Learning to think creatively helps solve issues in all workplaces, explains Chris Thomason

Creative thinking isn’t just for those working in the arts. It helps solve issues in all workplaces. But creative thinking doesn’t always come easy.

We used to be able to do it as easily as breathing. Remember how many different things you saw when you looked inside the middle of a toilet roll when you were a child? A trumpet. A tunnel for toy cars. A false nose. A pirate spyglass. These days it’s merely recycling.

As life becomes more serious, creative thinking can be trickier to tap into. But it can be done. And you can train yourself to be better at it.

Top athletes have two targets that they pay close attention to. These are the world record for their event (which they have no control over) and their personal best record, which they have full control over. Clearly, they want to see their personal best improving and getting ever closer to the world record.

The same applies to creative thinking. You simply need to consistently improve your personal best in thinking about important issues. These tips will help you improve your personal best.

1. Choose Excellence Situations

While athletes do continuous fitness training, they don’t try to break their personal best record every day. They only attempt this on specific, optimal occasions – and it’s similar to your thinking. Decide which issues you face that are worthy of additional thinking effort and time to drive out some exceptional new ideas. You can’t be excellent all the time, so choose the situations or occasions where you want to excel.

2. Where Do You Think Best?

Think about where you are, and what you’re doing, when you come up with your best ideas. Are you in the shower? Out walking the dog? At the gym? Driving? Most people find they get their best ideas when they’re doing some kind of light activity, not when they’re at their desk at work or sitting with a pad of paper waiting for ideas to come to them. Research has proven that performing some kind of undemanding task produces better thinking, so do some kind of activity when excellence in thinking is required.

3. When Do You Think Best?

Professional artists, musicians and writers need to know when they are at their most creative – that’s how they earn a living. Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling would write from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. while novelist Franz Kafka would do his best writing from 11 p.m. through the night to 6 a.m. When is your best creative thinking time? For example, are you a morning person or an evening person? There’s no point trying to do good thinking when you’re feeling tired. If you want to do powerful thinking, save it for the time of day when you believe you are at your most creative.

4. Your Optimal Time Is Precious

If you want to do your best thinking, try to combine your optimal time and place together. If it’s your early morning gym session or your evening dog walk, why not allocate that time to experiment with your thinking? Book this peak-thinking time in your calendar each day and use it as your thinking self-development time. Remember, this time is when you work on your special thinking project, when you want to get some breakthrough ideas over and above your usual thinking. Save this optimal time for those thinking projects where your mental excellence is needed.

5. Have a Focus

You need to have a focus for your thinking, which is the topic you want to address. This is called your killer question. This is an important, enduring question that hasn’t yet been answered well enough, and which will deliver significant value for you, either personally or as an organisation. When your killer question is too big and over-encompassing to be handled in one go, you can deconstruct it into component parts and think about these individually. When you have ideas that address each component, you integrate them together to form overall solutions to your killer question.

6. Create a Repeatable Process

It would be brilliant if great thinking and new ideas just happened – but they don’t. You must actively work your imagination to force useful, creative thoughts out. And to do this repeatedly, you need a process that works well for you, and which permits flexibility over time to make it even better for you. Without a process, you only have a semi-random set of events, which makes it hard to monitor if you are being successful or not.

There are a wide range of thinking tools and techniques readily available. One of them is Freaky Thinking, a process that boosts your preferred way of thinking to help you answer your killer questions such that the thinking process becomes second nature to you.

7. Incubate Your Ideas for Tomorrow 

Do you ever have a situation when there’s a seemingly irrelevant fact you can’t recall, like the title of a song or the name of someone you used to work with? So, you give up and forget about the question altogether, but hours or days later, the answer suddenly comes to you in a flash. This is your subconscious mind working on your unresolved issue in the background.

A similar thing happens when you pose a killer question you work on over several days. Even when you’re not actively thinking about the topic, your subconscious is working on it for you because you know you haven’t yet resolved it with a satisfactory answer. Each time you come back to it, your subconscious has advanced your thinking by finding a new perspective to consider or reinterpreting an element of it in some way. Each gap in your thinking encourages subconscious incubation – use this to great effect on your issue.

8. Find Your “Win Quicklies”

Win Quicklies” are ideas – or elements of your bigger idea – that can quickly test or prove an interesting part of your solution. Most organisations like to see a win quickly to prove that something much larger has the potential for success and value. Potentially, you’d like to see several Win Quicklies being implemented rather than one bigger, slower-moving project. Nothing boosts your confidence more than seeing one of your own ideas delivering value.

9. Chunk It Down

In Mark Manson’s book Will, actor Will Smith credits his success as a Hollywood superstar to lessons from his father, who told him and his brother to build a long brick wall. His father said, “There is no wall. There are only bricks. Your job is to lay this brick perfectly. Then move on to the next brick. Then lay that brick perfectly. Then the next one. Don’t be worrying about no wall. Your only concern is one brick.” Your thinking exercises will be far more exciting than laying bricks, yet the same principle applies. Consistency of use will eventually build your wall of success. Just take it one brick at a time.

10. Boost Your Creative Confidence

Self-efficacy is your belief in your ability to attain a desired level of performance, and in relation to creative thinking, this is often referred to as creative confidence. If you have high self-efficacy, then you’re confident you can learn and perform a new task, such that even if problems arise in learning that task, you persevere through to success. If you have low self-efficacy, then you’ll have doubts about your ability to learn the task and will have a greater likelihood of giving up if difficulties arise, even small ones.

The more you apply your thinking process, the better results you achieve, which makes you confident to pose a harder killer question. This, in turn, requires you to apply the process more effectively, which helps you achieve better outcomes, and so the cycle goes on indefinitely.

Never-ending Growth

Don’t start off to beat a world record in thinking early on. Instead, simply focus on beating your own personal best each time you take on a thinking project. Start small with easier issues that you can do relatively quickly to build up your self-confidence. With each new idea that either you or someone else regard as having meaningful value, you are making progress. While athletes may peak at a certain age and have to retire from their sport, with thinking, you can continually beat your personal best no matter what age you are.

Chris Thomason is the author of Freaky Thinking, a book about a process that helps individuals in organisations to think differently about important topics and issues. Chris is the founder of Ingenious Growth, which helps organisations change their ... (Read More)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *