Monday, August 3, 2009

Tips to increase creativity and insight

I’ve long believed that creativity is one of the most important strengths of successful team members. From caregivers who creatively problem-solve challenging client situations to managers whose creativity builds loyalty and leadership, it’s a strength I value.

So it was with great interest that I read the article written by Robert Lee Hotz and published in the Wall Street Journal on June 19, 2009, titled “A wandering mind heads straight toward insight” (reprinted in the Dana Foundation’s Brain in the News, July 2009).

It’s really nothing new after all; rather a scientific basis for those moments many of us have experienced when an idea hits us when we’re least expecting it. The great idea that strikes us in the shower is a perfect example of this phenomenon when we suddenly get the answer to a question, the solution to a problem, or simply a new, interesting idea.

It seems that while we think our brain is wandering aimless from thought to thought, subject to subject, it’s actually a time of intense brain activity – more activity than when we’re focusing on solving a problem methodically, in fact. The result is what seems to us to be flashes of insight that feel absolutely correct.

Among ways to nurture these moments of insight and creativity – vital, I believe, for successful business growth – are these:

Be positive.
Apparently, individuals who are in a positive mood experience more flashes of insight than those who are negative. This can be challenging during tough times when it’s particularly easy to focus on the negatives and let our concerns gnaw at the fringes of our thoughts almost continually. Try consciously listing things you are grateful for – a proven technique to lift spirits and create a more positive mood.

Turn off the noise.
I don’t know about you, but one of my first moves in the car is to turn on the radio. Yet when I walk somewhere, I find that the meandering of my own thoughts a creative, rewarding activity. Often, I arrive at my destination with ideas for the entire day and solutions to some of my most vexing problems. For so many people, iPods and cell phones mean that noise is always on. Turning off the background noise is one great way to let our brains come up with these creative bursts of insight and ideas.

Dream a little.
According to the article, one researcher in the field suggests that “the flypaper of an unfocused mind may trap new ideas and unexpected association more effectively than methodical reasoning.” If you’re one those people who is highly focused during the work day, take time around the fringes of the day – on your way to work or on your way home, perhaps – to allow your mind some unfocused wandering.

Talk a hike
. Physical activity also seems to create or focus brain activity. Feeling stale? Talk a brisk walk. I remember reading about tech companies during the dot-com frenzy providing ping-pong tables for programmers; the focused physical activity seemed to allow the brain to recharge and become increasingly more creative. One of my best managers and I used to walk while we talked about problems with staff or residents. We’d end our walk-and-talk sessions feeling righteously fit and, almost every time, arrive at creative solutions to difficult problems. Frequently we’d come up with new ideas to implement company-wide that helped build our brand and achieve our goals.

In an article titled “Happy Days: the pursuit of what matters in troubled times,” Daniel Goleman of the New York Times tells of a Tibetan lama called “the happiest man in the world.” Goleman asks, “So how did he get that way? Apparently, the same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice.” This meditative practice apparently leads to the stimulation of part of the brain that leads to positive moods, as well as creative thought. Concludes Goleman, “So while the Calvinist strain in American culture may look askance at someone sitting quietly in meditation, this kind of ‘doing nothing’ seems to do something remarkable after all.”

I think perhaps whether your goal is to be happy, or creatively intuitive in your business development the answer is the same. Find the techniques that nurture this outcome, and then practice until you’ve got it.

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