Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Today's topic is a review of Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko. i would highly recommend this book as a part of any TD's collection. The book is about idea generation and problem solving. As these are both useful skills in technical direction, the fit is self explanitory. The book is not meant for a sit-down read a book type of read. It is best used by reading a section, and using ideas from that section, and then moving on. As I have used some of the topics, I have noticed that some work really well for me, and others are best used in certain situations.

One of my favorite ideas from the book is a "mind map". In this exercise you start with a central idea, and then as you think of items that relate to it you write them in. Then you draw lines and connect the thoughts in meaningful ways. Since my mind doesn't always work linearly, but jumps from topic to topic, this way of brainstorming works well for me since it shows the connections, and areas which my thoughts are either weak or strong.

I think another one of the techniques is also well formed for theatre, and with a little tweaking would be even better. it is the SCAMPER technique which is short for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to other uses, Eliminate, or Reverse. Within these categories are series of questions to ask / think about in terms of what you are trying to accomplish. I think this technique works well when thinking of alternative materials or construction methods that would either make an element nicer, easier to build, or cost less.

In essence this book asks that you questions you assumptions, and try to look at things from viewpoints that you wouldn't normally look at. It relates to Chris Argryis' theory of skilled incompetence in that the more skilled we become the less we question certain basic assumptions. Our skill teaches us common ways to solve common problems, and blinds us to solutions that may be more basic than our working assumptions. While certainly skill is important, and safety is our priority, it is helpful sometimes to think about what best serves a show as opposed to common process in the shop. The best example I have of this is that even as something as basic as platform legging has alot of alternatives. For instance (even ruling out the differences casters make on these decisions) there are compression legs, regular legs, studwalls, posts, joist hangers, and other alternatives that are all viable options depending on the object you are building, your labor situation, your budget and your other resources. On the other hand, a TD's job is complex enough that every decision would be weighted down by hours of deliberation. The choice is, as always in theatre, dependant on the situation.

Nevertheless, for any project where immediate ideas are needed, this book can guide you through a numerous amount of methods for idea generation that will help you come up with a solution. To me this book speaks to the heart of part of what being a TD is all about and is exciting and fun to read and experiment with.

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