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Thinking Askew - The Issue With A Creativity Hack That Actually Works

Thinking Askew - The Issue With A Creativity Hack That Actually Works
By Alf Rehn • Issue #23 • View online
Hello friends, it’s Thinking Tuesday again! This time it’s a slightly different one, though. If you know my work, you know I’m not a huge fan of creativity “hacks”, as they’re often hokey or not all that impactful. However…

A Creativity Hack/Tool That Actually Works
There are of course ways, or “hacks”, to make yourself more creative. In fact, there are several. The one I’m interested in today is one that I’ve always been interested in, but two things in particular nudged me to today’s little experiment. One was being a pre-examiner of a PhD-thesis that used fiction as a methodology. The other was discovering a fun little online tool called Shortly. More about that a little further on.
The creativity hack is this: If you’re stuck, particularly when writing, write something else – like fiction. If you are a fiction writer and stuck with your writing, write a factual piece. The reason this works is simply because consciously forcing yourself not to do what you were doing, by focusing on something else, allows for your subconscious to keep working with the problem at hand, all the while you are also allowing your imagination to become more engaged. So, to hack your brain for more creative output, try writing an imaginative little story, or fragment of one. Storytelling can free your mind.
“But that’s not that easy!” I hear you say. No, most of the time it isn’t, which leads me to the tool for this hack, a lovely little site I happened to come across, the aforementioned Shortly. I have no association at all with them, but was positively surprised by it. To get people to write, they have a little writing platform (there are dozens online), but also two really helpful tools. One is that it offers writing prompts, little snippets provided by the community. Some of these are very short (I just saw “Naked Karate”), others a sentence like “Three days after the basement flooded, shark fins appeared on the water’s murky surface.”. So you can just pick one and start writing. The other is that it has an AI writing assistant that can take a half sentence or just the prompt and write 50 or so words for you. Kickstarted writing! You can see it for yourself here:
I of course had to test this – as I was stuck writing a column – and interestingly got a prompt about being a divine con artist I really liked, and which sort of gelled with a project about contrarians I am working on. So, for your delectation, my little experiment (believe it or not, all the referenced deities are real cases):
Experiment with fiction writing
The white plastic chairs squeaked ever-so-slightly as I leant back. I stared idly at the big screen, displaying the latest financial reports. These had been amusing at first, back when the idea of finance as a sort of abstract magic still excited me. Now, as I watched the numbers and read the news, they no longer seemed so different from the numbers I generated myself, all to appease the Universe Market eXchange. I am right now deep into a short play against some Norse gods who thought they had insider knowledge about an upcoming merger of worlds, but who seemed oblivious to the fact that such a play would never fly as long as the Ice Demons were heavily exposed through a hedge they’d made with the backing of Leviathan himself (who had gone long on a Zoroastrian universe that collapsed, netting me a small fortune and an increased likelihood of eternal torture, were he to find out what I did). The UMX is no place for fools.
I’ve been called many things, but most call me Till. To some, I generate so much it is like having money in the till to invest with me. To others, they know I’m a trickster demigod, who has cheated the stupider of the gods and deities for a long time by now. I was born out of the market, given material form when enough gods started making structured bets on the economy of universes. I was born into the market as well, and I’ve never known any other home than the UMX. You might wonder why gods would invest in a market. They didn’t use to, back when there was still lots of faith to go around, and it was really rare for a god to run out of believers. Then things started going sour, as entire pantheons saw their cults shrink. 
Some, like the old Greek gods, set up holding companies off-universe, and started to invest in other, less well-positioned religions. They shorted the Roman gods and made an at the time seemingly senseless investment in Wicca, and have been doing good business ever since. Kokopelli, the horny humpback god that still had a few adherents among the Navajo, would be almost powerless these days if not for the fact that he had made an early, clever bet on a certain Galilean Jew and is now living large off the profits. I was born into this, but never played on the level of Zeus or Kokopelli. Christianity was always too volatile a market for me, and I let the daytraders of souls to deal with that headache. No, I leveraged the deities no-one else really cared about, the ones with maybe a few hundred faithful who were desperate to make a deal before those died off. I made my bones in the market by sweet-talking Ashur into a deal that gave his entire universe to me in a complex deal where he put it up as collateral while I promised him an influx of true believers. He was too far removed from modern humans to realize that true believers are a fickle bunch, and I had only lined them up as a derivative play, with Marduk on the other side. I basically only needed to step back and watch the old rivalry flare up, and I knew that Marduk would win out. I got a sweet little pocket universe, one I sold for a massive markup to a desperate Tengri. I think he ended up using it for his horses. 
It used to be an OK racket, with tons of religions withering and ready to be taken advantage of. Sure, you had to make sure that none of the Old Families, with their holdings and their hordes, weren’t pissed off with your plays, but over time the big guys just fought each other. I couldn’t care less if the Greek Pantheon had beef with Azathoth and the Outer Gods, as I didn’t want business with either. I prefered dealing with some of the marginal players, like a crafty old Finnish deity called Väinämöinen, who just wanted you to listen to him sing. I sold him a bunch of lesser demons in exchange for some sweet parcels of pagan afterlife, and life was good. Until it wasn’t.
I blame Luca Pacioli. Sure, others had used double-entry book-keeping, but that old busy-body wrote the book on it, and being a Franciscan that meant that the bloody Christians took to it like Väinämöinen to young girls. All of a sudden, deals where carefully tabulated, and leverage became evermore difficult. Gods being gods, they appointed demigods of accounting like some perverse version of KPMG, and deals went from handshakes to exercises in evangelical Excel. A lot of my business with Christian Hell dried up, because Belial, the devil of the Vessels of Iniquity, created Viniquitus as the demon of accounting. His argument for the name was that accounting clearly was the greatest of the invented evil things, and most agreed with him.  
So here I am, trying to con a few Norse minor gods (and, god forbid, some of the old dwarves) out of whatever scraps of magical universes they still have. To make matters worse, they can get hold of popular culture, and now have gotten all excited in a new coming of their religion. Some of the idiots have gone so far as to suggesting to Chris Hemsworth that he could become a true demigod. Thankfully Hemsworth has good management, and turned the deal down. I don’t just work with the Norse pantheon, however. I do pretty good business in Africa, with some of the tribal gods. Good folks, and I try not to give them too hard a time with our deals. There’s still a little business to be done with the old gods of the Americas – I just did a nice little swap with two Kwakwaka’wakw deities, Bakwas and U’Melth, and because they have off-universe connections I managed to stash away some pretty good faith loot where it cannot be touched by really anyone. Still, it is time to start finding new deals, and this is where it gets interesting. 
I was created by the market, but the real action is in the new gods, the ones created by the media. I’m setting up a big deal right now, one big enough to retire to a small universe all my own – I saved one of those Finnish pagan parcels, all hunting grounds and cavorting maidens, and just need enough soul coin to make sure I can stay set up there. There’s this new god, QAnon. Confused, as he’s only existed for a few years, so he’s a fetus in god years. He is formed out of the confused beliefs of a pretty decent horde of mostly slack-jawed mouth-breathers, but as Zeus always said “Don’t matter if they’re thick as pig-shit, as long as they believe hard enough.”. So I’m seeking him on the idea that this collapsed system of faith I got in a three-way deal, one from a long-forgotten Minoan cult, would be the perfect new world he could populate and build. I didn’t intend to tell him that such universes are barren as all holy hell, nor that the communications have been down for over a millennia. I’m sure he’ll figure that out. Eventually.
So, if I can only get enough out of this short con with these dumb Norse fuckers, I will be able to sweeten the deal for the dope, and send his scrawny little conspiracy cult into a Minoan field for all time. I’ll be laughing all the way to my Finnish fields. I’m Till Eulenspiegel, and I’m tired of hustling the gods.
OK, now you try! Have fun.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Alf Rehn

Professor of management & innovation, speechifier, and popular culture geek.

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