October Brainstorm

2011

This month, kids and creativity, creative solutions in a different field, some outrageous ideas from Edward de Bono, some ideas to help you play – and some ideas to help you work.

1: An alarming statistic about kids and creativity and one thing you can do about it
A study at the College of William and Mary found that today's children are less creative, less humorous, less imaginative and less able to elaborate on ideas than the kids who came before them. The study took into account about 300,000 creativity tests administered since the 1970s.

What's the explanation? Is it the renewed emphasis on rote learning to pass standardized tests? Watching more TV? Spending more time online? Nobody knows for sure, but it's an alarming finding, considering that these kids are going to require maximum creativity to clean up the mess we're leaving for them.

ACTION: If there are any children in your life, give them presents that require them to exercise their imagination rather than just consume what others have created. For instance, a painting set, a chemistry set, and actual paper books that stimulate the imagination.

Will some kids put these aside in favor of their new phone or iPad? Sure, but one day they may just pick them up and discover the joy of creativity. (I hear that my godson groaned when he saw I'd sent him a collection Michael Morpurgo books - but one day started reading them and became a fan.)

2: Creative solutions in a different field
A lot of examples of creativity and innovation come from the arts and from management. It was interesting to read about one way it is encouraged in the field of medicine. Every year GE hosts the "Brain Bowl" at the Mayo Clinic. This year 48 leading healthcare experts took part. In one session of 18 minutes they came up with 864 ideas in six categories.

Were these all good ideas? Of course not. But even with a 1% hit rate, they would have come up with almost a hundred valuable ideas. Some examples of health-related innovations:

  • An MRI set-up used for children, decorated to look like an old-fashioned ship to make the experience less scary.
  • Promoting the purchase of fruit and vegetables by giving them valuable end of aisle space (done at Wal-Mart).
  • When people have to make a choice about health-related behaviour, structure it so they have to opt out of the healthy behaviour rather than opt in to it. (The home version is to keep plenty of fruit around, but don't stock up on candy.)

ACTION: The best place to look for creative ideas for your field is in someone else's. Do these three examples give you any ideas to apply to your arena?

3: A few outrageous thoughts from Mr De Bono
Edward de Bono was promoting creativity before it was in fashion. At the age of 78 he's still at it. Here are a few of his recent ideas, from an interview last month for the his home newspaper, The (Malta) Sunday Times:

  • Gadaffi should have been made a king without any power and without the right to pass on the throne after his death. It would have given him an ego-saving way out.
  • UK rioters should have been warned and then sprayed with oestrogen (female hormones). It would have scared them (or at least the males, I guess) so much they would have stopped immediately.
  • If President Obama had accepted de Bono's offer of lessons in creative thinking the States would not be in such deep trouble.

I'm not endorsing any of these ideas, especially that we should let the police spray hormones around the streets, but it's refreshing that de Bono is willing to express outrageous ideas - it's the "crazy" ideas that often lead to practical ones.

ACTION: Spend fifteen minutes soon coming up with as many outrageous ideas as possible about some challenge you're facing. Put them aside for a day, then see whether you can translate some of them into more practical solutions.

4: Sometimes you need to play
Play seems to get more difficult as we get older so I was interested to see a review of seven playful activity books for adults, at the Brain Pickings web site.

One is "Walls Notebook". Created by photographer Sherwood Forlee, the book provides pictures of lots of New York City blank walls. With your trusty Sharpie pen you can desecrate them to your heart's content with no danger of arrest (or catching a cold.)

On a higher intellectual plane is "Astonish Yourself: 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life," by Roger-Pol Droit. The exercises include: come across a childhood toy, wait while doing nothing, and invent headlines.

Of course the author goes deeper for each suggestion. For instance, for "turn off the sound of the TV," he guides you to get beyond the comedy of people speaking without any sound coming out, and then beyond the horror as you realize "something mechanical, fixed, and inhuman inhabits these faces, vainly moving their lips and filling their cheeks."

Hmm, now I'm scared of the "mute" button on my remote control...Think I'll go back to drawing graffiti on the paper walls.

ACTION: Do you put aside some time for pure play once in a while? If not, try it and notice whether it relaxes and refreshes you.

5: Sometimes you have to work
If you're looking for an approach to help you get more done, you might want to try the Pomodoro Technique. You won't have to spend much valuable time learning it.

Basically it's about breaking tasks down into twenty-five minute chunks and taking three to five minute breaks in between. Use a timer to make sure you stick to the time limits. Do not allow anything to interrupt a session; if you do, make a note of it and later brainstorm how to minimize them in the future. Use the method for at least 20 days to turn it into a habit.

ACTION: You can get a free guide at pomodorotechnique.com. If you're really rushed for time, you can just download a one-page cheat sheet. If you really get into it you can also order a tomato-shaped timer and a Pomodoro t-shirt.

You also may want to read my book, Focus: use the power of targeted thinking to get more done. It is very Pomodoro-friendly and offers you a menu of additional productivity techniques.

6: And a quote to consider: "Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." - Winston Churchill

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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".