Who comes to mind when someone mentions original thinkers? Albert Einstein? Leonardo DaVinci? Steve Jobs?
But what makes those individuals more capable of coming up with original ideas than someone else? Experts offer some insight and tips to enhance original thinking in anyone.
Moderation is key
Adam Grant, Ph.D and organizational psychologist wrote the book on original thinkers. In a recent TED talk , he provided the audience with some habits and practices that can foster original thinking, beginning with procrastination. By his own admission, Grant is a “precrastinator” and tends to worry about matters months before they take place. When procrastinators put things off, it can lead to problems, but he asserts that moderate procrastination can be beneficial for hatching new ideas.
To test his theory, Grant and some of his students conducted experiments where they instructed subjects to create new business ideas. Some subjects were to tackle the problem immediately; others were asked to put off idea generation for a few minutes while they played a video game. The findings showed that 16 percent of the latter group was more creative, but not because of the video game. In his TED talk, Grant says, “It’s only when you’re told that you’re going to be working on this problem, and then you start procrastinating, but the task is still active in the back of your mind, that you start to incubate. Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps.”
But sometimes certain characteristics can inhibit original thinking, Grant notes. He explains that self-doubt can immobilize a person, but idea doubt tends to be energizing, prompting you to rethink your idea— potentially leading to a better idea.
Fear might present another major stumbling block for many individuals. But Grant points out that originals are more afraid of failing to try. He says the greatest originals are the one who have lots of bad ideas and who’ve failed the most.
Kick up the creativity
Margaret A. Boden, Ph.D and research professor of cognitive science at the University of Sussex, helped develop the first academic program in cognitive science. In her book The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms she says that “everyone of us is creative – to a degree. Human creativity is something of a mystery, not to say a paradox.”
In her research she has found that creative, or original, ideas are often unpredictable and grounded in “everyday abilities, such as conceptual thinking, perception, memory and reflective self-criticism.”
Much like Grant’s theory of moderate procrastination, Boden’s concepts focus on putting ideas together in unfamiliar combinations. She encourages exploration to see possibilities you might not have considered before. Such thinking serves to transform, even if only slightly, “the conceptual spaces in your mind,” what she refers to as your mental map.
To foster more original, creative thinking, “The Creativity Guru,” R. Keith Sawyer, Ph.D and author of Group Genius, offers a few tips that he has gleaned in his work with entrepreneurs. In his blog posts, he recommends doing something risky and breaking at least one rule every day. He also urges individuals to step out of their comfort zone by purposefully getting acquainted with those outside their usual social circle. Variety is the spice of life and knowing lots of people with varied interests and hobbies keeps the creative juices flowing. He also says that talking with children and trying to answer the sometimes baffling questions they ask can boost creativity.
As Grant so aptly said in his TED talk, “Originals are nonconformists, people who not only have new ideas, but take action to champion them. They are people who stand out and speak up. Originals drive creativity and change in the world.”