10 Strategies to Spark Creative Thinking

March 17th, 2016 | by Joanna McCoy | published in Career Growth, Creative Space, Features, Productivity



Brilliant ideas don’t just fall from the sky. In his new book, How to Have Great Ideas: A Guide to Creative Thinking, John Ingledew shares 53 strategies to help readers on their next big breakthrough. Here are ten of his best, as curated in a recent article at Co.Design:


1. Ask: “How can I improve this?”

We naturally see things as they appear to us in plain sight – objects, buildings, spaces, materials, technology, and systems, but that one way that you see something designed isn’t just the only way it could’ve been created. Try your best to put a personal spin on the task at hand.

Co.Design recommends trying this project: “Turn rubbish into gold—take all the junk mail that comes through your letter box and turn it into something of great value. What else can you do with a newspaper?”


2. Always be curious

“Creative people are expert noticers,” science professor Guy Claxton said. They’re visual foragers, taking in the world around them and gathering information to store in their minds. Since they’re naturally curious, creative people don’t perceive the world as others do. Always keep an active eye.

Co.Design recommends trying this project: “Spot and collect the faces, animals, letterforms, and numbers that are accidentally created by wear, repair, time, decay, spillage, breakage, update, replacement, light, shadow, rain, or snow. Some of these things only reveal themselves when you look at them sideways, upside down, or in reverse.”


3. Less is more

Sometimes more information can lead to more problems. Taking time to isolate and locate a brainstorming problem will allow you to get to the root of the issue, resolve it, and keep creating.

Co.Design recommends trying this project: “Writer Ernest Hemingway famously laid down a challenge to write a story in six words. Try it, or update this to a Twitter challenge and write an entire story in just 140 characters.”


4. Trade systems

A proficient system that is used in another industry can be used in the one you’re currently working in. If the system you’ve been using hasn’t warranted you the ideas you’ve been craving, try borrowing from another field.

Co.Design recommends trying this project: “Take the quick-change systems of theater scenery and apply them to rethink your living or work space.”


5. Embrace the absurd

Absurdity can be used in many forms and across multiple fields. It is at the core of some of the most inventive ideas of the 19th and 20th centuries. When in doubt, embrace the absurd. You’ll be amazed at what you can create.

Co.Design recommends trying this project: “Using the visual language of signage systems, create absurd signs that confound viewers, provoking thought or laughter.”


6. Shift your perspective

Changing the way that something is normally viewed can uncover new ideas. Things are set in stiff scenarios and locations, but what if you remove them and place them somewhere else? By altering your reality, you’ve opened the door to new possibilities.

Co.Design recommends trying this project: “Make the unremarkable remarkable — go to a building materials store and find an inexpensive object that, through repositioning in the home, finds a surprising new purpose.”


7. Transform and convert

Converting your ideas from one form to another can enable different thoughts to emerge, expanding your creative horizon. The beauty of this exercise is that by shifting one idea, it can lead to a multitude of other ideas.

Co.Design recommends trying this project: “Translate the following words into typography — lazy, happy, loud, soft.”


8. Just wing it

Improvisation is the Hail Mary of the creative world. When the odds are stacked against you, that’s when you’re ready to abandon any clichéd formulas and go rogue. While sometimes scary, improvisation can lead to some of your best ideas yet.

Co.Design recommends trying this project: “The “design miles” challenge — the “food miles” initiative questioned the vast distances food had travelled from its point of production to the dinner table. The campaign advocated choosing local produce, which, having travelled the least distance, depleted fewer of the world’s resources. The “design miles” challenge is similar. Only use what is very close at hand. Challenge yourself to solve problems using only what is in your pockets, on the table, freely available, left over from another job, or only what is within a very short distance.”


9. Understand your productivity style

Are you a morning person, or do you get your best ideas at night? It’s important to understand the conditions that allow you produce your best work.

Co.Design recommends trying this project: “Discover the creative process of your ideas’ heroines and heroes. Some are wonderfully eccentric. German poet Friedrich Schiller found he worked best to the smell of rotting apples.”


10. Adopt from past experiences

Draw from the stories you tell others – or the testimonies that your friends and relatives have shared with you. If you want to expand your horizons a bit, try getting inspired by current events.


Learn more at Co.Design.

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