The Best Way To Improve Your Creativity


 

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If creativity is looking at from a different point of view, I am a very creative person. That is why I drive people nuts also. I have a tendency to view any issue from multiple viewpoints systematically and that translates to being critical of the issue because I come up with something too quick. Cannot win everyone.

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from The Last Psychiatrist

Moving only three circles, make the overall triangle point downward.

Spend a few minutes on it before reading the hint. (The solution at end of article)

Hint: this is part of a psych test developed by University of Texas students enrolled in a study abroad program in China.

Scientific American has an article An Easy Way To Increase Creativity, which describes the recent paper about the effects of psychological distance on creativity.

The SciAm article is worth reading. Students were asked a series of brain teaser questions. One group of students was told that the questions were invented at their university; the other group was told they were invented in a far away university. Thinking that the test came from far away somehow raised the creativity of the subjects. They answered more questions correctly.

But in this paper, the researchers told the subjects that there was a psychological distance involved. How would you do this to yourself?

One way would be to imagine the question came from far away, or form another time. Another way would be to imagine you were far away from where you are now (e.g. answering while on a vacation in Hawaii).

But I’m going to illustrate another way– the way I personally use on complicated problems and in writing a lot of the posts in this blog.

II.

Answer this question as fast as you can:

Name ten animals.
Note carefully your answer. Most likely, your first 6 or so answers are of one category of animal (e.g. farm), and the remaining ones are from another category of animal (e.g. zoo animals).

Even dementia patients can name a lot of animals– “cow, pig, horse, sheep, umm, cow, no wait, ummm….” but what the demented can’t do well is switch to another category. They get stuck in the same box, looking around in there for more answers. They don’t lack fluency, they lack flexibility.

So knowing the answer to “name 300 animals” isn’t about knowing 300 animals, it is about knowing 30 categories of animal, and being able to jump from one to another.

Imagine you are on your 200th animal, and now you are stuck– you can’t even think of any new categories.

Creativity advice is often of the form, “look at it a different way.” Ok, but I don’t even know what way to look at it to start trying for a new kind of solution.

Here’s my trick: imagine you are someone else answering the question.

Who that someone else is depends a lot on what you’re trying to do. Sometimes I pick a person related to question (e.g. The Crocodile Hunter guy); sometimes I pick a guy unrelated but clever person (e.g. Stewie from Family Guy). It can’t be a generalization of a person (“how would a biologist answer?”) it has to be a real person that I know enough about to model their thinking, but different enough from me that alternative answers are possible. But I don’t linger, I don’t force the guy to answer if he can’t; I cycle through multiple identities to get quick looks at the problem. (Why this method works is explained a little more fully here.)

A prisoner was attempting to escape from a tower. He found a rope in his cell that was half as long enough to permit him to reach the ground safely. He divided the rope in half, tied the two parts together, and escaped. How could he have done this?
This question is from the paper, and I couldn’t answer it– but Jack Bauer did. Silly, I guess, on some level, but I chose a guy who would know how to escape from towers, and the solution then came almost immediately. It’s more than just “what would Jack do?” It’s about being that other person, what would I do if I was him– I imagined myself harried and relentless, pausing only to say “dammit!” I need to get her out of here, and I need to get her out now–

so I frantically split the rope lengthwise, tie the ends together and to the window, grab her by the waist, and jump——–

III.

Note also that my inclination is towards psychology; another person might be able to establish creative reference points by translating the question into a different language, or imagining it printed in different color, or font; or answering it using thinking from different eras, etc.

But effective methods of adopting psychological distance or alternative perspectives have two important similarities. They are predicated on the idea that who you are, and how your mind works, can be artificially altered at will– you can actually think thoughts you were neither biologically nor environmentally primed to think; and they establish that an inability to see things from another perspective is almost always a failure of will, not of intellect.

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