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Want to Think Creatively?

Here are 10 ideas for improving your creativity.

Pixabay/No Attribution Required.
Source: Pixabay/No Attribution Required.

We each face problems in our daily lives that require creative responses. Creative responses are original and unique. Here are 10 ways you can improve your creativity (Sawyer, 2012; Weisberg, 2006).

1. Defining your problem. Creativity is essentially a form of problem-solving. Well-defined problems lead to breakthrough solutions. People faced with a problem tend to switch quickly into solution mode without making sure that they understand the problem. Albert Einstein said: “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.”

2. Become an expert in your field. It takes a lot of experience and knowledge to be able to identify good problems. However, overly narrow specialization can undermine creative thinking. As the saying goes, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Focusing only on what you already know can limit your ability to think more broadly.

3. Connecting ideas. Thinking outside of the box requires one to consider ideas remotely associated with the problem at hand. Novel ideas are often produced by a novel combination of remotely related ideas in your mind.

4. Avoid overthinking. Creativity emerges from an irrational unconscious mind. Creative people are less subject to cognitive inhibition. The words like ‘shouldn’t' and 'mustn’t’ restrict freedom of inquiring and autonomy. The imposition of any particular viewpoint toward any understanding restricts our openness and flexibility.

5. Sleep on it. Allow time for creative thinking and incubation. Incubation works because it gives your mind a rest. During an incubation period, the unconscious mind takes up the problem where conscious thinking left off. The incubation period provides an opportunity to become less fixated on incorrect solutions.

6. See the big picture. Broad attention rather than narrow attention helps creative thinking. A broader perspective allows us to consider multiple aspects of a situation. For example, after several years of experience, people start to repeat themselves. They become insiders. One of the most effective ways of cultivating an outsider perspective is to feel distant from the problems. The distance allows one to view problems in a more imaginative way.

7. Creativity is courage. Creativity can be a true act of courage. Creativity is a break from convention. Radical ideas are often resisted initially because they threaten established interests. It takes a confident and strong-willed individual to break the status quo.

8. Stay curious. Creative people display a great deal of curiosity about many things. A thorough understanding and exploration of any subject matter require curiosity and persistent motivation. Kant once said that “nothing great is ever done without passion.”

9. Intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to wanting to do something for its own sake. The focus is on the pleasure that arises from the act of doing something rather than achieving some ultimate goal. Activities such as music and the arts, reading, and intellectual discovery, sports, and a host of other fulfilling pursuits are often sustained by the joy of the activity itself. Evidence shows that people are more creative when they are internally focused and not thinking about external rewards.

10. Creative insight is incremental, not sudden. People gradually get closer to the solution. Creative work is filled with hard work, doubts, hesitation, and uncertainties. While doing the work, the creator experiences frequent but small sparks of insights. As Louis Pasteur famously said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”


Sawyer, R. K. (2012). Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation (2nd Ed.). New York: Oxford University Press

Weisberg, R. W. (2006). Creativity: Understanding innovation in problem solving, science, invention, and the arts. John Wiley & Sons Inc.

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