Fluency of Ideas

Fluency of Ideas refers to the speed and quantity with which people are able to “make up” answers to questions. Fluency is, in large degree, the ability to rapidly see connections.

A flexible brain is one that rapidly sorts through categories and then quickly chooses the best answers. For example, a football quarterback stands at the line, ball in hand, and rapidly as senses the total field. Sometimes the quarterback throws the ball exactly as prescribed in the play. Other times, the quarterback improvises based on what is happening on the field. The more experienced, the more flexible, and the more “thinkon- his-feet-able” the quarterback is, the more options he can choose from, thereby increasing his overall throwing or passing ability.

The same thing is true for any skill. A speaker who has fifty words to choose from, or fifty examples to make a point, has greater ability to select the appropriate word or story to make a point, than the speaker who only has two examples and a limited vocabulary. A poet who has fifty possibilities for describing a “dark and stormy night” will compose better poetry than one who only thinks “It stormed.”

Creative fluency is related to withholding judgment, because it is difficult to develop new ideas when they are simultaneously being evaluated. Research demonstrates that when people are asked to produce ideas without regard to their quality, they tend to produce more high quality ideas than people who are asked only to produce high quality ideas. In one research study, two groups were asked to come up with as many ideas as they could within a given period of time. One of the groups was then asked to continue generating ideas. Remarkably, the second group did not run out of ideas. They, in fact, produced seventy-eight percent more good ideas than they did in their first period of work. It seems that generating good ideas does not make one run out of “idea juice,” but
in fact stimulates the production of more ideas.

If you want to be able to think of several innovative approaches to problems, you need to develop your ability to rapidly devise numerous choices. This can be done with practice.

WORD FLUENCY is the proficiency to produce large numbers of words sharing the same characteristic; for example, listing as many words that begin with the letter “p.”

IDEATIONAL FLUENCY is the skill to list large numbers of objects falling into a precise category. For example, listing all the objects that come to mind that are red, round, and solid.

ASSOCIATIONAL FLUENCY is the aptitude to produce large numbers of related words, such as listing synonyms.

EXPRESSIONAL FLUENCY is the capacity to rapidly express ideas in complete phrases or sentences. For example, writing a free verse poem praising the sun.