Maintaining a creative culture within any organization is challenging. But making a sincere effort is worth it, because unsolved problems require new solutions. It's clearer than ever: Companies that do not innovate will soon die.

Communications technology, social media, and the pandemic have all converged to create a perfect storm of altered expectations for today's consumers and employees.

"If you are doing things the same way you were three years ago, you are now a decade behind," says Bob Sager, a workshop facilitator who teaches organizations how to think more creatively. "Creativity is no longer optional. For businesses that want to thrive in the modern economy, it is essential."

As the founder of SpearPoint Solutions, Sager finds that people who readily embrace their creative nature and experience are few and far between. Most of us need a systematic approach to help short circuit our default way of thinking.

It's so difficult for companies to cultivate and maintain a creative environment in part because we're creatures of habit. Conscious thought burns a lot of calories, and our brains are wired to help us survive. Every time we encounter something new, our brain tries to make a connection with something familiar to limit the number of calories burned.

As soon as we learn how to do something new, our brain moves as quickly as possible into subconscious mode. The problem, Sager explains, is that in an effort to keep us alive, our auto-pilot engages even when we're considering how to solve a problem.

"Without consulting our conscious mind, our subconscious says, 'I remember this past experience. We did it this way and we didn't die, so it must work. Let's do it that way again.' This is why the solutions we come up with are virtually always the same, if only slightly improved at the margins."

Here are four methods to help you generate genuinely new ideas.

1. Ask a ridiculous question. 

For example, what if a taxi service owned no vehicles? What if an overnight accommodations company owned no properties? Readers will probably recognize Uber and Airbnb.

"When attempting to come up with bad ideas, there is almost always a gem in there," Sager says.

2. Consider the "unthinkable."

Who says the way things are being done currently is the right or best way? Rather than try to improve at the margins, consider doing the exact opposite of what's popular.

Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, did this with his approach to customer service, which he viewed as a revenue generating source rather than an expense.

"We take most of the money that we could have spent on paid advertising and instead put it back into the customer experience. Then, we let the customers be our marketing," he once said.

Challenge the dominant paradigm by imagining an approach that is 180 degrees different.

3. Combinatory play. 

This was both da Vinci and Einstein's favorite creative thinking method and one that Sager employs at nearly all of his workshops. It's simple: Take two things and combine them together, allowing your creative imagination to dwell on how they could be used in novel ways.

This game works in part because people don't think in words, they think in pictures.

"If I say the word dog to you, the characters D, O, and G don't pop up into your consciousness. The image of a dog does."

The game is particularly effective when you specify a direction to think in, and you can do the same thing as an entrepreneur or executive, he adds.

For example, if you're looking for greater efficiencies, think about your team's departments and functions. What could Human Resources Engineering be? Or Engineering Human Resources? Sales Delivery? Delivery Sales?

4. Magnify.

Take the whole or some part of your subject and greatly enhance or dramatically up the scale. Sound simple? It is. But it's invaluable for jarring one's thoughts, according to Sager.

One of the greatest examples of this that he's experienced personally is the "World's Largest" collection in the small town of Casey, Illinois. There, you will find the world's largest wind chime, golf tee, mailbox, rocking chair, and more. The tourism dollars people spend there because of these items rescued the town's flagging economy.

In his famous 2006 TED Talk, "How to get your ideas to spread," marketer Seth Godin said that in order to do so, they must be remarkable. He expanded on that point by saying that what he meant by remarkable was worth remarking about. Magnifying is a fabulous way to be remarkable; that is, to get people to pay attention and to tell others.

The next time a seemingly intractable problem has you stuck, put these methods to work to help you break free.