Break ‘Em Up!


How can I learn to think up wild ideas?

Can I become more innovative or is it just a natural gift?

Where do new ideas come from?

We often get asked these sorts of questions from people searching to inject new ways of thinking into their work, hoping to find a secret formula for great ideas that will give them the leading edge. If you’re one of them, you’re not alone. Professionals around the world search for ways to climb out of slumps, inspire their teams, and spark the future of their companies.

The good news is that enhancing creativity is doable and often much easier than you think! Better yet, not only is it possible, it is critically important that you develop new skills for your personal and professional progress. Be warned that the methods for sparking a creative ideas are not one size fits all, and what’s more, a thought-trick that worked well for you in one situation is not guaranteed to do so in another. But when you find the one that is just right, results are wonderfully rewarding and delightful.

We are all creatures of habit, so one thing you might try is to break your habitual way of work to give your mind a chance to see things differently. Here are three common work habits that might be holding you back — change them to give yourself the chance to see the world differently and discover new ideas:

1. Break your internal clock.  Are you a morning person? Do you wake up early to get your best work done before “your day” begins? Or are you a night owl, waiting for everyone and everything around you to quiet down so you can start thinking and creating? Try flipping your clock. If you thrive in the morning, find a way to stay up late for a couple of nights. You might have to make room for a nap in the afternoon, or drink an extra cup of coffee — whatever works.

If you prefer quiet nights, push yourself to wake up very early, and be ready to face your creative challenge before anyone or anything else distracts you. Make sure to have your creative workspace ready at this new time for you to explore new ideas: have paper, whiteboard, tablet, laptop, or other tools and materials you might need to capture your thoughts.

2. Break your sounding board.  We all have people we turn to, the go-to colleagues and friends we approach when we face a creative challenge. These people and their clear, honest feedback are treasures, both personally and professionally. But consider that most of the time, people reach out for feedback from those who will support them and confirm what they want to hear. If you’re trying to develop new ideas, strengthening your old ideas is not the right solution. Find someone you would not naturally turn to for advice.

If you’re a rational and logical numbers person, steer clear of your engineer or finance buddies and instead look in your circle of friends for someone with a more intuitive and holistic way of thinking who can give you a few minutes’ help on a burning problem. You might even discover that the task of explaining your challenge to them clearly and concisely will help you see it from a new angle as well. Likewise, if your comfort zone is mostly found with more abstract thinkers, find a good analytical, objective friend who might push you to uncover new ways of seeing your challenge.

3. Break your environment.  Our surroundings affect the way we think and inspire us to make unexpected connections, so changing where you do your work can help change your patterns of thought. Walking on the beach, sitting in a busy coffee shop, listening to music, wandering through the aisles of a hardware store, sitting at the airport — you would be surprised at the great variety of inspiring spaces that people use to boost their thinking.

Don’t be afraid to make the change dramatic. Do you usually enjoy the quiet of the beach? Go sit in the train station instead. Need the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop to concentrate? Find a bench away from the crowds in a local park and take in the natural ambiance. This will not be easy, but it’s worth making the effort, because a forcible physical shift can result in a forcible mental shift too.

We are all creatures of habit. And the better we get at what we do and the more experience we get under our belt, the more our patterns of thinking and working can get ingrained. Pushing yourself to work outside your habitual comfort zone is a great way to discover new thoughtscapes and build a dynamic and flexible mindset.

So find a few minutes in your schedule to prototype and test a new way of thinking creatively by breaking the routines you’ve boxed yourself into. And asks those around you how they get inspired: you’ll be surprised at the great variety of tricks people use, and might just discover one that serves you well next time you’re searching for an unexpected solution.