Posts Tagged ‘creative thinking’

3 Tools to boost your creativity

In our last blog we discussed the need for creative thinking as a pathway to innovation. In this post we look at some of the tools and techniques can we can apply to develop connections and new ways of thinking. But first we must recognise that the ability to think creatively may vary from person to person and to become proficient training is a must. And so before we look at the tools I will run through several ‘warm up’ and ‘stretching’ exercises to help develop our creative minds just like we do our body.

We need to practise and practise every day, we need to create connections and look at the world in a different way – we need to look at and question the things around us, not in a literal way but ask yourself ‘what if that was used for…’. To do this I have outlined three exercises that you can do to practise and develop your ability to think creatively. The exercises below are just three of many so I encourage you to go out and find some more. The exercises are broken down into three categories, verbal, visual and conceptual.

1. Alternate uses (Conceptual)

In this exercise we look for alternate ways to use everyday objects, for example what else could a bicycle tyre be used for? (tie something together, flexible hoola hoop, a diving target in a swimming pool). The aim of this exercise is to limber up your thinking by asking you to think beyond the intended and obvious use of an item and develop new use contexts. It trains your mind to make new connections between objects and systems.

Firstly go out a make a list of five everyday objects. They could be things you have at work or home, at the park or the shops, really anything but make sure they are single discrete objects like a stapler, pen, rubbish bin, saucepan, park bench. The other thing, when you choose your objects, make sure that you select dissimilar objects, don’t pick say a saucepan and a frying pan, they are too similar in function and won’t challenge you.

Next take your list and start at the first item and think about what else this could be used for, e.g. a saucepan could be used for a flower pot, fish tank, storage container, a space helmet for a child’s game and so on. Write or sketch (or both) your response next to the original item. Continue to do this for each item on your list. You should allocate a time of say one minute per listed item. Be creative and silly as much as you want as you move through the list. As you get better you will find that you will begin to create new ideas and products from your response and that the time you require to conceptualise new uses will reduce. When this happens challenge yourself with more obscure objects.

2. Visual connections (Visual)

Firstly create a grid of 3 squares wide by 4 squares tall. In the first square place a question mark – you won’t use this square. In the second and third square along the top sketch or place any random image of something, say a car and a plate. In the second, third and fourth squares of the first column also place images of distinct objects, say a plane, cloud and a piece of cheese.

You should now have 6 blank squares. So for the first blank square look at the car and the plane and create a sketch that connects the two images. You might draw a flying car or a plane that becomes a car or a road that can become an airport or landing strip. Don’t worry about the quality of your sketches – just get your ideas down on paper. Repeat this exercise for each blank square. If you have more than one idea for each picture combination then sketch your additional ideas on a separate piece of paper so you don’t lose your ideas. Take about five minutes to complete this exercise.

 

3. Making headlines (Verbal)

This exercise is based on storytelling. This is something that we all do as part of our daily life, whether it’s with our friends or trying to communicate and sell an idea at work or to a client. We tell stories not to embellish the idea but to provide context to create a better connection and bond between the message we want to convey and the person we want to share it with.

Randomly select four to five images of different things, it could be a person, an object or a landscape scene. Place them in front of you and take a few moments to study them and understand the content. Try to imagine a news story that encapsulates the content of the images – something that connects each of the images. Think of a headline. Now write down that headline and a story that connects each of the images. Take about ten to fifteen minutes to complete this exercise.

Remember these exercises are just warmup exercises designed to get your mind used to thinking more creatively. Take the time each day to practice these exercises. The aim of the exercises is not to create the best and most original ideas but instead to train your mind to see and make more connections as this is the key to becoming more creative.

Start a creative thinking workbook, record your work in the book and make sure you date your work. As you progress through the different exercises, over time you will see an improvement in the way that you think and the depth and complexity of the exercise you undertake. You should see that you are becoming more creative in the way that you think and the way that you apply this to your everyday life.

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A new approach to innovation – Creative thinking

“When the winds of change blow, some build walls others build windmills”

This old Chinese provide is one of the most beautiful things I have read. So simple and elegant, so meaningful and for me inspirational.

I found this proverb in a book that I recently bought and read called “The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker” by Neilsen and Thurber (2016). The book’s premise is that anyone can become a creative thinker through practice and changing ones mindset. In essence the proverb describes our natural instinct when things change, i.e. we tend to hunker down and build protective walls around us. We become reactionary and the rational mind can sometimes cease to exist. Typically this is what I find a lot of businesses do when things get tough. They cut costs, reduce staff and so on, they react to the immediate needs / threats and forget about long term thought.

Being creative is the thing that helps us build the windmill. Being a creative thinker helps us change our mindset and allows us to venture into uncharted waters. It changes our view and perception of a situation and it gives us confidence to act in unfamiliar situations. Working in unfamiliar situations means that there are no clear boundaries and this is an exciting opportunity to explore new directions. It allows us to develop entirely new paradigms and solutions and it “fuels innovation” as there is no innovation without creativity. It helps us through hard times.

So why am I talking about creativity? I’m not really talking about artistic endeavour, however this may be the media used to express your creative point. What I’m really talking about is the ability, using creative techniques, to make connections between disparate things and jumble them into new forms, challenge what’s happened before and most of all explore the unknown without fear. As an example we are probably aware of the notion of biomimicry. This is where we turn to nature to look for insights and solutions to our everyday ‘mechanistic’ society. The idea of Velcro was developed after George de Mestral found his dog covered with burrs after hiking in the countryside. Seeing the burrs, George’s interest was piqued and after removing and inspecting them he noticed many hundreds of small hooks which allowed the burr to hang onto the fur of his dog. From this point George saw a connection between the burrs hooks and the possibility of creating a fastening system – hence Velcro was born.

The idea of connection making and creativity go hand in hand. The notion of seamlessly making radical connections between disparate fields or things enables us to dramatically expand our thought processes and hence our creativity. It doesn’t matter if the connections that we make seem silly or non-workable the point is that the process provides us with options, a direction to move and it allows our brain / mindset to loosen up and become more open and accepting of ideas.

In today’s business world, creative thinking is a core skill that cuts into everyday life and one that we should all have on board. It has become a necessity in almost every job. The level of creative intelligence and the ability to think flexibly and adapt to new situations will deliver solutions and new approaches that can be applied in changing circumstances.

For me creative thinking underpins everything we do – the tools we use and the situations we re-imagine. For me, any problem starts with some creative thinking. 

In our next blog we will share some of the creative tools that we use at Scintilla both internally and with our clients. These tools will form a foundation for you to take away and use within your own organisation to build and create new modes of thinking.

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Image credit: D. Nielsen and S. Thurber (2016) "The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker : How to Make Connections Others Don't"

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