The Mental Game Of Creativity: How Innovative Are You?
How creative are you? Do you regularly use creativity-enhancing techniques? Do you often set aside time to be creative? Are you good at problem-solving and also good at being innovative in creating new things? In trying to solve a problem, do you often feel stuck? When negotiating, or when in conflict with someone, do you find yourself on a mental treadmill, endlessly repeating the same ineffective thinking patterns? If you answered yes to any of these, you might be experiencing cognitive rigidity. You may not be using your creative powers to their fullest. Becoming more creative can open up your options to help you solve problems better, and it can make you become more innovative. This article discusses three famous figures in the field of creativity and provides 25 mental strategies to help you become a better problem solver, more creative and more innovative.
The Mental Game of Creativity
How Innovative Are You?
Bill Cole, MS, MA
Founder and CEO
William B. Cole Consultants
Silicon Valley, California
A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, celebrated French author
Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip series
Creative thinking is not a mystical talent. It is a skill that can be practiced and nurtured.
Edward de Bono, a leading authority on creativity
Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.
Leo Burnett, pioneering American advertising executive
Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought.
How creative are you? Do you regularly use creativity-enhancing techniques? Do you often set aside time to be creative? Are you good at problem-solving and also good at being innovative in creating new things? In trying to solve a problem, do you often feel stuck? When negotiating, or when in conflict with someone, do you find yourself on a mental treadmill, endlessly repeating the same ineffective thinking patterns?
If you answered yes to any of these, you might be experiencing cognitive rigidity. You’re not using your creative powers to their fullest. This limited way of thinking may be affecting you across many domains: in parenting, managing people or projects, sports, music, the performance arts, sales, finance, business, human relations, teaching or counseling.
You probably know someone who you’d classify as a creative thinker, as being open-minded, or as being flexible in how they solve problems. This person is demonstrating cognitive flexibility, or flexible thinking. They have a wide variety of mental skills in their mental tool box. This article will provide you with 25 creativity-enhancing mental strategies and tools you can use immediately.
First, there are three very important figures in the history of creativity you may want to know about.
Dr. E. Paul Torrance, The Father Of Modern Creativity
For over 50 years Dr. Torrance was a pioneer in creativity and its applications. He was a prolific author, writing numerous books, articles, journal articles and assessments. It's estimated that he produced over 1800 publications in his career. He is particularly noted for creating a battery of creativity test for populations ranging from kindergarten through the school years and in graduate school. The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) have been translated into over 30 different languages and are the most widely used tests of creative talent in the United States. Here are two of his most famous quotes: “It takes courage to be creative. Just as soon as you have a new idea, you are a minority of one.”, and “Humor and a ‘sense of humor’ are basically creative and are themselves facilitative of further creativity.” He also said, “Outstanding creative achievement involves being different, testing known limits, attempting difficult jobs, making honest mistakes and responding to challenge”.
Dr. Sid Parnes, Creativity Pioneer
Sydney J. Parnes was a professor at Buffalo State College in Buffalo, New York. In the 1950’s he combined forces with Dr. Alex F. Osborne, one of the premier advertising executives in the US, to create the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem-Solving Model, based on Dr. Osborn’s ideas. Osborne was the inventor of the world-famous brainstorming technique. Sid was a prolific author, writing over a dozen books and hundreds of articles on creativity. He created the world’s first master’s degree program in creativity, at Buffalo State College in 1975. He was the founding editor of the quarterly Journal of Creative Behavior, the first publication devoted entirely to the science of creativity. It’s the longest running and leading journal on creativity in the world. Dr. Parne’s approach to creativity is exemplified in this quote about him: “He emphasized two key principles on deliberate creativity. First, creativity is the result of a balance between divergent and convergent thinking and, second, everyone can be taught to apply creative behavior in their personal and professional lives”. This shows you that there are many systematic, purposeful approaches to becoming more creative.
I happened to live around the corner from the Parnes family, in Williamsville, New York. It was a privilege to get to know Sid and to talk to him about creativity over the years. I grew up with his daughter Sue and we're still good friends after over 50 years.
Dr. Edward de Bono, Creativity Guru
Edward de Bono was a famous creativity guru. He was a physician, author and psychologist, and he coined the term lateral thinking. He was a prolific author, and one of his most famous books was Six Thinking Hats. Dr. de Bono says that there is an art and science to creativity. Creativity is not always random or accidental. He says humor is by far the most significant behavior of the human brain. Comedians know that you want to take your audience down a certain pathway, and when they least expect it, you then pull the rug out from under them. That’s what gets the laugh, when the audience is surprised. Dr. de Bono explains the same thing with regard to expectations and creativity. Put people down a certain track and then suddenly change the track and you’ll get a surprise, a new insight or idea.
Dr. de Bono says that not all creativity happens from intuition or gut sense. All creativity does not stem from being uninhibited or by feeling free. In fact, many of the advances in medicine and other fields are the result of accidents, mistakes or chance observations. Dr. de Bono describes lateral thinking by saying that you cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper. You have to look elsewhere for new ideas. He calls “the creative pause” the simplest of all creative techniques. Stop and think about things that no one else has stopped to think about. He says that the busy pace of modern life actually reduces our ability to be creative. He says that creativity is one of the occasions where thinking slowly is an advantage.
He talks about creative dissatisfaction. And creative challenge. In these you assume that the current way of doing things is just one of many possible ways. He says to ask the question, why do we do things in this way? Suppose we could no longer do it this way. How should we do it? He describes how Einstein used to carry out what he called thought experiments. He would say, what would I see if I were traveling at the speed of light? De Bono says this is going temporarily mad for 30 seconds at a time in a controllable fashion. He calls these provocations. These are designed to get us out of the usual main track of thinking onto a side track where new ideas linger.
Convergent Versus Divergent Styles Of Thinking
Creative individuals are open-minded, amenable to new experiences and ideas, able to hold conflicting viewpoints in their mind simultaneously, cognitively playful, philosophical, tentative thinkers, withholding final judgment during the creative process, and they practice a particularly distinctive system of thinking that enhances the creative process. This system involves both convergent and divergent thinking styles.
Convergent thinking involves an analytical, linear, effortful, deductive thought process (a way of reasoning that proceeds from theory and draws conclusions from the premises of that theory), one that looks at what is wrong and then attempts to some up with a single “best”, “correct” solution. In reality, many possible, correct solutions usually exist in response to most any problem.
Divergent thinking is different and more creative. This style of problem-solving uses free-association, brainstorming, inductive thinking (a way of reasoning that proceeds from experience and experimentation and draws conclusions from them). The divergent thinker looks all over for solutions: in dreams, myths, analogies, metaphors and through mental visualization game-playing. People often report that a solution just “comes to them” when using this style. The philosophy these folks follow in their problem-solving is “Ready! Fire! Aim!”, in that, instead of following a logical, orderly routine of solving a problem, they turn to their right brain for help. The right brain is the free-thinking creative half, in contrast to the linear, analytic, orderly, systematic left brain.
It's important to realize that problem-solving often requires creativity. But sometimes creativity does not require a problem. To be innovative, sometimes we have to discover something that was never there. Creativity is not just about improving things. It's about inventing things. I was doing executive interview coaching with a Vice President For Customer Success in a high-tech company one time. He said, “I'm known as the master problem solver. There's not a problem I can't crack and fix”. I asked him where he'd like to go next in his career. He said he'd like to be more at the strategic executive level. I said to do that you have to transition from being only a problem solver, and change into an innovator. You have to see things that are not there. Problem-solving saves companies money. Innovation makes companies money. You have to be progressive and invent new services and products.
You Can Train Yourself To Be Creative
Here is a compilation of 25 of the top creative problem-solving ideas I have used in my years as a coach, teacher, counselor and consultant. Give these a try the next time you have a tough dilemma to solve, or if you want to put a new spin on something, or to outright invent something new that is worthwhile.
- Make space in your schedule for creativity. People who have jampacked schedules go from activity to activity and that leaves no room for reflection or daydreaming or wondering about things. We have to set aside mental space in order for our minds to be creative.
Define failure on your own terms. Just because you came up with a new idea that wasn’t particularly practical, that doesn’t mean it was a failure. That “wrong idea” could lead to a new idea, then a better one, and another, and eventually, this string of ideas can lead to a breakthrough innovation. Edwin Land, the inventor of the Land Camera, said, “An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.”
Don't be embarrassed about thinking outside the box and being different. If you think the same way, you'll get the same ideas. You have to think different. The comfort zone is the enemy of creativity. Perhaps as a reaction to the IBM slogan THINK, Apple computers came up with the slogan THINK DIFFERENT in 1997. This was a huge success for Apple and they won a wide array of awards, including the 2000 Grand Effie Award for most effective campaign in America and the 1998 Emmy Award for Best Commercial.
Turn your worries into innovation. If you're anxious about something, consider that to be creative energy. The anxiety says you have something unresolved. Instead of ignoring the anxiety or wishing you didn't have it, use it to your benefit. Reflect on the situation, mull over options, and devise creative solutions to what's bothering you. T. S. Eliot said, “Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity”. It’s well-known that songwriters turn their pain and angst into beautiful lyrics that express how they feel. Writers use the written word to process their innermost thoughts and emotions.
If you have a conflict with someone, view that as an opportunity to be creative. Opposing viewpoints and different ideas, when they bounce off of each other, can create new, better realities. Bill Sanders and Frank Mobus wrote the book Creative Conflict: A Practical Guide for Business Negotiators. They say that not every negotiation needs to be a zero-sum battle where there's a winner and a loser. They say that we can be competitive and cooperative at the same time by embracing conflict. This can result in bigger and more creative win-wins.
Start a session on creative thinking by being purposely impractical. Don’t be sensible. Be non-sensical. Let your imagination run wild. Think crazy. Be playful. Don't be careful. Be out of control. The iconic artist Pablo Picasso knew this well when he said, “The chief enemy of creativity is good sense”. Sir Richard Branson said, “The most talented, thought-provoking, game-changing people are never normal”.
You can’t be creative by forcing things. The creative process is one of surrender, not control. If you are normally a careful, by the book, orderly, well-organized person, try doing the exact opposite to be creative. Try letting go. Top athletes don't strain and force their performances. They surrender to it. They let go. This is the essence of the zone. You can get into the creativity zone as well. First do some meditation or relaxation exercises. Slow down. Then step into a quiet space so your mind can wander and become playful.
You can't rush creativity. Creativity needs time to percolate. When you’re working on a problem and are unable to find a solution, and you walk away from it, you're probably frequently amazed by how often the solution to the problem suddenly appears in your mind. This is your subconscious working on the problem. Where do we get most of our good ideas? In the shower, on a walk or a run, and by doing something repetitive, having nothing to do with the problem at hand.
Generate as many ideas as possible and discard the poor ones, but only after creating a large number of possible solutions. When you are brainstorming and generating ideas, don't evaluate or judge them. Just generate them.
Look for a second or a third correct answer. Don’t assume there is only one best or right solution. Don't take the first new idea you come up with as the best idea. Keep going and generate multiple solutions, and then sift through those to discover the top few. Sometimes the best ideas take a little while to percolate.
Write ideas down as you think of them. Don’t rely on memory. Neil Peart, the former famous drummer for the rock band Rush, said, “Anytime I have an idea, I’ll make sure that I put it down so that when we do sit down to write an album, I don’t have to dream it all out of thin air. I don’t have to be creative on the spur of the moment, or spontaneously artistic. I just take advantage of whenever creativity strikes.”
Ask yourself “dumb questions” to get a different slant on the problem. Don’t consider any question or approach you use in problem-solving “wrong”. Two of the most common idea-killing comments from people is when they say, we've done that before, or that's impossible. Don't listen to those comments. Keep going with your idea generation. Sometimes, a very dumb sounding idea is the most brilliant.
Instead of attempting to solve a problem from its original perspective, look at it from a different angle, with a whole new set of eyes. You might ask, let's look at this from a different vantage point. Let's look at this through the eyes of our customer. How would a child view the situation?
Develop a playful mindset. Watch and study stand-up comedians and read books on humor and jokes so you can understand how humor is constructed. The formulas and patterns of humor are closely aligned to creativity.
Challenge any assumptions you may have about a problem. Never assume anything when problem-solving. Instead, lay out your assumptions on paper and then confront them. Turn your obstacles into opportunities.
“Swipe from the best, then adapt” says business consultant Tom Peters. Read the best minds in history and adapt their ideas for your needs. One of my favorite definitions of creativity is when two different ideas collide to create a new one. The more widely read you are from a diverse set of worlds, the more unusual collisions and combinations of ideas you will get. Read about science, music, art, drama, psychology, and other areas to get brand new ideas.
Put off making a decision until you get more information that helps you look at the problem from a different perspective. Quick decision-making can be a virtue, but idea quantity and quality may sometimes suffer. When it comes to creativity, patience is a virtue.
Begin with the end in mind. Picture how you want the outcome to be, and then you will find a blueprint for getting there. Ask yourself, “If I solved the problem, what would it look like?” and, “If I woke up tomorrow and the problem was fixed, what would that look like?”
Get out of your comfort zone and embrace the process of change that you will need to solve a problem. Become friends with the process and “play the edge” as you seek solutions. To naturally enhance your creativity, you may want to change your environment. Get out of the house, get out of the office, and find places that stimulate your thinking. This is why writers like going to coffee houses, because these places have the perfect combination of stimulation of people, background noise, and sometimes music, and all of this contributes to the generation of new ideas.
Use analogies to help you solve current difficulties. What similar problems have you successfully solved before? How could you use these solutions now? When you read widely, you discover how people in different industries and disciplines approach their problems. You can see their strategies and approaches for being creative. You can easily migrate those ideas over to your world and apply them to your situations.
Take a break when you get stuck and let your subconscious mind go to work on the problem. It’s amazing how many solutions will then appear to you when you least expect it. When faced with a problem, you can do research on the internet. You can read extensively. You can write down some initial ideas. And then you need to let all of that percolate. Turn it over to your subconscious. Go for a walk. Take a run. Play with the dog. Do something to get your mind off of the problem, and while you're doing that, a different part of your mind is still actively examining the situation. Seemingly, out of the blue, a solution or new idea appears. It seems that it came from nowhere. But of course, you laid the groundwork for it showing up.
Use brainstorming to generate a large volume of ideas rapidly. In this skill, you simply begin recording any idea that comes into your head, as quickly as possible. Don’t evaluate the value of any idea until this exercise is over. Sometimes brainstorming is more effective when you do it alone, because if it’s done in a group, it’s far too easy for people to shoot down new ideas as being impractical, dumb, too expensive, and a range of other “obvious” reasons. Many people are quite self-conscious in a group and they would be reticent about sharing ideas that they think would not be well received. If you are the leader of a brainstorming session, it would be important for you to lay out the guidelines to everyone so as to remove judgment and evaluation from all the ideas offered.
More heads are better than one. What you can’t solve, someone else has solved or can help you solve. There is a synergy in having multiple minds working toward a common goal. In a group setting, if you can encourage participants to have a playful approach, ideas can be put forth very rapidly, making the brainstorming session quite fun. The more ideas that bounce off of each other, the more likely a new idea will appear.
Make all solutions to the problem tentative until brainstorming is completed. Judging and evaluating ideas bogs down and dampens the creative energies you need to generate a high number of ideas quickly. One way to do this is to set a time limit for the brainstorming, and even when great ideas are put forth, continue the exercise to the end of the time. Sometimes the best ideas show up later.
Use wacky props as tools to help generate ideas, especially when you feel stuck. What if you walked around a museum, a toy store, an art gallery, or a mall and you used the things you saw to help your mind make fresh associations to the problem at hand? A simple analogy or unique use for something you see may kick-start the creative juices.
Now you can see that creative problem-solving and innovation is a science AND an art. Open your mind to possibility thinking, and train your mind to be flexible in how you attack a problem. Look for the artistry in being a creative individual in everything you do and you’ll have more fun, solve problems faster and come up with the high-quality solutions you need to help yourself and others.
Bill Cole, MS, MA. All rights reserved.
Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority
on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and
CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps
organizations and professionals achieve more success in business,
life and sports. He is also the Founder and President of the International
Mental Game Coaching Association (www.mentalgamecoaching.com),
an organization dedicated to advancing the research, development,
professionalism and growth of mental game coaching worldwide. He
is a multiple Hall-Of-Fame honoree as an athlete, coach and school
alumnus, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published book author
and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league
pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For
a free, extensive article archive, or for questions and comments
visit him at www.MentalGameCoach.com.
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