How Conventional Thinkers Can Be More Creative (M)

The ‘creatively challenged’ — those not naturally open to new experiences — can find it hard to come up with novel ideas, but this technique can help.

The 'creatively challenged' -- those not naturally open to new experiences -- can find it hard to come up with novel ideas, but this technique can help.

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Creativity: 14 Ways To Find Inspiration And Originality

Creativity research in psychology reveals 14 ways to increase imaginative and creativity thinking, discover new ideas and solve problems.

Creativity research in psychology reveals 14 ways to increase imaginative and creativity thinking, discover new ideas and solve problems.

Creativity and imagination is all about finding new solutions to problems and situations.

Creativity and being original are useful skills for everyone.

And everyone is creative: we can all innovate given time, freedom, autonomy, experience to draw on, perhaps a role model to emulate and the motivation to get on with it.

But there are times when even the most creative person gets bored, starts going round in circles, or hits a cul-de-sac.

So here are 14 creativity boosters that research has shown will increase creativity:

1. Combine opposites for inspiration

Interviews with 22 Nobel Laureates in physiology, chemistry, medicine and physics as well as Pulitzer Prize winning writers and other artists has found a surprising similarity in their creative processes (Rothenberg, 1996).

Called ‘Janusian thinking’ after the many-faced Roman god Janus, it involves conceiving of multiple simultaneous opposites.

Integrative ideas emerge from juxtapositions, which are usually not obvious in the final product, theory or artwork.

Physicist Niels Bohr may have used Janusian thinking to conceive the principle of complementarity in quantum theory (that light can be analysed as either a wave or a particle, but never simultaneously as both).

◊ For insight: set up impossible oppositions, try ridiculous combinations. If all else fails, pray to Janus.

2. Take the path of most resistance

When people try to be ingenious they usually take the path of least resistance by building on existing ideas (Ward, 1994).

This isn’t a problem, as long as you don’t mind variations on a theme.

If you want something more novel, however, it can be limiting to scaffold your own attempts on what already exists.

The path of most resistance can lead to more creative solutions.

◊ For insight: because it’s the path of least resistance, every man and his dog is going up and down it. Try off-road.

3. A counterfactual mindset boosts creativity

Conjuring up what might have been gives a powerful boost to creativity.

Markman et al. (2007) found that using counterfactuals (what might have happened but didn’t) sometimes doubled people’s creativity.

But counterfactuals work best if they are tailored to the target problem:

  • Analytical problems are best tackled with a subtractive mind-set: thinking about what could have been taken away from the situation.
  • Expansive problems benefited most from an additive counterfactual mind-set: thinking about what could have been added to the situation.

4. Two problems are more creative than one

People solve many problems analogically: by recalling a similar old one and applying the same, or similar solution.

Unfortunately, studies have found that people are poor at recalling similar problems they’ve already solved.

In a counter-intuitive study, however, Kurtz and Lowenstein (2007) found that having two problems rather than one made it more likely that participants would recall problems they’d solved before, which helped them solve the current problem.

So don’t avoid complications, gather them all up; they may well help jog your memory.

5. Psychological distance for creativity insight

People often recommend physical separation from creative impasses by taking a break, but psychological distance can be just as useful.

Participants in one study who were primed to think about the source of a task as distant, solved twice as many insight problems as those primed with proximity to the task (Jia et al., 2009).

◊ For insight: Try imagining your creativity task as distant and disconnected from your current location. This should encourage higher level thinking.

6. Fast forward in time for originality

Like psychological distance, chronological distance can also boost creativity.

Forster et al., (2004) asked participants to think about what their lives would be like one year from now.

They were more insightful and generated more creative solutions to problems than those who were thinking about what their lives would be like tomorrow.

Thinking about distance in both time and space seems to cue the mind to think abstractly and consequently more creatively.

◊ For insight: Project yourself forward in time; view your creative task from one, ten or a hundred years distant.

7. Use bad moods to be more creative

Positive emotional states increase both problem solving and flexible thinking, and are generally thought to be more conducive to creativity.

But negative emotions also have the power to boost creativity.

One study of 161 employees found that creativity increased when both positive and negative emotions were running high (George & Zhou, 2007).

They appeared to be using the drama in the workplace positively.

◊ For insight: negative moods can be creativity killers but try to find ways to use them—you might be surprised by what happens.

8. Fight for imagination and creativity

We tend to think that when people are arguing, they become more narrow-minded and rigid and consequently less creative.

But, according to research by Dreu and Nijstad (2008), the reverse may actually be true.

Across four experiments they found that when in conflict people engaged more with a problem and generated more original ways of arguing.

Being in social conflict seems to give people an intense motivated focus. So, to get creative, start a fight.

9. Generic verbs lead to creative insights

Another boost for analogical thinking can be had from writing down the problem, then changing the problem-specific verbs to more generic ones.

What Clement et al. (1994) discovered when they tested this method was that analogical leaps are easier when problems were described in looser, more generic terms.

In this study performance increased by more than 100% in some tasks.

This is just one of a number of techniques which encourage  focus on the gist of the problem rather than its specific details, which helps boost creativity.

10. Synonyms boost creativity

Just like changing the verbs, re-encoding the problem using synonyms and category taxonomies can help.

This means analysing the type of problem and coming up with different ways of representing it.

Lowenstein (2009; PDF) emphasises the importance of accessing the underlying structure of the problem in order to work out a solution.

11. Love leads to creative thinking

Forster et al. (2009) found that when experimental participants were primed with thoughts of love they became more creative, but when primed with carnal desire they became less creative (although more analytical).

While it certainly isn’t the first time that love has been identified as a creative stimulus, psychologists have suggested a particular cognitive mechanism.

Love cues us with thoughts of the long-term, hence our minds zoom out and we reason more abstractly and analogically.

Sex meanwhile cues the present, leading to a concrete analytical processing style.

For creativity, abstraction and analogy are preferred.

12. Creativity requires more than daydreaming

To increase creativity we’re always hearing about the benefits of daydreaming for incubating ideas.

It’s a nice idea that all the work is going on under the hood with no effort from us.

But you’ll notice that all the methods covered here are active rather than passive.

That’s because the research generally finds only very small benefits for periods of incubation or unconscious thought (Zhong et al., 2009).

The problem with unconscious creativity is that it tends to remain unconscious, so we never find out about it, even if it exists.

The benefit of incubating or waiting on creativity may only be that it gives us time to forget all our initial bad ideas, to make way for better ones.

Moreover, incubating for creativity only works if the unconscious already has lots of information to incubate, in other words if you’ve already done a lot of work on the problem.

So: stop daydreaming and start doing!

13. Being absurd increases creativity

The mind is desperate to make meaning from experience.

The more absurdity it experiences, the harder it has to work to find meaning and creative insights.

Participants in one study read an absurd short story by Franz Kafka before completing a pattern recognition task (Proulx, 2009).

Compared with control participants, those who had read the short story showed an enhanced subconscious ability to recognise hidden patterns.

◊ For insight: read Alice in Wonderland, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, or any other absurdist masterpiece. Absurdity is a ‘meaning threat’ which enhances creativity.

14. Re-conceptualise the problem for inspiration

People often jump to answers too quickly before they’ve really thought about the question.

Research suggests that spending time re-conceptualising the problem is beneficial.

Mumford et al., (1994) found that experimental participants produced higher quality ideas when forced to re-conceive the problem in different ways before trying to solve it.

Similarly a classic study of artists found that those focused on discovery at the problem-formulation stage produced better art (Csikszentmihalyi & Getzels, 1971).

◊ For insight: forget the solution for now, concentrate on the problem. Are you asking the right question?

Bonus radical creativity idea

If all that fails, then I’ve got one radical, bonus suggestion: move to another country and learn another language.

Maddux and Galinsky (2009) found that people who had lived abroad performed better on a range of creative tasks.

In an experimental test of this idea, Maddux et al. (2010) asked participants to recall multicultural learning experiences and found that this made people more flexible in their thinking and better able to make creative connections.

This only worked when people had actually lived abroad, not when they just imagined it.

Everyday creativity and ingenuity

Despite all the highfalutin talk of Nobel Prize winners and artists, all of these methods can be applied to everyday life.

Combining opposites, choosing the path of most resistance, absurdism and the rest can just as easily be used to help you choose a gift for someone, think about your career in a new way or decide what to do at the weekend.

‘Off-duty’ creativity is just as important, if not more so, than all that ‘serious’ creativity.

“Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality overcomes everything.” ~George Lois


Group Norms In Psychology: How They Affect Creativity

Group norms hurt creativity because group members equate creativity with conformity.

Group norms hurt creativity because group members equate creativity with conformity.

Creativity is a much coveted asset for a very simple reason: an idea that transcends orthodoxy has the power to bring wealth, fame and status.

Commercial, scientific, educational and artistic organisations, therefore, often talk about how they want to foster creativity.

Unfortunately groups only rarely foment great ideas because people in them are powerfully shaped by group norms: the unwritten rules which describe how individuals in a group ‘are’ and how they ‘ought’ to behave.

Norms influence what people believe is right and wrong just as surely as real laws, but with none of the permanence or transparency of written regulations.

The enemy of creativity

These unwritten rules or ‘groups norms’ flow almost imperceptibly from one person to the next so that changes are difficult to spot unless they are carefully measured.

A classic psychological study on group norms randomly allocated new university students to either conservative sororities or more liberal dormitories (Siegel & Siegel, 1957).

Over time students assigned to the liberal dormitories became less conservative as the group’s norms seeped into their consciousness.

Not only do norms spread like wildfire, groups don’t even need to be that well-established, people will conform to others with only the slightest encouragement.

In another classic social experiment, people thrown into a group of strangers denied their own senses to increase their conformity with others.

When simply judging the length of a line, participants happily went along with the group despite clear evidence from their eyes that the group was wrong.

Group norms

The purpose of norms is to provide a stable and predictable social world, to regulate our behaviour with each other.

In many respects norms have a beneficial effect, bolstering society’s foundations and keeping it from falling into chaos.

On the other hand stability and predictability are enemies of the creative process.

When groups are asked to think creatively the reason they frequently fail is because implicit norms constrain them in the most explicit ways.

This is clearly demonstrated in a recent study carried out by Adarves-Yorno et al. (2006).

They asked two groups of participants to create posters and subtly gave each group a norm about either using more words on the poster or more images.

Afterwards when they judged each others’ work, participants equated creativity with following the group norm; the ‘words’ group rated posters with more words as more creative and the ‘images’ group rated posters with more images as more creative.

The unwritten rules of the group, therefore, determined what its members considered creative. In effect groups had redefined creativity as conformity.

In another part of the same experiment these results were reversed when people’s individuality rather than their group membership was emphasised.

Creativity became all about being different from others and being inconsistent with group norms.

When freed from the almost invisible shackles of the group, then, people suddenly remembered the dictionary definition of creativity: to transcend the orthodox.

Camels are horses designed by committee

So of course schools kill creativity, of course politicians are fighting over the middle ground, of course most TV programmes are the same and of course all our high streets are identical.

People are social animals who work in groups and, especially with the advance of globalisation, the number of groups that govern or control our world has shrunk.

These groups naturally kill creativity, or at least redefine it as conformity.

Creativity within groups isn’t impossible, though, it’s just that it has to fight all the harder to get out.

Coming up with something truly new often means having to steer a path away from the herd, towards new horizons.

If you really covet creativity, then there’s one rule you’d be well advised to follow: go it alone.


How To Start Thinking Outside The Box

Thinking outside the box means coming up with new ideas and creative solutions, but where does the expression come from?

Thinking outside the box means coming up with new ideas and creative solutions, but where does the expression come from?

Thinking outside the box, or thinking out of the box or even thinking beyond the box are all metaphors for novel or creative thinking.

The cliché, “thinking outside the box” is thought to come from the nine dots puzzle below.

The idea is to try and join up the nine dots using four straight lines or fewer without taking your pen off the paper or tracing over the same line twice.

The ‘box’ that you are trying to think outside of is the implicit one formed in your mind by the dots.

To get the solution and ‘think outside the box’ you have to ignore this implicit box: you have to, as it were, think outside it

If you’re stuck in the box, see the solution of the nine dots puzzle at the bottom of this article.

Thinking outside the box and yourself

Puzzles like the nine dots one challenge us to reach novel solutions by avoiding habitual ways of thinking.

But, as well as thinking outside the box, you can also try thinking outside yourself.

Here’s another puzzle, one that reveals a fascinating aspect of creativity…

Imagine there’s a prisoner trying to escape from a high tower.

All he has is a rope but it’s only half as long as the drop from the window.

Still, he manages to escape from the tower by dividing the rope in half and tying it back together.

How is that possible?

To get the solution requires thinking outside the box.

People were given slightly different versions of this test in a study by Polman and Emich (2011).

Half were given this version of the puzzle while the other half were told to imagine that they themselves were stuck in the tower, rather than an unnamed ‘prisoner’.

Both groups then had to explain how the escape from the tower was possible.

The results

What happened was that 66 percent of people got the answer right when told it was a nameless ‘prisoner’ who was stuck in the tower.

But when told to imagine they were stuck in the tower themselves, only 48 percent got it right — they were much less able to think outside the box.

(The answer to the problem is: the rope is divided in half width-ways rather than length-ways. Then you can halve the width and double the length.)

Think distant for more new ideas

In a second study, they also test people’s ability for thinking outside the box, but in a different way.

This time it was to see how creative people could be when they were thinking outside the box about gift ideas.

People were asked to think up ideas for themselves or for other people.

The other people were also divided into two categories.

Some were people who were socially close and others were socially distant.

Thinking outside yourself

When the ideas were analysed, participants who were thinking up ideas for socially distant others were most creative.

The other two conditions lagged behind.

The reason this happens is to do with the way the mind represents problems like this.

When we think about a ‘nameless other’ or the prisoner in the high tower, our minds tend to think more abstractly.

In an abstract frame it becomes easier to make creative leaps, or to think outside the box, because we aren’t stuck concentrating on concrete details.

So, perhaps the old and tired expression “thinking outside the box” should be replaced with the new, evidence-based expression “thinking outside yourself”.

The solution to the nine dots puzzle

Here is the solution to the nine dots puzzle:

I know, it’s irritatingly simple when you see it.


Bored: What It Is And How To Avoid It

People spontaneously use three strategies to overcome being bored. However, some writers swear by boredom to boost creativity.

People spontaneously use three strategies to overcome being bored. However, some writers swear by boredom to boost creativity.

Boredom is an emotional state that involves a lack of stimulation, any activity to do or any interest in the environment.

Still, there are these weird people who never seem to get bored.

“Oh!” say the chronically interested and engaged, “What a fascinating and exciting world we live in. How wonderful it is to be alive. How can anyone possibly be bored with all the variety in life?”

Lucky you.

I’m with French philosopher Albert Camus, who said (in The Plague):

“The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits.”

Bored to death

‘Everyone’ might be a slight exaggeration, although some estimates suggest up to 50% of us often feel bored.

For teenagers that’s definitely an underestimate.

And boredom is not to be taken lightly.

There’s evidence that those who are bored are more likely to die earlier than others (Britton & Shipley, 2010).

Also, bored airline pilots make more mistakes as do bored nuclear military personnel.

So, you really can be bored to death.

What is boredom?

Here’s how psychologists describe the experience of boredom (Eastwood et al., 2012):

  • Frustrated: being unable to engage with a satisfying and interesting activity and finding this really frustrating.
  • Meaningless: everything seems meaningless. Boredom is an existential crisis: you want to shout, “What is the bloody point?”
  • Boring environment: feeling that everything and everyone around us is boring.

3 strategies to overcome boredom

And here are the three psychological strategies that people spontaneously use to cope with boredom (Nett et al., 2009):

  • Reappraise: mentally work to increase the value or importance of the situation or activity.
  • Criticise: change the situation to dispel the boredom.
  • Evade: distraction with another activity.

Of course we use all of these strategies at different times.

But there’s tentative evidence to suggest that we should rely more on reappraisal than the other two.

The worst strategy seems to be trying to evade boredom (think: drink, drugs and gambling).

Flow state

Perhaps the very opposite of boredom is a ‘flow state’.

Activities that allow you to access a flow state make time pass more quickly and pleasantly, research finds (Rankin et al., 2018).

A flow state is the experience of being fully engaged with what you’re currently doing.

Psychologists found that playing a computer game that put people in a flow state also reduced their stress, while they waited for uncertain news.

They felt more positive emotions, less negative emotions and were less likely to be bored when the game was just hard enough for them.

Many other activities can provide flow states — in fact anything that engages the attention, stretches your skills a little and that you are doing for its own sake.

Professor Kate Sweeny, study co-author, said:

“Flow — if it can be achieved — incurs benefits.

And video games are perfect for flow as long as it’s a game that meets and slightly pushes the skill level of the player.

Flow requires a delicate balance.

Flow is most readily achieved with activities that challenge the person somewhat, but not too much; have clear, achievable goals; and that provide the person with feedback about how they’re doing along the way.”

For the study, 290 participants had their photo taken and were told they had to wait while it was being evaluated for attractiveness.

Naturally, this made them nervous.

In the meantime, they played a distracting computer game called Tetris.

Some played at an easy level, some at a hard level, while for some the game adapted to them.

The results showed that people got through the waiting period in the best mood when the game adapted to their level.

Because the game adapted, it put them into a flow state.

Professor Sweeny said:

“The Tetris study is key because it experimentally manipulates flow and shows effects of that manipulation, which provides convincing evidence that flow actually causes well-being during waiting periods, not that it just happens to coincide with well-being.”

Boredom and creativity

Not everyone agrees that being bored is always a problem.

Some creative people and even psychologists find that being bored can spur people’s creativity.

Boredom motivates creative people to escape the horrible, frustrated, and meaningless feeling.

It could even be true at work.

Psychologists at the University of Central Lancashire had participants copy numbers out of the telephone book for 15 minutes, while others went straight into a standard creativity task (Mann & Cadman, 2014).

Both groups were asked to come up with as many different uses as they could for a polystyrene cup.

The group that were more bored came up with the most uses.

Dr Sandi Mann, one of the study’s authors said:

“Boredom at work has always been seen as something to be eliminated, but perhaps we should be embracing it in order to enhance our creativity.

What we want to do next is to see what the practical implications of this finding are.

Do people who are bored at work become more creative in other areas of their work — or do they go home and write novels?”

In a subsequent study they found that creativity was reduced when people were still bored but didn’t have the chance to daydream.

The purpose of boredom

While we tend to think of boredom as something that inevitably leads to trouble — drinking, gambling, antisocial behaviour — this research suggests different possibilities.

More than anything, the feeling of boredom is a strong signal that we are stuck in some kind of rut and we need to seek out new goals.

In the study above, this search led participants to new ideas.

Usually people will do anything to avoid being bored, as it’s such an aversive experience.

But creative people, like writers, sometimes talk about seeking out boredom.

Here is the comedy writer Graham Linehan talking about boredom to The Guardian:

“I have to use all these programs that cut off the internet, force me to be bored, because being bored is an essential part of writing, and the internet has made it very hard to be bored.

The creative process requires a period of boredom, of being stuck. That’s actually a very uncomfortable period that a lot of people mistake for writer’s block, but it’s actually just part one of a long process.”

So, when you start to feel bored, instead of glancing at your phone, try being bored for a bit.

Who knows what creative thought might come of it?


Neophobia: Why People Secretly Fear New Ideas

Why creative ideas are often rejected in favour of conformity and uniformity.

Why creative ideas are often rejected in favour of conformity and uniformity.

Does society really value creativity?

People say they want more creative people, more creative ideas and solutions, but do they really?

Perhaps many people suffer from what is technically known as neophobia: the fear of new ideas.

Examples of neophobia

For one thing teachers don’t generally like creative students.

Primary school teachers in one study liked the most creative kids the least (Westby & Dawson, 1995).

This isn’t an isolated finding in education and probably a result of the fact that creative kids are generally more disruptive; naturally they don’t like to follow the rules.

For all the talk of creativity in business, industry and academia, there’s evidence that it’s implicitly discouraged in these areas as well.

Although leaders of organisations say they want creative ideas, the evidence suggests creativity gets rejected in favour of conformity and uniformity (Staw, 1995 cited in Mueller et al., 2011).

An unconscious bias against new ideas

A study has tested this idea that there’s a disconnect between what people say about creativity and what they unconsciously think (Mueller et al. 2011).

They used tests that typically assess implicit or unconscious racism.

Racism is something that almost everyone knows is wrong, but psychologists have found we can still measure hidden or unconscious racism in some people using this test.

Instead, though, it was used to measure a hidden or unconscious bias against creativity.

Across two experiments Mueller and colleagues found that when people felt uncertain they were:

  • more likely to have negative thoughts about creative ideas,
  • and found it more difficult to recognise creative ideas.

This supports the idea that people don’t like creative ideas because they tend to increase uncertainty.

The thinking goes like this: we know how to do things we’ve done before, but new things are mysterious.

How will we achieve it? Is it practical? What could go wrong? And so on…

People don’t like to feel uncertain; it’s an aversive state that generally we try to escape from.

Unfortunately creativity requires uncertainty by definition, because we’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done before.

People deal with the disconnect by saying one thing, “Creativity is good, we want more of it!” but actually rejecting creative ideas for being impractical.

And, the more uncertain people feel, the harder they find it to recognise a truly creative idea.

So as a society we end up sticking our heads in the sand and carrying on doing the same old things we’ve been doing all along, just to avoid feeling uncertain.

Instead we should be embracing uncertainty because it’s only when we’re unsure that we can be sure we’re in new territory.


Brainstorming Online In Groups Can Revitalise The Technique

Brainstorming, meaning a group creativity technique, is inefficient, but going online there are simple ways to fix it and produce more high quality ideas.

Brainstorming, meaning a group creativity technique, is inefficient, but going online there are simple ways to fix it and produce more high quality ideas.

Brainstorming, meaning a creativity technique, was once thought a fantastic way for groups to generate new ideas.

Brainstorming for new ideas, which was invented by an advertising executive called Alex F. Osborn, is based on two principles:

  1. Reach for quantity,
  2. Defer judgment.

The basic idea of brainstorming as people now use it is to ask a group to come up with as many ideas as possible without judging any of them until later on.

Brainstorming examples

Although not as fashionable as it once was, brainstorming is still frequently used in business and, often inadvertently, for all sorts of personal decisions; people happily brainstorm for holiday destinations, restaurants and even new careers.

Brainstorming certainly looks like a great way of dealing with some of the problems associated with decision-making and creativity in groups, such as groupthink and people’s failure to share information effectively.

By suspending evaluation, encouraging a relaxed atmosphere and quantity over quality, the brainstorming session is supposed to foster creativity.

Traditional brainstorming does not work

Unfortunately, brainstorming as we know it doesn’t work that well.

Experiment after experiment has shown that people in brainstorming sessions produce fewer and lower quality ideas than those working alone (Furnham, 2000).

Here’s why:

  1. Social loafing: people slack off to a frightening degree in certain types of group situations like brainstorming.
  2. Evaluation apprehension: although evaluation isn’t allowed in a traditional brainstorming session, everyone knows others are scrutinising their input.
  3. Production blocking: while one person is talking the others have to wait. They then forget or dismiss their ideas, which consequently never see the light of day.

So if groups need to generate new ideas, new connections between old ideas and new ways of seeing the world, how should they proceed?

The answer is that brainstorming needs a tweak.

Online brainstorming for groups

Inspiration for ways to get around these problems comes from the research on electronic or online brainstorming.

Online brainstorming uses the rules developed almost half a century ago by Osborn:

  1. Don’t criticize.
  2. Focus on quantity.
  3. Combine and improve ideas produced by others.
  4. Write down any idea that comes to mind, no matter how wild.

Online brainstorming is simply done online using any kind of internet chat method, like Microsoft Messenger.

The only requirement is that all the participants can see the other ideas as they scroll down the screen.

Gallupe and Cooper (1993) found that online brainstorming generated more high quality ideas than face-to-face brainstorming.

In this research, people doing online brainstorming typed in their ideas to a computer which also displayed other people’s ideas at the same time.

This rather neatly gets around the social loafing and production blocking problems.

These ideas can be used to motivate face-to-face brainstorming to produce better results (Furnham, 2000):

  • People should be encouraged to list ideas before coming to brainstorming sessions.
  • The number of ideas produced by each person should be monitored.
  • Problems should be broken down and group members should brainstorm components.
  • Groups should take breaks from each other.
  • High standards should be set for the number of ideas.

Generate ideas singly, evaluate together

But why bother to try and ‘fix’ brainstorming at all?

Why not just send people off individually to generate ideas if this is more efficient?

The answer is because of its ability to build consensus by giving participants the feeling of involvement in the process.

People who have participated in the creative stage are likely to be more motivated to carry out the group’s decision.

Also it emerges that groups do have a natural talent, which is the evaluation of ideas, rather than their creation.

The conclusion of the psychological literature, therefore, is that people should be encouraged to generate ideas on their own and meetings should be used to evaluate these ideas.

The same rule applies in business as in your personal life.

Generating ideas about where to go on holiday, what to write that new sitcom about, what question your research should address, and so on, are best done alone.

Groups aren’t where ideas are born, but where they come to sink or swim.

Brainstorming beats Brainwriting

Another potentially promising twist on the online brainstorming formula is called ‘Brainwriting’.

Brainwriting, in contrast to online brainstorming, is a little more old-school and involves sitting together and writing down your ideas on Post-It notes.

Participants initial their ideas and put them in the centre of the table for others to see.

No talking is allowed.

A new study has compared both of these techniques and found that it is online brainstorming that produces the most non-redundant new ideas (Michinov, 2012).

The drawback of the Brainwriting method is that each person has to reach forward and pick up other ideas and people don’t do this as much as they should.

In contrast, online brainstorming allows (forces, even) every member to see what the other’s are saying with little or no effort.

It means that the group is exposed to the flow of ideas with very little effort.

On top of this it solves some of the problems with face-to-face brainstorming.

When it’s done online, each person doesn’t have to wait for the others to stop talking and is less worried about being evaluated (plus brainstomers don’t have to be in the same country!).

This probably helps to explain why people report finding online brainstorming to be a satisfying experience.

One final tip: online Brainstorming research suggests the best results are gained in groups of 8 or more.


Creativity: Why We Have So Many Ideas While Walking Or Showering (M)

Taking a break from a problem often brings an insight later on, but what should we do in the meantime?

Taking a break from a problem often brings an insight later on, but what should we do in the meantime?

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This Harsh Form Of Humour Stimulates Creativity (M)

Despite being considered one of the lowest forms of wit, it requires considerable mental powers to produce.

Despite being considered one of the lowest forms of wit, it requires considerable mental powers to produce.

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