Unleash your creativity: how to practice divergent thinking

Today I want to talk about something super important, how to get our creative juices flowing.

Contrary to popular belief creativity is not something reserved to a few privileged individuals, but rather it is one of our most profound human trates that we can all develop if we simply understand and practice some basic guidelines.

Creativity is a three step process. First we need to nurture our minds with information from as many different sources as possible. This process is called knowledge. The second step is letting loose our imagination and generating as many ideas as possible. This is called divergent thinking. And the third and final step is to go through the ideas and choose the most promising ones. This is called convergent thinking.

So today I want to share with you four basic rules to help open the mind and develop our ability of divergent thinking.

Rule No. 1: Postpone judgement

Ideas are shy and fragile creatures that need the right environment to express themselves. Premature judgement inhibits them. Imagine that diverge thinking is like the accelerator of the car and convergent thinking is like the brake. If your constantly accelerating and braking your not going to get the momentum you need to get the imagination flowing. That’s why you need to put of judgement until you have sufficient ideas to really work with.

And this is vital to understand. Our mind is lazy, it’s always seeking the route of least resistance. That’s why when we sit down to generate new ideas the first things that we come up with are usually not very original. It’s almost always stuff we have already thought or heard of and therefore it doesn’t add much value.

And that takes us to our second rule.

Rule No. 2: Seek to generate as many ideas as possible

The nobel aureate Linus Pauling said “the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas” and he was totally right. We need to go for quantity.

Also it has been found that the best ideas almost always come a the end of a brainstorming session.

Let me give you an example. If we ask a group of coworkers to come up with 30 bright ideas to delight their customers, the first ten will normally be lame. The second ten might have a few sparks of originality. But normally it’s not until the last batch of ideas, when they have overcome the laziness of their minds, that some truly interesting and original ideas start to emerge.

The silicon valley company Ideo, that is considered one of the most creative companies in the world illustrates going for quantity beautifully. In a given year their toy division generated 4000 new ideas, of which 230 showed some promise and were transformed into prototypes and of these 12 were commercialized.

Thomas Edison was the perfect example of his saying: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. He tried 10,000 different things before he hit upon right the solution to make the incandescent light bulb. That’s right 10,000 different routes. Contrary to the stereotype of the crazy enlightened genius, it turns out that the most creative people are also the hardest workers. Just look at the output of Leonardo Da Vinci, Mozart, Einstein, Edison and Jobs. They were all super disciplined, methodical hard workers.

Therefore as you set out to create its really important that you keep in mind that the number of initial ideas y generate are directly related to the your probability of success.

Rule No. 3: Make connections

The guy how coined of the 80-20 rule, Vilfredo Pareto also said that “creativity is finding new connections between existing things” and here too he was right on. This concept has now evolved into a discipline called “lateral thinking” and it is without a doubt one of the most powerful methods I know on how to fuel imagination.

For example there is a new scientific discipline called “Biomimicry” that imitates the models, systems, and elements of nature to help us figure out how to create new and better solutions to pressing environmental problems. The same principle applies to business processes when we observe best practices in one industry and imagine how to apply them to another.

A simple exercise you can do to unleash your creativity is to visit a company you really like and jot down what exactly are they doing to offer an extraordinary product, service or experience. Then sit down and think through how you can translate some of these best practices to your reality to improve your business.

Rule No. 4: Seek novelty

Finally a major sources of inspiration comes from our own experience. So go ahead and dare. Experiment and live.

Humans are curious and playful by design. We love novelty. So let your creativity flourish by trying new things. For example, take a new route to your office or to your home. Read a magazine you’ve never read. Try a new type of food. Listen to another style of music. Go to another industry’s trade show. Go some place else on vacation. Try flying through the air on a zipline or even better jumping out of a plane with a parachute. Go suba diving. Or just stand on your head and see the world upside down… All these things open your mind, delight your soul and ignite your creativity.

So wrapping it up. To get your creative juices flowing you need to follow three steps: acquire knowledge, liberate your imagination and evaluation and choose the most promising ideas.

Today, more than ever, creativity is what sets us apart. It’s imperative that each one of us finds our voice. That you find your voice. Your essence. Your differentiator. That that makes you unique, original, relevant and successful.

In this post I’ve talked about how to generate ideas. We saw the importance of nurturing our minds with with all types of information. Of observing best practices from nature, other human beings and companies. As well as seeking novelty in our own lives. In our next post we will explain how to choose the best ideas you generated.

So see you next time,