“I need to think differently!” “I need some fresh ideas!” “I have got to be more creative around here!”
Are messages like these popping up more and more in your workplace?
Faced with complex, open-ended, ever-changing challenges, you realize that constant, ongoing innovation is critical to stay ahead of the competition that other writers pose. This is why we need to be on the lookout for new ideas that can drive innovation, and it’s why the ability to think differently, generate new ideas, and spark creativity within a team becomes an important skill. You need to work actively on building and cultivating this skill, and it can be done!
Often, though, we make the mistake of assuming that good ideas just happen. Or worse still, we get caught in the mind trap that creativity is an aptitude; some people have it, others don’t. Then there is the other self-defeating belief – “I am not intelligent enough to come up with good ideas.”
These assumptions are rarely true. Everyone can come up with fresh, radical ideas – you just need to learn to open your mind and think differently. This article shows you how to do so.
How to Generate New Ideas
Standard idea-generation techniques concentrate on combining or adapting existing ideas. This can certainly generate results. But here, our focus is on equipping you with tools that help you leap onto a totally different plane. These approaches push your mind to forge new connections, think differently and consider new perspectives.
A word of caution – while these techniques are extremely effective, they will only succeed if they are backed by rich knowledge of the area you’re working on. This means that if you are not prepared with adequate information about the issue, you are unlikely to come up with a great idea even by using the techniques listed here.
Incidentally, these techniques can be applied to spark creativity in group settings and brainstorming sessions as well.
Breaking Thought Patterns
All of us can tend to get stuck in certain thinking patterns. Breaking these thought patterns can help you get your mind unstuck and generate new ideas. There are several techniques you can use to break established thought patterns:
For every situation, you have a set of key assumptions. Challenging these assumptions gives you a whole new spin on possibilities.
You want to paint a human figurine but have never painted one before so doubt your skill in painting a good human figurine. Challenge the assumption. Sure, you have never painted a human figurine but you have made other stuff? You have surely painted much harder stuff than simple humans? You have surely drawn much more complicated stuff than a stick with limbs? Suddenly the picture starts looking brighter.
Reword the Problem
Stating the problem differently often leads to different ideas. To reword the problem look at the issue from different angles. “Why do we need to solve the problem?”, “What’s the roadblock here?”, “What will happen if we don’t solve the problem?” These questions will give you new insights. You might come up with new ideas to solve your new problem.
Think in Reverse
If you feel you cannot think of anything new, try turning things upside-down. Instead of focusing on how you could solve a problem/improve operations/enhance a product, consider how could you create the problem/worsen operations/downgrade the product. The reverse ideas will come flowing in. Consider these ideas – once you’ve reversed them again – as possible solutions for the original challenge.
Express Yourself through Different Media
We have multiple intelligence but somehow, when faced with workplace challenges we just tend to use our verbal reasoning ability. How about expressing the challenge through different media? Clay, music, word association games, paint, there are several ways you can express the challenge. Don’t bother about solving the challenge at this point. Just express it. A different expression might spark off different thought patterns. And these new thought patterns may yield new ideas.
Connect the Unconnected
Some of the best ideas seem to occur just by chance. You see something or you hear someone, often totally unconnected to the situation you are trying to resolve, and the penny drops in place. Newton and the apple, Archimedes in the bathtub; examples abound.
Why does this happen? The random element provides a new stimulus and gets our brain cells ticking. You can capitalize on this knowledge by consciously trying to connect the unconnected.
Actively seek stimuli from unexpected places and then see if you can use these stimuli to build a connection with your situation. Some techniques you could use are:
- Use random input: Choose a word from the dictionary and look for novel connections between the word and your problem.
- Mindmap possible ideas: Put a keyword or phrase in the middle of the page. Write whatever else comes in your mind on the same page. See if you can make any connections.
- Pick up a picture. Consider how you can relate it to your situation.
- Take an item. Ask yourself questions such as “How could this item help in addressing the challenge?”, or “What attributes of this item could help us solve our challenge?”
Over the years we all build a certain type of perspective and this perspective yields a certain type of idea. If you want different ideas, you will have to shift your perspective. To do so:
Get Someone Else’s Perspective
Ask different people what they would do if faced with your challenge. You could approach friends engaged in different kind of work, your spouse, a nine-year-old child, customers, suppliers, senior citizens, someone from a different culture; in essence anyone who might see things differently.
Play the “If I were” game: Ask yourself “If I were …” how would I address this challenge? You could be anyone: a millionaire, Tiger Woods, anyone.
The idea is the person you decide to be has certain identifiable traits. And you have to use these traits to address the challenge. For instance, if you decide to play the millionaire, you might want to bring traits such as flamboyance, big thinking, and risk-taking when formulating an idea. If you are Tiger Woods you would focus on things such as perfection, persistence and execution detail.
Enablers are activities and actions that assist with, rather than directly provoke, idea generation. They create a positive atmosphere. Some of the enablers that can help you get your creative juices flowing are:
Belief in Yourself
Believe that you are creative, believe that ideas will come to you; positive reinforcement helps you perform better.
Creative Loafing Time
Nap, go for a walk, listen to music, play with your child, take a break from formal idea-generating. Your mind needs the rest, and will often come up with connections precisely when it isn’t trying to make them.
Change of Environment
Sometimes changing the setting changes your thought process. Go to a nearby coffee shop instead of the conference room in your office, or hold your discussion while walking together around a local park.
Shutting out Distractions
Keep your thinking space both literally and mentally clutter-free. Shut off the iPhone, close the door, divert your phone calls and then think.
Fun and Humor
These are essential ingredients, especially in team settings.
The ability to generate new ideas is an essential work skill today. You can acquire this skill by consciously practicing techniques that force your mind to forge new connections, break old thought patterns and consider new perspectives.
Along with practicing these techniques, you need to adopt enabling strategies too. These enabling strategies help in creating a positive atmosphere that boosts creativity.
Everything begins with an idea ~ Earl Nightengale