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Why are we not creative?
Most people are not creative simply because they look for quick and easy answers to their creative problems. When faced with a problem our mind follows well established thinking patterns and generates ideas based upon our previous experiences. This was very useful in prehistoric times when our ancestors had to make quick decisions in order to survive dangerous situations, but nowadays, this thinking mechanism is exactly the thing that obstructs our creativity. So the first task for a creative thinker is to quit using shortcuts and look for alternative ways of doing things or thinking about things.
Discovering new thinking paths
By taking alternative thinking routes you will discover new and interesting things that will inspire you to create new ideas. These external impulses that trigger off our imagination are called lateral stimuli. They are referred to as 'lateral' because they are located aside from our regular thinking and are usually invisible to those who like to take thinking shortcuts (please check out Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step by Edvard de Bono). There are people who are intuitive, who have excellent perception, who are curious and they easily notice things around them that stimulate their thinking. Their minds automatically encounter lateral stimuli in everything that is surrounding them. But guess what, anybody can easily discover lateral stimuli if they learn how to look for them.
What is lateral stimulus?
Lateral stimulus originates outside of your usual thinking and it triggers off your creativity by inspiring your mind to form novel thinking combinations. It can be a word, picture, tune, colour, feeling, memory... virtually anything that you can connect to the subject of your current thinking and create new combinations of elements, new ideas.
How do I define the subject of my thinking?
The subject of your thinking is also called the focus of thinking. I have already written a lot about the focus because that is the most important element in the thinking process. Without the right focus, your thinking might go astray and the ideas that you create will be completely useless. To cut things short, the easiest way to think of the focus is to define it in a short question starting with: How... ? For example: How do we increase the sales of our tumble dryer machines? How can I create more time to enjoy my favourite hobby? How should we motivate our team to practice harder for the following competition?
Creating heaps of ideas in just 3 minutes
Now that you have defined the Focus all you need is a Lateral Stimulus. Like I said, a lateral stimulus can be basically anything that is around you: an object in your room, an image that you can google on your web browser, a magazine headline... My favourite way of looking for a lateral stimulus is to pick up a random word from a book or a magazine. When I am online I like to use Random Word Generator (Plus), free website that can help you pick up words for your inspiration. You should select nouns when using random word technique because they are easiest to combine with the focus.
So here is how you do it. Pick up a random word (it should have no obvious connection with your Focus) and use it as an inspiration to find the answer to a question on which you are focusing your thinking. Allow yourself 3 minutes, not a second more, to work with a particular random word/lateral stimulus. Write down all the ideas that come to your mind, including the most crazy or stupid ones. After 3 minutes look for another random word/lateral stimulus and repeat the process all over again. Try to work fast and to think of as many ideas possible. Later you will have enough time to go through all the ideas and choose the best.
If you want to use this technique for group thinking you should ask the participants of your creative group to write down the first thing that comes to their mind when they hear the random word that you have just chosen. They should use this association as the lateral stimulus, connect it to the focus of their thinking and create new ideas. This way you will get much more diverse ideas than if all the participants worked with the same random word.
Here are some examples of my 3 minutes’ brainstormings.
How can I manage to have at least one healthy meal during the day?
Lateral stimulus - random word:
I will use a prepaid food delivery service. I will pay them in advance to deliver healthy meals to my office each day during one month.
I will start a communal garden with my neighbours or friends. We will plant fruits and vegetables on a small plot of land and we will work it together. Sharing our work will make it easy and entertaining and once the garden has given us fruits I will enjoy making healthy meals from the ingredients that I have produced.
I will suggest to my colleagues that each day one of us buys fresh fruit for everybody in the office.
I will invite my family/roommates to join me in preparing healthy meals. Each of us should choose one day in a week when he/she will prepare a healthy meal for the rest of us.
How can I motivate myself to start doing some exercise?
Lateral stimuli - random word:
I will create an, exercising plot’ in my apartment – small area with a yoga mat or an exercising machine and a big mirror (it could resemble a miniature gym) which will motivate me to exercise on a regular basis.
I will choose an inspirational surrounding for doing exercise: my home terrace, some cool gym, beautiful park for jogging …
I will designate well in advance an ‘area’ in my time table that will be dedicated to exercising only. I will forbid myself to do any other activity during that time. If I do not feel like exercising, I will have to stand in front of the mirror all the time, look myself in the eyes and hate myself for being such a lazy bones.
How to manage better my time at work?
Lateral stimuli - any object in my working room:
Loudspeaker (there is a set of loudspeakers on my working desk)
Set series of alarms to remind me when it is time to end/switch my tasks.
I should regularly announce my plans by talking to my colleagues, or by writing emails and informing them that I will finish my tasks by the designated time. This way I will have greater responsibility to finish those tasks in time.
On the days when I am not satisfied with my time management and my performance I will play to myself the song that I absolutely abhor, in loop, for half an hour!
Now it’s your turn to think of new ideas!
FOR YOUR INSPIRATION:
My friend Aron of iDEYA often uses Random Word technique as well as other creative thinking techiques. You can check out his examples of Random Word exercises and also Synectics exercise.
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If you wish to further explore this topic, you can check out the selection of my favourite books about creative thinking.
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