#267 from Innovative Leader Volume 6, Number 3          March 1997

Innovative Thinking:  Six Simple Secrets
by Padi Selwyn, M.A.

Ms. Selwyn , from Sebastopol, California, speaks, trains and consults internationally on creativity and innovation in business.  She is the co-author of Living Your Life Out Loud:  How to Unlock Your Creativity and Unleash Your Joy (Pocket Books, New York, New York , 1995).  She can be reached at (707) 829-2641 or Padispeaks@aol.com.

A recent survey of top executives from Fortune 500 companies throughout the United States ranked creativity more important than intelligence for success in business today.  That’s because these demanding times require leaders who can respond quickly and imaginatively to change.

It’s not surprising that, around the world, creativity training is growing in popularity; teaching out-of-the-box problem solving techniques to employees at all levels.  In these do-more-with-less downsized times, the need for every employee to contribute creative ideas and original solutions has never been greater.

Learning to think creatively is the best business survival tool there is.  Research has shown that regardless of age or education, everyone has the capacity to become more creative.  Here are six tips to help you enhance your creativity and stimulate creativity with your co-workers.

1.  Open Your Mind

Have one new experience every day; no matter how small.  New experiences stimulate the brain and help you make new and original connections; critical for boosting breakthroughs.  Attend new forms of entertainment, read books or magazines you’ve never read before, take a class in a subject you know nothing about, listen to music you profess to hate, go somewhere really different on your next vacation, talk to people you normally don’t have a chance to meet.  New experiences become the raw material for new ideas.  The cross-pollination of diverse ideas is a primary stimulator for creativity.

2.  Diversify

Involve others in your problem-solving efforts who bring a different perspective or cultural experience than yours.  In addition to picking the brains of experts and knowledgeable colleagues, talk to people who are unfamiliar about the issue.  By using this approach, you’ll be asked “dumb questions” that can often help you question assumptions, and see your challenge from a different angle with fresh eyes and a more open mind.

A few years ago, I worked with a high-tech company to develop and implement a model for innovation that would solicit and reward creative contributions.  The CEO assigned an established employee committee to work with me to create a model that fit their particular organizational culture.

It turned out that the committee was made up of the least educated, lowest paid employees in the company; many of whom did not speak English fluently.  Yet the program that they designed was brilliantly innovative.  Even the CEO was surprised when we presented the final design for his approval.  After three years, the system developed by the least likely employees, continues to generate many creative contributions, company wide.

3.  Mental Floss

Take time to clean out your “mental plaque” by flossing daily; unplugging and taking time out to relax.  Studies have shown that our intelligence and creative problem-solving abilities nosedive about 25% when we’re stressed out.  Stress, exhaustion, boredom and even pain can block our pathways to creativity.

Creativity often seeps in through the cracks.  By allowing yourself time to quiet your mind each day, the solutions beneath the surface will bubble up and you’ll be available to catch them.  Twenty minutes of uninterrupted incubation time daily will produce a plethora of ideas.

4.  Stop Looking For the Right Answer

Look for many right answers.  Multiple solution thinking can help you strengthen your creative muscle, while generating more ideas, which always leads to better ideas.  Setting idea quotas can force you to push the envelope, forging past predictable, obvious solutions.

Thomas Edison died with 1,092 patents to his name as a result of setting quotas for himself and his staff.  He quota was as follows:  a minor invention every 10 days, a major one every six months. 

In gold mining, it takes nearly 200,000 ounces of ore to produce just one ounce of gold.  It’s no different with ideas.  Mine with perseverance and patience, and you’ll be richly rewarded.

5.  Discover Your Creative Rhythm

Everyone has creative performance peaks daily.  Some of us get our best ideas during our morning commute, others wake up in the middle of the night with thunderbolts of genius.  Unfortunately, most of us don’t honor this fertile idea-harvesting time.  Start paying attention to when you get your best ideas.  If you aren’t sure, keep a log for a week and jot down what time of day you are most mentally productive.

It’s been said that the difference between creative geniuses and “normal” people is that creatives have more effective capturing techniques.  They pay attention to their best ideas and record them before they have a chance to slip away.  Once you discover your creative rhythm, make sure you have a tape recorder, laptop, or pad and pencil nearby to capture your ideas.

6.  Health Makes Wealth

A wealth of new ideas can be yours if you exercise regularly and eat well.  Regular exercise not only benefits your body, it boosts brain performance as well.

One study found that 20-minute aerobic sessions twice weekly, kept up for eight weeks, brought about significant changes in creativity tests in college students who had not previously exercised.  A well-oxygenated brain functions more effectively.

Everyone is creative, and everyone can strengthen their creative powers with practice, persistence and patience.  By acknowledging how creative you really are, and using these six simple suggestions, you’ll be well on your way to your next breakthrough.

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