5 Science-Backed Ways to Boost Your Creativity

These tips will revolutionize the way you think about new ideas.

What’s more, mad science? People can choose to have their brains “zapped,” which will increase creativity at work or in school within the next fifteen years.

Adam Green is the director of the Georgetown Laboratory for Relational Cognition and the president-elect of the Society for the Neuroscience of Creativity. Green’s group looked at blood flow to measure brain cell activity during creative tasks. This process led them to a particular brain region (the frontopolar cortex), and they decided to investigate whether stimulating that area might make creativity more accessible.

Green says that “we zap people’s brains in a targeted manner based on these FMRI studies.” The researchers want to make creativity in neuroscience more easily accessible to the general population.

Good news! We have some research-backed ideas to help you think outside the box if your brain doesn’t have a simulation tool. Here’s how.

1. You can exercise your creativity like a muscle.

The best way to increase creativity is to try. No, really! Green says creativity doesn’t come from a magical fairy part of the brain. “It is the use of all the tools that go into doing other things, but using those tools in creativity-specific manners.”

Research has shown that creativity is a critical factor in people’s ability to think creatively. The results are consistent and substantial. Green refers to an “age-old adage” from neuroscience, “cells that fire together wire together.” This means that the more brain activity you do, the stronger the connections among the cells involved.

The key is to dedicate more time in your day to active thinking. That usually means removing yourself from social media, email, and other distractions. It’s how you unlock the “digressive, slow and uncertain parts of yourself” that are key for creativity, said Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: Reclaiming Your Focus in a World of Lost Attention at The Atlantic’s “Humanity + Tech” conference at MIT on September 5, 2018.

You can attempt this idea into your daily routine by not taking your phone to bed and the bathroom. It’s also a brilliant idea to disable social media apps and emails notifications. It’s a good idea to set aside time each day for creative thinking.

2. You can change your surroundings, even if you only do it a little.

Green says, “The best trick I know isn’t sexy.” According to data, creativity “nudges” may come from small things like a warm cup of tea or different room colors. Change the order of things on your desk, or change the direction of the bulletin board. You should know that these “nudges”, while they may be affecting your physical environment, also affect your social setting.

Consider taking advantage of opportunities to regularly work in different office areas, sit with new colleagues, or invite people from other departments to lunch. You may not have complete control over the work environment, but your changes can lead to significant creativity.

3. Learn from your mistakes and be bold.

Have you ever learned anything about medieval architecture? Ancient Egyptian history? What are edible herbs from the wild? This is the right time to enroll in an online course or take an in-person training course. Research suggests that expanding your knowledge on unfamiliar topics leads to divergent thinking and new ideas.

Epstein says, “New ideas arise from interconnections of old ideas.” He uses the exercise “the experts’ game” to prove this. The experts game is a five-minute lecture format in which a few people with a lot of knowledge on a particular topic give lectures. Everyone then comes up with at most three ideas for new products and services after learning about topics such as the construction of shoes or the history of Rolex watches.

Epstein said, “It’s mind-boggling how people will come up with ideas, and that’s just based upon 15 minutes of instruction.” This can be done by asking colleagues or friends in other industries to share their experiences. You could also sign up on sites like Coursera and Massive Open Online Courses.

Although likely, you won’t see immediately how what you learn could be helpful in the future, the pieces of knowledge you have should flow naturally when you are faced with a problem or trying to brainstorm ideas. Epstein says that interconnections are more exciting the more diverse pieces.

4. You should pay attention to and record any new ideas you have.

While the number and quality of creative ideas that people have as they age doesn’t decrease, it is less common for them to use them. Keep an idea, or at least a part of it, in your head. It can be written on a notepad or a small notebook that you keep with you. Epstein states that “Capture Now, Evaluate Later” is the best method to increase creativity.

5. Try new things, especially when it comes to larger industry issues.

You’ve probably experienced an “escape space” — a physical adventure where players work together to solve puzzles and complete goals. Your creativity is likely to have soared. This is because we can use challenges to spark our creativity and help us come up with simultaneous solutions and ideas. When you find the door locked and turn the knob, you start to brainstorm solutions and ideas.

Epstein recommends that you stimulate your own work similarly by setting a deadline for a task or taking up an “ultimate problem” in your industry. You should think about the major issues in your field. For example, “How can I end world hunger in one day?” How can I design a phone without a charger? You can practice open-ended brainstorming.

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Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

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