Society stresses the importance of education. Good grades in school propel a kid to a prestigious institution; and getting into a world-renowed college leads to a bright, successful future. And this generation is lucky, we are mostly well-educated.
Ironically, schools mainly stuff information in our brains. Even though we are more educated, somehow our creativity is suppressed.
Yeah right, I’m not in the creative industry, it doesn’t matter.
No, having creativity is key nowadays. Any industry needs innovation, and it’s the most important component for success. When we step into society, problems and roadblocks are everywhere. And soon, we realize we lack creativity to solve them.
Scholars  have identified two thinking process: convergent thinking and divergent thinking. Education focuses on convergent thinking — emphasizes on finding definite, absolute answers. But in reality, we actually need divergent thinking more, which is the ability to find more than one way to solve problems, and it is essential to creativity.
How important is divergent thinking?
In a research conducted by neuroscientist Nancy C. Andreasen, she discovered IQ is not the factor to a creative genius, but having divergent thinking is. She writes:
Assuming that creativity is a trait everyone has in varying amounts, those with the highest scores (in the skill of divergent thinking) can be classified as exceptionally creative and selected for further study.
School equips us with knowledge we need, and we have more than enough training in convergent thinking, but to be creative once we leave the education system, divergent thinking is what we need to work on, and here’s how:
Challenge yourself to think of 10 options to solve a problem.
Often when we come across a problem, we only think of 1, or mostly 2-3 options. We then hold on to the possible solutions and deeply analyze the pros and cons. 90% of the time, we reject the option we proposed and get frustrated at ourselves.
We have all been in this situation: In a meeting, person A suggests a solution and everyone starts to evaluate the option. Then person B proposes another option, the same happens. Afterwards, everyone is banning everyone else’s suggestions, and waiting for the BEST solution to come around.
Can you imagine how unproductive is that?
So I challenge you (or you could challenge yourself too): when you encounter a problem, try to think of AT LEAST 10 OPTIONS. Ignore the feasibility for a minute.
For example, your boss asks you to fix the problem of decreasing views on your company’s website. The usual approach is to make a suggestion and assess the option. But with divergent thinking, we should first come up with many different ideas, like to use Instagram to attract younger viewers, change the layout of the web, fix bugs, develop new features, and more. We then go through the list and weigh the pros and cons.
But I can’t come up with 10 ideas, what can I do?
British science writer Matt Ridley introduced the concept of “idea sex”, which means combining two ideas to “reproduce” a new idea. It is particularly useful when you run out of ideas. To put it in other words, idea sex is like mixing and matching outfits with a limited amount of clothes.
Still a bit confused? Here is more of Matt Ridley’s TED talk on “idea sex”.
What else should I do if I don’t even have a solid idea?
“Creativity is just connecting things,” Steve Jobs once said. He also thought “most people don’t have enough dots to connect because they haven’t had many diverse experiences.” To be creative or innovative, we need a broad knowledge base.
Ever scrolled through Facebook and paused at an intriguing post, then told youself “nah, I’m not interested” and continued scrolling?
Sometimes, we are too picky to the knowledge we absorb. Similar to the approach of convergent thinking, we look at something and immediately put it into the “yes” or “no” bin. It doesn’t hurt to expand your knowledge base, you never know when the information you acquired is going to be useful.
Creativity doesn’t equal the number of ideas you generate.
Don’t be mistaken, being creative is not measured by how many ideas you have, it rather requires the ability to turn abstract ideas into practical solutions. Always keep a clear objective in mind when generating ideas, you will later realize it makes divergent thinking easier and smoother, and finally boosts your creativity.