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7.5 ways to be more creative Featured

6:40am EDT November 29, 2001
The most creative people we've ever known were not creative at all.

Think about it. Picasso never created a thing. He didn't create paint, brushes, canvas or clay. He simply combined and rearranged those materials in ways we had never seen before.

The same goes for Madame Curie, da Vinci, Einstein and Walt Disney. These "geniuses" simply mastered the art of looking at the world from a different angle. Kind of takes the pressure off of being creative, doesn't it?

If you wish to capture the mystical power of creativity, stop worrying about how to be more creative and start learning how to think differently. Here are 7.5 ways to get started.

1. Start at the end.

Define each challenge you face with a creative problem statement. Use a simple format such as, "We must (your challenge here) so that (your desired results here)." A current, realistic example: "We must invent new ways to present our work to clients so that we can eliminate air travel." Follow Einstein's philosophy that "a problem well-defined is a problem half-solved."

2. Move to another state.

During a brainstorming session, I asked a group of engineers and corporate types (i.e., noncreatives) to come up with one crazy way to improve a hardhat. Then I required them to make that idea 10 times crazier than it was.

They found it hard at first, but the results were amazing. One of the crazy ideas was a "mood" hardhat that changes color when outside temperatures are dangerously hot or cold. This is a wild idea that has some life-saving potential. Not bad for a crazy thought.

Think as wild and crazy as you can. Take your most whacked-out idea and crank it up a level. Do it again. And again. And again. Don't worry about whether the idea will actually work. The objective is to stretch your brain a bit and move it to another mental state.

3. Swap your brain.

When your brain doesn't work any more, swap brains with your customer, your customer's customer, the most creative person you know or someone totally random like Gandhi or Madonna. Do more than think about somebody else.

Literally think, talk and act like the person you're swapping brains with. You'll be surprised at what you can discover using someone else's brain.

I run a creative, off-site meeting space that companies rent out to conduct brainstorming sessions and other "creative" meetings. As I developed the space, I swapped brains with many different people -- tall, short, fat, skinny, stuffy, creative, etc. I sat in every chair as each one of those people and discovered many ways to improve the space before I even opened the doors.

4. P-L-A-Y.

Shannon Jackson, founder of The Inspired Writer workshops, invented this acronym: Put Learning Away Yonder. That's what kids do.

They ignore what they're supposed to know, and use their imaginations without reservation. We lose that ability somewhere in junior high science class.

Recapture your ability to be silly or think of things that couldn't possibly be possible. Build a sand castle, color with crayons or pretend your car is a spaceship (it's best to do this one when you're alone). Think of ways you played as a kid and use them to re-engage your sense of play.

5. Become a wild failure.

When faced with a challenge, always think of lots of solutions. Never edit yourself or label something as stupid. Out of 100 ideas, you'll have 99 bad ones. That one good one may be your theory of relativity.

People sometimes hire me to think up a name for a new business or product. I easily generate thousands of so-so ideas, dozens of good ones and a handful of real contenders. My clients usually like only one or two of them. Talk about a high failure rate.

However, if I didn't mine the thousands of pieces of coal, I might never find the one or two diamonds.

6. Run away from home.

Where are you working on your problem? Get out of there. Take your problem to the park or go sit in a shopping mall.

Change your environment and you'll expose yourself to different sights, sounds and people. You'll also free yourself from everyday distractions that might be hampering your creative ability.

I like to work in coffee shops. They have comfy chairs, good music, interesting people to look at and all the caffeine I can consume. You're sort of "allowed" to be creative in a coffee shop, which always helps, too.

7. Take your brain on a date.

Remember the cowboys in movies? They ran their horses hard and they treated them often to water, rest and an occasional rubdown.

Your brain is your horse. Give it the day off once in a while. Take it somewhere it likes to go and let it feed on a new experience. Your brain will feel refreshed, and you might discover something interesting along the way.

One of my brain's favorite places to visit is a warehouse that sells used store fixtures, displays and an amazing array of strange objects. I rarely look for anything specific, I just see what's there.

On a recent visit, I bought a vintage mannequin, which I now use as a guest book. My visitors "sign" the mannequin by pinning their business card to it. People comment daily on how "creative" this idea is. I would have never thought of it if I hadn't taken my brain on a date.

7.5. Find your mojo.

Everyone has creative rituals, ways to get their creative mojo working. A few years ago, I asked 150 people in a highly respected creative company, "What lights your creative fire?" Some said their best ideas came while exercising. Others yell "Eureka!" in the shower.

Spicy Thai food got one person's creative juices flowing. I discovered that each person had a different way to kick-start their creative mojo. So, what are your creative rituals? Use them. Abuse them. When they don't work anymore, invent new ones.

A word of warning: creative thinking is addictive. If you try these techniques, you'll like them and you'll start looking for more. There are a zillion ways to accelerate your creativity.

Once you get started, you might even start inventing them on your own. Who knows, you might be the next Picasso.

Mark Henson is founder and director of guest happiness at sparkspace (www.sparkspace.com), an Arena District professional off-site meeting space designed to stimulate creative thinking and improve team collaboration. He can be reached at 224-7727 or mark@sparkspace.com.