6 Surprise Paths to Genius Ideas

Shake things up, and watch what happens.

Posted Apr 27, 2014

I find it difficult to think up titles. It feels like I’m on the spot to be original and catchy, or else no one will notice. It’s stressful, so sometimes I put it off and do something else. I forget that cracking an impasse works best by changing what I'm doing.

So, the other day when I came up blank on a title for an article, I decided to just let it rest for a while. I went into my living room and did the first thing on the list below. Then, when I sat back down, voila! A clever title popped into my head.

Despite the abundance of advice available for generating creative inspirationthe "Eureka!" momentsome great practical ideas are rarely mentioned.

Here’s my own list:

  1. Rearrange the furniture. Most of us place furniture in a certain arrangement and leave it that way for years. We absorb our environment into subconscious background. That’s why this trick is so good—moving your real furniture around is like rearranging your mental furniture. It shakes things up. And you never know what you might find beneath a “couch” or behind a “chair.”
  2. Set stepping-stone goals. Most people have a specific goal for a project on which they’re working, and inspiring "Aha!" moments best happen in the context of meaningful goals. So don’t rely on just one. Break down your project into many distinct goals along the way.
  3. Color outside the lines. Assist someone with a project that is outside your comfort zone. Maybe a friend or relative is trying to restore an old car, and you know nothing about cars. But perhaps you know photography, feng shui, or graphic design. You might look at your friend’s project to see if you can bring a new perspective. Thus, you stir up your creative juices in a new way.
  4. Switch hit. If you work alone, invite a team into your zone of inspiration, or vice versa. You have the skill to do either one. Doing something completely different from your typical approach breaks up routine and releases the control you might have developed over your inspirational paths.
  5. Whistle while you work. Research at Northwestern University revealed that people in a good mood use sudden insight to solve problems more often than methodical calculations. The better their mood, the more creative they are. The researchers surmised that positive moods broaden the scope of attention, which brings in a greater range of data. So, find ways to improve your mood.
  6. Record your success. When I did this, it became a book, Snap! Seizing your Aha! Moments. We often take inspiration for granted or believe we have no control over when it might occur, but neuroscience shows us that we can set up the conditions for gaining creative insights on a regular basis. The trick is to pay attention to your process until you learn what works and then do it again. I describe more about this process here.

Neuropsychiatrist Nancy Andreasen found that inventive geniuses have little use for conceptual structures that provide comfort and predictability. Because they can tolerate the gray areas, they’re more open to new experiences than people with a high need for closure. They’re also quite mentally agile and are constantly seeking to learn new things.

We have this wonderful part of our brain, the association cortex. It receives information from a variety of sources and integrates it via a system of feedback loops that can generate new thoughts. Thus, injecting diverse data via exposure to new experiences or changes in routine can be the best source for innovative ideas.

So go whistle, color, switch-hit, rearrange, and create!

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