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The Conceptual Mind | David Jackson's Biz The Conceptual Mind

56b03b11christeneEric Christen is a multi-faceted Award-winning British and American Designer, Artist, Inventor and Author who has lived in the UK, the USA, Japan, the Greek Islands and SE Asia. He has had his own Design Business for 6 years in San Francisco and has lectured to MA Design students on topics from as practical as Materials and Technical Drawing to academic such as Critical and Creative Thinking.  Click Here for Profile Information


The conceptual mind is a specific kind of mind and has the special intellectual capacity to operate mostly in terms of ideas, concepts, solutions and visions. This is loosely described as a fertile imagination by those who do not understand or appreciate the value of such minds. It is far more than that and not something you can learn to acquire at school or university. It is inherent – a rare gift or talent – that considerably exceeds academic credentials such as PHDs. The conceptual mind can be simultaneously likened to both a cosmic fisherman that has a penchant for finding the most exciting fish, and a universal radio receiver that tunes into the secret, wonderful and magical worlds beyond normal consciousness. It is usually found in the matchless worlds of art and science.

The words; idea, concept, imagination, innovation, creativity, invention, inspiration and vision, are often seen in promotional brochures from as unlikely sources as banks, insurance companies, business schools and accounting offices to understandable sources such as film, literature, science, technology, art, and design.

In fact, money does not make the world go round – it is ideas – and the masters of ideas are conceptual minds! Money was an idea, and it came about thousands of years after people discovered or created materials and products that were worth trading. In fact, most concrete realities that we take for-granted today, such as aeroplanes, cars, computers, telephones, the pyramids of Egypt or St. Peters cathedral, electricity and gas, plumbing and toilets, pencils and paint, anaesthetics and pain killers, pianos and guitars, hang-gliders and bicycles – all started out as ideas, and became fully-fledged concepts before being prototyped, developed, produced, sold and incorporated into our societies.

Although there are various definitions or explanations about the word idea in the dictionary they are limited, so for the purposes of this essay and as an award-winning creative writer, artist and designer, I will define it from a creative standpoint in the following way:

An idea is an emotionally charged visionary spark or ‘seed’, occurring in or invoked, received or simply registered by the mind, that gives one a glimpse of something intriguingly new, numerous options and directions or perhaps a unique way to solve a problem.

An idea is alive – it is an entity seeking to manifest itself in the material realm. When an idea comes to mind some people dismiss it for various reasons (they are too busy, for example). Others don’t recognise it or see it as useful (not applicable to so-called ‘real life’) or even as potentially valuable (I don’t see how I can make money from this etc.). And then again, some are distracted and forget the idea. An idea has to firstly, be recognised as such (it may be as subtle as a fragrance or as bold as lust), then held in the mind and pursued (involving time travel into possible futures) in an effort to see it more fully or to discover where it might take one, and finally, recorded in some way – more often than not it is jotted down on a piece of paper.


As a seed an idea is actually a condensed cluster of possibilities that may include many ideas or an all-encompassing concept. It is like a mysterious book that has no title but radiates intrigue and beckons you, teases you and dares you to open it! The seed of ideas is invoked by or planted into the open mind by a variety of invisible sources (some say angels), or drifts into the mind like a lost tourist, while it is day-dreaming or contemplating something, or is in some other kind of receptive state (even inebriation). If recognised and gradually prodded and pursued, the idea unravels to reveal its full blossoming treasure – practical or not! A cluster of ideas may be remarkably silly or profoundly revealing and the beginning of best-selling volumes, a brilliant symphony of music or a sublime concept for a trilogy of films. So, never dismiss this orbiting nucleus of emotionally charged energy! Fish it out of your nebulous mind and examine it. It may not be a world shattering idea but then again it might! Whole books or films or cities or technologies or musical compositions often begin with the seed of an idea.


Furthermore, ideas may also come in a night dream (I have seen other worlds) or be inspired by someone or something (many creative are inspired by nature). They may even be discovered by accident as occasionally happens in scientific research. This is when recognition comes into play – the ability to almost immediately understand the potential value of a fleeting dream, discovery or inspiration.

Then there is ‘seeing’ – a 100 people may look at a flower and only one sees its holistic wonder. This seeing is really a kind of insight – seeing into things. These are types of vision and a conceptual mind may see cities, spaceships, a dance, a civic sculpture, a bridge concept, an alien face, a design for a hat or a theatrical stage set in that flower. Vision is the gift of ‘seeing’ much deeper, further or more than the average person. Whichever way ideas arrive, whether invoked or received or noted, they are the sparks that initiate scientific, technological, intellectual and artistic progress in this world. An idea, often combined with need, is always the first step in creating anything in this world.

Having said this there are such things as bad ideas, impractical or pointless ideas. So, clearly the ability to recognise an idea must be tempered by intelligence, morality and responsibility. Einstein once said that science is a double-edged sword, and has been responsible for the world’s greatest ideas (painkillers, anaesthetics, antibiotics, electricity, computers, spaceships and satellites) and worst ideas (atom bombs, missiles, biological and chemical warfare).


Which brings me to the word concept. This word is often interchanged with idea but it is not strictly an idea or even one idea. I define a concept from the creative standpoint in the following way:

A concept is a developed idea, an innovative ‘direction’ or a collection of ideas directed towards a specific goal, which may sometimes be described as the general idea.
As mentioned above, the seed of an idea may be described as a title-less book challenging you to open it, whereas, a concept may be described as a book with a clear title and even chapter headings, waiting for you to write them. On the one hand, one can say that a motorcycle is a concept simply developed from a bicycle or that a pen is a simple concept developed from the use of chalk. On the other hand, a new educational system or film concept may be made up from or include many ideas and be quite complex.


Imagination is, from the creative standpoint, the inherent personal capacity or gift to invoke, receive, visualise or hold in one’s mind a broad variety of often exciting ideas, concepts or possibilities and new ways of looking at something.

Although everyone has imagination and ideas, in fact, they are human characteristics and a significant aspect of daily perception – it is the breadth, degree, quantity and quality of an imagination that distinguishes it from the norm. A gifted conceptual mind can have more interesting, relevant and brilliant ideas than entire nations of people, and continues to have an exceptionally active imagination well into his or her old age!

For example, visionaries like Isaac Asimov (American scientist and writer famous for the ‘I Robot’ and ‘Foundation’ book series), Frank Lloyd Wright (American pioneering architect), Salvador Dali (Spanish surreal artist) and The Beatles (British rock musicians) got better – became more creative, with age, though this was partly tempered by experience.


Innovation is the ability of an individual or group to modify and usually improve an existing concept, system or product.

For example, the Apple computer and smartphone, though original concepts invented by Apple, have undergone many innovations. Every year they are improved, have new designs, features and more advanced applications. These modifications are innovations.

To improve an existing product, for example, the conceptual mind must first fully understand it before the imagination is activated. Then it must focus on alternative
possibilities, many of which it will analyse and reject, and then envision future versions or design directions for the product. This latter means the product must be seen as a concept and the designer tries to imagine where this concept can go and if, indeed, it may be replaced by a better concept. The process is, of course, informed by any technological advances – that is inventions on the scientific front. Conversely, an innovative mind – in this case a designer – may visualise a concept that technology cannot produce (or has not conceived of) so that he or she then helps science to probe and research ways to achieve the new concept. I have such a concept outlined in my Ultimate Homes essay.


Vision, as distinguished from ‘a vision’, is the inherent ability of the visionary mind to understand and recognise a valuable aspect of the present and see where it might go or how it may be developed in the future. It is the talent to see the future possibilities or potential of an exciting current idea, concept, aspect of nature or product.
As such, vision, a mental capacity, is one of the fastest forms of time travel – it exceeds day-to-day living or plain aging – and actually travels into and looks at the future. Conceptual minds thus often see the completed possibilities of an initial idea and drag it into the present, develop it and so help humanity advance faster into the revealed future. A kind of magic! Vision should really be classified as a paranormal ability similar to clairvoyance.

A vision is a kind of revelation and happens to many of us – the sudden understanding of something that had previously been a mystery. It is when the mind sometimes unscrambles itself and sees the total picture or the full pattern or the solution. Imagine that something about the theory of atoms has been puzzling you for a long time, or that a solution to a difficult technical problem has simply been evading you like a sly fox! Then you wake up one morning and while you’re drinking your coffee the answer just enters your mind like the embrace of cool water or a soothing light! “Eureka!” exclaimed one ancient Greek thinker when this happened. As such a vision is sudden clarity, and is also a kind of idea.


A peculiar phenomenon of the human race is that while the vast majority endlessly strive to survive and enrich themselves; ingeniously, greedily, craftily, ruthlessly or otherwise – sometimes described as the rat race – there have always existed rare talented beings that can solve problems, invent better ways to do things, find ways to make life easier, create wonderful art and music or envision and insist on more civilised and peaceful ways of life.

One would think that these creative beings would be welcome in every society, but more often than not they are not recognised. If they are recognised they are initially seen as a threat, as rebels, eccentrics, sorcerers, mad men and even devils! This is because they are always well ahead of their time (Leonardo Da Vinci, for example, was perhaps 500 years ahead of his time) and are feared by the ruling conservative factions, who cling to the past and are generally behind the times. The famous Italian astronomer, Galileo, was considered a devil and consequently murdered by the Spanish Inquisition, a fanatical religious faction. We now know who the real devils were! Unfortunately, idea killers are still amongst us…

Einstein once said that superior minds have always been received with astounding hostility by mediocre minds. Difference, from original thinking to the colour of one’s skin, is still subject to serious prejudice. These exceptional original minds may be offering a better way of life or a new invention or a new form of transport or a new kind of music (when Jazz first appeared in America, by the way, it was considered the devil’s music and was banned). Every one of them would be firstly, a conceptual thinker – a person who naturally invokes, thinks of and/or visualises concepts and ideas. What would the business world have to sell or exchange without the pioneering efforts of the conceptual mind – mostly just the earth’s natural resources such as water, salt, trees and beans…

So what would the world be without brilliant conceptual and visionary minds such as Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tsu, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Copernicus, Galileo, Beethoven, Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Tolstoy, Antonio Gaudi, Luis Pasteur, Bayern, Luis Stevenson, Isambard Brunel, Mahatma Gandhi, Emily Pankhurst, Thomas Edison and Nikolas Tesla, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Pink Floyd, John Lennon, Walt Disney, Norman Foster, Salvador Dali, Terry Pratchett, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, be like?

Simply, a cultural and intellectual desert, devoid of technology, philosophy, culture and art, and everybody surviving and often trapped or enslaved in the small dirty lawless townships of the middle ages, ruled by charlatans, fanatics and despots! A savage existence devoid of any dignity. Not unlike some third-world countries today.

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