May 8 2014, 7:31pm CDT | by Forbes
If you’re an entrepreneur, chances are you’re pretty good at coming up with responses to unfulfilled needs in the marketplace. But what happens when you need a new idea? An original answer? A breakthrough? That calls for creative thinking. It’s a method of thinking most of us have never been taught, and some say is unteachable. Faced with the need to create, we tend to freeze up, get muddled, or, as I’ve written before, give up on the people we’ve got and hire someone else.
If this sounds like you, take heart. Here are four specific, science-based moves that creative people have been using for years to spark creative thinking:
1. Ditch your comfort zone.
Creativity calls us to see old things in new ways. Coax yourself out of your comfort zone—creativity’s nemesis. Take a different route to work. Eat lunch with someone new. Read a magazine you would never buy. Travel. Wander. Get lost. According to Justin Farar, founding partner at Farar & Lewis LLP in Santa Monica, Calif.: “To stay creative and innovative with our approach to legal solutions, we work very hard to keep a pulse on all other recent and relevant legal decisions and strategies we see. To do this, we devote all time possible to continuing education courses, seminars, webinars, and conferences where we have the opportunity to mingle with other professionals to discuss ideas and strategies.”
Meetup groups (go to www.meetups.com for examples) are helpful for this purpose as well—it’s easy to find formal or informal groups in your own area who share your particular interest. When you get more confident, consider speaking at a local Meetup or even launching a Meetup group of your own.
2. Discover your thinking profile.
Comfort zones aren’t just physical. Research from publishing company FourSight in Evanston, Ill. shows that we all have mental comfort zones too. Just as we’re born right or left handed, we’re also born with unique problem solving preferences, the company’s research maintains. For example, if I hand you a pen, you’ll grab it with your preferred hand. Likewise, if I hand you a problem, you’ll grab it with your preferred problem solving preference. Figure out your preference from the examples below and use it to your advantage.
3. Play to your creative strength.
Do you recognize any of these thinking archetypes? Chances are you emphasize one of them, or perhaps your unique preference is a blend. Each of these thinking styles adds something vital to the creative process.
4. Remember that great minds actually don’t think alike.
Think back to a time you had a remarkable creative collaboration. Who was on the team? Likely, they weren’t “mini-me’s”; they were people who brought different expertise and perspectives to the table. According to data from Ben Waber, CEO of Boston-based Sociometric Solutions, “Informally chatting about work and personal topics leads to higher creativity for both you and coworkers.”
In the last few years, the National Science Foundation has begun to promote more innovative research by funding an Ideas Lab to bring diverse thinkers together to collaborate on intriguing research in cutting-edge fields of inquiry. They use a creative problem solving framework and the FourSight Thinking Profile to help teams identify the sort of creative thinkers they have.
If you need more creative solutions, figure out which of the thinking archetypes need to put their heads together. Assemble a team of diverse thinkers. Consider inviting someone from accounting or the mailroom to weigh in on a creative decision as opposed to speaking only to product marketing or to the design engineers In summary, remember that we are all points of light, but our flashlights are typically angled in different directions. So hedge your bets by trying a new approach or by inviting somebody new to the table. You never know who might shine a light on the next creative breakthrough for your product or team.
Background research for this article was provided by communications consultant Adam Torkildson, with additional reporting provided by writer and editor W. Craig Snapp.
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