Using Other Minds for New Ideas
One of the more creative and fascinating ways to generate
new ideas and to see things from new perspectives is to think
using other people's minds. That may sound a bit obscure, so
I'll clarify it right now. When you imagine how another person
would respond in a given situation, or what that person would
say about some issue, you are effectively thinking using his
The examples you are probably most familiar with are among
the many characters who inhabit your dreams at night. If you
are like most people, you strongly identify with some dreams
and in particular with some characters who represent real-life
friends and family in your dreams. So much so, in fact, that
it's likely you have more than once spoken of these people as
being "in" your dreams.
Now, it is obviously metaphorical to say something like, "He
was in my dream last night." But the truth is we do not
really think of it as a metaphorical description at the moment
we say it. It seems like the person really was there in
our nighttime theater, even if, when we stop to reflect on it
for a moment, it's clear that it was an entirely invented character
who simply represents what we know of that person.
Still, while it's only your own subconscious mind and its
creations walking and talking in your dreams, those created characters
are recognizable both in the dream and later as you reflect on
it. They are recognizable both by appearance and personality.
This is an indication of how powerful your unconscious mind is.
After all, it can determine what your brother or friend or anyone
else you know well would do or say in all the novel situations
a dream presents. This may not be accurate in relation to what
the real person represented would do if the situation actually
occurred, but your mind keeps it consistent and close enough
to reality that even others would likely recognize who the dream
(That last part could be tested if you recall the details
of a dream well enough; just relate the situation and dialog
to someone else who knows the person the dream character represents,
and see if he can guess "who" it is.)
This consistency of character is there despite the otherwise
nonsensical nature of most dreams. Since you are able to recreate
someone whom you know well enough to animate him or her in the
dream world, you must have some idea of that person's thought
processes. To put words in the mouths of your characters you
must effectively tap into other minds. Of course it is your own
mind imagining what their minds would think, but the fascinating
part is that it comes so naturally, and produces scenarios and
thoughts that you would not have had without the use of those
This suggests that in a sense we can develop--if only for
a moment--another mind inside our own, and use it in various
ways. The most obvious example of this is the question, "What
would ______ do? Insert in that blank the name of anyone whom
you suspect would have a useful response to a given situation,
and you get new ideas about what to do. Yes, they came from your
mind, but if you care to try it you'll find that you wont get
nearly as many new ideas when repeatedly asking "What would
I do?" as when asking the question ten times over with a
different character's name each time.
That's perhaps the simplest way to "use other minds,"
but it is not the only way. You can imagine seeing through the
eyes of others. You can imagine living as they do. You can talk
to anyone you like in your imagination, to see what he or she
Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) practitioners discovered
long ago that you can more effectively tap into the thought processes
of others by modeling not only their speech, but even their body
positions. So if you know a brilliant chess player and you want
to improve your game, you might want to note how he sits, how
he holds his hands and head, and even the expression on his face.
It's possible you'll play better when you copy all of this in
your own posture.
If you want new ideas, at least try this simple experiment:
The next time you need a specific problem solved or you want
a new approach to some creative task, pretend to be someone else;
preferably an expert in the subject matter or at least a very
creative person. Work on the matter for a few minutes using this
other mind you have just created. The results might surprise
you (in a good way).