The Art of Exploration
Taking an Idea from Abstract to Concrete
Ender’s Game is one of my favorite science fiction books, and the whole Enderverse series is a favorite of mine as well.
Many of you are probably familiar with Ender’s Game, published in 1985 and a perennial classic of science fiction literature. But you may not have realized that the book was originally only a short story that was published in the science fiction magazine Analog in 1975.
The story was incredibly well-received, earning awards as a story and for its author, Orson Scott Card. This led the way for Card to expand the short story into a fully-fledged book and eventually an entire series that explores not only earth invasions, but human responses to aliens, interstellar travel, and immortality.
This path isn’t unique to Ender’s Game. Many books start as simple ideas, whether a short story, a blog post, or a tweet. These simple versions allow authors or writers to test out ideas and see what will work before committing to an entire novel. They help explore ideas and eventually serve as prototypes for longer works.
Of course, this isn’t unique to writing a book. All of us are taking ideas from abstract to real all the time. But how do we do it? What are the steps and what should we be thinking about? How do we get ideas from abstract to concrete?
There are many definitions of idea generation and exploration. But for our purposes, the best definition I’ve been able to come up with based on the various definitions I’ve encountered along with my own experience is basically this:
The creative process of taking ideas from abstract concepts to concrete reality.
Exploration includes generating ideas, prioritizing and developing them, and then communicating and refining those ideas.
Exploration is a key part of the product and design process. Those familiar with design thinking know that, broadly speaking, exploration (ideation and prototyping) is the second big step in the design thinking process. We understand the problem first, then we generate and explore ideas to solve that problem second, then we implement those ideas third. I’ve seen a variety of models and diagrams for this, but I tend to go back to the sticky note I created a long time ago (my daughter added the picture of Ariel on the middle for me).
In many design thinking diagrams, the exploration process is described as ideation and then prototyping. Unfortunately, this is missing a key step, or overlooking a key part of the process. We need to generate lots of ideas, then narrow those ideas down before we can communicate them as a prototype.
As I wrote about in a previous post, we start with divergent thinking and then move to convergent thinking:
So what does each of these steps look like?
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