Creativity: Condom conundrum

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LAST YEAR, an elderly gentleman from north London, was convicted of stealing a large quantity of condoms from a shop. During the trial, the question arose of his intended use for the stolen objects and it transpired that he stretched them around the bottoms of the flowerpots in his window boxes as a moisture-retaining device.

Far from giving the man a criminal record, this act should have earned him an award for creativity for, as any management psychologist will tell you, the capacity to find unusual uses for commonplace objects is an exceptionally good guide to an individual's creative potential.

Candidates for jobs at GCHQ used to be asked to fill in a questionnaire in which they were asked for unusual uses for four specified objects. Two of the items were a roll of old bunting and a stuffed owl. The candidate who proposed using the roll of old bunting to further stuff the stuffed owl was offered a job on the spot.

Another object frequently included in such creativity tests is a paper clip. At first sight, this might seem a curious choice, since clipping paper is only the third most common use for a paper clip.

A detailed research study in the 1960s clearly identified stress- reducing (by fiddling and bending it to destruction) as the primary use, closely followed by what was described as 'cleansing of bodily parts'. That piece of research did not, however, find any paper clips used as recommended by one creativity test respondent: as a branding iron for mice.

Another response cherished by purveyors of creativity tests was a use proposed for a roll of linoleum: as a contraceptive device for elephants.

What decades of research on these lines has definitely established is that there is no shortage of brilliant ideas held together by the paper clips of our creative intellect, rolled up in the linoleum of our minds, and slotted, knife-like, into the crevices of our brains.

We have therefore decided to instigate a weekly Creativity column in which readers may expound their ideas, practical or imaginative, for condoms on flowerpots, lino on herds of elephants, and branded pet mice.

Each week, we shall nominate an object to serve as the Thing of the Week. A selection of the most striking, unusual, bizarre or even actually useful suggestions for using it, will be published the following week.

The object of this week is an odd sock. If you have any ideas for what to do with an odd sock, please send them to Creativity, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB. And anyone who has ever used a washing machine or visited a launderette will be forever grateful.