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10 Tried And Tested Ways To Improve Creativity

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Ways To Be More Creative

A challenge that eludes many of us is how to be more creative. Whether you're struggling with being more innovative as a person or looking for ways to help your team at work or your children at home, some creativity techniques can help. Exercise, music, and the right environment can make all the difference. Putting some distance between yourself and the problem may also make you more creative in your thinking.

A creativity boost isn’t something that can happen overnight. Some may even argue that you’re simply born creative and can’t be trained. However, there are ways to acquire these skills and improve creative thinking.

10 Ways To Be More Creative

Here are some tried and tested techniques, exercises, and even aids that can work magic in your personal or professional life.

1. Detach Yourself From The Problem

Researchers have found that if you distance yourself from the problem at hand, you may actually be able to be more creative in your problem solving.

Psychological Distance: As a feature in Scientific American suggests, put some psychological distance between yourself and what you are trying to do. How can you do that? Try thinking of the problem from someone else’s perspective or even that it is hypothetical or unlikely. You may be able to come up with more creative ideas this way. Psychological distance makes the problem seem more abstract and, therefore, less set in stone, allowing you to think freely and with fewer constraints. What you’d call “creative” thinking!1

Psychological distance can take other forms too.

Spatial Distance: In one study, researchers gave test subjects the same task to perform – but told one half that the task had originated in Greece and the other half that it was a local origin questionnaire. The former gave more creative responses. Changing the “perceived location of origin” of a task improved the creative performance of the subjects, showing spatial distance can help too.2

Distancing Using Time And Probability: Projecting the problem to another time can work just as much as projecting it to another place. Imagine the challenge or task at hand is set in the distant future and you may find more creative solutions or answers. Considering it less probable can also help with detachment and, consequently, creativity.3

2. Balance Creative Work With Mindless Work

If your team of highly creative professionals is just not performing, it could be that they are overworked. If that’s the case, the answer may lie in another piece of research. When given some mindless work that isn’t too challenging on the brain and which isn’t associated with performance pressure, people may actually be able to be more creative. This could mean mundane work like filling supply bins, making photocopies, or even cleaning equipment. By interspersing cognitively challenging creative work with such mindless work, you may see an improvement in creative output.4

3. Create A Supportive Environment

Organizations are always looking for ways to innovate and that involves encouraging and nurturing creative and innovative people on your teams. As one piece of research found, this needs a multi-pronged approach. Those who produce the most creative work are the ones with5:

  • Complex and challenging jobs
  • Supportive supervisors
  • Non-controlled supervision

Plus, of course, they should have the necessary predisposition to creativity. Creating these other supporting mechanisms may allow creativity to thrive.

For children, the same approach applies when it comes to boosting creativity. Give a child freedom to think and experience instead of being directed by an authoritarian figure.6 If you’re the person in charge, be sure to cultivate this environment.

4. Have Some Candy!

It is hard to be creative if you’re in a foul mood. Ensure you are relaxed and your mind isn’t fueled by frustration or anger at not having thought of an answer yet. Something as simple as having some candy could help elevate your mood and improve your creative problem solving! Don’t believe us? Look no further than one test where researchers found that the positive affect from giving physicians candy improved their creative problem solving.7

5. Use Music

When it comes to positively influencing your mood, music can help. This automatically ups your creativity too. Researchers from the University of Toronto used different pieces of music to bring on feelings of happiness, sadness, or neutral emotions. A peppy jazzed up rendition of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 was used to induce a happy state of mind in one group. This group did better on creative answers to the same task given to those in the neutral and sad emotion groups.8 So the next time you need to think creatively or do some creative work, play a tune that lifts your spirits and puts you in a good mood – it may be just the ticket!

6. Make It Fun!

If you can structure your problem so it becomes a fun task, you may actually get more creative with it too. As a feature in Entrepreneur explains, it worked for creative genius and wizard of word Dr Seuss when he wrote the iconic book Green Eggs and Ham. His editor challenged him to write an entire book using no more than 50 words and the rest is history! Go the same route, setting a time limit or a word count or laying down other “challenges” to make your job more enjoyable.9

7. Exercise

Exercise – specifically aerobic exercise – can help your mental processes, including creativity. A study on college students examined the effects of moderate aerobic exercise on creative potential. When the students undertook aerobic exercise of moderate intensity and then took the test of creative thinking, they demonstrated greater creative ability than when they took the test without doing any aerobic exercise. Engaging in some form of aerobic exercise can help with your mood and is good for health too, so why not head out for a walk or enroll in a dance class?10

8. Don’t Sit In A Silent Room!

Surprising though it may seem, a very quiet place may actually not be as good as one with some ambient noise levels. Moderate levels of noise can actually aid abstract cognition or abstract thinking by causing “processing disfluency” – that is, disrupting the way you process information. This is ideal for enhancing creativity. Just don’t let noise levels be too high – that can cut your ability to process information and can be counterproductive.11

9. Look To Your Past

Another method, described as “brain mining,” requires you to review the problem by creating multiple hypothetical situations. In each scenario, assume one constraint is no longer applicable, to create a new situation. Often you will find that the problem suddenly now resembles something you have experienced and fixed in the past. By going at the problem from different angles and diving into previous solutions, you actually get more creative with your current solutions too! In essence, you’re fixing a new problem with old tricks.12

10. Go Old School With Pen And Paper

Stepping away from your gadgets may actually help with creativity too. It can be very distracting to have emails and messages pinging as you try and think of some breakthrough ideas. Put pen to paper and sketch ideas or jot down thoughts. Using these instead of your computer may help you feel more free and creative. One writer for Forbes magazine suggests that this may be in part because writing is slower and forces you to really think before you jot down ideas. In other words, you think creatively before you create.13 Keep a stash of notepads or idea books on you to note down ideas whenever they flash.

How To Improve Children’s Creativity

Children too can benefit from tapping their creativity. In fact, it is believed that creativity is very closely tied to a child’s ability to identify and solve problems. It is also connected to divergent thinking. One study tried to see if teaching a subject like science using a creativity-focused curriculum at the kindergarten level would positively impact the children’s creativity. Researchers found that this approach helped increase their creativity scores, traits, and processes. It even boosted their interest in science itself!14

You can use some of the features of this study to improve your child’s creative thinking skill.

  • Create experiential learning opportunities, allowing learning through play, exploration, and discovery. The idea is to be relaxed yet alert.
  • Use songs, stories, kinesthetic activities where possible.
  • Enable meaningful learning experiences.
  • Encourage critical thinking. The role of the teacher is to be an enabler and not authoritarian or threatening.
  • Include problem-solving activities.
  • Emphasize independence and freedom of the learner by not imposing too many constraints. Allow them to be autonomous.

References   [ + ]

1. An Easy Way to Increase Creativity. Scientific American.
2. Jia, Lile, Edward R. Hirt, and Samuel C. Karpen. “Lessons from a faraway land: The effect of spatial distance on creative cognition.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 45, no. 5 (2009): 1127-1131.
3. Trope, Yaacov, Nira Liberman, and Cheryl Wakslak. “Construal levels and psychological distance: Effects on representation, prediction, evaluation, and behavior.” Journal of consumer psychology 17, no. 2 (2007): 83-95.
4. Elsbach, Kimberly D., and Andrew B. Hargadon. “Enhancing creativity through “mindless” work: A framework of workday design.” Organization Science 17, no. 4 (2006): 470-483.
5. Oldham, Greg R., and Anne Cummings. “Employee creativity: Personal and contextual factors at work.” Academy of management journal 39, no. 3 (1996): 607-634.
6, 14. Gomes, Joan Julieanne Mariani. “Using a creativity-focused science program to foster general creativity in young children: A teacher action research study.” (2005).
7. Estrada, Carlos A., Alice M. Isen, and Mark J. Young. “Positive affect improves creative problem solving and influences reported source of practice satisfaction in physicians.” Motivation and emotion 18, no. 4 (1994): 285-299.
8. Happiness: Good for Creativity, Bad for Single-Minded Focus. Scientific American.
9. 8 Psychology Hacks to Increase Your Creativity and Productivity. Entrepreneur.
10. Blanchette, David M., Stephen P. Ramocki, John N. O’del, and Michael S. Casey. “Aerobic exercise and creative potential: Immediate and residual effects.” Creativity Research Journal 17, no. 2-3 (2005): 257-264.
11. Mehta, Ravi, Rui Juliet Zhu, and Amar Cheema. “Is noise always bad? Exploring the effects of ambient noise on creative cognition.” Journal of Consumer Research 39, no. 4 (2012): 784-799.
12. A Cognitive Trick for Solving Problems Creatively. Harvard Business Review.
13. Want More Business Creativity? Pick Up The Pen. Forbes.