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267. Divergent IQ and When a Brick isn't Just a Brick.

I have been assigning divergent IQ excercises as an adjunct professor for years now. Of course, I didn't really know that's what they were called until a few months ago while reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. In the book, Gladwell discusses the difference between convergent IQ (you get a problem and whittle it away until you are left with the one correct answer) and divergent IQ (where you try to come up with as many solutions as possible for a problem.) When I first read about this topic, I quickly realized that it was the basis for a lot of the problem-solving I had been doing in my career as well as what I was trying to convey in the classroom. So at least now, all of that chaos has a fancy name.

It can help to be able to generate a wall of concepts, er bricks.

To illustrate the idea of divergent intelligence, Gladwell discusses the KIPP program, a network of free open-enrollment college-preparatory public schools in poor, mostly urban neighborhoods throughout the US. In this program they use a little test to gauge a potential student's divergent IQ. They simply show a student an image of a brick and ask them to list all the potential uses of that brick. Student A—with possibly a higher convergent IQ—might say things like "Building a wall. Paper weight. Door stop." While Student B—with possibly a higher divergent IQ—would say things like, "A way to make my toilet more efficient. An urgent message delivery mechanism when thrown through a window. The means to make my wrestling weight..." They simply take the purpose of a brick into new and more interesting territory. Having the ability to look at the ordinary and see the extraordinary is a benefit in most careers and is being more and more appreciated outside traditionally creative jobs.

In my classroom, one favorite and attention-getting divergent exercise is a take off of The Book of Bunny Suicides, by Andy Riley. As an exploration of creative thinking, I show them a few dozen examples of Riley's cartoons - which feature novel and occassionally gross methods in which the hero bunnies try to kill themselves. (I know, I know.) Then I ask them to spend an hour or so sketching up new ways for the bunnys to do this. The students have a lot of fun working with this macabre material and usually come up with some great concepts. For instance, in a design course for seniors, one student illustrated the bunny wedging himself between the door handles of a Macy's department store, just before the Sale on Black Friday begins and a huge crowd waiting to rush through those doors. Divergent IQ indeed. I'll try to find this gem and post it.

The Bunny Suicides: (Property of Andy Riley, buy them here.)

Most recently I gave the brick test to a graphic design 1 class, and just to share, listed below are a few that showcase that type of thinking the best. My belief is that this type of intelligence should be developed whenever possible. It's not just a silly excercise but can lead to a more open problem-solving process. And what business or company can't use more of that?

Example Uses for a Brick:

  1. Memorabilla from an historic building
  2. A way to practice good posture
  3. Inspiration for retro cell phone model
  4. Industrial decoration for an aquarium
  5. Inside a teddy bear - it's a secret fitness tool for kids
  6. What less fancy spas use instead of hot rocks
  7. Way for short preachers to appear taller behind the pulpit
  8. A challenge for expert rock skippers
  9. A coat of gold paint away from being a gold brick
  10. Ghetto bling to attach to your chain necklace
  11. Percussion instrument
  12. Long-lasting nail file, etc...


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Reader Comments (3)

Th bunny suicide project was great! This is a awesome article..really hits home problem solving, well for me at least.
September 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndy
Very awesome exercise. Great post.
September 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwello
Have you seen the official iPhone app for the Bunny Suicides series? Check it out, quite hilarious:
September 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBunnycides

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