1. Want to be more creative? Get happy.
Our diary study revealed a definitive connection between positive emotion and creativity. We looked at specific emotions as well as overall mood (the aggregate of a person's positive and negative emotions during the day). Overall, the more positive a person's mood on a given day, the more creative thinking he did that day. Across all study participants, there was a 50 percent increase in the odds of having a creative idea on days when people reported positive moods, compared with days when they reported negative moods.
2. Don't get a brainstorm group together
Because the best size of a brainstorm group is one.
The results were unambiguous. The men in 23 of the 24 groups produced more ideas when they worked on their own than when they worked as a group. They also produced ideas of equal or higher quality when working individually. And the advertising executives were no better at group work than the presumably introverted research scientists. Since then, some 40 years of research has reached the same startling conclusion. Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases: groups of nine generate fewer and poorer ideas compared to groups of six, which do worse than groups of four. The evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups," writes the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. "If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority."
But if you do hold a meeting, invite someone who doesn't know anything about your field or what you're doing.
Those who are new to a subject stimulate creative thinking in those who are more accomplished.
Poorer students can also help the stronger students to think about a problem differently or "outside the box," which facilitates the type of creativity that is often needed to solve atypical problems in new, intuitive ways. Sometimes it's a good idea for those with experience to enlist the help of the less knowledgeable.
3. Your morning shower is good for more than washing
Why is a relaxed state of mind so important for creative insights? When our minds are at ease — when those alpha waves are rippling through the brain — we're more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations emanating from the right hemisphere. In contrast, when we are diligently focused, our attention tends to be directed outward, toward the details of the problems we're trying to solve. While this pattern of attention is necessary when solving problems analytically, it actually prevents us from detecting the connections that lead to insights. "That's why so many insights happen during warm showers," Bhattacharya says. "For many people, it's the most relaxing part of the day."
4. Take a break and do something habitual, like going for a walk or taking a nap
Both experimentally and anecdotally this has been shown to promote "Eureka!" moments.
Have you ever struggled with a problem for a long time only to go for a walk and have the solution suddenly pop into your head? As any scientist, mathematician, or anyone else who wrestles with complex issues on a daily basis will tell you, Eureka moments born from incubating an idea are a very real phenomenon.
A 2008 study by the University of Toronto's Chen-Bo Zhong and his colleagues found that doing something habitual, such as going for a walk, washing the dishes, or taking a nap, enables you to unconsciously access peripheral information your brain may not readily consider during an intense state of Focus. It tends to work better for finding a solution to complex problems like the best seating arrangement for bickering relatives at your wedding or a convoluted financial situation than for straightforward problems such as where to eat dinner or what color shirt to wear. And we speculate that watching TV may be too mind-numbing an activity to best allow the "aha!" to pop out of your brain.
5. Your mind is more creative when it is more loose and disorganized
So having a few drinks can boost original thinking:
The current experiment tested the effects of moderate alcohol intoxication on a common creative problem solving task, the Remote Associates Test (RAT). Individuals were brought to a blood alcohol content of approximately .075, and, after reaching peak intoxication, completed a battery of RAT items. Intoxicated individuals solved more RAT items, in less time…
And so can just being dead tired.
Another ideal moment for insights, according to Beeman and John Kounios, is the early morning, shortly after waking up. The drowsy brain is unwound and disorganized, open to all sorts of unconventional ideas. The right hemisphere is also unusually active. "The problem with the morning, though," Kounios says, "is that we're always so rushed. We've got to get the kids ready for school, so we leap out of bed, chug the coffee, and never give ourselves a chance to think." If you're stuck on a difficult problem, Kounios recommends setting the alarm clock a few minutes early so that you have time to lie in bed. We do some of our best thinking when we're half asleep.
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