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Brainstorming is a practice which has long been done on whiteboards or paper. In the digital age, though, software can go a long way in enhancing the process.\\\\

In recent years, the definition of creativity has been challenged and redefined. The major breakthrough has been to realise that the vital part of the creative process is not the generation of ideas, but rather their \\emph{combination}. What this means is that more than the terms themselves, what matters are the relations between them; how ideas are "wired" together, in a sense. \\\\

We introduce \\projectBold, a brainstorming web application that allows individuals to perform creative problem solving sessions graphically, in a user-friendly and interactive environment.\\\\

This report documents the approach taken while researching, designing and implementing the Combinatorial Creativity Algorithm, using WordNet and the Datamuse API; and building a custom web application integrating this algorithm in the back-end, which has for purpose to foster the users' creativity.\\\\

This project provides valuable insights into the relevance, and limitations, of data sources used to pull metadata on words and their connections. We also compare our work with existing applications in the creativity/development segment, and show how \\project is able to produce higher-quality suggestions for relations than its alternatives.





I would first like to thank my supervisor Dr. William Knottenbelt, for his continuous support throughout the project, his excellent ideas, sharp advice, and for his never-failing enthusiasm. I would also like to thank Dr. Chao Wu for his input during the initial stages. \\\\

Secondly, I want to thank my personal tutor, Prof Francesca Toni, who has supported and encouraged me in every aspects of my student life for the past four years. \\\\

Thank you to my family and my dear friends for their unconditional love and infectious energy. In particular, \\emph{merci} to Cedric for being the best friend, and proofreader, anyone could ever ask for. Thank you to Tim, who has been my light through this journey at Imperial; I would never have made it without you. \\\\

Last but not least, a very special thank you to my sister, Elea, for cooking me delicious meals every day during the past few months, saving me from ready meals and takeaways.













Creativity is often defined as the ability to generate new ideas and innovative solutions.

In the context of creative problem-solving (CPS) - a concept created in 1950 by Alex Osborn, an executive at the advertising agency BBDO, and psychologist Sidney Parnes - many techniques have been developed, experimented, and some quickly became popular. \\\\

The most widespread technique is certainly one developed by Osborn himself: \\emph{brainstorming}. Brainstorming is a common and widely-adopted approach when having to come up with new ideas. Often, it is a tedious process of \\emph{manually} thinking of ideas which relate to a central theme, or using a search engine in an attempt to find such ideas, following brainstorming \\textit{rules} defined by Osborn, highlighted in \\autoref{sec:creativity-original}. \\\\

\\emph{Mind mapping} is another tool used for CPS, developed by English psychology author Anthony Buzan, and presented in 1974. Buzan's approach consists in drawing images associated with representations of ideas. The diagram starts with a central concept, to which major ideas are connected; with derived and other ideas branching out from those principal ones. As opposed to brainstorming, mind mapping is usually used by individuals rather than groups or teams. \\\\

It should be noted that while brainstorming sessions have been a very successful method of generating ideas and garnering inspiration for decades, research has shown that the creative process is not actually optimal in a single group session \\cite{goldenberg}.

Indeed, Graham Wallas, in 1923 \\cite{wallas}, was able to break down the creative process into five distinct stages, which cannot all realistically be completed in a single sitting:


\\item Preparation: the mind must be prepared for the problem at stake, and begin thinking about its dimensions and challenges.

\\item Incubation: the 'inception' moment, when the problem enters the subconscious.

\\item Intimation: this is the intuitive moment when one can 'feel' a solution is not far.

\\item Illumination: the moment when the solution, or creative idea, moves into the conscious train of thought. Eureka!

\\item Verification: the conscious process of checking out the idea and executing it.


This is a sequence many of us follow intuitively, for instance when we stall a problem until later by going for a walk, or when we go home to return to work the next day with a fresh mind. The full five-step process can take days or weeks, instead of the few hours a typical brainstorming session takes. \\\\

Another point to note is that a creative process that is too rigid and formalised kills creativity. Ideas often come unexpectedly, at random moments, not when we decide it would be convenient in a two-hour slot. So trying to box in these thoughts too hard is counter-productive. \\\\

Since the popularisation of those two major techniques, technology has pushed and encouraged the development of various online applications and software \\autoref{sec:related-work}, allowing groups and individuals to collaborate remotely and concurrently on creative problem-solving. \\\\

In the meantime, a re-evaluated, deeper definition has started emerging in an attempt to frame the concept of \\textbf{creativity}, claiming that creativity is more than \\emph{just} generating ideas; that it is about \\textbf{connecting ideas}. This reformulation comes with a re-definition of the notion of \\emph{new idea}: according to Maria Popova, "creativity is \\textbf{combinatorial}, (...) nothing is entirely original, (...) everything builds on what came before" \\cite{creative-mornings-popova}. Hence, a \\emph{new} idea, as it is re-evaluated, is actually not \\emph{new} in its strictest sense, but builds on top of preexisting, already-formulated ideas combined together. \\\\

Now that the concept of creativity has metamorphosed, it is my aim to try and bring this modern definition to light, and apply it to the well-established CPS techniques that are brainstorming and mind mapping. \\\\


Despite the abundance of creative problem-solving online applications and software now available, none of them seem to integrate the contemporary definition of creativity in their implementation. \\\\

Brainstorming in its essence, will give birth to a pile, an unwired collection of ideas, hence missing the whole and fundamental aspect of combination and connection of ideas. And, whilst mind mapping will generate a \\emph{network} of ideas, those will all originate from a \\emph{single} seed concept, with ideas branching out from it like a \\emph{tree}, forbidding any cycle, and therefore, missing out all kinds of complex, unexpected or innovative connections. In short, present digital brainstorming and mind mapping tools are great at fostering creativity, in its original and challenged sense, but lack this extra stretch that is to put the emphasis on generating \\textbf{rich idea connection}. \\\\

%Put the emphasis on idea generation vs idea connection

Various studies, such as the one conducted by psychologists Palermo and Jenkins in 1963, establish that humans are \\emph{not} good at \\emph{free association} - the mental process by which one word or image may spontaneously suggest another, without any necessary logical connection \\footnote{Oxford Dictionary},  and corroborate our point about the importance of incorporating the concept of combinatorial creativity into CPS processes. This missing skill exacerbates the difficulty we face in existing brainstorming and mind mapping applications of \\textbf{poor connection} between ideas, because we rely on the original definition of creativity.\\\\

At the present time, no available application has demonstrated the ability of suggesting rich idea connections to groups or individuals practising creative problem-solving. This project aims to make a step towards filling that void.


Hence, we set out in this project to make the brainstorming process both more intuitive and iterative, empowering the users, but also more fun, by adding a collaborative aspect to the product. We want our tool to simply do a better job at inspiring people and finding the right ideas while keeping the process fun.




We set out in this project to take brainstorming and mind mapping further than they have been defined by their respective creators; using the reformulated definition of creativity as the core concept to drive the development of our CPS application, aiming to \\textbf{connect the dots}. \\\\

The goal of the \\textbf{\\project} is to improve on the situation of digital CPS tools by presenting a novel \\textbf{idea generator}, which assists the brainstorming and mind mapping process, to leverage collaborative potential in a creative discipline. To achieve this goal, we strive to reach the following objectives:

\\subsubsection{Combinatorial Creativity Algorithm}

We will be formally designing and providing concrete implementation of an algorithm presenting the ability of combinatorial creativity, i.e. capable of generating and suggesting \\textbf{rich} connections between ideas to the user.


\\item \\textbf{Degree of lateral connection}\\hspace{.5cm}

By \\emph{rich}, we mean a \\textbf{far less} \\emph{anticipated} and \\emph{predictable} degree of \\textbf{lateral connection} between two ideas, than any association a user could have thought of. The notion of \\emph{far less} should be a variable definable by the user, tailored to the level of \\emph{surprise} they wish to work with.

\\item \\textbf{Type of connection}\\hspace{.5cm}

By \\emph{rich}, we also mean a wide range of \\textbf{kinds of connections}: a connection could, for instance, represent a generalisation between two ideas, while another would conceptualise a specialisation. Other kinds could be "is a kind of", "derive from", "is a subset", etc. The list is long, and will have to be carefully restricted to connection kinds that improve and foster the CPS process undertaken by the user.


\\subsubsection{Design a simple yet powerful user interface}

We shall create a user interface that allows for remote and in-house collaboration on brainstorming projects, providing the user with a smooth and enjoyable experience.

\\subsubsection{Demonstrate the importance of \\emph{connecting the dots}}

We believe it is crucial to incorporate the modern notion of creativity and put in light the value of connecting ideas - as opposed to simply generating them. By making our final product polished enough, we hope to bring the concept of combinatorial creativity to a wider audience; hence breaking the conservative mindset around the definition of creativity, and influencing current and future digital CPS tool creators to take advantage of it when developing such applications.







\\subsubsection{Creativity, a Classic Definition}


The concept of creativity consists of the ability to generate new ideas and solutions. It is closely intertwined with concepts of innovation and change, and is therefore pervasive in the business sector and economic market. Indeed, due to the phenomenon of globalisation, and its impact on the labour market, competitiveness has increased strikingly between companies resulting in the conception of creativity as a business tool to produce new and alternative solutions to problems \\cite{why-creativity}. Thus, creativity has been implemented as an efficient way to solve problems. Creative solutions provide individuals with flexibility, which in turn enables a higher degree of adaptation and coping to new situations and problems \\cite{101-activities}. But what makes an idea \\textbf{creative}? Boden states that a creative idea is necessarily new, surprising and valuable, and involves three dimensions of the human intelligence: the cognitive, motivational and emotional dimensions \\cite{boden}. \\\\

Margaret Boden considers creativity to be a key feature to human intelligence, and identifies three types of creativity, namely \\emph{combinational creativity}, \\emph{exploratory creativity}, and \\emph{transformational creativity}. The first type refers to the innovative combination of ideas that are already known, ideas that share a common structure. The second relates to the process of exploring structured concepts as a way to produce new ideas. The last one encompasses the emergence of new structures as a result of changes implemented in certain dimensions of the space. She also argues that anyone can be creative, for it is rooted in everyday human abilities \\cite{boden}. \\\\

However, there is no clear-cut definition of creativity. It is a concept that changes according to the context in which it is used, and is influenced by cultural and personal factors. Creativity as understood in arts might differ from the concept used in business marketing strategy, which comes hand in hand with the ideas of innovation and change. \\\\

Because of the rising importance of innovation and renewal in contemporary societies, creativity tends to be regarded as an essential skill on the labour market, and some employers have developed training and techniques to unleash their employees’ creativity; techniques include both individual and in-group exercises such as brainstorming and mind mapping.



Brainstorming is a creative problem-solving concept, originally developed by Alex F. Osborn, an executive at the BBDO advertising agency, and published in his book, \\emph{Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem-Solving} \\cite{osborn}. \\\\

Osborn invented the process of \\emph{organized ideation} in response to the need for groups to develop creative ideas together. In the sense that they were using the brain to storm a given problem, early participants referred to the experience as \\emph{brainstorm sessions} – from which the word \\textbf{brainstorming}, originates. \\\\

The concept is now widely used across firms and organizations to tackle problems creatively, and generate numerous new ideas by spontaneous, unrestrained participation. The main aim and benefit expected from brainstorming sessions are that a \\emph{greater} number of \\emph{richer} ideas are produced in \\emph{less} time than they would be in a traditional meeting or conference. \\\\

In his book, Osborn states four basic rules that should be followed in order to conduct an efficient and productive brainstorming session:


\\item \\textbf{Separation of Idea Generation and Evaluation}

During a session, there should be no discussion, analysis or criticism: judgment should be deferred and segregated from the act of generating ideas, and evaluation should take place at later times, in presence of the same group members.

This rule aims to prevent creativity from being stifled, and therefore, being increased; which directly relates to the second rule established by Alex Osborn regarding the fluency and flexibility of the ideas generated.

\\item \\textbf{Fluency and Flexibility} \\\\

One way of quantifying the levels of creativity of the production of ideas is by measuring \\emph{fluency} (how many ideas are generated per unit of time) and \\emph{flexibility} (how different those ideas are from what most people think up). The greater the fluency and flexibility of thinking are, the better and more innovative the generated ideas are supposed to be. While aiming for those two parameters to be high, it is important that all participants keep focused on the specific topic or problem.

\\item \\textbf{Free Wheeling and Association} \\\\

The wilder the ideas are, the better; participants should feel free and be encouraged to voice any idea they can think of, regardless of the feasibility, practicality or eccentricity of it. This rule originates from the fact that it is easier to tone down an unconventional solution than it is to think up new and creative possibilities. Moreover, the technique of free association being more powerful when applied in groups than by individuals, all ideas should be welcome and - following the first rule stated above - there should be no negative reinforcement.

\\item \\textbf{Piggybacking} \\\\

Building on others' ideas, \\emph{piggybacking}, should be stimulated as part of the brainstorming session, so that proposed ideas can be improved, adapted or combined with new ones. This allows the process of hitchhiking to occur naturally: ideas generate further ideas.


Although brainstorming, as defined by Osborn, has become increasingly popular incredibility quickly, it faces some criticism and limitations. \\\\

\\textbf{Fluency}\\hspace{.5cm} Michael Diehl and Wolfgang Stroebe \\cite{diehl-stroebe} studied the effect of free riding on idea generation in brainstorming sessions and reported that \\emph{"the feeling that their contributions are dispensable is likely to arise among group members because with several people contributing ideas, each particular idea adds very little to the group product"}. In other words, their findings demonstrated that participants of brainstorming groups are \\emph{less likely to engage} actively and confidently in the meeting if they perceive group output as less identifiable and their ideas as dispensable, playing against the fluency principle required by the second rule.\\\\

\\textbf{Free association and Judgment}\\hspace{.5cm} Another problem with brainstorming comes from the third rule defined by Osborne regarding free wheeling and free association. Indeed, a long-established issue with free association is that human are not great at it; something two psychologists, David Palermo and James Jenkins, studied by building up a huge table of word associations. More than forty-five hundred subjects were asked to reflect on a particular word and reveal the first thoughts that came to their mind about that particular word.

The experiment showed that the vast majority of the word associations collected were fully predictable: when people are asked to freely associate the word "blue", the most likely first answer is "green", followed by "sky" and "ocean". Psychology professor Charlan Nemeth and al. (2003) demolished the concept of free-association, stating that "the most creative people are still going to come up with many mundane associations. If you want to be original, then you have to get past this first layer of predictability" \\cite{nemeth}, for which Nemeth affirms, judgment is an essential ingredient – hence breaking in turn the first rule defined by Osborn. \\\\

Lastly, the process of brainstorming, by nature, will lead to the generation of a set of non-connected ideas. This raises a problem in the sense that the produced set will lack critical data about the wiring and connectivity of ideas. Some of those ideas may have been generated building on top of others, or by combining two or more together. However, this missing information is that which allows and provides the necessary key to understand the idea as a whole, in its environment, and not as an atomic concept.


\\subsubsection{Mind Mapping}


As mentioned above, creativity is a useful and efficient tool when it comes to problem solving. One technique through which creativity can be improved is the process of mind mapping. Mind maps are visual representations of concepts, ideas, tasks and projects, which shed some light on the diverse relationships between actors and objects. Drawing on Rhombus’ theory of divergence-convergence, Liu et al. \\cite{liu} argues that mind maps are very effective for problem solving, because they create an engaging material, which learners and employers can change, transform, and critically analyse. Expressing divergent thinking in a visual and clear manner by using words and graphics is the essential feature of the mind map method. \\\\

Mind maps represent powerful tools for generating ideas, and they have many advantages. Indeed, mind mapping provides, among many, the following benefits \\cite{to-efficiency}\\cite{brinkmann}\\cite{borchardt}:


\\item Help with decision making

\\item Enhancing and fostering creativity, memory and cooperation

\\item Improving clarity and quality of thinking

\\item Enabling emergence of new concepts

\\item Summarising ideas


In addition, mind mapping appears as a suitable technique for problem solving, for it is easy to make. The creation of mind maps requires no prior specific knowledge or skills; the only required materials are pens and pieces of paper, or any surface on which individuals can write down. The idea is to start with a key statement, the anchor of the project, and to gradually connect it with related concepts and ideas \\cite{to-efficiency}. \\\\

In marketing for example, Eriksson and Hauer \\cite{eriksson-hauer} identify four steps in the process of problem solving using mind maps. They present four types of mind maps: diagnostic map, opportunity map, strategic map and finally CRM map. Each map has a specific function and contributes to the generation of new and creative solutions. The diagnostic map refers to the first phase of the process, which is the pure description of the problems, its contexts, limitations and key characteristics. The second map is used to explore and discover the different alternatives that are available to solve the problem. The third one relates to the stage of discussion and assessment of the solutions generated beforehand; the idea is to evaluate the viability of each solution in the environment in which it will be implemented. Finally, CRM map presents the different tasks and actions that need to be undertaken in order to put on track the decision that has been chosen in stage 3 of the process.\\\\

Nevertheless, there are some limitations to the technique of mind mapping. Because mind maps are usually a technique that is used individually, the fact that people might have different approaches to one concept, or different associations and understanding of an idea makes it difficult to share the knowledge and development of the final decision with other people. Moreover, mind maps usually lack some explanation into the nature of the relation between the ideas because clarity is favoured \\cite{brinkmann}. Finally and more importantly, mind mapping, as it produces an \\emph{acyclic} connected \\emph{graph} of concepts - and therefore forbids any loop in the network - can never lead to the cross pollination of ideas.

\\subsubsection{Creativity, Redefined}

In the recent years, the original definition of creativity has been challenged, framed and improved. Psychologists, entrepreneurs, authors and many others seem to all converge towards a newly redefined notion of creativity,  expressed by \\emph{BrainPicks} website founder, Maria Popova, as a combinatorial power \\cite{creative-mornings-popova}. \\\\

The conventional meaning of creativity does not suffice to characterise the concept anymore: it is not \\emph{just} generating ideas, but building blocks from existing ones - similarly to a \\textsc{lego} game \\cite{creative-mornings-popova}. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs summarised this idea with a simple but effective five-word quote: \\emph{"Creativity is just connecting things"} \\cite{jobs}, to which he added that a person's ability to connect their experiences allows the synthesis of new knowledge. This statement has since then been put into drawing by cartoonist Hugh MacLeod \\cite{macleod}:




 \\caption{\\emph{Information vs Knowledge - Hugh MacLeod (2014)}.}



In his book "The Art of Scientific Investigation" (1957) \\cite{beveridge}, Prof. W. Beveridge was already stressing the concept of combinatorial power, arguing that originality consists of associating ideas together, whose wiring has not been previously suspected. \\\\

The metamorphosis of the interpretation of creativity in the past few years has been nurtured by the belief that \\emph{"In order (...) to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new ideas"} \\cite{creative-mornings-popova}. \\\\

This modern idea of combinatorial creativity, as opposed to the more traditional definition and interpretation of creativity, will be a driving concept of this project.

\\subsection{Technical Background}



WordNet is an open source project developed and maintained by Princeton University. Built by students and language researchers, it consists of a large lexical database of English, providing rich information about words, their senses, and the \\emph{connection(s)} and relation to each other.

The last major release is an impressive 10 years old, back when version 3.0 was released in December 2006. The Windows version is even older, released in March 2005. The long period between releases, and the extreme age of the current version, mean that WordNet can and should be considered a \\emph{static} data set at this time.




  In WordNet, words are called \\emph{lemmas}, and can belong to the following lexical categories: nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs.

Lemmas are grouped into structures called \\emph{synsets}, which represent distinct sets of cognitive synonyms of a same concept. However, those synonyms are rarely fully substitutable, meaning that they cannot be used interchangeably in any kind of context. A lemma may have multiple forms or senses, and therefore appear in several synsets.







 \\caption{WordNet Synset.}








 \\caption{Synonyms in WordNet.}




Using conceptual semantics and lexical relations, WordNet's 117,000 synsets are connected to each other by \\emph{a small number of conceptual relations}\\footnote{WordNet - About, \\texttt{}, \\textsc{Accessed} Jan. \\nth{25}, 2016}, forming a complex and rich wired network. Synsets also feature a brief definition of the concept they represent - called the \\emph{gloss}, as well as a few short sentences describing the use of words composing that particular synset. One particular, and certainly interesting aspect of WordNet for our project is that the network semantic relations among words and senses are \\emph{labelled} according to their kind. WordNet provides an incredibly rich variety of relation types - more than forty \\cite{wordnet-miller}.




 \\caption{WordNet network structure.}




\\textbf{Super-subordinate relation}\\hspace{.5cm}

The most frequently encountered relation between synsets in WordNet is the \\emph{super-subordinate} relation - also called \\emph{hyperonymy}- \\emph{hyponymy} or \\emph{ISA relation} - and represents the specialisation from a concept to another. An instance of that relation would be: "fruit" $\\leftrightarrow$ "apple". Additionally, the database makes a distinction between \\emph{type} words and \\emph{instance} words - instances are always leaf nodes in their synset. To illustrate the difference between a type and an instance we choose the following example: while an apple is a \\emph{type} of fruit, a Pink Lady is an instance of an apple, which itself is a type of fruit. This also demonstrates that the relation is \\emph{transitive}. This super-subordinate relation therefore gives four kinds of uni-directed connections that can be expected between synsets:


\\item \\underline{Hypernym}: a sense with a broad meaning, that more specific senses fall under. For instance, "fruit" $\\rightarrow$ "apple".

\\item \\underline{Instance hypernym}: a real-world instance of an hypernym. For instance, "apple" $\\rightarrow$ "Royal Gala".

\\item \\underline{Hyponym}: a sense of more specific meaning than a general or superordinate  term applicable to it. For instance, "spoon" $\\rightarrow$ "cutlery".

\\item \\underline{Instance hyponym}: a real-world instance of an hyponym. For instance, "Ferrari" $\\rightarrow$ "car".


\\textbf{Meronymy relation}\\hspace{.5cm}

The \\emph{meronymy} relation is a \\emph{part-whole} relation that holds between synsets, like chair and seat and leg, for instance. This means that if a chair has legs, then an armchair will have legs too. Those characteristics are only \\emph{inherited} in the \\emph{same direction} as the super-subordinate direction, i.e. they are not inherited "upward" in the network. The complex meronymy relation allows for six distinct types of uni-directed connection between synsets:


\\item \\underline{Member meronym}: a concept that is a member of another one. For instance, "car" $\\rightarrow$ "traffic jam".

\\item \\underline{Part meronym}: a concept that is part, and inherits from another concept. For instance, "tire" $\\rightarrow$ "car".

\\item \\underline{Substance (stuff) meronym}: a concept representing a substance that makes up another concept. For instance, "rubber" $\\rightarrow$ "tire".

\\item \\underline{Member holonym}: a concept of a whole of which a meronym is a member. For instance, "traffic jam" $\\rightarrow$ "car".

\\item \\underline{Part holonym}: a concept of a whole of which a meronym is a part. For instance, "car" $\\rightarrow$ "tire".

\\item \\underline{Substance (stuff) holonym}: a concept of a whole that is made of substance meronyms. For instance, "window" $\\rightarrow$ "glass".


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