Creativity is often seen as an innate talent, an ability reserved for artists. But like most things, we believe creativity is a skill that can be learned, practiced and nurtured. Imaginative thinking, original ideas and innovation are all incredibly useful skills for any of us to posses.
How to boost creativity? How to boost creative thought?
We explore 6 different techniques that can help you or your child boost creativity. We hope you take away some practical tips and try applying some of these techniques to your own creative projects.
1. Reconceptualise The Problem
Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Researchers have found that creative people exhibit this discovery-orientated behaviour, and reconceptualise the problem before starting a creative task. When starting an art project for example, instead of thinking “I need to create a beautiful art piece to impress the class”, try re-visualising the problem from other angles first. Who are my audience? What inspires them? What feelings do I want to evoke? Try it yourself; you may end up with a more creative idea. This exercise is useful for a variety of different creative tasks, from statistical analysis, web design, musical composition to sculpture or creative writing.
2. Counterfactual Thinking
Counterfactual thinking is when we think, “What might have been?” and practicing this has been shown to increase short-term creativity. I find this technique particularly useful as a creative writing exercise, or even as a reflective exercise - as it really helps to get your creative juices flowing! A funny example of this was seen on the TV show, The Big Bang Theory, where one character asks the other “In a world where Rhinoceroses are domesticated pets, who wins the Second World War?”
Experiment with this technique yourself by thinking of a past event and re-imagining the outcome. You can employ an “additive mindset” by adding details to the event, or use a “subtractive mindset” by taking away details and thinking about how that changes the outcome. This technique is also useful for creative problem solving, adding or subtracting “what if?” scenarios and thinking about how this might affect the outcome.
3. Positive Thinking
First of all, a negative mood can of course spur on creativity, for example think about the countless break-up songs that dominate our music charts. But for cognitive tasks such as decision-making, hypothesis testing etc. research has found that a positive mood can improve creativity, as well as affect the approach we take when problem solving. Thinking happy thoughts/memories, smiling, laughing or exercise (although sounds clichéd), can boost activity in your prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex - the areas of the brain associated with complex cognition and emotion.
4. Create Psychological Distance
Do you find that it always seems easier to solve someone else’s problem, than it is to tackle your own? It turns out that there’s an explanation for that. Research shows physiological distance occurs when you experience something as not happening here, now, to yourself. In other words, the further away a problem seems, the easier it is to solve. This psychological distance makes the problem less concrete, and more abstract to you. This distance makes it easier for you to form “unusual connections” and free yourself from assumed limitations. You can create psychological distance by changing your perspective, and look at the problem from another person’s perspective.
I also came across another interesting study, which found that participants, who thought someone else would later use their work, came up with more creative ideas. In one experiment they told participants that their drawings would later be used by someone else to create a story. Consequently, the participants came up with much more “creative” drawings versus those who weren’t told this. When approaching a creative project, try thinking about how someone else might enjoy using or repurposing your creation!
5. Try Something New
Approaching tasks out of habit can stunt our creative thought; the idiom, “creature of habit” comes to mind. But, I came across a really great article in the New York Times (I highly recommend the read!), which details the benefits of possessing “novelty seeking” traits, and how it is closely associated with creativity and overall well-being. These findings can be applied in many ways (as well as be considered with a pinch of salt.) I personally think if you are looking for an injection of creative thought, step out of your comfort zone and stretch yourself by trying something new. It could be anything from trying life drawing for the first time, exploring a new cycle route or experimenting with a recipe. Our life experiences contribute to our creative thinking and exposure to new things helps us to unlock a different side to ourselves.
6. Use Restrictions Creatively
Did you know that Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham after betting that he couldn’t write a story using less than 50 words? Research shows that most of us take the path of “least resistance”. We tend to build off of existing concepts when brainstorming ideas, which could lead to less creativity as we rely on our past successes.
Avoid becoming a “one trick pony” by restricting yourself, and send your brain into overdrive! For expert essay writers set yourself the challenge and try to write a short story in just 300 words? For artists try restricting yourself to two colours? For musicians why not write a melody using only a few chords? This limiting task could help you to discover a new approach or technique - which brings out your creative side.
There are countless tips and studies out there, these are just a few that we found useful. Please share your own practical tips to boost creativity, in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.