more than two months absent from this blog – and from virtually everything else that requires a reasonable degree of concentration  –  I am finally feeling clear enough of the symptoms of concussion to develop and post some new ideas.  Definitely time to “wake up the brain cells”!  And so I’ve chosen to give myself a nonsense challenge in combinational creativity: take the word “cake” and use it a launching point for five “jolts” that could be used in a mediation.  Before I get there, however, a little background on what I mean by combinational creativity…

Compotier avec fruits, violon et verre (Picasso)

Compotier avec fruits, violon et verre (Picasso)

Dr. Margaret A. Boden, OBE, is a Research Professor of Cognitive Sciences who has published many fascinating papers on topics in artificial intelligence and creativity.  She identifies three ways in which humans generate creative ideas – ideas that are “new, surprising, and valuable”.  Most relevant to this blog entry, we create through combinational creativity – the generation of unfamiliar (and interesting) combinations of familiar ideas.  (Boden also studies exploratory and transformative creativity, both of which I will look at in future postings.)  Combinational creativity surprises us by connecting things and ideas that are not normally linked.  Collages, Bizarro cartoons, and metaphors are all examples of combinational creativity.  Each combines things in ways that are unexpected, creating thought-provoking, humourous, and surprising results.

Creativity trainers encourage the use of combinational creativity to stimulate new ideas for businesses or new perspectives for problem solving.  For example, the exercise that is sometimes known as Random Input, asks participants to use combinational creativity to break through roadblocks in their thinking.  (And yes, Random Input is one of the 5 Jolts!  It’s the process I’m using to write the blog, after all.)  In this technique, you select a random word or image as a starting point for brainstorming.  Open the dictionary, newspaper or novel at a random page, and choose a word that is unrelated to your topic.  Concrete nouns work especially well.  It happens that I started out my Random Input exercise with an image that caught my eye – a cake!  You can see why it screamed creativity to me in the second jolt below.

“Cake” Jolts for Mediation and Mediators

1. Random Input

I’ve described the basic concept of Random Input above, and I’m sure that you can imagine lots of ways that it can be used in a mediation, even if it is more commonly used as a brainstorming tool for teams.  Consider, in particular, how you might use it as a “deal mediator” – someone who is acting as a mediator in the development of a business transaction or the development of an estate plan, etc.  Random Input can be fun, stimulating and a great team building exercise for groups that are not trying to resolve a problem, but instead trying to develop the best possible deal.

A few resources for Random Input:

  • MindTools – A useful educational website with lots of brainstorming ideas.
  • Roger von Oech’s Innovative Whack Pack – Small Claims Mediators have seen my Pack at an Impasse Breaking workshop in 2009.  Von Oech has created a deck of cards with different creativity strategies on each.  Instead of choosing a word, choose a strategy and try to apply it.  And he now has a Creative Whack Pack iPhone app.

  • Tarot cards – Books, magazines, newspapers …  Anything can be used to find a random word, of course.  But images are fun too, and can lead to even wider interpretations.  Tarot cards are a handy size to carry, and the 22 cards of the Major Arcana can be especially evocative.
  • And, it’s easy to create your own Random Input toolkit.  A bag of miscellaneous objects, a collection of photos from magazines, or a simple word list – all will work to inject a new and random element into the group’s brainstorming work.

2. Battlestar Galactica Cakes

This was the image that caught my eye and made me think – CAKE! – as the trigger word for my contemplations.  It’s a glorious example of combinational creativity, of course – while the combination of baking and popular culture is growing these days, it is still surprising when one stumbles upon such a fabulous example.  This one comes from Kandy Cakes in Cambridge, Ontario, but I spotted it on the fascinating blog Between the Pages: Where pop culture and food meet.

I’m naturally thinking about what kind of cake I’d bake for impasse breaking purposes?  Anything this intricate would be a jolt, but I am decidedly not so skilled with the icing application as this, so would have to be more creative about type of cake instead.  Here’s my top 5 list:

a) Flourless chocolate cake and b) wacky cake:  Both of these cakes offer the opportunity to discuss creativity.  Flourless chocolate cake works as a metaphor for problem-solving – you really don’t have to include all the same ingredients in every cake, and there may be excellent reasons to leave some out (the guest with wheat allergy might stand in for the party with any number of interests that run counter to a “standard” way of resolving a problem).  Wacky cake, aside from having a great name, is a different variation on the non-standard ingredients idea – in this case, the cake is made with ingredients one doesn’t expect in a cake: no eggs, but there is vinegar!

c) Devil’s food cake – clearly the food for the devil’s advocate.

d) Marble cake – All of the flavours manage to work together, even if they never really blend.

e) Upside-down cake – Why don’t we look at this in an entirely different way?  (Maybe an accompaniment to a session of reverse brainstorming?)

3. You Cut, I Choose

Wikipedia calls “You cut, I choose” a “two-party proportional envy-free allocation protocol” which is quite representative of the considerable scholarly literature on the concept of fair division of a limited resource that starts with a discussion of the classic sibling rivalry over the last piece of cake.  (Between the innumerable articles on cake cutting and the ubiquitous DR references to expanding the pie, it may be time to question the eating habits of DR scholars.)  Here are just a few resources on the eternal question, all of which are specifically focussed on the topic of impasse breaking.

I haven’t read Robertson and Webb’s book Cake Cutting Algorithms, but the publisher writes that “[t]his book gathers into one readable and inclusive source a comprehensive discussion of the state of the art in cake-cutting problems for both the novice and the professional. It offers a complete treatment of all cake-cutting algorithms under all the considered definitions of “fair” and presents them in a coherent, reader-friendly manner. Robertson and Webb have brought this elegant problem to life for both the bright high school student and the professional researcher.”  Given how complicated the math is in some of the texts I’ve looked at, I may just check out a book that can be read by bright high school students!

I have read Brams’ and Taylor’s Fair Division: From cake-cutting to dispute resolution and would recommend it only to readers who are comfortable with math.  That said, the basic premise of most of the chapters is simply described at the beginning and is itself a reasonable talking point for discussing fair division options.  The book itself might be a good “prop” in specific business negotiations, much the way von Oeck’s list of creativity strategies works by asking parties to think about using a specific technique.  Thinking about why or why not the technique might work refocuses parties on criteria for settlement rather than specific points of dispute.

Both of these books are available through CoRe’s aStore.

The Cake Cutting Problem on mathematics-in-europe.eu – a short and sweet overview of the fair division problem.

4. Cake – the Band

I’m planning to write a post on music in dispute resolution at a later date, so I’m just going to touch on the most obvious points about Cake:

  • The band combines multiple musical genres to create its unique sound (ska, rockabilly, jazz, country, rap…) and so could be viewed as the musical equivalent of marble cake as a metaphor for conflict resolution.
  • Any musical interlude has the potential to act as a pattern interrupt, of course, but the music video for The Distance is itself a wonderful example of combinational creativity!  And it even has a business theme going on.

5. Make Mine Chocolate

This one is simple chemistry: caffeine and serotonin are the most commonly identified sources of chocolate’s mood altering chemistry.  Caffeine, of course, increases mental activity (and wakefulness in a long drawn-out discussion); and serotonin is described as having a similar effect to Prozac – calming and relaxing.  Make your afternoon snack chocolate cake in one form or another  for a relaxed, but wakeful discussion.


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