Exercises to Help You Improve Your Creative Thinking Skills
Many people would like to improve their creative thinking skills. I mean, really, who doesn’t want to think of a new, million-dollar product or idea? Wouldn’t it be awesome to come up with something so unique it would revolutionize the world?
You might think that some people are just naturally creative, or that you’re either “born with it” or you’re not.
That’s not true, however. Many studies have shown that with practice and mental exercises, everyone can increase their creative thinking skills, no matter how old they are.
Here are 5 quick exercises you can start using today to improve your creative thinking skills.
Be warned, however. Results from those studies I mentioned show that you can’t just do the exercises once or twice and improve. Alas, as with anything worth achieving, if you want to improve, you have to work at it a little every day for weeks or even months.
The best thing to do is set aside 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, to do some creativity-building exercises. Or, you can just do them for a few minutes at a time several times throughout the day.
One of the main goals with all of these exercises to is to escape from your habitual patterns of thinking and think differently.
Everyone gets “set in their ways”, thinking the same things over and over. They use the same methods to solve the problems they are confronted with on a daily basis. Your goal is to NOT do that.
It’s such an overused cliché, I hate to use it, but it’s true. You do need to think “outside the box” when you encounter events and situations in your daily life. Basically, you need to think like you’ve never thought before. Think from a different angle entirely. See things in a different way.
Here are some ways to train your brain to do just that.
Try Looking for What Isn’t There
This is a little game to get you used to seeing things in a different way. Apply it to all the things you see and experience throughout your day.
You’ve trained yourself to look at things pretty much the same way all the time – no matter what it is you’re looking at. For this game, you need to actively force yourself to look at what isn’t there.
Here are some examples:
When you stand outside and look at a tree, what do you see? You probably look at the trunk and the leaves, right? Now, look at the spaces between the leaves – at the “nothing”. Look at the patterns of those spaces. Change your focus from what is there to what isn’t there.
This is a common example, so you probably already see the arrow in the middle, but it’s just an example of looking at “what isn’t there”. You can apply it to everything you encounter in your daily life.
This is the FedEx logo:
Unless you’ve already been told about it, you tend to just see the letters and not the white arrow inserted between the “e” and the “x”. It’s an example of looking at the negative space. And that’s a habit worth cultivating.Another common example is the story of Abraham Wald, a member of the British Air Ministry during World War II. He was tasked with figuring out the vulnerabilities of the Allied airplanes so that they could be designed better and not get shot down.
Upon inspection, people on the team noticed that certain parts of the planes, like the tail, had more bullet holes and damage than other parts of the planes. So, the people studying this decided that those areas of the plane should be reinforced more.
But Wald looked at what wasn’t there and thought differently than everyone else. He figured out that they were only looking at damaged planes that didn’t get shot down. These planes made it home, even though they had been damaged.
So he concluded that the parts of the planes that didn’t get damaged were the areas that needed to be reinforced because the areas that got hit – but didn’t result in the plane crashing – were not critical areas. Those areas could sustain damage, still keep going, and make it home safely. But if other parts of the plane got hit, the plane succumbed and crashed. Those were the areas that needed reinforcement.
Throughout your day, practice seeing what isn’t there. Whether you’re looking at an object or trying to figure out a problem, ask yourself, “Where’s the negative space here?” “What matters here but is not visible?”
A great exercise is to take any object you can think of, then make a list of as many uses for it as you can. Social scientists have been using this technique to gauge how creative people are on “creativity tests” for over 40 years. They call it the “Alternative Uses” task.
For example, choose a candle. Start writing anything and everything you can think of that a candle could be used for. Don’t stick to just the normal uses. Really stretch yourself and be completely crazy with your responses. Most people can think of 5, and gifted thinkers can come up with 20, but what about 75? Can you come up with 75 uses for a candle?Practice this daily, and you’ll be amazed how your thinking starts to get broader and more creative.
Correlate Vastly Different Things
Your brain is a genius at grouping and categorizing things and labeling them “similar” and “dissimilar”.
We encourage our kids to do the same thing when they’re very young. Remember those preschool worksheets that said, “Group these objects by color (or size or function)?”. We tend to think “this goes with this. That doesn’t go with that”.
When we think like this, there’s always a linear progression that follows traditional logic.
If you want to create a new recipe, you start by thinking, “Well, milk and flour and cheese go together, so I’ll add those. And raisins fit with that, so I’ll add those”. And so on and so forth.
For this exercise, however, you want to find a way to correlate things that don’t logically “go together”.
Here are some topics to get you started, but you should make your own list. Just take two seemingly unrelated topics and then try to find a way to make them go together.
- American Cheese, Bedsheets
- Pork chops, crude oil
- Fried Chicken, the divorce rate in Rhode Island
- Plutonium, passenger trains
- Outer Space, suicides
If I use the first example, America Cheese and Bedsheets, here’s my thought process (and I am not the most talented creative thinker!). I might ask myself, “I wonder how many people died eating American cheese while laying on silk bed sheets?”. “Are there companies who manufacture both cheese and bed sheets?” “What are the common chemical elements, molecules, or molecular properties that both bed sheets and cheese share – carbon? Covalent bonds? Hydrogen?” “Are cheese and bed sheets both able to catch on fire?” (Actually, that one seems fun to go test. Excuse me while I try to go set fire to some American cheese….) But anyway, you get the point.
For more ways to improve your creative thinking skills, be sure to check out these games.
If you still don’t have enough exercises to try, here are some more: