8 Creative thinking exercises to develop and strengthen your thinking muscles.
“If you act like an idea person, you will become one. It is the intention and going through the motions of being creative that counts.”– Michael Michalko
It takes years of practice for an archer to hit the bull’s eye on his target with each shot. Many arrows don’t hit the desired mark but it is the focus and daily practice that eventually makes this arduous task possible. Idea generation is exactly like this. It takes practice and we need to stretch and strengthen our mind muscle every day to keep generating valuable new ideas. A simple and effective way to give your mind a workout is to set a daily challenge and keep focussed until you hit the target. Start small and challenge yourself to write down five new ideas every day for a week. You will probably find this simple task quite difficult in the beginning but keep at it, the more you strengthen your thinking muscles the easier it becomes for ideas to flow.
As toddlers I would place my daughters in the bathtub and surround them with different objects of the same colour. A yellow duck, yellow sponge, yellow foam bath and maybe even a big yellow boat floating on the surface. The purpose would be to teach them colours in an entertaining and memorable fashion. This simple baby bath game inspired the colour coding exercise we are about to do. To be creative we must learn how to focus and see things more clearly. The purpose of this exercise is precisely that, to teach us how to look at things more intently and see the obvious, which we previously might have missed. Pick a random colour and identify everything in your day that matches, at the same time making random connections to the problems in the back of your mind.
We set out on our daily journey, like a horse with blinkers, unable to see clearly what is directly in front of us. We need to learn how to see things more clearly. For the next exercise you will need a picture or photograph. Pick one that holds a lot of detail. Relax and get comfortable. Set a 10 minute countdown timer or alarm and proceed to focus on the picture in your hand. Pay careful attention to the detail it holds, refocus as soon as your mind starts to shift. This seems like an extremely simple exercise and many people will find it quite silly at first, but it is only when you start to practice it that you will truly realise its benefits. It is extremely difficult to keep the mind focussed on a single object for 10 minutes. Wait for the alarm to sound and then start to recall in your mind’s eye as much detail as possible, do this throughout the day.
Our habits hold us prisoner. We start our day with the same mundane routine, pick the same road to work. Listen to the same radio station. Park in the same parking spot. Walk through the office door at precisely the same time each morning and then we start yet another boring and repetitive grind of daily tasks. Shake things up a bit and become a habit breaker. Make a list of 10-15 things you habitually do each day. Take this list and break the habits. Set yourself a challenge to do things differently for the next day, week or month.
Start reading and analysing the trends and patterns right in front of you. Collect your junkmail, local papers and advertising leaflets for a few months and then start scanning through them with eyes and mind wide open. Learn to identify emerging trends and patterns that are being established in your neighbourhood or market.
Become an idea collector. Start an idea journal or digital board and record anything that catches your attention, adverts, quotations, designs, ideas, questions, doodles, drawings, cartoons, pictures, photographs, questions and comments. Before long you will have amassed a valuable stockpile of inspiration which can trigger new thoughts and ideas by random association. Pinterest the online application is also a valuable tool for collecting this information. Browse through an existing online collection at https://za.pinterest.com/debbielangley1/creativity/ to see how it is done. Scan through your stockpile regularly to find clever new combinations of useful ideas.
Next time you start twiddling your thumbs, sighing and finding daily routines to be slightly boring, spice things up a bit by visiting your local flea market, library, shopping centre, museum, toy shop, art gallery or gadget store. Purposefully set out to find something unique that you haven’t seen before and then let your mind run free as it makes random new connections with this object and the challenge at hand.
Making lists is a powerful way to focus your thinking in a productive fashion. It develops both fluency (number of ideas) and flexibility (how creative they are) in the idea generation process. In this exercise you will pick a totally random object and brainstorm as many uses for it as possible in a set amount of time. Five minutes is recommended but this can be adjusted as needed. Quantity and not quality is to be encouraged. Players are expected to come up with as many alternate and unconventional uses for the object as possible.
"A drop of ink may make a million think." -Lord Byron