An elderly man was harassed every afternoon by a group of kids on their way home from school. They’d ring his doorbell and run, or taunt him while he was working in his garden, or throw things at his house. He shouted at them, and thought about calling the police or talking to their parents, but then he had a better idea.
On a Monday afternoon, when the kids ran by at the usual time, he called them together. “I’m an old man, and I don’t get much company,” he told them. “I want to show you my appreciation for paying some attention to me, so each time you kids come by, I’ll give each of you a dollar.” That sounded good to the kids, and they each collected a dollar bill from the man. Happy, they ran off and left him alone.
On Wednesday, the man told them, “I’m a little short today, so instead of a dollar, I can only give you a quarter.” That was still better than nothing, so the children took their quarters and ran home.
The following Monday the man came out of his house and told the kids, “I’m afraid I don’t have much money left, so all I can give each of you for visiting me is a penny.”
“Forget it!” the kids shouted, and they left. And they never came back to bother the old man again.
How’s that for creativity in solving a problem?
Creativity and imagination are vital for business and personal success. January is International Creativity Month, so capitalize on your creative powers by devoting the month to exploring new ideas and strategies to make you more creative.
New evidence suggests that you can boost your imagination by just getting outside and spending some time in nature. Researchers from the University of Kansas gave a standard creativity test – called the Remote Associates Test – to four groups of backpackers as they were about to set off on a series of lengthy hikes. They also administered the test to a second group of hikers who were already four days into their nature excursion. This second group scored almost 50 percent higher in creativity than their counterparts.
Ruth Ann Atchley, department chair and associate professor of cognitive/clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, describes the findings this way: “Nature is a place where our mind can rest, relax, and let down those threat responses. Therefore, we have resources left over – to be creative, to be imaginative, to problem-solve – that allow us to be better, happier people who engage in a more productive way with others.”
Similarly, some of us feel more creative wearing our favorite green T-shirt or checkered cap. Research suggests that the colors around us actually do influence how well we do certain tasks.
For whatever reason, some days ideas pop into your head without any effort at all. Other days you probably feel like you’re digging for them at the bottom of a very deep ditch. Try these tips for generating fresh concepts:
- Gather information. Research whatever you’re trying to develop ideas for. Don’t think about solutions initially; just immerse yourself in the subject. You may uncover a single fact that can spark a dozen ideas.
- Mix everything together. Take a bird’s-eye view of what you’ve collected. Look for underlying assumptions, common concepts, and roads not taken. Make notes of anything that stands out.
- Let it simmer. Concentrate on something else for a while. Listen to music, take a walk, sleep on it – and let your subconscious sort through what you’ve learned.
- Brainstorm. Invest some time in generating more ideas from the information you’ve processed. Your third or fourth attempt may prove more useful than your first and most obvious solution.
- Share your idea. Run it past someone you trust for feedback. An outside perspective can help you shape and mold your idea into something you can put into action.
- Accept mistakes. Give yourself permission to try things even if you’re not sure they’ll succeed. Often you’ll stumble across a different strategy or a better path along the way.
- Copy other ideas. Don’t directly steal anyone else’s work, but look at what’s been done with an eye toward doing it differently. Even the most familiar landscape can come to life in interesting ways depending on the colors you use to paint it, or the point of view from which you show it.
Mackay’s Moral: Creativity, not necessity, is the true mother of invention.