After many years of relative silence in the study of creativity, it is back in the spotlight. Social and technological processes are driving renewed interest in this subject, and the findings can be applied in various fields like art, psychology, and of course - business. The search for creative ways to make money in the new world never ends. Think, for example, how important creativity is for different professionals in a company; starting with the leader, whose job is to push his team to innovation, continuing with the marketers responsible for designing interesting and appealing advertising, and ending with project managers who can look at the big picture with the right creative skills.
So, What Exactly is Creativity?
The dry definition from Oxford Languages refers to it as the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work. However, we all know there is more to it than that - we want to know what is the creative thinking process, how creative people think, and how we can enhance creativity at work. Here is what we (and science) know about your burning questions.
What is the Creative Thinking Process?
Many people mistakenly believe that if you can't solve a problem, you should put it aside and go do some other thing. Your mind will "clear up" and new ideas will just pop in your head as a moment of illumination, a eureka. When this eureka didn't come to me when I was a student doing my math homework, I felt really frustrated. This traditional belief turned out to be probably wrong, or at least not completely right. Modern approaches to creativity see it more as a search process in a huge mental space of possibilities, and not just as a moment of clarity. This process is defined as a computational mechanism that aims to find novel and valuable solutions. It consists of two main phases: exploration and exploitation.
- Exploration: Wandering the mental space in search of something valuable.
- Exploitation: Improving and upgrading the idea that was found.
Think of it this way - you are walking in a desert looking for cellular reception so you can call for help. There are many different mountains all around, and you just have to find the right mountain with the right spot on top of it. Once you find one mountain that looks good, you start climbing it, you go up and down the hills, reception is coming and going, and only one spot is perfect for you - that is the ultimate creative idea.
How Creative People Think?
So we get that the mental space, or the space of mind, is like a desert full of mountains. But did you know that your desert is different from your friend's desert, that is different from any other desert in the world? Your mental space is like a fingerprint, and some people are more creative than others, you can actually see it in the brain!
The connection between areas in the brain of creative people is different than less creative people. A study published in 2018 found that people with higher semantic creativity have less connections between ideas in the brain! It may sound surprising, but it actually makes sense. Creative people can think efficiently and are using brain areas that are linked to functionality, while non-creative people are using regions linked to habitual responses. also, creative people can find their way inside their brains pretty easily - they are able to jump quickly between distinct ideas, and don't need other connections to help them get from one point to another. Look at it as if creative people are more "athletic" than non-creative people, and they can jump between two far mountains in the desert without making a stop in a middle mountain.
How Can We Use All This to Become Creative at Work?
First of all, let's play a game. Take a sheet of paper and a pen, you get 5 minutes to write anything you can do with a brick, just a simple brick. Go! Finished? This "game" is actually a creativity test used by psychologists and counselors, and it is called The Alternative Uses Test. It assesses originality, fluency, and flexibility (those brain connections I just talked about), and measures divergent thinking. You might say you can use a brick to "build a house" and then to "use it as a doorstep" - those are pretty distinct ideas, though not the most original ones. Try practicing this game with other everyday objects, like toilet paper, coffee cup or a pen. Strengthening your divergent thinking will help you think of better solutions for problems that pop up at work, or even increase your innovation skills. Another fun game is The Remote Associates Test, which you may have played as a child. Someone gives you 3 words, and you need to find a word that links all the others together. For example, which word links Wheel, Hand, and Shopping? Think about it for a second... The answer is Cart! You can find many more examples in Creative Huddle's article. This game develops your convergent thinking, which can assist you in choosing the right option from many alternatives, so you could hire the best employee or buy exactly the services your company needs.
This third game can be played with your friends and colleagues; it is called Circles Creativity Test. All you have to do is give each participant a sheet with 30 circles, and you all get 3 minutes to fill as many circles as you can with drawings. When you finish, you can compare your results and see who filled more circles, thought of distinct ideas, and drew more original objects. By playing this game with your team, you can all benefit from enhancing your divergent thinking and creativity for the good of your work.
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If you are not into games, and you just want to know how you can be more creative at work, deepTalk has some great and practical tips. Creativity is something you can improve, and those brain connections can be altered and strengthened. The secret is training - just like you train your body to be stronger, you can train your brain to be more creative. Don't run away from challenges, stick to them and try to deal with them your own way.