Ed Glassman
Ed Glassman

Two creativity triggers to jump start idea generation

Unblock Your Writing And Idea-Generating Blocks …

Rapid evaluation of new ideas depends on old information stored in your mind. New ideas can hardly survive this quick gauntlet. The petals of a new idea wither in the face of such abrupt analysis. We will discuss two basic and important creativity triggers to stop your quick automatic NO and to help you remain non-evaluative.


During group brainstorming, a recorder writes all ideas on a note pad or flip chart paper for all to see while everyone does not evaluate. It generally produces many ideas.

Effective outcomes during brainstorming depend on everyone remaining non-evaluative. Evaluation forms from old information. When we evaluate, we immerse ourselves in old paradigms.

To escape from old perspectives, stay non-evaluative. I stress this point by calling the process ’Non-Evaluative Listing’ and suggest the following guidelines:

• List all ideas.

• Do not think about items.

• Do not evaluate or criticize.

• Ignore repetition. Write the idea down again.

• Write bizarre ideas.

• Defer judgment and postpone evaluation until later.

• Keep the process moving.

• Do not hesitate.

Additional important recorder roles include:

• Reminds the group to stick to non-evaluative listing.

• Keeps loud members from dominating the group.

• Encourages quiet members.

• Does not discuss ideas.

• Writes bizarre ideas.

• Plays subdued leadership roles.

• Acts as a ‘servant’ to the creative thinking group.

The opposite of non-evaluative listing encompasses the ’gauntlet,’ when you internally filter your own idea. Even if you use the gauntlet only 10% of the time, it results in 100% gauntlet. In other words, even if you only evaluate one idea out of ten, you will suppress many ideas.

A HABIT THAT SPOILS CREATIVITY: The gauntlet. You need total non-evaluation when listing ideas.

Here is an analogous approach, ‘brainwriting,’ for people who work alone.


Non-evaluative ‘automatic writing’ provides an individual antidote to an excessively quick negative mind. I learned it from William Drath at The Center For Creative Leadership.

To fully understand it, write a short essay on one of the following topics:

“What I did on my last vacation”


“What I plan to do on my next vacation.”

Before you start writing about your vacation, please plan carefully in your mind what you want to say. Compose a well-written essay with correct grammar, full sentences, and appropriate paragraphing.

In my creative thinking workshop, I would indicate that I may ask you to read your essay aloud. In other words, write a clear, orderly exposition.

Start now. Stop after three minutes, so please time yourself carefully. Finish writing on another sheet of paper, if necessary.


Now write a short essay about the topic you did NOT choose. This time do not plan any ideas ahead of time. Write while you think quickly.

Forget correct grammar. No complete sentences. Incomplete phrases will do. No paragraphing. Do not evaluate what you write. Let your thoughts flow directly to the paper through your pen or pencil. Do not stop writing. If you stop writing, you are probably evaluating your thoughts.

When you have no thoughts, write something anyway. If necessary, write “I have something to write” repeatedly until your thoughts start flowing. Do not let your pen or pencil stop writing. Best of all, no one will ask you to read your essay aloud.

Start now and please stop at the end of three minutes. Finish writing on another sheet of paper, if necessary.


Count the words and ideas you wrote in each essay.

If you are like most people in my workshops, you will have more words and more ideas in the second essay than the first. Freeing you from evaluation and quick negative criticism short-circuits your habitual automatic No, improves the creative atmosphere in your mind, and helps you produce more creative outcomes.

Some guidelines for automatic writing follow:

• Write all thoughts.

• Do not hold back. Let it flow!

• Orderly thoughts not required.

• Correct grammar unimportant.

• Incomplete phrases fine.

• Complete sentences not necessary.

• Paragraphing not important.

• Do not evaluate.

• Bypass your hand. Be the paper. Let your thoughts flow directly to the paper.

• What you write does not even have to fit the topic. That boxes you in and you measure every thought against the topic.

• If you do not write, assume you evaluate. Write: “I do have something to write” until you have something to write, and then write, write, write…

I use automatic writing, a valuable creativity trigger, to overcome obstacles to my creative thinking or my writing. It usually cures my writer’s block.

And I use it and non-evaluative listing to unblock my idea-generating blocks. It allows interesting ideas to emerge and installs a creative atmosphere in your mind to help you make remote connections to shift paradigms and solve problems creatively.

Advanced Automatic Writing

Practice an advanced version of automatic writing by placing two writing tablets next to each other. On one tablet, write automatically as described above. On the other tablet, write “I have something to write” when you find yourself blocked. To help overcome the block, switch from one tablet to other as the spirit moves you.

Another approach: As they come to you, non-evaluatively list your ideas on 3″ x 5″ index cards, one idea per card. When finished, sort the cards in the order you want. Use these cards as an outline to help you write automatically on the two writing tablets as described above, except now use one tablet for the finished writing you want and switch to the other tablet for random thoughts when you find yourself blocked.

The important thing: keep your hand writing automatically. Merge with the paper as you write. Become the paper and pen.

A TRUE STORY: I wrote the first draft of some of my books, and many subsequent added sections, using automatic writing.


Ed Glassman, Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Program For Team Excellence And Creativity at the university. He led scores of problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University, a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC, and a Visiting Professor at the University Of California at Irvine.

His book: “R&D CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION HANDBOOK” is available here:   https://www.createspace.com/3434091

About the Author
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus and former head of the "Program for Team Effectiveness and Creativity," in the medical school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.