In a TED talk on creative confidence, David Kelley, founder of IDEOand professor at Stanford, warns us against dividing people into one oftwo categories: the creatives or non-creatives. All human beings havecreative abilities, so we should all start thinking of ourselves ascreative.
Unlike David Kelley I’m no expert on creativity. Yet I do believewe’re all creative in one sense or another. I also suspect thatcreativity often surfaces when we’re faced with a problem. Searching for answers to specific problems and questions can be used effectively toactivate creative processes.
Apart from going for a walk, working out, brainstorming and discussing, what other activities might light that creative spark?
1. Waiting for that Eureka Moment?
Don’t. It probably won’t come. Or when it does come, you’ve already putin a lot of hard work. The challenge when facing problems, and one ofthe great myths and misconceptions about creativity and innovation, isthe notion that the Eureka Moment or the one perfect idea presentsitself as an unexpected revelation.
It may seem that they appear from nowhere, but in reality ideas orsolutions form part of a string of events. This means that the workyou’ve done, the thoughts you’ve been thinking and the ideas you’ve been throwing around (however ridiculous they may have been) are importantpieces of the puzzle.
The road to successful and productive problem solving, then, is notto wait for the perfect idea. Get started, throw those half good ideasaround, bury yourself in the subject matter and ask loads of questions.Now the ball starts rolling.
2. Look to fiction and play the role of the omniscient narrator
Books are a great source for ideas about creative problem solving.Although all fiction enables us to be immersed in a different world,fictional or narrative books and the written word have the advantage ofletting the reader in on the inner life of another individual. Havingaccess to the myriad of ways in which people, fictitious or not, look at the world and actually think is a great advantage.
The next time you’re stuck, try out the role of a third-personnarrator and latch onto the inner world and perspective of fictionalcharacters. And it doesn’t just have to be the protagonist. Tryaccessing the thought process of your audience, your nemesis or friend.How would a person completely different from you go about to solve thetask you are struggling with? How does she or he think and feel aboutit?
Even if you’re not a big reader, I’d encourage you to give this a go. Ideas about how one situation becomes another when the perspectiveshifts are readily available in much literature – from Virginia Woolf to Jonathan Franzen. In a hurry? Ambrose Pierce’s “An Occurrence at OwlCreek Bridge” or Woolf’s “Solids Objects” are both short stories wherethe internal experience is in stark contrast to the external reality. Or pick up any other story where the narrator gives the reader a glimpseinto the way in which people’s minds work.
3. Embrace the mundane
This is good old advice, but as it still does some magic, it won’t hurtto repeat it. When looking for answers to a question or problem,housework or boring chores can actually give you more than a clear mindfrom the task at hand. Stay with me please. Doing the dishes, cleaningthe house, mowing the lawn (for those who’ve got one) or painting thepicket fence (again, for those who’ve got one) are all tasks that don’tdemand the most complex thought processes. No, seriously, stay with me!
Although focusing on a mundane task does require some attention,keeping your thoughts slightly occupied means the problem you’re tryingto solve can be left humming in the back of your mind. Your mind isallowed to wander and in this process your thoughts may take anunexpected turn or go down an alternative path. Before you know it, your mind has some new connections and ideas for you. A clean house and aninspirational idea – it’s a winning situation all around.
4. Go have fun and let someone else do the job
Of course, you don’t necessarily have to do boring stuff to let yoursubconscious connect the dots for you. Having fun is another great wayof occupying the consciousness, leaving the subconscious alone to solvethe puzzle you’re struggling with. Again, it’s all about attention andfocus. Sometimes thinking too hard about a problem gets in the way ofsolving it. At such times, thinking about something else for a couple of hours will probably be way more productive than keeping at it.
One of my most important ‘aha’ moments happened while I was watching one of the Transformers films. Having struggled for days with a serious logical flaw in my work, Idecided to go to the cinema instead of going around in circles. Whilethe quality of the later Transformers films may be up for discussion,losing myself in Autobots and Decepticons fighting really did the trickfor my creativity.
5. Spend some quality time with your senses
Which of your senses is the most important? Most would probably saysight as the sense that’s the most important to them. Even so, consideryour other senses. They play a vital part to everyday life and the wayyou perceive the world. Listen to music, taste your food, wine orchocolate and every once in a while stop what you’re doing to smell theflowers.
Going back to childhood games that stimulate the senses may forge new connections in your brain and help you see things differently. Trybeing blindfolded and taste food you can’t see, feel an object you can’t identify through sight or listen to a TV programme. Ask yourself whatyou’re eating, holding or hearing and use your imagination to guess what you’re experiencing. Monitor your thought process and take note of theways your perception is different.
Incorporate these techniques into your creative process. Don’t justwait around for the perfect idea to come and don’t kick yourself bydeeming an idea to be wrong. Whenever a project is started, nobody knows the results or the final conclusion in advance. There is no one perfect formula to get you through the creative process. Detours, seeminglydead-ends or off topic activities may also lead to the Eureka Moment orto discoveries that are part of the solution to the mystery.
Most importantly, the problem you’re facing is an opportunity foryour creativity, not an obstacle. Besides, isn’t it rewarding to thinkof a trip to the cinema or getting a clean house as part of the problemsolving? Just don’t get too carried away. Brainstorming at the pub,anyone?