Many people think you're either a creative person or you're not. While I agree that some people may be slightly more predisposed to thinking creatively than others, I think creativity is a muscle that can be exercised and improved upon. Here are six ways to stimulate creative thinking.
1. Consume content that's way outside your comfort zone.
We all love reading about stuff in our industry, but typically this doesn't boost creativity. If you're lucky, it might help with motivation or inspiration. If you want to get your creative juices flowing, start consuming content you wouldn't normally consume. Read blogs outside of your industry. Read books outside of your normal genre of choice. Heck, grab lunch with a complete stranger (just make sure they're not a bad stranger).
2. Write a 500 word article with no topic whatsoever.
This is a fun exercise I use when I can't seem to get my thoughts focused or come up with interesting ideas. I'll open a blank document and just start typing. No headline, no topic, no editing, and most importantly no self-critiquing. I just let my fingers start typing and let my brain decide what words get written next. Usually I end up with some pretty weird and crazy stuff I'd never share, but I always feel a boost of creative energy afterwards.
3. Go see a movie in a movie theater.
Movies on the big scene are one of the last few places you can enjoy a complete sensory-captive experience. The giant bright screen. The sound-rumbling surround sound. The smell and taste of freshly popped popcorn. The somewhat uncomfortable seat with plastic armrests that don't move. Whenever I leave a movie theater, my mind is always spinning with thoughts and ideas.
4. Take a phone call with someone you don't know.
Hearing someone's story that's completely new to you can be an eye-opening and mind-expanding experience. Maybe you'll learn something from them? Maybe they'll give you a new perspective you've never heard about your stuff? Maybe they'll drop knowledge bombs on you?
5. Eat differently.
There are studies upon studies that discuss how our diet affects the way we think. Want to start thinking differently? Start giving your body different (and healthier) fuel. You'd be shocked how much more creatively you can think and act when you eat a healthier diet.
6. Do the "No Bad Ideas Brainstorming" exercise.
Get at least one other person to join you for a 45-60 minute brainstorming session. No technology and no criticism whatsoever. Bring a topic or idea you want to brainstorm to the table, and just start riffing on it back and forth. Write down all your ideas (on actual paper) and don't critique a single idea. It's important to do this in person and to make absolutely sure you don't have any negative energy or feedback throughout the process. You may end up with 100 horrible ideas, but I bet you'll have one or two good ones. Plus, you'll get better at this the more you do it.
You don't have to be a creative thinker to be able to think outside the box, you just need to do more stuff that stimulates creative thinking. Even the most creative people need help getting inspired.