Not even creative enough to come up with a title
August 19, 2010 6:19 PM   Subscribe

How do I become more creative?

Not in the sense of writing a book or painting a picture, but more in terms of problem solving: coming up with new ideas for projects at work and how to use resources, figuring out random logistical issues in everyday life, etc.

I was recently reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers and he discusses the 'uses for a brick' test in which a person lists all the uses for a brick they can think of. He was contrasting two children, one who came up with very practical answers and one who came up with very colorful answers, and I realized my answers very closely matched those of the practical child.

Practicality is good, but sometimes I feel like not being creative enough and not being an "idea person" is holding me back at work.
posted by unannihilated to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
You can simulate creativity by amassing a huge repertoire of solutions. I don't know what business you're in but you can probably read lots of "case studies" or industry information. The more you read, the more you remember, the more ideas you have at your disposal.
posted by Electrius at 6:33 PM on August 19, 2010

Be more negative. Fine, you know 10 practical uses for the brick: Now list things you definitely, not in a million years, would never, ever use the brick for. Now think of ways to use the brick for those things.

If everyone at work is looking at one measure, tell yourself no matter how valid it is, you think maybe a different measure is more important. If everyone solves problems by getting on the phone, stay off the phone for a couple of hours. If everyone multitasks, unitask.

It's not that trying to be different from everyone makes you creative; it's that everyone else's baseline behavior gives you an interesting constraint to use as a starting point. Creativity loves constraints. It wants to be painted into a corner to see how it can get out.

Obviously, I have no idea what your work is like, but what I've found is, if you decide to be creative-by-opposition--even if you're dull and uncreative, at heart, like me--you end up with a job that is much more interesting than it was before, because you've engaged your mind.
posted by mittens at 6:40 PM on August 19, 2010

I have a feeling people are going to ask about what my job is for this question, so I'll just mention that I work in academia -- mix of research and administration -- and am given a large amount of freedom to structure my work as I see fit and with a lot of resources at my disposal.
posted by unannihilated at 6:44 PM on August 19, 2010

I've got a small library of books on creativity. The three that have made the biggest impact on me are:

Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step

Mathematical Discovery: On Understanding, Learning and Teaching Problem Solving

You'll find the middle one the most practical, unless your area of academia involves mathematics, physics, or computer science, in which case I would recommend the third one.

In a nutshell, a lot of the creativity techniques boil down to either (a) thinking about problems breadth-first, instead of depth-first (your "uses for a brick" example) and (b) using some kind of external stimulus. For the external stimulus part, one of my roommates in grad school swore by something like the Creative Whack Pack. The card deck idea didn't work for me, but I salted my desk with things like silly putty, slinkies, rubik's cubes, etc. with some success.
posted by kovacs at 7:46 PM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

To go with your original example, it may not be that the "imaginative" kid doesn't think of a brick as a possible door stop. That idea might flip by. And it's a good I-might-actually-use-a-brick-this-way idea. I've never done any looting, but I bet brick plus plate glass window equals smashy smashy. I like impractical because I think it's funny. Maybe it's some filter like that the nudges the "imaginative" kid to name a looting tool instead of a paper weight. I'm not sure I'd call it being negative, per se, but sitting around with friends and thinking up solutions to problems that will not work is fun and occasionally leads to a new angle. It's okay for it to just be play.
posted by fishpatrol at 8:35 PM on August 19, 2010

Being able to recognise a good idea from other people is as important a talent as being able to come up with good ideas yourself.

You say you're a practical person. While I don't doubt that self-help books can make you more creative, you may well find after a lot of hard work and hours spent that you're still not coming up with ideas as innovative as the ones flowing form people for whom idea generation comes naturally. Maybe you could instead work at becoming better at discriminating good ideas that are practicable from those that are impracticable. I would guess that if you're a practical person naturally, then you're going to be good at guessing at what could potentially be made to work given the conditions as they stand.

Maybe you're motivated to be a better idea generator because in the competitive environment of academia you feel a little inadequate in meetings and in discussions when you're surrounded by a host of top-notch idea machines, but it takes all different types of people to develop a good idea from the initial 'light bulb moment' to a workable product or service; the person who comes up with the idea is no more important than the person who makes it happen.

In fact, contrary what you might believe, the person who makes the idea happen is sometimes the one who comes out the most successful. Just look at Simon Cowell, many would say he's never had a creative thought in his life but he's managed to be extremely successful by recognizing good ideas in others and making them happen.
posted by davidjohnfox at 3:12 AM on August 20, 2010

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