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Published on March 12, 2021

How to Train Your Brain to Be More Creative

How to Train Your Brain to Be More Creative

The spark, a muse, an “aha!” moment—all these describe the elusive creativity. Is it possible to capture that magic? To learn how to be creative, let’s take a closer look at how the brain works.

According to Harvard psychologist, Shelley Carson,[1]

“The old model was that the left brain was for analytical and sequential thinking and the right brain was for more holistic thinking. Then there was a move toward a front brain–back brain division, with the front brain being the gatekeeper and controlling the input from the back brain. Now we think it’s much more complicated than either of those models and that it depends which stage of the creative process you are in.”

It’s not a single process that defines creativity. In her book, Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life, Carson defines the seven stages in creativity (or, as she calls them, “brainsets”):

  1. Absorb
  2. Reason
  3. Connect
  4. Envision
  5. Evaluate
  6. Transform
  7. Stream

Think of creativity like learning to cook. The first time you cook an omelette, you will need a recipe or someone to show you how to do it. Once you’ve learned the process, you start by doing it on your own.

After you’ve served a few omelettes, you start to try new flavor pairings. Next, you envision all the ways you can reinvent the omelette and evaluate which ideas to keep. On a bad day, you funnel that negative energy into an exceptionally amazing omelette. Finally, you get caught in the flow of eggs and fixings.

Now, let’s take a closer look at each stage.

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1. Absorb Creativity

You are what you consume. This is true for both your traditional diet and the diet you feed your mind. Children enter this world with a brain unfiltered by bias. They absorb and take it all in.

When you access the absorb brainset, you open your mind to new experiences and ideas. You uncritically view your world and take in knowledge. Everything fascinates you and attracts your attention (just like a child).

Want a shortcut to absorbing creativity? Try meditation. Just sit silently, clear your mind and notice what thoughts come to the surface. Notice your body sensations and how they make you feel. Also, you can expose yourself to different points of view. If you’re a regular to the Lifehack Podcast, try listening to a few episodes of the comedy fiction podcast Unwanted.

The key is to train yourself to notice every detail. Notice without judgment. One quick track to letting go of judgments is using alcohol—a common but slippery slope into creativity.

2. Reason Creativity

“I’ll think about it” is a response I give often if I need more time to ponder. Also, it’s a sign that I’m going into creativity’s reason mode. This is where you systematically analyze the gaps, look for patterns, and test ideas.

When using reason to spark creativity, it helps to have a depth of knowledge on the subject. You’re using the information stored in your working memory (the prefrontal cortex).

The environment plays a key role to focus your thoughts. When you’re deep in thought, don’t let the barrage of group texts about Saturday’s plans steal your attention. Take time to block out distractions.

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Here are a few questions to ponder before sitting down to a reasoning session:

  • How can you silence the distractions on your phone?
  • What other distractions reside where you do your most important work?
  • Can you move these distractions to another space?

3. Connect Creativity

A few weeks ago, I went out for a trial run after dropping my daughter at school. Before my shoes hit the dirt, I started the Nike Run Club app. I chose a guided run with the theme “breaking through barriers.”

The words on that guided run resonated and sparked a breakthrough for my project. I had to pause my run, take out my phone, and dictate my thoughts because it was that important. I bet you’ve had a breakthrough moment like this. It may have been in the shower or while walking the dog.

Dr. Carson defines the connection path to creativity as “a defocused state of attention that allows you to see the connections between objects or concepts that are quite disparate in nature.”

You can jumpstart this process in your brain by making intentions to daydream. This is something we do often as kids but today, we don’t make time for it in our busy lives, perhaps because people don’t like to be alone with their thoughts, as Chris Bailey states in his book Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction.

Say you’re stuck in solving an employee conflict. Get up and hold that problem in your mind while performing a habitual task. What’s a habitual task? It’s something that doesn’t take much thought (like going for a run) and allows your mind to wander.

Pick a task you enjoy to keep your mind in a positive mood. It’s like putting your brain on autopilot to connect the dots of information and form new creative ideas. Expert tip: keep a notepad handy for those “aha!” moments.

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4. Envision Creativity

This is the creative zone for all artists and dreamers. When you tap into your envision creativity brainset, you think visually. Patterns emerge. This is where your imagination resides.

Here are a few fun ways to spark your imagination:

  1. Read – exposing yourself to new ideas will open your mind.
  2. Express yourself – through journaling, beatboxing, or speaking up on a favorite cause.
  3. Watch a movie – I recommend anything by PIXAR.
  4. Seek Adventure – try new experiences to expose yourself to a whole new world.
  5. Play – kids have us beat when it comes to creativity.

5. Evaluate Creativity

When considering a new project, can you immediately see what might go wrong? If so, you have a critical eye for creativity. You’re an excellent judge of the value of ideas, concepts, products, and behaviors—selecting the best idea to move ahead creatively.

If you’re an overthinker (raising my hand over here), I’ve got you. One way to strengthen this skill is to fail. Only by failing can we learn from our mistakes, reinvent, and move forward with a stronger version of ourselves.

Another approach is to begin with the end in mind, then reverse engineer your success. For example, if you want to launch a product next quarter with a revenue goal of $100,000 in the first six months, evaluate the product ideas that pencil out to your goal. Or you may seek out a fresh voice when collaborating on a project. Find someone with a new or opposite perspective that will challenge your way of thinking.

6. Transform Creativity

This is the dark side of creativity. Some of the greatest contributions in art, literature, and music are born from pain. Dr. Carson says, “you find yourself in a self-conscious and dissatisfied—or even distressed—state of mind. You can use this state to transform negative energy into works of art and great performances.”

Don’t seek out pain to train your brain to be creative (obviously). The lesson here is to channel that pain into creativity. Life often comes with the cost of suffering. It may be a loss of a loved one, mental health issues, or any other obstacle you may face.

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Instead of shoving that pain down deep inside, use it to spark your imagination. You could come up with a unique solution to the specific obstacle you’re facing. You could write a book to commemorate the life of the loved one you lost to cancer.

7. Stream Creativity

Another word for Stream Creativity is flow. It’s the state we all long for when working or engaging in a task.—where time passes without you even noticing because you are so engaged in what you’re doing.

In this creative zone, like children, your impulse control is suppressed. Here are a few ways to hack the advantage of youth:

  • Notice and allow your emotions to flow (journaling or meditation might help).
  • Shut down your inner critic by practicing positive affirmations.
  • Create a balance between the challenge and your skill.
  • Chose work that is highly intrinsically rewarding.
  • Have a clear vision of your win or end goal.

Putting It All Together

As you read through the types of creative thinking listed above, did one or two resonate with you more? These are your preferred paths to creativity.

If you want to do some intense brain training on creativity, you need to get outside your comfort zone. Your big gains in creativity will come when you learn how to engage and transition between several ways of thinking.

More Tips on How to Be Creative

Featured photo credit: Antonio Francisco via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Health Publishing: Creative thinking and the brain

More by this author

Jennifer Theuriet

Writer and productivity coach for creatives who hustle.

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Published on April 6, 2021

How To Brainstorm Ideas More Creatively And Effectively

How To Brainstorm Ideas More Creatively And Effectively

Do you continually look for ways and means to do things better but find yourself in a shortage of ideas? As humans, we are continually evolving and looking for ways to do what we do more efficiently—to yield the same or higher output with lesser inputs in time, resources, and effort. One way to do this is to wait for the Eureka! moment and inspiration to strike. But that is far-fetched and requires a lot of waiting around to take small steps ahead.

However, putting in place a structure for ideation can come in handy for those looking to take giant leaps forward. And that’s where brainstorming ideas can help.

Let’s have a look at how to brainstorm ideas more creatively and effectively. But before that, let’s dive deeper into understanding brainstorming.

What Is Brainstorming?

Brainstorming is an excellent tool for ideation, out-of-the-box thinking, and creative problem solving without criticism or judgment.

Meriam Webster’s dictionary defines brainstorming as “a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group; the mulling over of ideas by one or more individuals in an attempt to devise or find a solution to a problem.”[1]

Three things stand out here:

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  1. Spontaneous contribution – Brainstorming allows individuals to share crazy, far-fetched, out of the box half-baked ideas. It does not have to be thoroughly thought out yet at the ideation stage.
  2. All members – Brainstorming is a technique where taking in diverse opinions can improve ideating offbeat solutions.
  3. Find a solution to a problem – It is fundamentally goal-oriented towards one thing—solving the issue at hand. Without a clear problem statement, brainstorming ideas will not yield effective results.

Broadly speaking, brainstorming is synonymous with the idea-generating process that creatively solves problems.

You Can Brainstorm Ideas on Your Own

It is common to think that brainstorming is effective only in groups and cannot be done individually. However, that is not entirely true. Studies have shown that although both approaches have their pros and cons in catalyzing idea generation, people are more creative when they brainstorm on their own than in groups.[2]

Individually, one is empowered to flexibly work at their pace and drive idea generation. They can set their own time and place and ideate when one is at their creative best. Additionally, there is no fear of judgment when brainstorming individually.

On the other hand, group brainstorming holds a sacred place in innovating in workplaces. Here, you can take advantage of the diverse experience, perspectives, and creativity of all team members to ideate and develop offbeat solutions that offer outstanding results.

Is Brainstorming Effective?

Brainstorming delivers tremendous value, from providing innovative and offbeat ideas that would have never occurred in the ordinary course of work to building a culture of collaboration and team spirit. Here are some reasons why brainstorming is effective and beneficial.

1. Goes Beyond Creative Blocks

Brainstorming ideas can help individuals and teams move forward when they find themselves creatively stuck. Inspiration is hard to come by, and brainstorming is an excellent approach to access on-demand creativity without the pressure of getting it right the first time.

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2. Encourages Divergent Thinking

By leaving no idea behind, brainstorming can help explore diverse ideas and alternatives to grow. Brainstorming ideas offers a judgment-free space to think of as many possibilities as you can until you’re convinced of the way forward.

3. Supports Team Building

Compared to other techniques, you create a relaxed and informal ambiance to brainstorm ideas that encourage open participation among team members. People are offered the space to share their opinion and points of view without fear of judgment, strengthening the camaraderie among team members. Frequent brainstorming sessions instill the spirit of collaboration and help teams to rely on each other’s strengths to deliver improved results.

How Does It Work?

Brainstorming ideas involves 4 crucial stages:

  1. Identifying the central problem or goal: This stage defines the critical purpose for brainstorming ideas.
  2. Idea Generation: An avenue permitting free-flowing generation of ideas.
  3. Developing the idea: Deep dive into the ideas produced and build upon them.
  4. Idea evaluation: Evaluating the top ideas towards its efficacy in solving the central goal or issue.

The process is structured to allow consideration of varied ideas objectively to achieve the solution to the critical problem at hand.

ProTips to Brainstorm Ideas Effectively

Here are a few #ProTips to brainstorm ideas creatively and effectively.

  • Welcome wild ideas: Make sure you encourage offbeat and non-linear ideas. The more diverse the ideas produced in the ideation stage, the better it is to allow for innovative solutions to come forth.
  • Plan ahead: Allow people to think by themselves before the brainstorming session. This tip ensures that people are allowed sufficient time to mull over the problem statement and come prepared to ideate on tackling the issue.
  • Goal-tending: As you navigate the ideation stage, focus on the central goal or problem. It is natural to stray away while opening up the forum for ideas. So, it is essential to remind the teams on the problem statement to keep the discussions relevant and identify the best solution.
  • Record everything: Record all ideas, not just the good ones. This rule is fundamental to capture all probable ideas in the ideation stage. Make sure that every single idea generated is systematically captured regardless of how useful it is. Additionally, permit one conversation at a time to ensure all thoughts are given consideration and are not missed out in parallel discussions.
  • Judgement-free: Creating a no-judgment space encourages people to speak up and express their opinions freely. Keeping judgments aside can help continue the flow of ideas and encourage teams to build and develop each other’s thought processes. One idea could spark another, leading to much more effective solutions.
  • Defer evaluation: Refrain from evaluating ideas in the ideation stage. Hold the assessments till the evaluation stage for the best results. All ideas hold some potential so enforce the no assessment rule until all the ideas are captured, tabled, and developed. Alex Osborn, who conceptualized the brainstorming technique, recommends “defer judgment” as the golden rule to brainstorm effectively.[3]

How to Use Brainstorming Effectively on Your Own

Here are a few tips for brainstorming ideas effectively on your own:

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1. Ground Yourself

Make sure to ground yourself by meditating or practicing any other mindfulness technique to ensure your entire presence before brainstorming. You could also choose a time and place when you’re most active and energetic for the best results.

2. Minimize Distractions

Choose a time where you can focus entirely on brainstorming ideas for the problem at hand. Minimize distractions and create space for paying 100% attention in ideating solutions.

3. Go Wild

Individual Brainstorming does not have worries about other’s judgment and offers a safe space to ideate as many crazy or wild ideas as they come. There’s no worry about egos or team dynamics either. So, the brainstorming can be focused on solving the core issue.

4. Use Mind maps

To keep the chain of thought as you brainstorm ideas, you can use mind maps to arrange, assimilate, and develop concepts further. Word association, prompts, or even visual cues can come in handy to ideate across the spectrum.

5. Take a Break Before Evaluating

Don’t go into assessments and evaluations right after you ideate. Take a break. Do something completely different before you consider the ideas to be objective and unbiased. Keep the overarching goal in mind to filter the best possible outcomes. You could also narrow it down to the top 2 to 3 ideas and run it past your mentors or colleagues to get unbiased opinions from trustworthy sources.

How to Use Brainstorming Effectively in a Group

Here are a few tips for brainstorming ideas effectively in a group:

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1. Diversity

Form groups across functions to bring in different perspectives as you brainstorm together. Ensure that the individuals chosen are equally vested and aligned towards the shared goal to achieve maximum results. You could also brainstorm with a complete outsider to get a fresh perspective on a problem that you’ve been stuck with for a long time.

2. 6-3-5 Technique

You can adapt the 6 people coming up with 3 ideas every 5 minutes to keep the ideation momentum going. You can get over 100 ideas in 30 minutes using this approach.

3. Challenge Bad Ideas

Ask team members to write down the craziest and most ludicrous ways to solve the problem. Then challenge other team members to make changes to flip a bad idea into a good one.

Final Thoughts

Brainstorming ideas is an excellent way to creatively identify the best way forward. It provides structure to unstructured thinking and delivers immense value to individuals and organizations to think beyond the conventional norms. Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ve picked up a thing or two to help you brainstorm ideas effectively.

Featured photo credit: Leon via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merriam-Webster: brainstorming
[2] MindTools: Brainstorming
[3] The Heart of Innovation: Why You Need to Defer Judgment During the Ideation Phase of a Brainstorming Session

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