For many composers improvising at the piano provides the spark that ignites their creativity.
Firstly, they will improvise to identify promising ideas.
Next, and this is important, they will continue to improvise. They will play with the ideas in various ways: placing and replacing them, linking them, combining them, separating them, stretching them, shortening them, augmenting them, decorating them, speeding them up, slowing them down, enriching them and stripping them.
They will subject their ideas to all sorts of weird, wonderful and exciting treatments. They will enjoy this process; they will do it for some considerable time.
Then, once they have exhausted all the possibilities they can think of (and probably themselves), they will, quite possibly after a short break (or in some cases even after a nap), begin to compose.
They will turn from the piano toward the manuscript (or computer screen) and begin the structured, logical, iterative process of selecting and refining the ideas and approaches they are going to use, and then writing them down for others to play.
The above process provides an important lesson for any of us involved in creative problem solving: it emphasises the importance of 'playtime'.
Many brainstorming sessions are very effective at generating a great many ideas; with a little thought and care, this is not difficult to achieve. Quite commonly, however, they fail to acknowledge the importance of playing with ideas before evaluating, selecting and implementing them. Perhaps this is because the concepts of play and work do not sit easily together within the 'time is money' cultures of many organisations and businesses.
But playing with ideas, piling them together, chopping and changing them and throwing them into different contexts, just for the hell of it and to see what happens, is not just about wasting time and having a bit of fun.
Making time for playtime adds great value to the creative problem solving process by enriching the quality of ideas and providing additional options for how they can be used and presented. In fact, encouraging playtime with ideas can make the difference between effective and ineffective creative problem solving.
So, the next time you are creative problem solving make time for playtime. Once you have generated your ideas play with them for a while: combine them in different and unexpected ways; add new facets to them; take things away from them; make different assumptions about them; use them for different things; put them into different situations; even place them within unbelievable, fantastic scenarios (or even boring ones); and see what develops.
Above all have fun with your ideas; try things out for the hell of it, just to see what happens. It may prove much more useful than you expect.