By MH Staff - Posted on 25th November 2013
Use these tips from well-trained minds to turn on your light-bulb moment
“In my work, being ‘stuck’ is the norm,” says Professor Ian Stewart, a mathematician at the University of Warwick and author of Mathematics Of Life (R146, Kalahari ). “So I go off and do something else. Like mow the lawn or take a bath. Your subconscious keeps working, and if it gets somewhere, it tells you.” DISTRACT YOURSELF: When a deadline is looming, create the same “psychological distance” that Stewart relies on by spending 30 minutes doing something completely off topic. A study at the University of Indiana found that changing mental tack can double the number of creative problems you solve during the day. If you’re still flummoxed, make the problem “foreign” in your mind. Imagine how somebody from a different sector might approach it – or even that you’re working on it in a different country. WHEN TO USE IT: Long afternoon burnouts, as well as any problem that requires complete reimagining or a fresh start.
“I listen to the radio for six to eight hours a day,” says Heather Nevay, an artist specialising in figurative painting. “Sometimes a word or phrase pings a thought off in my head.” For Nevay, the radio evokes memories and points in history – exploit this mental time travel to tackle problems from unexpected new angles. JOURNEY TO THE FUTURE: When envisaging long-term projects try the following exercise: imagine yourself either as a teenager, or 10 years on from now, to see how a different “you” would tackle the problem. How do changes in your personality affect the way you think? Studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that this exercise artificially broadens your perspective on a problem. WHEN TO USE IT: Developing new product lines, finding new approaches in tried-and-tested systems, or multi-year planning.
Niels Bohr, winner of the Nobel prize for his ability to solve head-scratchers, once said: “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.” In other words, he found solutions to problems by thinking in opposites. MAKE OPPOSITES ATTRACT: Take things that should never go together and uncover gems within their clash of styles. Bring together the seemingly incompatible and “consider their relationships, similarities and interplay,” says Derm Barrett, author of The Paradox Process. So, think “smaller budget, bigger venue” when planning the Christmas party or “HBO Powerpoint” when writing a do-or-die presentation. Research in the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity found that moulding opposing ideas together leads to interesting middle ground you wouldn’t otherwise consider. The same thing can happen when you bring together diverse minds for a group project. WHEN TO USE IT: Pitches to win back clients or cross-departmental projects to reinvigorate tired product lines.
“One person’s craziness is another person’s reality.” So says Tim Burton, the man who somehow plucked Mars Attacks! out of his imagination. His lesson is that the absurd can be lucrative: some of the best ideas begin life as off-the-wall considerations. GO MENTAL: Thankfully, you don’t have to drop acid or walk around with a fish taped to your face. An easy way to incorporate absurdity into your work is via a simple psychotherapy trick called “free association”. When you’re at an impasse, spend five minutes writing down every word that enters your mind. This will allow your subconscious to come at the problem from new directions. Also, watch a fantasy film the night before a big ideas meeting. In a study published in the journal Psychological Science, subjects were asked to read an absurd story by Franz Kafka before completing a task. They were then able to spot patterns that other people couldn’t. WHEN TO USE IT: Brain-storming new projects or products, or constructing a high-impact paragraph in a report.
“I ‘collect’ information,” says menswear designer Alexia Hentsch, “and I look for inspiration in everything from blogs to entire cities. By stockpiling ideas I find it easier to think laterally.” BE A MAGPIE: The approach Hentsch uses is known as “reconceptualisation”. It’s not about lifting ideas wholesale but having a bank of stimuli that you can re-spin for your own projects. So, for example, if you work in retail, a scrapbook of ad, marketing and shop units you like ensures you have a well of ideas to inspire you. Sometimes University of Oklahoma psychologists found people are more creative when asked to reconceive ideas in as many ways as possible. WHEN TO USE IT: Days when you’re staring at a blank drawing board, or during multi-faceted projects like event planning.