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"You can't wait for inspiration; you have to go after it with a club." -Jack London

How many uses can you think of for a paperclip? Five? 10? This exercise calls on our ability to engage in divergent thinking, an essential component of creativity. A landmark study of divergent thinking found that 98% of kindergarteners performed at "genius" level. They could come up with dozens - hundreds - of uses for that paperclip. Just a few years later, only 50% of those children were still "geniuses." And it steadily drops from there... until you get us!

Creativity is often drummed out of adults as we turn to rationality, reason, facts, and figures. But the need to see challenges from different perspective, to come up with divergent solutions to problems, to gain new insights has never been more pressing. If we've lost our creativity somewhere along the way, it's time to go after it. Club optional, but encouraged.

Reigniting Creativity at Work

Deanna Berg and Chuck Dymer, speakers for the peer advisory group, Vistage, recommend several exercises to get your juices flowing:

Cyclone Thinking

When you have a problem, challenge, or question, write it inside of a circle. Outside the circle, jot down ideas that relate to the topic inside. If it connects, draw a line between them. If it doesn't, write it down on a separate piece of paper so you can brainstorm ideas that do relate to it.

Challenge Your Assumptions

Take the problem or challenge that you're tackling and list all of the assumptions you're making about it. For example, you've used a specific subcontractor to handle all graphic projects for years, but a member of your executive team wants to make a change. List all the reasons why you assume that this subcontractor is the best choice... she does great work. She's fast. Her rates are reasonable. Think big, and small. Divide these assumptions into two categories: valid and invalid. Examine them and see if you're still making the best decision.

Forced Relationship

What if...we took an Oreo and doubled the amount of cream filling? Or made the cookie smaller? This is an example of forced relationship. Berg suggests writing down the process, product, or object that you want to change. Now, what would happen if you:

  • Added or subtracted something?
  • Changed the size?
  • Changed the color/look?
  • Rearranged its parts?
  • Varied its materials/job functions?
  • Reversed it?

Not all answers will yield a Double Stuff Oreo, but you may find some useful innovations through this exercise.

Combine for Creativity

Interesting, and unexpected, collaborations can help you achieve remarkable results. For example, what other product or service dovetails with yours? Can you combine your product or process with another that is fundamentally "unlike" it?

Music platform Spotify, for instance, recently partnered with ride service Uber. If users are matched with "music-enabled" drivers, they can select or create a playlist. When their driver pulls up, their music will be ready to make their ride more comfortable.

How can you collaborate or combine to enhance your customers' experience?

Brainstorm by Occupation

Your target audience and customers are not homogenous - so don't brainstorm that way. In brainstorming sessions, assign each person a role (e.g. manufacturer, distributor, service provider) or an occupation (accountant, educator, designer, etc.). Have them think from this perspective when brainstorming ideas.

Yes, it may be out of their comfort zone. Is creativity supposed to be comfortable?

A Note on Brainstorming:

Take your time. Quality of quantity. Focus. Be discriminating. This is all great advice - unless you're in a brainstorming session. Here, you want people to suspend their inhibitions, spout crazy ideas - and lots of them - and silence their inner (and outer) critic. The goal is to get as many ideas as you can. Analyzing and evaluating their merit comes later.

Rediscovering Your Creative Genius

Creativity enriches not only your career, but also your life and relationships. Take steps to nurture your own inner genius:

Change a Habit

If you always drive to work, try walking or cycling. If you always eat oatmeal for breakfast, try eggs or French toast a few times a week. Sounds simple - but shaking yourself out of ingrained patterns can open up new possibilities.

Think of Yourself at Different Ages

What was important to you when you were 5? 12? 40? What will be important to you when you're 80? 100? What was or is not important? What do you wish you'd done? If you're answering as your 80-year-old self, get on it. Do what you want to have done when you're looking back on your life.

Change Your Attitude

What do you hate? What really gets under your skin? Listing a few shouldn't be a problem! But this may be more challenging: change your attitude about it. If, for instance, you hate getting stuck in traffic, how can you reframe that? Put on a great playlist and listen to music to reduce the stress you know you are feeling. You can't change it; flow with it! You don't need that stress!

And if all else fails, go to your pantry and smell some cinnamon and vanilla. Research has linked these scents to creativity. Of course, they may just make you hungry. A better bet: practice these creativity boosters. You need your innate, though perhaps long-lost, genius more than ever.


Larry Hart

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