10 Tips for Creative Thinking

Do you believe that “creative” people are untouchable geniuses who experience massive strokes of brilliance that seemingly come out of nowhere? The good news is that creativity is a set of skills that can be nurtured and developed – both within ourselves and within others. It’s not a magical gift that some of us are endowed with at birth and others are not. Like any skill, creative problem-solving can be practiced and improved over time.

One of our KYLA JOY team members, Shari Rudolph, has led dozens of business teams and initiatives and now also teaches a course on creativity and idea generation. She has shared 10 great tips for nurturing creativity:

Create a supportive, safe environment for creativity.

Provide others with the opportunity to contribute ideas and suggestions without fear of being judged. Banish criticism and negative feedback. Value playfulness and fun and encourage a “childlike” exploration of new ideas and solutions. (Note: “childlike”, not “childish”!)

Expose yourself to new people, places, and experiences.

Make a point of actively taking on new experiences. Creativity is fueled by knowledge and the more you encounter new information, the more likely you are to see things in new ways. Chat with the person sitting next to you in the deli or on an airplane. Read different genres of books. Watch different kinds of movies. Try a new type of food.  

Challenge assumptions.

Constantly barraged with so much data, we create mental short-cuts in order to be able to make the thousands of decisions we are faced with each day. Those assumptions can be helpful, but they can also close us off from considering new approaches and solutions. Be mindful about asking “why?” and purposely question the rules you live and work by.

Reframe situations and problems to find a new perspective.

The questions we ask automatically define the frame for possible solutions. Don’t assume that the lens through which we view the world is the only one. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes in order to see a situation in a new light.

Connect and combine ideas.

Give your neurons a workout by looking for ways to make connections and find patterns. A fun exercise is to take unrelated objects and brainstorm ways in which those items could be combined in new and unique ways. Don’t worry if the ideas don’t “make sense”.

Question the obvious.

Sometimes we overlook the most obvious questions and solutions because we don’t want to appear unknowledgeable or unsophisticated. However, if you are willing to confront the obvious, you will be able to ask questions that no one else does. There is virtue in simplicity.

Be willing to say “I don’t know”.

We feel like we are supposed to be experts in our jobs, as parents and even as friends, so it can be hard to be honest and say that you don’t know the answer to something. But saying “I don’t know” frees you to open your mind and to embark on the exploration process to find out!

Experiment.

Thomas Edison and his lab team tested over 6,000 possible materials before finding the right light bulb filament. Each test gave him new information to move forward smarter than before. You don’t have to be Edison to plan experiments in your daily life – just think of a challenge you want to solve (getting up earlier, going to the gym more, starting to write that book you’ve always dreamed of) and then try different approaches to find the best way(s) forward.  

Tame that voice of judgment in your head.

We are often our own worst critics and have a tendency to judge or censor our ideas before they even have a chance. When that happens, be aware of it. Don’t beat yourself up, just notice it and gently move your mind away from judgment and towards acceptance.

Keep a creativity journal.

I assign a Creativity Journal in the class I teach, and during the course, I ask the students to make a minimum of two entries per week, but I encourage them to do more. Your journal can literally be anything you want it to be. The important thing is to have a place where you can record thoughts, ideas, doodles, photos, magazine clippings, whatever. I personally prefer a physical journal or notebook, but if a digital version works for you, do that.

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In reality, we each use our creativity skills to solve problems every single day. We come up with a new route to work or school, we find a new way to get the kids to turn the lights off when they leave a room, or we improvise with a recipe if we’re missing an ingredient. Creativity isn’t just about inventing the “next big thing”, writing the next great American novel or painting a modern masterpiece. It’s an incremental process and set of life skills we can develop over time through some focus, mindfulness and yes, a little bit of hard work. In the words of Albert Einstein, “Creativity is intelligence having fun."