13 Platinum Ways to
"Think Creatively" in the 21st
A national USA Sunday publication ran a mini-article on how to think.
It caught my attention - and got me to "thinking" about thinking. Especially about taking time to think ... something many in business do not allocate time to do.
This week I'm reeling from being asked to perform a complete "fix" in 60 days of a mess made over 6 months. In addition to no time they are without sufficient money or people. At least to meet their objectives.
So, there is not enough money, nor staff, or other outside resources immediately available ... and certainly not enough time. And still this organization wants a positive cash flow in 2 months - no matter.
Nice people too - yet, we agreed to disagree.
What's this got to do with thinking? Well, I think a lot! Because if this group had done enough thinking up front they would not be in the hole they're in now. They couldn't wait to take a "new" idea and run with it. Now they're paying.
A set of 3 fundamentals comes into play BEFORE good things can happen; ... your objectives must be clearly spelled out, with numeric goals, ... you must have a firm budget in place to reach these objectives, and ... you must allocate the time to reach your objectives with the budget you have created. When any one of these 3 is not in place, the others will fall down. And you will not achieve what you set out to achieve. You may ask how "thinking" can help? Well, it has been proven you can improve your performance with creative thinking, the experts tell us. As a non-expert, instead a marketing planner, thinker and then doer, offers this Baker's Dozen ideas -- 13 Platinum Ways to "Think Creatively" in the 21st Century.
1. Sleep, Eat & Time
Some folks are morning people ... others afternoon and evening.
My 80 something mother-in-law, my middle-age partner/wife and my college age granddaughter are all night people. Getting them moving intelligently in the morning is a major event.
Me - older by a decade than my lady, younger by 2 than my mother-in-law, I'm getting up about the time they're going to bed.
Yet, even with these differences - people can think clearly anytime when they've had sufficient sleep. And are eating "right".
"Catching" up with your sleep on the week-end doesn't cut it. You've still had days during the week when you were not at your best for thinking, because you were tired.
Eating in the western world is a merry-go-round. In the States it is easy to eat well - and it is easy to eat "fat and slow". In Europe and down-under, and through-out much of Latin America it is a little harder to eat right. Not that you can't ... yet, it's almost easier not to. In southeast Asia it is very easy to eat what's good for you, vs. what's not.
Idea #1 toward clear thinking is;
- ... get the sleep you need,
- ... eat what you know is better for you, and
- ... know different people "naturally" think better at different times.
2. Education, but ...
Without education you'll be doing always what you're doing now. If you don't like or are not satisfied with what you're doing now - then get an education. Go learn something.
Of course, it might be good to define "education". It is certainly more than just going to school. I have a 40 something son-in-law who did not like nor do particularly well in school. Yet he is a very successful building contractor - which not only took due-diligence and apprenticeship, it took some hard schooling, too. Difference in this case is he wanted to do it.
Opposite side, know a high school grad who is fully capable of going to college, or a "trade school", and has elected not to. Fine. Except she is very unhappy with the opportunities available to her. And is doing nothing about it. In her case, not using the thinking capabilities she obviously has.
Another opposite ... someone who continues in school to avoid doing "real" work. All of us know such animals. Enough alphabet behind their name to fill a dictionary - not enough experience to truly make a difference "thinking".
No one knows too much. Making anything happen requires thinking. Study and learn - get good enough to be considered a guru, an expert. And keep on learning. In school - and out.
3. Confucius says;
There are ways to learn - and there are ways to know. Plus, there is memory.
Memory experts have taught me the best way to learn something is a very simple process; WRITE IT!
Writing helps thinking. How? Because you may have heard a thought, you write the thought, and by osmosis you are now thinking that same thought. Something good is almost bound to happen.
To learn what you need to know, write it. In my office this is the rule; no paper, no action. If you expect me to know, to do, to help, to be there on time, to act, to anything - I MUST have it in writing. Nothing in writing - and count on whatever you wanted from me NOT to happen.
What I have learned is that by writing it clearly one time I rarely need to refer to that note again. The "thinking" it and writing it make whatever it is, stay with me.
Confucius says; "the weakest link lasts longer than the strongest memory". Write it to aid your thinking.
4. Mix old with new
Memory experts mention association. Meaning when you "associate" something from your past with what is happening now, it will help you remember the now.
They also talk repetition. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Advertising as an industry is built on repeating the message until the buying public gets it - and buys.
University of Michigan researcher Denise Park combines these 2 thoughts ... association and repetition, and says "don't isolate new information out in left field. Always relate it to something".
You may wish to call it building blocks. Or Lincoln logs. Take something - almost anything from your history, your experiences - and "think" how that relates to where you're going today.
If it is true there is really nothing new under the sun - just new packaging of what has always been about - you'd think we'd soon fill our minds with all the options. Yet, we know that not to be so.
The 88 piano keys have not begun to be "packaged" to produce all music. There is an infinite amount yet to discovered, created. Those who write music are constantly thinking of "new" music to write.
Mesh your thoughts from the past with new, and then repeat the process over and over. You will "think" better, stronger, more meaningful and useful thoughts.
5. Practice Practice PRACTICE!
A short while ago I attended a couple of different presentations on successive days. Boy, were they different!
The first had a wonderfully interesting message. It was a fun story. Yet, the 3 folks presenting did such a poor job of passing the baton from one to the other to the other and back, the story fell flat. They had all the pieces - they had very obviously not practiced together. It was a "winged" pitch - and it looked and sounded off.
Next day another 3 people did a "seminar" sales message. It was not only professional - it was clear these 3 people had done this before. When a piece of equipment failed 2 things happened that let the audience know the team had in fact practiced - Practiced - PRACTICED!
The person caught with the problem called for help, and then said, "this didn't happen this morning when we practiced". She was believable.
One of her partners jumped in and said; "while we get this fixed, let me move on to _______". And the presentation continued in a most professional manner.
Len Giambra of the National Institute on Aging says; "A well practiced older individual many times will be faster than an unpracticed younger individual".
It is difficult to "think on your feet". For that matter "think on your seat", especially if you haven't done it before. And if you haven't done your home work.
Earlier I mention taking time to think. Here is another use of that time; practice Practice PRACTICE!
6. Ideas grow - with time
I'm a firm believer your first idea is frequently your best idea.
It just needs time to grow up, to mature, to get better, to become as good as it can be.
Yes, ideas truly do grow - with time. During which time you, and others, will "think" about it. Think what you will add, or subtract, how you divide or multiply to make this idea worthy.
Although the market place expects you to be an all knowing expert - and quick at the same time - true creativity takes time. Our brain can process about 600 words a minute ... going 4 times faster than most people speak. Yet, even while "thinking" at this speed, we have not yet learned how to express ourselves at Mach 1.
Upper management many times awards "points" for quick decisions. Vs. the right decision. Give your ideas a chance ... give them time to grow.
7. "Smart" careers & Smart people
Someone else can't make you smart - or think for you. Yet, association with "smart" people who get you to think can be beneficial to you.
From studies in Poland it was learned people whose business demanded a use of their intellect - i.e., got them to think! - were more likely to sustain high levels of thinking throughout their lives. Being married to someone who challenges you to "think" can also develop your thinking capabilities.
Some have a mentor - someone who guides and directs and is a friend as well. Mentor activity - when you have the right person for you - can also increase your creative thinking levels.
What this all says is - get a job that makes you think. And associate with people who encourage and challenge and stimulate your mind to action.
8. Dive into many seas
When creative folks talk about thinking a new way they always mention "new" experiences.
Doing things - many things - different.
Tour a trade show outside your industry. Read a children's book. Talk with a group of ole timers over a checker game. Watch a high school basketball game. Visit some place you've never been before. Go back to a place you've been - and do different things.
Habits are okay - as long as they don't become ruts.
Much of what was developed in high tech communications in the last quarter of the 20th Century came about because minds were told to "do it". Figure out how to make this happen, or that work, go faster, be quicker, be more efficient, be more effective.
Creative companies ... such as GE and 3M, encourage "wild" thinking. And allow their employees to be outrageous in order to think, and thus, do truly innovative things.
Some creative thinking "adopts" an idea from someplace and applies it some where else. And some "adapts" the thought - twists it, turns it upside down, inside out, adds salt and pepper, and makes something "new".
To develop new and different and improved and better you need to think the same way. Only then will you benefit with results that mirror your "think different" approach.
Look through many windows ... dive into many seas.
9. Learn from Leonardo
Leonardo da Vinci was several centuries ahead of his time.
And with no disagreement, a truly amazing thinker. He was drawing blueprints for helicopters and the rest of man had not thought of flying.
Michael Gelb in his book about Leonardo talks about many of the things he did to think creatively. Such as juggling. And learning to draw equally well with each hand.
The message is there is more than one way to do everything. And although our schools may teach everything as if it is a recipe or math formula, not only is that boring - it is not thinking.
There is no box - so don't get in one. Think differently, like Leonardo.
10. C O N C E N T R A T E
The education systems around the world concentrate on teaching reading and writing.
They do not teach listening!
So, few of us ever learn to listen, which is a foundation for concentration.
Plus, frequently we forget the basics, the fundamentals, the principles, and instead wonder about looking for we know not what.
The problem is not memory - it is concentration.
Plus, we are hit with hundreds of messages daily. From every angle, from before day break 'til past night fall. Making it hard to focus, hard to concentrate. Difficult to listen - almost impossible to "think creatively".
Since the world is not going to wait for you - it is going to continue to go it's merry way - YOU may have to grab it, and say "stop". At least long enough to gather your thoughts, your wits ... long enough to concentrate.
When it's time for deep thinking - get out of the way of the "noise" that is the world. I rent a hotel room to write my books - and tell no one where I am. If it's a group activity I book a restaurant with a back room, have a late lunch, and pull the team together to eat and think in some degree of peace. Oh, and cell phones are turned off.
Concentrate to think creatively.
11. Listen & Learn from the Masters
Studies have shown that as an activity becomes more difficult the brain becomes more active.
It works in sports, music, the theater ... and in business, too. Engineers who build space rockets and send men to the moon certainly think differently - and creatively! - than other engineers.
Music majors know about the "Mozart Effect"; the brain exposed to his music grows more complex connections because the music demands so much. An expanding brain (even geniuses use less than 15% of the power of the brain), allows you to "think" more, and thus to be more creative.
An expanded and more active brain gives you a deeper, faster and integrated way to learn more! Sometimes we call it knowledge.
Even the best tennis professionals have coaches to help them with their serves or strokes. Baseball hitters have batting coaches. Pitchers pitching coaches. Basketball players free throw shooting coaches. Most golf pros have a teacher. Just as singers have coaches, and instrument playing musicians have teachers, as a boxer has a sparing mate.
To help think - use the knowledge of others.
12. When the body works, so does the mind
When you exercise your body you stimulate your mind.
Research has difficulty proving physical fitness and mental thinking feed one off the other. The only thing certain is when you are fit you feel better - and are more likely to perform better.
We know this to be true. How? It's easy; those who are say so! The proof is in the individual.
Without getting into workout schedules - because it really does depend on you, your health, your lifestyle and much more - common sense plays a part. Of course it was Mark Twain who told us "the most common thing about common sense is it is not very common".
Still, those who take idea #1 serious (Sleep, Eat & Time) are already a leg up on those who do not. Expand this to include fitness, and you will think more creatively.
13. Go "New"
Assembly line manufacturing can be boring - which then becomes dangerous.
What do they do to reduce the danger and keep the workers enthused? Manufacturers developed "teams". Where every member learns every other members job. Creating a much more exciting and challenging experience.
Creative thinking at work. First the concept - then the execution.
Dean Keith Simonton studied creative behavior. And learned those constantly seeking new knowledge were less likely to "burn-out". And more likely to bring forth fresh and "new" ideas. To think creatively - to think differently.
Sure, it can be difficult to Go "New". In the structure of the day to day world. What do you do? First review Idea #8, Dive into many seas.
And then, think like a teen-ager. Those great kids with no boundaries, few rules, zip real life experience - and certainly a rebellious attitude. Put that philosophy to work for you.
You will then Thinking Creatively in the 21st Century.