Being creative is one of the most important traits of being resourceful. Some people are born with the ability to leverage their right side of the brain more than others. The right side of the brain is responsible for art awareness, creativity, imagination, intuition, insight, holistic thought, and music awareness. As compared to the left side if the brain that is responsible for logic, analytic thought, science and math, language, writing, and numbers skills. With that said, we can all train our mind to be more creative by leveraging more of our right side of the brain or we can train our mind to think more logically with our left.
During the inevitable continuation of the automation of our jobs, those that are the most creative and critical thinking will thrive. We will see a new resurgence in creativity like we haven’t seen since the original renaissance within the 14th and 17th centuries. Creativity and the ability to think critically will be the most sought-after job skill for both employees and entrepreneurs.
In 2016, the World Economic Forum published, “The Future of Jobs.” In it they say the future skills needed by 2020 compared to 2015 will change dramatically. The skill of creativity will be number two on the list, right behind complex problem-solving.
According to Keith Sawyer, a research psychologist and author of “Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity,” everyone can become more creative by taking a nonlinear path and practicing to train the mind with 8 simple steps.
Step One: ASK — Ask the right questions.
The way we ask a question can change the end result of the solution dramatically. Sawyer offers a few real-world anecdotes where the right question led to the biggest impact. For example, Starbucks would not be where it is today if Howard Schultz of Starbucks asked the same old questions like, “How can I replicate the Italian espresso bar here in the US?.” Instead, Howard asked a different question, “How can I create a comfortable, relaxing environment to enjoy great coffee?”
Imagine how much different the world would be if Larry and Sergey of Google didn’t ask the following questions, “How can we organize all of the world’s information and make it universally accessible for all.” Or “How can we provide the right answer to any search as the first result?” or “How can we make search as good as a human answering a search request,” but instead asked, “How can we make a search engine similar to Yahoo?”
Sawyer offers some tips on how to ask the right questions.
- Quickly and without overthinking it, write down 10 variations of the same question.
For example, you might rewrite the original question of, “How can we make cars safer?” by asking, “What are the current causes of car accidents?” or “How can we eliminate the need for human drivers?” or “How can we bring car accidents to 0?” As you write these questions down, your new questions should be much clearer than your original.
Debug your life
Take a look at the various products and services you use every day and make a list of all of the pain points, problems or annoyances you experience with them. This can accelerate creativity because little annoyances tend to be a systemic problem. For example, here are a few annoyances I saw with my cell phone provider:
– Random dropped calls even when I have “bars”
– Auto-connecting to password protected wifi
– Spam callers
– Data usage too high
– Pricing sucks
– Throttling of phone when it gets older
– International traveling is brutal when I have to add new SIM card
– Excessive International Fees
– Lack of pricing and usage transparency
– Stuck with one cell provider
– Locked into excruciating long contracts
BTW, all of these annoyances are some of the same ones Google noticed and decided to solve for. A few
Step Two: LEARN — Become an expert.
Sawyer writes, “Successful creators don’t just like knowledge, they thirst for it. They can’t stop asking questions, and they always go beyond what they’ve learned from teachers and books,”
When you follow your passion and live by your purpose, you will do anything to become an expert in that subject. You will read books, listen to podcasts, write articles, develop mentors, and more. All of this will lead to you being able to ask better questions to help solve bigger problems within your field of expertise.
Step Three: LOOK — Be open and aware.
When you buy a new car, do you start to see that same car everywhere you look? If so, your mind has been opened to see things differently than you did before. You are in a state of creativity even without knowing it. Creative people are constantly in this state of mind where they are constantly on the lookout and looking for solutions. Throw your expectations of things and people out the door. Instead, begin to approach life in a much more open mind.
Play with children’s toys
“I’m not the least bit self-conscious about my toy collection,” Sawyer writes. “If you walk into just about any super creative company, you’ll find toys all over the place.”
Make your own luck
Curious people tend to always be at the right place at the right time. They tend to network more and notice things more. “Unlucky” people tend to be less open and tenser, missing out on opportunities that may be right in front of them.
Make lemonade out of lemons
Viagra was originally developed for heart disease. It was being tested as a cardiovascular drug for its ability to lower blood pressure. However, a major side effect gave the company who produced it a nickname called, “Pfizer Riser”. Instead of quitting and killing off the product, some very creative people turned these lemons into very profitable lemonade
Step Four: PLAY — Play and pretend.
Become a beginner
As if you are a child again where everything you did was new, try to do something you have never done before. Maybe it is bowling or golfing or juggling. Go out and give it a try.
Leave something undone
Try to not complete a task you have and go to bed. “Cognitive threads” are left in the mind when you leave something undone. In the morning, you may find inspiration in the shower or in the bathroom because of these “cognitive threads.”
Explore the future
Close your eyes and imagine what your life will be like 5 years from now. Write down in detail what this success looks like? Then write down how you got there. Ask yourself questions like, “What obstacles did I face during this journey and how did I overcome them?” or “What motivated me to accomplish these goals?”
Step Five: THINK — Generate lots of ideas.
Writing down lots of ideas helps the part of the brain that psychologists call “divergent thinking,” the process of generating multiple possibilities. The best way to come up with creative ideas is to generate lots of ideas. Go ahead and write down as many ideas as possible during these exercises.
Each day, select a common household object like a broom, comb, brick, shampoo, etc and take 5 minutes to write down as many unusual uses for an item. For example, you could use a broomstick to hang clothes on, or maybe even use the bristles to make a hairbrush. One measure of creativity is to look at how long your list is for each item. Each list you do should get longer as your brain becomes accustomed to the creative process.
Roll the die
Take a six-sided die and roll it. Use the number that comes up to select the corresponding question.
1 — How would the world be different if you had two heads?
2 — How would the world be different if we lived underwater?
3 — How would the world be different if we didn’t need oxygen to breath?
4 — How would the world be different if men had babies?
5 — How would the world be different if we didn’t have a language?
6 — How would the world be different if we had no gravity?
Take out a piece of paper and write down a list of specific facts about these alternate universes. If the above statements were true, what would these worlds look like? Write down as many as you can without overthinking.
Set the perfect idea time
Set 15–30 minutes each day where you are without distraction. For some, it may be right when they get up, for others it might be before they sleep. Whatever it is, select a consistent time that works for you.
Step Six: FUSE — Fuse these ideas.
Fusing is the ability to combine things together that normally don’t go together. British neuroscientist Paul Howard-Jones did a study where he asked two groups of people to write a story based on a few words. In the first group he gave them three related words like “cat”, “dog” and “pet” and in the other group he gave them three unrelated words like “truck”, “school” and “pool”. In the study, he found that those that were presented with the unrelated words were able to construct much more creative stories compared to those who had related words.
The remote association technique
Grab two separate books and randomly go to the same page in each book. Maybe that is page 130. Then take the 5th sentence on the page from each book and develop a story that connects the two.
Let’s say you want to generate new prospects. Here are a few simple steps to help you generate ideas outside the box.
Step 1 — Generate an analogy that doesn’t relate to your subject. For example, going to the beach, cooking a meal, playing a game, going to a wedding, going to a funeral, making dinner, taking a shower, etc could all be unrelated analogies for gaining more customers.
Step 2 — Find similarities with your subject and analogy. For example, gaining new prospects is like…going to a wedding because in both instances ……….you can network with new people, you sometimes don’t want to go, you hear speeches, you don’t always have time for it, it can be a very pleasant experience, the people you meet will have different reasons for being there, you need to prepare for it, etc.
Step 3 — Use these similarities to generate ideas on how to gain more customers. For example, “you can network with new people” can prompt you to generate additional ideas like leverage LinkedIn better to reach out to potential prospects, go to industry conventions and set up meetings, or maybe even put together a referral system that incentivizes your existing network of customers to promote your business for you.
Step Seven: CHOOSE — Choose the best ideas.
Now that you have generated a tremendous amount of ideas, it is time to select the best ones.
Make ideas compete with each other
Select the best ideas that rise to the top and have them compete with each other. Write down the pros and cons of each. Define how they are different. If you have too many great ideas, try to cluster them into common themes.
Never stop editing
Get feedback on your idea from your spouse, co-worker, colleague or even strangers. Don’t fall in love with your idea so much that you get offended when someone critiques it. Have an open mind and take this as positive feedback. Remember even failed ideas can turn into winning ideas. The post-it note was originally developed as an adhesive but it didn’t work very well.
Step Eight: MAKE — Develop something out of the best ideas.
Take action and make something out of your great ideas. You can draw something on a piece of paper or napkin, you can use wireframe software or even legos to make your idea become a reality.
Sawyer says that these steps do not have to be done in a linear fashion, instead, “making seems to happen most naturally at the end of eight steps, you can use its technique to enhance the other seven steps too. Making your ideas can help fuse them, and choose the right ones. Making the things you see each day while looking can help you translate those sights into new ideas, or clarify your original question, or realize what you still need to discover. ”
Here are a few more tips to help you become more creative. This will also help you generate unique business ideas on the fly.
Paint your room blue.
A study in 2009 by the University of British Columbia entitled, “Effect Of Colors: Blue Boosts Creativity, While Red Enhances Attention To Detail” found that “for creative tasks such as brainstorming, blue environmental cues prompted participants to produce twice as many creative outputs..”
Keith Sawyer recommends not brainstorming because “when brainstorming fewer ideas come up than when those same people work individually and then share their ideas afterward.”
Go to a comedy club or watch a funny movie.
A book by Mark Beeman of Northwestern University and John Kounios of Drexel University called “The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain” studied the effects of happiness and creativity. They found that feeling of happiness triggers the part of the brain that makes us more creative.
Go to a wine and paint store.
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago studied the effects alcohol has on the creative process. They found those that were intoxicated were 30% more likely to solve a creative problem compared to those that did not drink.
Studies have shown that doodling can free up short term and long term memory, as well as help, produce creative insight. In Sunni Brown’s book entitled, “The Doodle Revolution,” she says “when the mind starts to engage with visual language, you get neurological access that you don’t have when you’re in a linguistic mode,”
Try a few doodling exercises.
Take out a piece of paper and randomly draw a line or two and add a squiggly line anywhere on the paper. Take a few moments to see if you can draw a new image based on these random lines.
Grab a photo or cut our a picture from a magazine. Glue it on a larger piece of paper or poster board so that you have plenty of room to add to the picture. Use your imagination to expand the picture outwards where you can draw the surrounding areas. For example, if you cut out a photo of Jennifer Aniston skiing in the Mountains, can you complete the photo by drawing what is outside the original image. Other skiers? Mountains? Chair lifts, etc.