Are you under the impression that only people like artists, writers, and musicians are true “creative thinkers”? In fact, nothing could be further from the truth! Given the chance, anyone can learn to think outside the lines and come up with innovative solutions, bold new ideas, and creative responses to challenging problems. All people are creative. It’s as simple as that. In fact, your own creativity is lurking inside you, just waiting for a chance to take wing!
You may remember the true story of an employee with 3M who created a glue that wouldn’t stick very well. When he put the glue between two pieces of paper, one was easily lifted off the other. The employee was a member of his church choir and used the “useless” pieces of paper to mark the pages in his hymnal. Suddenly inspiration struck, and the glue that wouldn’t stick was used to create Post-it Notes, 3M’s multimillion-dollar product. Now that’s a prime example of creative thinking in action!
How do you tap into your own personal creative wellspring? The key lies in developing your thinking skills to make new and useful connections — and actually learning to derive creative solutions from information you already know. When you train yourself to open your eyes to the unusual and unexpected … allow yourself to approach problems from the “inside out” … and listen to what your subconscious is telling you, you’re well on your way to becoming a true creative thinker.
According to Jim Wheeler, author of National Press Publications’ The Power of Innovative Thinking, “When you do what you’ve always done, you get the same old results. And when you accept only logical ideas or solutions, you never stretch your imagination. Ridiculous ideas are outside the business-as-usual rut and lead you to think of solutions that are unique or different.”
The key to creativity is to think along new lines, welcome off-the-wall ideas, and approach problems in a way you’ve never done before. Here are some effective ways to set the gears in motion and start those brilliant ideas flowing:
Tools and Techniques to Jumpstart Your Brain
You’re probably familiar with brainstorming. This technique usually involves a group of people who produce as many ideas as possible in a given amount of time. In brainstorming, anything goes — no idea is too silly, too complicated, too expensive, or too crazy to throw into the mix. As people hear others’ ideas, their own creative juices start flowing, and the result is a plethora of options from which to choose.
Idea writing is another variation of brainstorming, and many people feel more comfortable using this technique. A group of people passes around a paper, and each person writes down three possible solutions and then hands the paper off to someone else. Idea writing can be done via e-mail as well — great for situations where it is hard to get the entire group together at any given time.
Forcing New Connections
This exercise allows you to connect seemingly unrelated information to come up with new and interesting solutions. It definitely takes some practice, but you’ll be astounded at how quickly you come up with scores of super new ideas and problem solvers! To force new connections, concentrate on your problem, but look at an unrelated object. Write down the features of that object, and then think about how the features of the object can be connected to your problem.
Visual and Audio “Mind Soothers”
Pictures and music help you take a mental break from the problem you are working on, and let your subconscious take over so that creative ideas can percolate. When you listen to music or look at pictures (National Geographic or Discover are good visual resources), your mind is free to wander, and your creativity will flow naturally when the time is right. Unfortunately, the more you try to be creative, the less creative you will be! Make sure you use the visual or audio mind relaxers for at least 5 to 15 minutes at a time. When you turn your attention back to the problem, often you will see a new solution immediately!
Practice makes perfect …
As you can see, creativity is largely a matter of opening your mind to a variety of new stimuli. Before you use the above creative-thinking skills in workplace situations, make sure you practice them frequently in other parts of your life. You might use brainstorming to plan a vacation, idea writing to organize a family reunion, or force new connections and come up with a better way to manage your personal budget. When you practice your creative skills in low-risk situations, you will be fully prepared to put them to use at work, where the stakes are higher!