Archimedes might be said to have run buck-naked the street yelling Eureka after inspiration struck him hard in the middle of bath-time, but not all creative solutions need be so in your face. Steve Jobs, for one, had a very simple view of creativity, saying, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”
Research, however, shows this to be not entirely true. More extreme studies have tried to zap the brain in order to give creative functions a shot in the arm. Others, such as psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, states that openness to new experience is the strongest personality trait for predicting creative achievement. So next time, you want to draw experiences from many different boxes when thinking outside the box.
Assuming you’re not quite open to the idea of getting your head zapped, how then can you foster creativity? Adam Jorlen, when talking of this, broke down creativity into 5 specific types
- Divergent Thinking, the exploration of many solutions
- Lateral Thinking, the ability to come up with out-of-the-box, innovative ideas
- Aesthetic Thinking, the knowledge to create art and beauty
- Systems Thinking, the skill to synthesize several elements into one
- Inspirational Thinking, the God-sent ideas that seem to pop into your head from no where
Let’s figure out how to make this work for you.
Use it, or lose it
Like any muscle group, you need to constantly exercise the creative parts of your brain, or risk losing it. Adam Green, Founder and President of The Society for the Neuroscience of Creativity says that thinking more creatively can stimulate that part of your brain, leading to repeatable results. Green turns to an old neuroscience axiom that says, “cells that fire together, wire together.” Ergo, the more you use those grey cells, the stronger the connection, the more regular your creative bursts.
Learn new things
Research suggests that broadening your knowledge by way of unfamiliar topics fosters new ideas and divergent thinking that is born from this broadening of horizons. Jobs himself attributed a lot of his success to his typography classes in college, a course many not see as the pathway to success. But new ideas can often germinate from the mingling of old and new learnings and experiences, and life-long learning isn’t even that difficult anymore. Turn to Coursera, or Khan Academy, or any of a slew of other online courses to bolster everything you already know.
List down ideas big and small
Some of Paul McCartney’s songs, Pixar’s biggest films, MRI Machines, and the Ethernet, to name a few; what do all these disparate things have in common? Well, for one, they were all penned down on a napkin to begin with.
There’s no such thing as a bad idea, so list down all the ideas you get, no matter how ‘out there’ they might seem. There will always be time to hold them up to closer scrutiny later, so capture all of your ideas on whatever is handy; a smartphone, a tablet, a book, a piece of newspaper. Who knows, it might be your next big hit.
Challenge yourself every now and again; it could be a brilliant way to come up with ingenious solutions to prevalent issues. Think of all the times you pursued lateral thinking and devised an ingenious solution since the known solution wouldn’t cut it. This kind of lateral thinking is exactly what today’s workplaces need; businesses have high overhead costs, or getting the attention of buyers is difficult when they’re all cooped up at home, or how to foster collaboration between remote teams. All of these, and much more, call for lateral thinking and can be quite successful as they upend convention and find new ways to succeed.