Do you ever feel your creativity is in short supply? Are you faced with a challenge or problem at work with no foreseeable solution? Are your creative batteries running out of juice? It happens. But, here are some proven techniques that can revitalize your creative spirit and help you generate a plethora of new ideas. Add them to your everyday schedule and watch what happens.
Find the Connections
Sometimes, when we are working on a challenging problem, we become locked into old habits. As a result, it becomes more difficult to discover solutions because our mind is trapped in familiar ways of thinking. Here’s one way to break free. Ask a friend or colleague to give you a completely random set of eight words, words that come from several diverse fields and that apparently have no connection to each other. Then, try to divide the words into as many different categories or classifications as you can (each category must have a minimum of two items). For example, I recently asked my wife to give me eight random words. She shared: valance, trip, book, snow, sheets, rug, tired, painting. Here are just a few categories I came up with: things in the living room, things with the letter e, white things, things viewed vertically, things viewed horizontally, things manufactured in a foreign country, and things that go in a washing machine.
Take this idea one step further and select eight random words from a project, document, or challenge you are currently working on. See what kinds of different groupings you can put them in. You will discover that you will be able to see that project with an entirely new set of eyes. You’ll ask questions and see connections that were previously invisible. Best of all, you’ll create novel arrangements that may offer some truly unique solutions.
Want to get really creative? Get bored. I frequently generate some of my best ideas when I’m doing something really boring or inane: Taking clean clothes out of the dryer and folding them. Walking through an antique store with my wife. Any activity that involves a vacuum cleaner. Watching a Victorian romance via the BBC. Painting the bedroom (again). Boredom frees up your mind. It can now pursue other things and take off in other directions.
According to Ozan Varol in his book Think Like a Rocket Scientist, “Without boredom, our creativity muscles begin to atrophy from disuse.” He goes on to advocate for the power of boredom to give us “time to think—if we don’t pause, understand, and deliberate—we can’t find wisdom or form new ideas.” In support of that idea, two British researchers poured through several years of research and came up with a startling conclusion; that is, that boredom should “be recognized as a legitimate human emotion that can be central to learning and creativity.” By getting lost and mindlessly wandering, we are establishing a seedbed for innovative queries and opening up the door to creative possibilities. Watch carefully, you never know what might walk in.
Ask Divergent Questions
The divergent questions task is a creative strategy you can use to recharge your creative batteries very quickly. Prepare a list of “question stems” like those below, each one written on a separate index card. Keep the cards in a recipe box on your desk. When you’ve been to the mental well too many times and need to charge up your mind, pull a random card from the deck and fill in the blanks. The result is a lot of great new ideas.
Here’s a list to get you started:
- List all the words to describe __________.
- What are all the possible solutions for __________?
- List as many __________ as you can think of.
- What would __________ mean from the standpoint of __________?
- How would a __________ describe __________?
- How would you feel if you were __________?
- What would __________ do?
- You are a __________. Describe your feelings.
- How is __________ like __________?
- I only know about __________. Explain __________ to __________.
- What ideas from __________ are like __________?
- What __________ is most like a __________?
- What would happen if there were more __________?
- Suppose __________ happened, what would be the results?
- Imagine if __________ and __________ were reversed. What would happen?
- How would __________ view this?
Creative thinkers often alter or revise the way they typically approach a workplace problem or consider a creative challenge. New thinking strategies and techniques offer unique opportunities that can produce previously unknown solutions or alternate outcomes. Same old, same old thinking is often counterproductive to a creative lifestyle. Think anew; think differently.