Creativity is the driver of human progress. Without creative individuals thinking of innovative technologies and solutions, we would have been stuck in a cave rather than enjoying the comforts of an air-conditioned room. Think about it for a minute.
The first person who invented the wheel changed the whole world. And he or she invented it because they looked at a piece of log and decided that it should be cut into round shapes for better mobility when attached to a platform. If they continued to look at the wood just as wood alone, then maybe the thought of using it to create a wheel might never have entered their mind.
Even though we have progressed very far, creative thinking is still an important ingredient of success, whether it was the thought process that led to the creation of the atom bomb which gifted America victory in WWII or the Windows operating system created by Bill Gates that revolutionized computing prowess in the world, creativity is the key.
And if you are someone who is struggling to think creatively and come up with new, radical ideas to improve your life or the situation you’re surrounded with, then the following six techniques can help you open up your mind.
1. Accumulate more knowledge
Being creative requires that you have good enough knowledge about a wide range of topics. Someone who is only focused on computer engineering has a far lower chance of coming up with new, creative ideas when compared to someone who knows computer engineering, web server management, and online marketing.
While the first person will remain limited to being a chemical engineer, the latter might think of combining some computer engineering concepts with online server management to create an entirely new product or service, which they can market on a social media platform. These niches might sound random, but you never know what comes from the most bizarre of combinations.
So, do yourself a favor and start learning and understanding new things rather than only being limited to your working knowledge. As you explore hitherto unknown areas, you will start connecting the various information, helping you come up with new ideas or radical solutions to existing problems. Did I mention it is also fun to learn about new topics? When you learn new topics for just the sake of it, it takes the pressure of application away, making it more fun.
2. Answer essential questions of a topic
An easy way to make yourself think creatively is first to analyze a topic based on a few essential questions. These essential questions include – how, what, why, when, where, and who. So, if you are tasked with understanding a market for a new product to be launched by your company, look at the market and ask yourself the following type of questions:
- Why should there be a demand for your product in the market?
- Who will want to buy your product? Who will not buy your product?
- How will your product be sold to the people? How will it be marketed?
- Where will your product be sold, in all shops or at franchise stores alone?
- When will the product be launched?
- What will be the price of your product? What will be the benefits of using your product?
The checklist will allow you to start thinking about a topic. The more you think about it, the more you will question it until you understand the situation completely. And in the process, you might come up with creative ways to launch and market your product.
3. Get back to nature
Try taking a break and spending some time in nature. It can be a hike for just a few hours. Or even a long walk. But as long as it involves you walking in the forest and breathing in the fresh air, the trip should do you good.
Make it a regular activity, and your creative thinking abilities are very likely to get a boost. In fact, some neuroscience studies suggest that spending time in natural surroundings can boost problem solving and creativity of a person by up to 50%. That is definitely a good improvement considering that the only thing you have to do is to spend some time among the trees.
And many scientists have a good explanation for it. Apparently, being stuck in the concrete jungle of the cities, surrounded by numerous Wi-Fi devices and electronic equipment, dampens a section of the brain that deals with high-level creative thinking.
Hence, taking some time off from the city, and heading over to the forest is seen as a good way to get the front part of the brain to utilize itself to the fullest potential. So, the next time you feel like you are unable to think anything new – just hit the road.
4. Join a creative community
One of the best ways to start thinking creatively is to join a creative community. You should preferably look for a group which has no qualms with being supportive of any idea. For example, someone might come up with an idea to use ants as an investigative tool by hooking it up with a tiny camera and sending it into sensitive locations to gather information.
Someone else might voice an idea which requires people to beg on the streets for a day to understand the mind of a beggar. Whatever ideas they may be, as long as the community is tolerant of hearing out wildly varying opinions and offering beneficial feedback and suggestions, it is definitely a group you should join.
Having like-minded creative people around you has many benefits. For one, you won’t restrict your thinking. Instead, you will learn to embrace and express it fully. Second, the people who hear out your ideas and concepts will offer their viewpoints too. And this can lead to brainstorming sessions that can lead you forward into newer concepts.
5. Keep an ‘idea-book’ handy
Always keep an ‘idea-book’ handy. An ‘idea-book’ is essentially a small, easy to carry notepad that you can write down your ideas. No matter where you are, whether at home, office, traveling on the train, or anywhere else, jot down ideas as soon as they pop up in your mind. It need not be anything revolutionary.
The ideas can be as ludicrous and out of the world as they possibly can, but you must make it a point to record it in your book. The purpose of this exercise is not to find a solution to any problem you are currently having but to simply unlock your limitless thinking potential.
For example, when traveling by bus, you might notice that people in the bus are often hooked onto their smartphones, having minimal interest in interacting with others. And suddenly you might come up with an idea for an app that makes it easier and safer for people to connect with strangers on a bus.
Note the idea in your pad. It does not matter whether you will follow it up and actually create an app. By simply writing down ideas, you are reassuring the mind that thinking creatively or differently is okay.
After a few weeks or months, when you take out your book and read all the things you have written, you will definitely be amazed at the ideas and thoughts that came up in your mind in your observations of the world. And by that time, coming up with new ideas and concepts will be natural to you.
6. Look at things differently
The simplest way to become more creative is to train yourself to look at things differently. A mind that does not question anything, and simply accepts whatever is fed into it is a mind of a person who has no potential to be creative. Having a different viewpoint about a thing can truly help you understand it more, while also helping you expand your creative thinking process.
For example, imagine that you are a peace officer tasked with ending the conflict between two warring clans in an African jungle. The normal course of action will be to first determine what the source of the conflict is, then to contact each group and try to resolve the differences between them by bringing them to a middle ground.
Now, if the conflict has been brewing for decades, then it will be a long time before both clans even agree to sit together.
So, abandon such linear, straightforward thoughts, and start looking at the conflict from a different perspective. The people in your peacekeeping mission might be asking themselves, “why are these two clans fighting.” Instead of focusing on that, you should ask yourself, “why haven’t these two clans killed off each other even though they have been fighting for decades?”
By asking this, you focus on finding out what is common between the clans rather than the differences between them, like other people have been doing till now. And eventually, you might find some common ground that brings both the clans together.
For example, you might discover that both clans share a common myth of their ancestors having come from afar off, dreamy place. You can then use the myth to bring the clans together by reminding them that they are brothers and sisters of the same ancestor.
So, no matter what you are tasked with, train yourself to look at the subject matter from different perspectives, and you will come up with newer ways to deal with them in whatever way you wish. And in the process, you will become more creative in your thinking.
Tapping into your creativity boils down to letting your brain think without any restrictions and giving yourself time to actually stop and think. Jotting down everything is the best way to get everything out there and free your mind up for new ideas. You can develop something great from your most outrageous thought.
You Have Enough Time You Just Need to Start Spending it Right
Ever felt like you never have enough time? That somehow your life is messed up with so many tasks and responsibilities that you never get time to properly live your life? If so, then you need to stop for a moment and take a look at how you are managing your time.
When most people say that they have very little time for any activity, mostly it’s because of poor time management. Everyone gets the same number of hours in a day, how you spend it makes a huge difference in how much work you get done and how much time you can take out for yourselves. Today we talk about four reasons why you might be starving on time and how you can resolve it for leading an abundant life.
1. Control Distractions
The human mind can be distracted by many things while trying to focus on any single activity. And the more one is aware of being distracted, the more the mind moves towards these distractions. As such, one generally ends up wasting too much time thinking about these distractions rather than focusing on the main activity.
For example, suppose you are required to finish an assignment by 3 PM in the evening and you start working on it at 10 AM in the morning. Under normal circumstances, this might be sufficient time to complete the project. But if you start checking out Netflix in the middle of the work, and go checking one episode after another, then by 3 PM, you may not be able to finish the project – an extremely common scenario also known as procrastination. Your phone is one of the biggest distractions because it gives you many channels to procrastinate.
If you experience situations where you get so distracted by many things that you lose focus on the job at hand, then you must immediately start making efforts to train your mind to defeat distractions. Fix a time slot when you will only do the work, and commit yourself to it. But once the time is up, stop working and move on to other activities.
2. Prioritize Activities
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Another point to keep in mind when handling multiple activities is to prioritize them according to their importance. Many people just try to handle various activities as per their instinct and end up never doing the important things. Later, they might blame it on ‘not having enough time’, which obviously is untrue.
For example, imagine that you are required to submit a report tomorrow evening. But you have a few activities of your own that are pending, including watching a movie, a party, and visiting your friend who is in the hospital. Now, if you give importance to these activities, then your report might not be ready by evening the next day. And this can lead to various complications.
To avoid this, try to arrange activities as per their importance to you. Activities like watching movies can be done any other day. So, they should have the least importance. Next, visiting a friend at a hospital may be necessary. But again, since you can visit them on any of the upcoming days, you can postpone it. Next, a party that is scheduled today can be one of your priorities since you won’t be able to attend it on any other day. And lastly, the report will come at the top of the priority list since it is related to your work.
Now that you have identified the priority of the activities, the only thing left to do is to follow them. So, start doing your project today and check-in at the party later in the night. Tomorrow, you can continue with the project and finish it off.
Then if you have time, you can visit your friend at the hospital. You can then finish the day by watching a movie late at night. And by following this tactic, you will never make an excuse for ‘not having enough time’ when required to do something within a time limit.
3. Don’t Take Up Unnecessary Work
We usually have the habit of overfilling our plates – taking on more work than we can manage to do. This keeps us from doing the work that we are actually supposed to do. It also stems from our inability to say ‘No.’ Just like this beer bottle, if we don’t realize and stop when we are full, things are going to overflow and get out of hand.
Remember to never take up unnecessary work. This is specifically applicable to professionals. Your co-workers might request you to chip in with some help and finish a few tasks from time to time. And if you think that the co-worker’s request is unreasonable and that they are just trying to pass over their responsibilities, then have the courage to politely say ‘No.’
Some people have a hard time saying ‘no’ to such requests. And if you are one of them, then you better start asserting yourself and turning down such requests. If you start doing extra work, you will never be able to get the free time you need to enjoy your life or take care of your priorities.
4. Be Wary of Procrastination
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
You should also be wary of procrastination. Many people have the tendency to keep postponing an activity for trivial reasons, only to end up never being able to do it. And when this becomes a habit, your life can go off-track in the sense that you find yourself never able to achieve your goals.
For example, suppose that you aim to join the local quiz club. But for that, you will have to pass a test being conducted next month. Now, you might think that since there is a month left for the test, you only need to start preparing for it in the last two weeks. But when you are in the last two weeks, you might think that only a week is required to prepare correctly.
And then when there is just a week left, you’ll again procrastinate and think that you will start preparing three days before the test. But then you will later find that three days are not sufficient to prepare well and you will end up failing the test and as a result not being able to enter the quiz club. This did not happen because you were short on time, but because you never utilized the time when it was available.
If you have such a habit of procrastination, then it’s high time you start changing it. A good way to do this is to train yourself to finish the required task first. So, instead of waiting for the last two weeks to start preparing for the test, do it right now. It may be hard to adhere to such a habit initially. But if you put in the effort, then you will surely be able to manage time much better.
Follow the time-tested Ivy Lee Method to increase productivity in your daily life and work. It goes like this. At the end of the day, each day, note down the six most important things to be accomplished the following day. Remember, not more than six. Next, prioritize them in the order of their importance. Start the following day with the most important task. Focus on this one thing until it is done. Then, move on to the next. If any tasks remain unfinished, move it on to the next day. Repeat this process, and you will be amazed at the time you save each day.
Like I said earlier, everyone has the same hours given to them in a day and how we spend it defines what we are going to achieve. To achieve what you want, it is really important to learn how to prioritize – there will always be a number of things you want to do but they will never all be at the same level in the priority chart. You need to learn to teach yourself to decide on what is important and stick to doing that.
Why People Who Succeed at School Don’t Always Succeed in Life
Everyone is ushered into school by their parents with a strict warning that if they don’t perform well, they might end up being a failure all through their lives. While this is true to a certain extent, we must understand that performing well in school is never a guarantee for success.
In fact, if one looks carefully at all the people in life, one might notice that those who were academically successful in school didn’t necessarily succeed in life. And surprisingly, people who were considered below-par turned out to be incredibly successful. So, why does this happen? Below, we look to answer this simple question by exploring how the school education system might actually not be designed for creating successful people.
A System to Create Conformists, Not Radical Thinkers
Schools are usually focused on creating conformists averse to taking risks. The entire education system depends on children conforming continuously to a higher authority, taking in knowledge from the authority, meeting their expectations, and repeating the process all over again, grade after grade. And this is one major problem of the education system. Being a conformist is a great quality of an employee, not of a radical thinker. And success in life is largely dependent on out of the box thinking, which requires a more daring mind.
For example, consider two people who both graduated from the same college with one scoring high grades while the other ending up with average grades. The studious one might consider using his good grades to enter into employment at a top company. They might also end up earning a very high salary. But the other person, being a radical thinker, might decide to ditch employment and, instead, start a local business on his own. This could also be the case if the latter couldn’t get in any good companies.
Now, if both continue on the same path, it is highly likely that the studious person will remain in employment even after ten years because of their aversion to risk and preference to conform to societal expectations. In contrast, the other person might have built a multi-state business that pulls in thousands of dollars in revenues each day thanks to his ability to take on risks and try out new things.
The System of Tests – Memory vs. Intelligence
One big feature of all school systems is the concept of tests. A person will undergo numerous tests right from childhood all the way into adulthood. While there is nothing wrong with tests, the problem arises when such tests alone are taken as a sign of intelligence and people start believing that the one getting the highest marks will be the most successful.
This is false. These tests, at most times, only measure memory. And there is a big difference between memory and intelligence. Memory is the ability to record, recollect, and reuse information. Intelligence is the ability to use memory to resolve a problem.
For example, two people might learn the exact same thing about website coding and SEO. One person might memorize everything and do very well in tests. The other person might perform just average in tests but know very well how to apply the knowledge in the real world.
And if both of them come to know about how the elderly in their region are finding it difficult to get hold of medicines from the local medical shop, then it is more likely that the latter will use his coding and SEO skills to start an online shop that ships medicines to people of a specific region. The person who just focused on clearing tests by memorizing the information is very unlikely to ever think like this since his mind is more focused on memorizing knowledge rather than applying gathered knowledge.
Focus on Learning, Not Questioning
Educating oneself is the primary aim of joining a school. But one has to understand what education actually means. Education does not mean that you just learn what is provided in the textbooks. No, that is only a small part of it. In addition to learning from any textbook, you must also develop the habit of questioning what you learn.
For example, if you are studying Jung’s psychological theories in college, you should have the mind to question them from all aspects. Blindly learning them will only make you a follower of Jung. But questioning what you learn, and then researching more to find answers to those questions will further elevate your knowledge. And, it is these type of people who generally come up with breakthrough ideas and philosophies that not only make them successful but also end up changing the world.
Knowledge Alone Does Not Determine Success in Life
While knowledge is important, that alone will not help one succeed. Most students who get top grades in school and college are largely focused on the study material. That is definitely not a good way to develop because the world does not work based on just book knowledge. In order to achieve success, one requires excellent social skills.
Social skill is a talent that you will generally find lacking among school and college toppers. They might perform very well in exams, but when it comes to developing friendships or close contacts, they are seen to fail terribly. In most professions of the world, a person with excellent social skills will easily be able to climb the corporate ladder faster than someone who is only blessed with intelligence.
For example, a person who is well versed in PHP is very useful for a business to develop dynamic websites. But, if the organization is looking for a manager, then knowledge of PHP alone won’t be sufficient. And this is where people who solely focused on academic achievements in school lose out to those who not only have enough knowledge but also the knack for developing relationships with people.
Dismissing someone as not being intelligent based just on test scores isn’t fair and that has been proven time and again. There are a lot of things that come into play when judging someone’s intelligence based on what all we discussed. Situations often bring out the positives in people and that shows what someone is good at, not just some scores.
How to Stop Thinking and Start Doing – The Right Time to Take Action is Now
Preparing and planning are severely overrated. Things would never get underway if we spent an inordinate amount of time preparing for them. One last edit round and then I’ll submit my article, let me research some more options before I commit to anyone, one last talk with the investors and I’ll make a great proposal for my start-up…do these situations sound familiar?
“An idea not coupled with action will never get any bigger than the brain cell it occupied.”
If you’ve always believed that elaborate preparation guarantees success, it’s time to understand that this formula for success is seriously flawed. Nothing guarantees success. It’s the outcome of many moving parts, many of which are not in our control. I don’t mean to preach that preparing is not essential.
I have been an advocate for proper planning since forever. Many times things fall apart because proper planning and preliminary preparation were skipped or weren’t carried out properly. But, the other side of the coin is that some people get stuck in the planning and preparation stage, trying to perfect everything. It’s prudent to analyze situations, anticipate outcomes, and do the required preparations.
The problem comes when you over-prepare. You may be more than ready to take action, but you perceive the opposite. And the longer you prepare, the more you want to delay taking action unnecessarily. There are a lot of reasons why this happens. One of the major ones is analysis paralysis.
“Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear.”
-Norman Vincent Peale
The main problem with over-planning is the longer you plan, the longer you’re not in the marketplace. By the time you’re ready to present your ideas or start working, the window of opportunity may have been claimed by someone more proactive. If you find yourself constantly putting off action and fretting too much about preparation, the strategies below can really help you get moving:
1. Face Your Fear of Failure
Let experiences guide you. You don’t have to be perfect all the time. Failure is just success turned inside out. These words may sound cliché but can considerably ease your analysis paralysis tendencies. If you find yourself always ending up in the same rut, then you need to learn to overcome your analysis paralysis prone thinking and apply it so that you can finally take some action.
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit at home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
To quote an analogy, have you ever noticed how birds teach their young ones to fly? They simply push them out of the nest, not once fearing what will happen if the baby injures itself. They rely on experience and instinct, not preparation. Many a times, they fail but that doesn’t stop them from trying again.
Experiential learning strengthens your instincts and over time, you start understanding what will work and what won’t. But this will happen only if you expose yourself to failure. You need to be open to learning maybe even from those you consider under qualified to teach.
2. Follow the 80/20 Rule
Focus on your best assets and use them to create maximum value – this is the core principle behind the 80/20 rule. And it has helped businesses grow their revenues and individuals make the most out of their productive hours.
Identify those 20% requirements that can give 80% of the final output. Work backwards from the product you’ve envisioned and list out all the components that you plan to put into it. Then, drill down upon the essentialities (“must-haves”, must not be more than 20% of total required input) and keep the “good to have” for a later time. If you put together the must-haves you’ll have a fully-functional Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Minimum investment for maximum output- now, that’s productivity. Improvisation can happen later. Don’t let the details bog you down.
3. Get Moving
Have you been putting off something for the longest time, citing under-preparedness as the reason? A task that you don’t particularly enjoy? A meeting you’ve been worried about? Preparation here may be your excuse for escapism.
“There is only one proof of ability – action.”
Take a small step towards your goal. If you fail, try plan B. The best thing about experimenting on a small scale is that you won’t suffer huge losses as you could if your elaborate planning met an adverse end. Adversities also teach us something valuable. Take those teachings and incorporate them in your next steps.
And if your micro step fares well, you’ll feel bolstered to go ahead. Since you’ve already committed to the task, there are lesser chances of a rollback and going forward is the only way out.
Setting internal deadlines can work wonders for people who find themselves spending way too much time preparing than doing. Build urgency into your system, perhaps write down goals or mark on a calendar. And be relentless about these deadlines.
Commitment to action is not something you’ll achieve overnight. You will have to push yourself and fight tendencies to fall back into old patterns. Instead of accepting your inaction, always try to find the cause for it, and learn ways to overcome it.
You need to keep moving forward in order to achieve your dreams and stay true to your visions and that includes finding your shortcomings and tackling them head on so that you don’t blame yourself for not going after what you want.
After all, by taking no action all we do is make sure that we don’t succeed. So, why not use all the planning and preparing and take on the world while you still can?
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