Creative thinking is a skill, not a talent. With a few simple techniques, almost anyone can come up with creative ideas. And as with all skills, the more you practice… the better you get.
Here are six techniques for generating creative ideas.
Dive deep and then retreat
Take the time to absorb as much context and detail about your topic or challenge as you can. Also, explain in your head what you want to achieve; visualize the main challenges or problems; and look for the perspectives of others.
- But don’t try to resolve anything yet. Just focus on absorbing information.
- So stop thinking about it.
- You have prepared the soil and planted the seeds and now you need time to germinate.
Now you need to be prepared to be open and receptive to new ideas. Your subconscious can do great things, but it needs time and free space to function.
Think about your last good idea. Do you understand sitting at your desk? I’m sure the answer is “no”. You’ve probably already looked out the window at a train. Or in the shower. Or on foot.
A little boredom helps, so hang up the phone and wait a while. Of course, it seems unproductive. But behind the scenes, your subconscious connects the dots, explores patterns, and creates possibilities.
Capture the moment
At some point, you will find that ideas spontaneously come to your head. Catch the sparks of inspiration now! Write it down, along with any associations or contexts.
Some people carry a notebook with them for this. Others use an app on their phones. The method doesn’t matter; don’t miss these inspiring moments!
When ideas come up and you write them down, you will often find that the simple act leads to even more ideas.
Stimulate ideas with lateral thinking techniques
You can also explore more structured ways to generate new ideas. For example, by Dr. Edward De Bono’s “lateral thinking” techniques.
Traditionally, people have relied on critical thinking, logic, and rationality to reach the “right” conclusion. But creative thinking is different. Our mind is a self-organized system based on the association of concepts. So one crazy idea can lead to another idea, and another and another, until a practical solution is found.
The following are some of the lateral thinking techniques:
- Identify the main assumptions or perceptions and ask “why”. Keep searching by asking why it is for each answer every time, and you’ll probably get some useful insights.
- Random entry. Take unrelated information or concept and use them to stimulate new moves. For example, choose any word (eg “Egg”) and try to relate all the associations it generates (eg shiny, smooth, everything in it) to the subject.
- Pushing a concept to the limit, reversing the usual conventions, or proposing a radical alternative.
Focus on structures
Those who think logically among us can try to attract attention and stimulate ideas with structured structures. These structures can be your own creation or someone else’s. There is no “right” structure: its value is to help you create more ideas.
I find some useful structures for generating ideas:
- Customer travel. What are all the steps in a customer’s interaction with your product or service? What context and concerns do they have at each stage? Where are the weaknesses? What steps do you want them to take?
- Business Model Canvas. What are all the parts of your business model as it stands today? What if you change certain parts? What alternatives are there? What flow effects would this have and what else could it change?
Multiply your ideas with concept-mapping
Once you have ideas, concept mapping can help you generate more ideas. Get a specific idea and try to identify the broader or more abstract concept of ‘father’; then ask yourself what other ideas fit that concept. A mind map can be helpful in visually describing this process and making it easier to apply the technique at various levels.
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Anyone can be creative because creative thinking is a skill, not a talent. Good news: even if you’ve never been particularly creative, you can improve over time.
So get out there and start applying the techniques described in this article. With a little practice, you will soon generate much more creative ideas.