Thinking creatively is a skill that, contrary to popular belief, can be learned, taught and constantly improved with practice, time and patience. Although staring into space and willing an idea to come when demanded may work for some people, there are in fact many techniques you can use to encourage creative thinking.
A CREATIVE SIDE OF THE BRAIN?
Although for decades people have spoken of a creative side of the brain, recent scientific research has found that creative thought in fact has a brain pattern of its own. Roger Beaty, a psychologist at Harvard University, told The Guardian that ‘we have identified a pattern of brain connectivity that varies across people, but is associated with the ability to come up with creative ideas.’
By scanning people’s brains as they generated creative ideas for everyday household objects, researchers found that in highly original thinkers there was a strong connectivity between three networks of the brain – one network which is linked to ‘spontaneous thinking and mind wandering’, the second which is engaged when people focus on their thoughts and the third ‘helps to work out what best deserves our attention.’ By engaging these networks, it is thought creative people are able to better counter the mundane thoughts that often cloud the brain and lead us to reach already tried-and-tested solutions to problem solving or to create unoriginal plot lines, for example.
As Forbes contributor David DiSalvo pointed out, ‘a nice side benefit of the research is that it undercuts the common myth that creativity is influenced by being either “left brained” or “right brained.” The research also tackles the myth that you’re either creative or you’re not, and while it doesn’t definitely disprove the idea, Beaty points out that ‘creativity is complex, and we're only scratching the surface here, so there's much more work that's needed.’
HOW TO IMPROVE CREATIVE THINKING
While many of us don’t have the opportunity to determine how creative we are by participating in such research, there are a number of steps that you can take to train yourself to be a more creative person.
1. CHANGE YOUR CONTENT CONSUMPTION
Most of us only consume the same content on a daily basis, whether that means reading your preferred newspaper or sitting comfortably inside the “echo chamber” of your social media. Yet according to Inc.com, switching up the content you consume could contribute to your ability to think creatively.
Inc suggests that while ‘we all love reading about stuff in our industry, […] typically this doesn't boost creativity. If you're lucky, it might help with motivation or inspiration,’ but doesn’t hone your skills to think outside the box. Inc argues that ‘if you want to get your creative juices flowing, [you should] start consuming content you wouldn't normally consume’ to push the boundaries of your thoughts and draw insights from unconventional places.
2. MAKE SPACE TO THINK
Part of the challenge of creative thinking is having the time and space to do so. Often the demands of daily working life can be all-consuming, with emails, unnecessarily long meetings and office distractions all hampering your ability to think clearly.
According to Virgin, even though you might picture creative spaces as furnished with sofas and cushions, ‘this is something of a cliché.’ In fact, a dedicated room ‘with walls’ could in fact offer a better alternative when looking for a creative space, since this can ‘provide a canvas for smart collaboration and also act as a sort of memory bank where ideas can be stored and returned to at a later date.’
A simple space is often better, as this allows you to be free of visible distractions and let your mind wander internally. While some people do prefer busy spaces filled with colour and office toys, when creating a corporate or shared space that has to work for the maximum number of people, a blank canvas can be the most helpful.
3. GIVE YOURSELF SOME CONSTRAINTS
While it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if you had infinite time and freedom to set your own schedule you would be more creative, this is in fact not always the case. According to Fast Company, constraints can be beneficial to creative work. Pointing to the familiar feeling of looking at a blank page and not knowing where to start, or the indecision that comes with having too many choices, it is suggested that too much freedom can be counterproductive when it comes to creativity.
These constraints can come in many forms, but recognising what works for you is crucial. Perhaps you work best under pressure, and so only allowing yourself a small amount of time could help you to focus all your energy on generating a new idea or approach within a given timeframe. If you have a tendency to wander across the office or go in search of coffee rather than addressing the task at hand, perhaps a location-based constraint will provide the focus you need to unleash your full creativity.
Through a combination of varied content, a creative space and putting constraints in place to help your thinking, you can improve your creative capacity. As scientific research continues into how and why some people are more creative than others, in the meantime these hints and tips offer just some of the ways you can take matters into your own hands and make creative thinking a part of your routine.
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