Two weeks ago, we discussed how your inner critic prevents you from being a fluent creative thinker, leading you to produce only a few, typically ordinary ideas in an Ideation effort. This is because your inner voice of judgment dismisses any uncommon or wild ideas, thus stopping you from producing a lot of ideas. Today, you’ll learn why your inner critic is wrong, how to gain control over your idea-killing inner voice of judgment, and how to train your mind to become a more fluent creative thinker.
A new creative thinking exercise:
In order to give you a hint on how to effectively overcome the reasons of fluency, let’s do a new creative exercise that builds on the previous one. Two weeks ago, I asked you to come up with as many ideas as possible in two minutes on “How to make good use of an empty plastic water bottle?” Now, write down on a piece of paper as as many ideas as possible for this slightly modified creative challenge: “How to NOT use an empty plastic water bottle?”
Here are the things you can NOT do with a water bottle I came up with in 120 seconds (I recorded the ideas):
An empty plastic bottle can NOT be used: 1. to drive. 2. to shoot at people. 3. to run. 4. to cook food. 5. to create something new. 6. to make someone laugh. 7. to dress someone up. 8. as food. 9. as a watch. 10. as a phone. 11. as a computer. 12. as a calendar. 13. as a bag. 14. as a house. 15. as a shoe. 16. as a weapon to kill people. 17. as a health device. 18. to help people make money. 19. as a way for entrepreneurs to know what’s the next big thing. 20. as a fitness device. 21. as a water pool. 22. as a transportation means. 23. as a tool to learn in university. 24. as a tool to learn in school. 25. as a toy.
How to silence the inner critic?
With the previous exercise, we’ve given our inner critic permission and time to do what it likes to do most: telling us what doesn’t work, what’s nonsense or just plain ridiculous. But is our inner critic right? Can we really not use an empty bottle in the ways described above?
Let’s pick some examples and apply some creativity. An empty plastic bottle cannot be used:
- as a shoe. Well, in Africa, people turn empty water bottles into flip-flops.
- as a watch. Fill one bottle with sand, connect it to a second one, and turn it into an hourglass. Or stick it into the ground, and turn it into a sun watch by using its shadow to tell you the time.
- as a fitness device. Fill it with water, sand, or stones to turn it into a dumb-bell.
- as a computer. Recycle the plastic and use it as input material for cheap computers (just think of the “one laptop per child”-project).
- as a way for entrepreneurs to know what’s the next big. Pose the empty bottle-challenge as a warm-up exercise at a futurist convention. Then, turn them loose on the question: “What are impossible business trends that cannot happen in the next years?” Next, have the futurists brainstorm on how each of the impossible trends might materialize. Finally, harness your insights on new business opportunities and emerging trends on the fringes.
So what have you learned from this exercise? If we make an effort, we can come up with ideas for making each “cannot use” comment of our inner critic into a “can do” idea.
How to become a more fluent creative thinker?
Here are eight tips that help you speed up your divergent thinking, amplify your creative outputs, and gradually evolve into a more fluent creative thinker:
- Follow the ground rules of Ideation: Whenever you generate ideas, remind yourself and other ideators to comply to the ground rules of Ideation: #1. No killing of ideas. Defer judgment. #2. Go for quantity, because quantity breeds quality. #3. The wilder the better. Shoot for wild, crazy, silly, zany, off-the-walls ideas. #4. Combine and improve on ideas.
- Set an idea quota: In a real Ideation session with a team, set an ambitious, yet achievable idea quota. For example, with a group of eight people, push for at least 250 ideas in one hour of brainstorming.
- Silence your inner critic: Whenever you hear your inner voice of judgment dismissing an idea, scream “Shut up” and jot down the idea.
- Silence others: If another team member judges one of your ideas in a brainstorming session, remind him to comply with ground rule 1 of Ideation.
- Practice, practice, practice: Generate ideas whenever you have an opportunity, be it in an real brainstorming session or unofficially on a personal challenge in a boring meeting. Creative thinking is a skill just like learning a language or playing golf — the more you practice, the better you get at it.
- Play word associations: Get a start word, and then use it to quickly come up with more words by using the sentence “When I think of the word ___, I think of the word ___.” For example, say our start word is money. “When I think of money, I think of bank. When I think of bank, I think of stock market”. Then you go on: Wall Street, New York, Big Apple, fruit, orange, juice, drink, party, music, and so on.
- Create a word concept map: This is a free association exercise similar to the last one, just that you engage in concept mapping. Think of one word that you write into the center of a piece of paper (say: light bulb). Then, come up with related words that you write clockwise around —and connect with a line to— the start word (creativity, idea, Edison, electricity, lamp, light, illumination, candle). Finally, add more words around each of the related words as they pop up in your mind (illumination: Eureka, subconscious mind, breakthrough, luminous being; lamp: cord, switch, stand, shade, Pixar; candle: flame, fire, matches, wax, etc.).
- Get into a rhythm: One way to become a more fluent creative thinker is to follow a rhythm of suggesting ideas. For example, suggest one idea every 15 seconds. Don’t panic if you don’t come up with an idea in each interval, but playfully embrace the time challenge to speed up your ideation pace. Here are two playful ways to practice rhythmic creative thinking to boost your creative fluency: use a virtual metronome while coming up with ideas; or step forward and backward following a steady rhythm while playing word associations.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 1 September 2016.