September Brainstorm

Sep 24 2010 by Jurgen Wolff Print This Article

It's September, almost October, time to start giving some thought to what you want to be feeling when this year ends. Will you be pleased with what you've done? Think about that while we explore some more interesting and unusual ways to boost your creativity.

1: Nothing can't be made better
I read today about an experiment being tried in some schools that brought home again how simple innovation can be. In classrooms, when a teacher asks a question usually the brightest or most eager kids raise their hands and the shy or uncertain ones try to pretend they' re invisible.

In the experiment, when the teacher asks a question, all students write their answer on a little whiteboard paddle and hold it up.

Not surprisingly, at first the kids hated it. The ones who wanted to show off or get the teacher's approval lost their moments in the sun and the uncertain ones lost their ability to hide. However, it means every student is engaged, and the teacher can correct wrong answers without humiliating any individual students.

Preliminary results suggest that all the students are benefitting (and they don't hate it any more). This is probably the first innovation in teacher-student Interaction in a hundred years and it doesn't even involve technology.

What other things that are so basic that we never think about trying something new could be transformed?

ACTION: Think about one thing you do that you assume can be done only one way. Take ten minutes to brainstorm how else it could be done that might make it faster, easier or more effective.

2: Why people give up at the wrong time
Have you heard that Chinese proverb, "All paths are uphill at first?" Probably not, I just made it up. Or maybe there is a saying like that, given that the Chinese have had a few thousand years to come up with it. Anyway, it's true. Whatever you set out to do generally is difficult at first.

Actually, at the very start your enthusiasm may carry you along, but after the first shot of energy runs out, it turns into a slog. That's true whether you' re setting up a business, getting fit, writing a novel, or pretty much anything else. After a while, it seems like the hill is too big. That's when people give up.

Ironically, that often happens when they are near the top of the hill but they don't know it. If they just kept going a bit longer, the path would start to be downhill. The amount of effort required for payback would reverse in their favor. But they' re tired and they stop and they never know how close they were to success.

ACTION: Is there something you've undertaken that's been uphill and you' re beginning to wonder whether it will ever pay off or be completed? There are three things to do:

  1. Take a step back so you can see the bigger picture. It may be that getting discouraged about some of the steps has skewed your perspective.
  2. Brainstorm whether there are faster or better ways to handle the part of the process that's giving you the most trouble.
  3. If necessary, take a break. Don't give up, just take a breather and then return to the goal with renewed energy.

3: Want to get rid of doubts? Head for the washroom!
I love finding weird little studies like this: the journal Science reveals that washing your hands can erase doubts you might have about a recent decision. The experiment focused on a choice between two attractive options. The half of the volunteers who washed their hands felt less compelled to justify their choice.

Previous studies (as well as religious references like Pontius Pilate and literary references like Lady Macbeth) have linked hand washing with absolution. However, the new study suggests it also works for choices that don't involve any moral implications.

ACTION: The next time you find yourself agonizing over a choice you' ve already made, go wash those hands!

4: Need an energy boost?
It's hard to be creative when you' re dragging. A nap is an ideal solution but not always practical. Here are three other things you can do :

A. Get some exercise. Research at Illinois University showed that a 5% increase in fitness level through running yielded an improvement of up to 15% in mental tests. The secret apparently is getting more oxygen to the brain. Recent studies suggest that interval training (short periods of maximum activity interspersed with short periods of rest) are most effective for improving fitness.

B. Take a social break. Chat with a colleague or friend for a few minutes. Professor Oscar Ybarra from the University of Michigan reports that "social interaction seem to sharpen your memory and other brain functions."

C. Have an energy drink. Actually, even a glass of water with a bit of fresh lemon juice in it helps wake you up, without the caffeine crash later. Another good option is cocoa- researchers at the University of Nottingham have found it increases blood flow to the brain. Or there's green tea (I don't like the taste, so I take capsules), espresso or Red Bull.

Bonus tip: Don't skip breakfast, eat low-glycemic foods to keep your blood sugar levels stable, and keep a little bottle of peppermint oil handy and sniff it once in a while.

ACTION: When do you have your energy slump? Decide which one of the above tips will you try out the next time you hit one.

5: Is your input/output balance wrong?
Tim Ferris, author of the best-selling "The 4-Hour Work Week" (who, ironically, worked long hours to make the book a success) suggests that we all start practicing "attention management." Specifically, he suggests a low information diet so you can focus on output (work) rather than input (news, emails, texts, apps, etc.).

The only way to do this is to set aside some time that is solely for output and avoid the temptation to try to do both at the same time. Big companies like Deloitte and Intel are beginning to recognize this and are having no email days, even no computer days and finding they' re helping productivity.

ACTION: Consider going on an information diet for at least a couple of hours a day, During that time, focus exclusively on producing rather than consuming. Notice the difference to your productivity by the end of the week.

6. And a quote to consider:
"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go." T. S. Elliot

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About The Author

Jurgen Wolff
Jurgen Wolff

Jurgen Wolff is a writer, teacher, and hypnotherapist. His goal is to help individuals liberate their own creativity through specific techniques that can be used at work as well as at home. His recent books include "Focus: the power of targeted thinking," a W. H. Smith best-seller, and "Your Writing Coach".