Complex problems require creative thinking. But creativity is a tricky beast; the harder you look for it, the more elusive it becomes. As Edward de Bono says, "Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way." The first step towards creative breakthroughs is to stop myopically focusing on the problem itself. This will create some space between you and what you're trying to solve, and also take the pressure off trying to find your creative spark. Reading thoughtful quotes from inspiring creative thinkers can help get you in the right mindset, but to really unlock your creative potential, you need a toolkit. Here are 5 techniques to help you adopt a different viewpoint and turbocharge your creative horsepower.
1. Start An Inspiration Trawl
Leave your desk and go to a place that inspires you, then fuel up on Ted, Pecha Kutcha, Big Think, The Inspiration Grid, Ignite, Incredible Things, The Moth and Reddit Innovation. Trawl through stories and stimulus of people pushing boundaries, taking risks, trying new things and flaunting their creativity. If you want to get offline, read some blockbuster books on innovation or even try going on a physical Inspiration Hunt. Before you start your trawl, succinctly write down just one question that you are wrestling with. Then allow yourself 20 minutes of free-form exploration. Let you curiosity guide you down weird and wonderful rabbit holes. You may think you cannot invest 20 minutes in a luxury such as an Inspiration Trawl, but it will pay off. Revisit your question at the end of your discovery and see what inspiration has struck.
2. Get Ludicrous
Now's the time to forget practicality and reality and swing for the fences. Ask yourself, what would it take to become a meme? To make the headlines? To get LeBron to Instagram you? To get Beyonce singing about you? This is about pushing to the extreme and thinking about how utterly absurd and preposterous you can be. In other words, Ask what would it take to get fired! To meet such a drastic outcome, your creativity will have to rise to the challenge. It's easy to laugh off some of the ideas you will come up with as childish and impractical, but humor is something to pay attention to. It's a powerful weapon, and often a nugget of a great idea lies within.
3. Shake Up Your Mood
Action quiets the mind and opens up new neural pathways, and new ways of seeing problems. Try physical exercise, dancing to music, walking around the block, sculpting a lump of play-doh, sketching or freeform writing. These activities will shift your brain state and allow creativity to flow more freely. Journaling is a particularly potent device. The book The Artists Way by Julia Cameron encourages its readers to partake in 20 minutes of freeform, handwritten journaling each morning. The theory is that this empties your mind, and clears out all the meaningless junk so you can access your highest creative powers. Whether journaling, sketching, singing or running is your jam, the important part is shifting your mood and energy. After you've done this, revisit your problem and see what suddenly seems possible.
4. Ask A Kid
Kids are the most imaginative, unbridled and creative thinkers around. Distil your problem into a simple sentence or two, and ask a child what they think. They might not have the exact answer, but they are likely to make you aware of particular circumstances that you have been interpreting as limitations, when they may not be at all, and may, in fact, be rich opportunities. This will lift the lid on your creative thinking. You don't have to talk to a kid, it could be a student, a nurse, a designer or an athletic coach. Just be sure to track down a perspective vastly different to your own.
5. Severely Limit Yourself
Sometimes, when we enforce severe constraints, we force ourselves to think creatively. Imagine your marketing budget was halved? Or your deadline was halved? Or your team disappeared? The book A Beautiful Constraint, by Mark Barden and Adam Morgan, outlines the scientific Theory of Limitations and shows that constraints are actually conducive to creativity. For example, when Red Bull launched, they wee severely lacking in resources, especially compared to the deep pockets of their competitors Coke and Pepsi. Rather than play the victim card, they embraced their budget limitations and aimed to do something daring, drastic and dramatic rather than attempt to do what their competitors were doing. One example of this was investing in heavily branded cars, and giving them to influencers on college campuses to promote the brand and its 'extreme' lifestyle on their behalf.