How to come up with Breakthrough Insights & Original Ideas for your career/business?18 min read

 

“I don’t think outside of the box; I think of what I can do with the box.”

– Anonymous

 

Is it only reserved for people in art?

Can a simple person become creative?

Can you be creative in business or WHILST HUNTING FOR JOBS?

Can you be creative as a housewife or as a CEO?

I have never been creative in my life, can I become creative?

Is creativity just a hobby or is it a necessity in today’s world?

How to increase your creativity in day to day life?

I will try to answer all these questions. But before that let’s be clear about the definition of creativity:

It is the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.

Or in simple terms, Creativity is connecting two seemingly unrelated ideas to create something new or original.

 

 

The common misconception that people seem to have is that they assume people are just born creative. They assume there are right brained people who have received this gift of creativity in their genes. And they identify themselves as individuals who never had that gift, or as individuals who are merely logical in their thinking, and have no relation to creativity.

I’ve been in the same situation, experiencing what you are feeling right now for 19 years. My elder sister was always the creative kind and I never understood a thing about creativity. My thinking changed when I started learning about UI/UX Design from Meng To. There were design principles, colour theory and many other things which I began to pick up quickly and follow quite easily. I came to the realisation that the seemingly subjective field of design is also based on certain rules. Well, you can break some of these rules when you have mastered them.

Okay, enough of my story. Let’s see the fascinating science behind coming up with new ideas and insights in your field.

In the book Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights, famous psychologist Gary A. Klein discusses about 5 strategies to gain insights in your field.

 

List of Contents

 

Five Strategies of Insights

Connection: The first strategy is probably the most common in terms of getting insights and you may have experienced this once or twice in your life. When you expose yourself to multiple ideas, you can connect the dots and solve a problem in a completely different way or what is commonly called as a creative way of solving problems.

Coincidence: Coincidences are chance concurrences that should be ignored except that ever so often they provide us with an early warning about a new pattern. You can’t point out exactly why two things are related but you feel there is a certain pattern to things.

Curiosities: Some insights were sparked by a single event or an observation that provoked the reaction “What’s going on here?” These curiosity-driven investigations often lead to impressive discoveries.
Curiosities differ from coincidences in one way: They are sparked by a single event or observation rather than by the repetition of a pattern.

Contradictions: Contradiction insights spark the emotional reaction “No way!”. Contradictions are different from curiosity insights. Curiosities make us wonder what’s going on, whereas contradictions make us doubt- “That can’t be right.”

Creative Desperation: Some insights are accidental, the result of unplanned happenstance or of being in the right place at the right time.
Almost all the scientific research on insights, as noted earlier, takes place in laboratories using puzzles designed to systemise the subjects. Some of the subjects get stuck and have to give up. Others struggle, feel lost, and then have unexpected insights about the solutions.

Now, you know about the science of insights but how to get insights in our practical world? This is what we are going to tackle next.

But before moving on, have you noticed that the word “Art” is not there in the definition of creativity? Creativity is not reserved for artists, designers or your born creative friend. You can come up with new ideas/solutions in the field you are currently working in. Now you must be thinking – “I got it, I can be creative in my field. But, how to come up with these original ideas?”

This article will cover all the practices which have been helpful in my career and also some of the practices of legendary creatives/original thinkers.

Real Life Practices For Getting More Insights

You can’t be creative if you have no idea what to be creative about

If you are just going to sit and think that – “Today I will be on my heights of creativity”, sorry to disappoint you but that’s not going to happen. So before hammering yourself down for not being a creative person, choose a problem or a goal on which you can work.

But then having a goal/problem, that’s too basic! you’d think. Why would I mention this then? Because I have met so many people who have never tried to solve a problem creatively or who were just trying to solve something vague in their heads and still end up thinking they are not the creative kind. If you can’t define a problem, it’s almost impossible to come up with a creative solution.

 

Growing Your Idea Muscle

This practice had a deep impact on my life & it can have a profound impact on yours too. So, don’t just read this exercise, try it out. And, if possible grab a pen & paper right now to follow this exercise. I learned this technique from a man who has started 15+ companies, James Altutcher. So here’s what you need to do:

  • Write down 10 different business ideas or 10 ways to grow your current company or 10 ways to help your boss reach his goals or 10 topics for your blog posts or 10 ways to solve a problem you are currently facing.
  • Now share your ideas with close friends, relatives, colleagues or even with strangers.
  • Listen carefully to their opinions and see if you can improve on your ideas. Can you build something on top of their advice? Or, can you think about something totally different based on their advice?
  • Next day come up with 10 more ideas to create value for someone. Keep repeating this exercise day in & day out to grow your idea muscle.

 

It will be difficult to come up with 10 ideas daily but that’s exactly where the magic happens. When you are out of your usual ideas, you will start thinking differently. You will make new connections, you will get new ideas as a result of creative desperation (one of five strategies of insights discussed above). Now that you become curious about finding a solution, it will increase your chances of generating new insights.

But remember one thing while doing this exercise, don’t judge your ideas when you are writing them down. This is just a brainstorming session. Right now just focus on coming up with a variety of ideas and writing them down. You will have all the time to judge your ideas later on.

 

Disclaimer

Ideas without execution is pretty much a good waste of time. This practice will grow your idea muscle so that you can come up with new meaningful ideas. But, creativity also involves creation. If someone loved your idea team up with them to execute on it. If you want to start a new business based on these ideas, start taking your first steps at your leisure time. If you have topics for writing then make sure you are writing at least 200-300 words daily. It’s good to make a habit of coming up with new ideas daily but it’s great if you can regularly execute on few of these ideas.

 

Give yourself some time to daydream

Instead of pounding on your phones all the time, be with yourself for some time. Be in a relaxed state & reflect back on your experiences in life. Start imagining up new stuff which can solve real-world problems. Here’s the thing – It’s very difficult to come up with great ideas while worrying about likes on your Instagram post.

 

 

Initially, it can be dreading to be alone with your own thoughts but you will become used to it within a few days. Moreover, you will start developing your creative muscles. You will learn more about yourself and based on personal experiences you will be developing your own opinions about different things.

There is something about being in a shower and coming up with new insights or taking a long walk & coming back with a solution to your problem. Psychology does have a theory on this state of being relaxed and coming up with new ideas. Its called the default mode network. “You become less aware of your environment and more aware of your internal thoughts,” said John Kounios, a psychologist who studies creativity and distraction at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

 

Asking great questions & some dumb ones

Great questions can help you think about a topic in a completely different light, inspire you to think in unfamiliar ways, expand your vision & improve your creative thinking skills. They can break your usual pattern of thinking and will help you become a more creative thinker.

 

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”

– Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

 

Tim Ferriss in his book Tools of Titans has some great questions which can help you think about how to approach a problem from completely different angles. Here are few examples:

 

What if I did the opposite for 48 hours?

Notice the common pattern of doing something in your field and then do the exact opposite for 48 hours. In the example of Tim Ferriss, everyone was making sales call from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. So, he did the exact opposite by making sales call from 7-8:30 a.m. and then from 6-7:30 p.m. It worked like gangbusters.

How can you apply this question to your line of work?

If I could only dedicate 2 hours to my business, what would I do?
This question forces you to think effectively about your business. You can’t waste time in doing time-consuming & ineffective work. You ask yourself whether your actions will have any effect on the results of your company.

For corporate folks who must be thinking, “I can’t choose to work just for 2 hours”, I got you. You may not be able to work for 2 hours on your job but can you work effectively on your side hustle or on your dream project. What will you be doing if you have just 2 hours for your dream project?

What this question is doing is helping you create the creative constraint. And constraints are necessary if you aspire to be a creative.

 

 

So, how can you create constraints for yourself?

What are the worst things that could happen? Could I get back here?
Sometimes we are not creative because we fear the outcome. It may be a feeling that people would call us stupid for bringing up a certain idea or that we wouldn’t be able to recover from the perceived negative outcome of that idea.

Will you really not able to recover if you present this idea? Will it really matter to you in 5 years if people laughed at you today?

What systems can you put in place so that you can take calculated risks? What will help you in taking the risk? What will help you in recovering in case of failure?

After you have defined your fears, your mind will start thinking outside your usual boundaries. Don’t lose your creativity to fear. Learn how you can manage your insecurities.

 

What would it look like if it were easy?

If you are working on a big project or if you are building a new business, ask yourself this question – What would it look like if it were easy?

What is the early win you can achieve in this project? Small wins will give you a sense of progress. And nothing motivates you better than seeing progress.

Can you hire someone to do repetitive work? Can you delegate some of your work to colleagues? Can you divide the project into manageable benchmarks?

Asking great questions will help you win half of your creativity battle. And now, you have few examples of great questions in your arsenal. But don’t stop here. Try to come up with questions of your own.

After reading this, you know something about asking great questions. But don’t let it stop you from asking seemingly dumb questions when you are starting out in a new field. Example of few seemingly dumb questions would be – “Why can’t we develop an app in one day? Why can’t we run every car on battery? Why can’t we reuse our waste materials? Why can’t our students come up with a solution to navigate self-driving cars in 48 hours?”

And slowly but surely you may stumble on to something which experts were not paying attention to.

 

Look for the patterns in your life

When do you come up with new ideas?
Is it when you are walking in a garden, or when you are watching an inspiring Ted talk?
Is it when you are reading an insightful book, or you’re lying in bed daydreaming?
Are you more creative in the morning or at night?
What levels of energy do you have in your most creative moments?

Whatever helps you in creativity, note down that pattern. And whenever you need to think creatively just try to create that environment. It becomes easier to come up with original ideas when you have a supportive environment.

 

Go deep into your industry and then explore some other industries

Elon Musk changed the whole space game with SpaceX and he is not a rocket scientist. His way of thinking is not rigid in the same way as someone who has been working for 20 years in the same industry.

So, he can ask disruptive questions like – Why can’t we land our rockets (orbital class booster) back on earth and use them again.

Experts in one field usually stick with one way of doing things. When a new pair of eyes come and ask quality questions then you start thinking in new ways. Now, you are asking yourself – How can we do this? How can we create a battery car which is better than everything else on the road? The answer to that – Tesla.

Reading and listening to previous and current masters in your field will give you the expertise to judge your ideas, to grow on your current vision & to help you ask great questions.

It’s very difficult to come up with an original idea just by sitting in the dark without knowing anything in your field of interest. Elon Musk had to read about space before he was qualified to ask quality questions. Before he can question current way of doing things, He was meeting the experts in the field and transferring their knowledge to his brain.

Big Innovation usually comes when:

  • You are really good in one field.
  • You are reading about other industries and finding out their way of doing things differently.
  • Then you apply these ideas from another field to your field.
  • Boom! You have brought something new, something innovative, something which people will call “Original” in your field.

 

Collaborate with other creatives

 

 

Who do you think is a creative person in your circle? They could be your close friends, your Facebook friends or even your Instagram followers. Ask them how they come up with seemingly original ideas. What’s their creative process?

And, if possible try to collaborate with them on a project. You will learn a lot more in-person than you can ever learn by watching them from far away.

Try to note down their pattern of coming up with new insights.

  • Is it all about their practice and experience?
  • Are they following a particular strategy?
  • Is there any mentor who is helping them to widen their perspective?
  • What does their inner circle of friends look like?
  • What kind of books do they read?
  • Are they more creative when there is a deadline?

 

Now, is there anything from their process which you can apply? You can only judge a process/strategy when you have applied it in your life. Try to run small experiments with their strategy and see whether there is any growth in your creativity. If not find someone else you can collaborate with.

 

Practice in public

Some people create in order to receive appreciation and some people create in order to grow with every criticism. Which one are you?

If you want to be more creative, look for feedback. You will never grow as a creative if you are practicing in the dark. Open up, share your work in public, ship your project & let the audience decide whether your work is any good. In our world of internet, you can always edit, iterate and build upon your current work. Don’t be sad about criticism. Be grateful that you got a chance to level up your game.

 

Copy the work of Masters

When you are starting out in any field or when you are stuck and not getting any great ideas, try to copy the work of different masters. Deeply analyse their work and create the same copy. Try to understand their thinking process; Why did they make that particular decision in their craft? Discuss the work of masters with your colleagues, to receive their perspective and simultaneously listen to opposite opinions on the internet. This is how you build your creative muscle.

 

Don’t wait for your creative muse

Please don’t wait for creativity in a project. Start your work, sit there for 30 minutes. Try to come up with as many ideas as you can. Brainstorm with your team members.
Your solutions may not be great initially but quantity usually brings greater quality in the end.

 

Mindfulness & Deadlines

Try different kinds of mindfulness practice to focus your mind. If your mind can’t relax & focus, it’s very difficult to come up with something original.

Deadlines also help in creating this focus. If you have taken someone’s money to deliver a project, you better focus and deliver it on time. Basically, create a high stake environment where you have to stretch your limits. Creativity usually lies outside of your comfort zone.

 

Sometimes, you don’t need to be creative

Is creativity really helping you achieve your goal?
For example – These days people are making really fancy sites to display their creativity and innovation but they take too much time to load. So, what would a normal person do? Close their site before their creativity begins.

Please don’t be creative when it’s not required.

 

 

In our modern uncertain environment creativity is not something you want, it is what you need if you want to be successful in any field. Creativity is the factor which separates you from the competition. A “better person” may not be rewarded for his little improvements but a “different person” is certainly noticed by everyone. And in our busy world, you will need people’s attention if you want to run a successful business, get a job or raise money for your non-profit company.

Multimillionaire Gary Vaynerchuck puts it nicely – Creativity is the variable of success.

Are you being creative in your job search? Is your resume standing out or is it same as every other student in your university?

Are you simply following your competitor’s marketing strategy or do you have strategies of your own?

Is your writing same as another 1000 articles on the internet or do you have your own insights on a particular topic?

I will be waiting to see your creative work. I hope you will apply one or two these creative thinking techniques in your real life as well. Otherwise, you’ve simply wasted your time by reading yet another article on creativity.

 

“You were born an original. Don’t die a copy.”

– John Mason

 

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