Back in my day, we began school in the first grade—no kindergarten or preschool. Only a few weeks into my first year in school, my teacher called me aside and handed me an envelope.
“Take this to your mother,” she said.
I was too young, inexperienced, and innocent to recognize that this was a problem. I gave the note to Mom when I got home and went about my normal routine of playing in the backyard. Within a few minutes, Mom called me back into the house.
“It says here you’ve been spending your time daydreaming in class. Is that true?”
Innocently, I asked, “What’s daydreaming?”
“She says you spend too much time looking out the windows and not paying attention to what’s going on in class.”
I thought about that for a bit, and then acknowledged, “I guess so.”
We Were Born with a Creative Mind
Well, Mom impressed upon me the need to pay attention in class. As I look back on that experience now, I realize that given the choice of enjoying my inner creative movie-making machine or listening to a teacher drone on and on about things I didn’t really care about—well, you get the picture.
We were born to think creatively, to produce mental pictures, to listen to the music in our minds. But as we grow older, the droning of everyday life takes its toll. If we cease using our creative potential, our capacity to do so atrophies over time. So, what can we do to recapture those younger days when we were carefree and the world had not yet imposed its expectations upon us?
Of course, we probably can’t fully return to our childhood, but we can apply some simple principles for developing and retaining our creative spirit.
Two Basic Principles of Creative Thinking
The two basic principles of creative thinking are:
- There are methods and techniques of creative thinking.
- Making these methods and techniques a part of our mental habits helps to make creative thinking easier and automatic.
An entrepreneur sees the potential profit in a given situation, because his mind is trained for that. A lawyer sees the potential problems embedded within a case, because that is how her mind is trained. Repetition of thought produces habits—the means for training our mind.
As we learn the techniques of creative thinking and use them until they become habitual, our creative thinking will become more natural.
The Techniques Of Creative Thinking
There are dozens of creative problem-solving techniques we can learn to use. For example, concept-combination involves combining two concepts to produce an entirely new idea. This is sometimes referred to as mental synergy. And often the two concepts are seemingly unrelated. For example, what if we mixed roses and clocks to create the first alarm clock that wakes you up with a gentle release of fragrance?
Another technique called random-presentation involves recognizing a new application for a routine activity. As an example, people walk about the streets talking on cell phones without even thinking about how to get to a given destination. They’ve done it so often, it’s become automatic. And yet, much of the conversation on the phone is mere fluff—yak, yak, yak. But when we creative thinkers apply this technique, it may dawn upon us that we could be using our time more productively by dictating into a digital recorder or, better yet, just using the cell phone. After all, there’s an app for that, right?
The Power of Creative Questioning
Creative thinking also goes beyond solving specific problems or inventing new things. The creative mind is always coming up with questions, too. As a teacher, I can tell you that good questions drive interactivity during a lesson. Do you want to make your presentations more powerful and interesting? Come up with good questions. Believe me, your audience will provide the answers. But to ask good questions, we must train our minds to generate them.
Recapturing Our Creative Ability
To recapture our creativity, may I suggest three things?
- Challenge your assumptions. What if a restaurant didn’t have employees? Could customers pay a machine as they enter and feed themselves at a buffet? If everything was as automated as possible, maybe one owner-operator could run a large restaurant alone. Challenge everything.
- Change your perspective. Imagining a dog’s thoughts about your business could clue you in to some unnecessary things you do. Thinking dollars-per-day instead of per-hour could give you a plan to let employees go home when they finish a certain quota. Greater efficiency would be almost certain, and you could adjust daily pay and quotas so both you and employees made more money. Look at everything from several perspectives.
- Let your ideas run wild. Flying furniture seems silly, but it may lead to the idea of a hover-lifter. Slide the device under furniture and it lifts it with a cushion of air, making for easy moving. Don’t stifle your creativity. Relax, let ideas come, and know that you can always discard them later. Engage in some personal brainstorming now and again.
Creating Creative Thinking Habits
To make these techniques an automatic part of our thinking, we just need to use them enough. It takes time to develop a habit, so we may need a way to remind ourselves each day to spend time thinking creatively. One of my favorite techniques for reminding myself to get certain things done is to carry a goal card in my pocket. Several times throughout the day, I’ll pull it out and be reminded to do certain things. If we simply jot onto the card “THINK CREATIVELY,” it will provide the reminder we need to take a few minutes to stop and think. As we do so, creative thinking will eventually become a normal part of our life.