Vera F. Birkenbihl developed ABC lists. This creativity and thinking tool can be applied to all areas of life. Decades ago, Elizabeth Loftus found out that people remember information by listing them according to their first letter. This is the reason, why it is easier for us to recall information by using ABC lists.
To create an ABC list, you should start off writing down the topic, called the problem. You can do that by hand on a sheet of paper or electronically. Then you need to write down the alphabet vertically. There should be enough space to the right of the letters. Now you can start creating your list. Take about 2 – 3 minutes and write down everything that comes to your mind. You only need to comply with 3 simple rules.
The 3 rules
1. Run over the alphabet – up and down!
You do not have to start at the top and go down all the way. In fact, this is counter-productive. Wherever some association pops up, write it down and move on. By moving up and down all the time, more associations, ideas, formulations etc. will come up. Thereby, unconscious knowledge is used. This is knowledge that you are not aware of! Repeat the process of moving up and down several times. It is recommended to set a timer – 3 minutes maximum!
2. Gaps and multiple entries are allowed
No more pressure! When using ABC lists you do not have to fill all blanks. If more than one association pops up – great! Write down as many as you want. If there are many gaps at the end of session one, you might fill them in the next sessions.
3. Literal arabesques, a sophisticated technique
This is a technique for people who are already familiar with ABC lists. It ensures more productivity.
The ABC technique for creative work
This technique helps you to be ever more creative. By filling in the blanks of an ABC list, you collect associations, which are “old connections” of our network of knowledge. If you do not now anything about a topic, you have a gap in the network. If you know a little bit about a topic, there might be a few “gnats”. If you know a lot about a topic, there are “clouds of gnats”. Associations are therefore generated by the connection of these gnats. This implies that we can only associate things we already know.
Real creativity is described by the connection of two or more knowledge domains (seemingly unconnected) that results in a new development. Vera F. Birkenbihl also described it as “bi-sociative” creativity.
Consultation of ABC lists
To consult ABC lists mean to “make sense of it”. You can consult one list you have created, more lists you have created, or lists somebody else has created. First, you should summarize double entries. You could even allocate weighting for all entries. Different associations, which actually state something similar, can be categorized. Thereby, you create a network of knowledge, which can help you and other persons to make decisions. Your lists can be the basis for new ideas that finally ease your life.