New Ideas – Strategies and Techniques
Inspiring Innovation Through Creative Thinking
You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.– Maya Angelou, American author.
An open mind is a valuable resource. When you're interested in new possibilities and able to think creatively, you're more likely to stay energized in your role – and keep your team or business one step ahead of the competition.
And sometimes, the success of a project depends on more than just small tweaks or suggestions for new ways forward. It needs someone to come up with a big, radical, innovative idea.
This article shows you how that "someone" could be you!
The Power of New Ideas
You don't have to be artistic to be creative. Everyone can learn to generate bold, groundbreaking ideas by adopting a creative approach and applying the best thinking tools.
There are three key approaches to generating new ideas:
- Breaking old thinking patterns.
- Making new connections.
- Getting fresh perspectives.
We'll look at each of these elements in turn. Then, we'll outline five ways to foster the best environment for creative thinking to flourish.
It's important to have a solid understanding of the problem that you want to solve before trying these techniques. You can use tools like 5 Whys or The Problem-Definition Process to get to the root of the issue. That way, you can be confident that the new ideas you produce will have real impact.
1. Breaking Old Thinking Patterns
We can all get stuck in certain "tracks" of thought and fall victim to groupthink. These ideas may be so comfortable that we don't even realize that they're holding us back! So, to have fresh ideas, we need to break away from established patterns of thought and start to see new paths ahead.
Here are some of the best ways to do it:
Challenge Your Assumptions
You likely bring a set of assumptions to each and every situation. Many of them may turn out to be true, but challenging your preconceptions can also open up some exciting possibilities.
For example, maybe you'd like to extend your home office. You know it's a good investment but you don't pursue the idea because you assume that you can't afford it. Challenge that assumption! You might not have the money in the bank right now, but could you sell some other assets to raise the cash? Could you take out a loan and work overtime to make the payments?
See our article on Blindspot Analysis for more advice on stepping away from your assumptions. Bold new ideas often arise when you do!
Rephrase the Problem
The way you define or frame your problem can limit your creativity. If you describe the issue you're trying to solve in a different way, or look at it from a different angle, new solutions can emerge.
For example, when Uber founder Garrett Camp wanted to start a transport service, he could have focused simply on buying and managing enough vehicles to make a profit. Instead, he reframed the problem in terms of how he could best address passengers' needs.
This led to the development of a powerful app, rather than a fleet of cars – and an innovative business was born.
Think in Reverse
If you're finding it difficult to think of a new approach, try turning the problem upside-down!
Flip the question and explore the exact opposite of what you want to achieve. This can present you with innovative ways to tackle the real issue.
To come up with a new design for your website, for example, think about how you'd create the worst look possible. Trying to make it boring, frustrating and forgettable may give you some bold ideas for how to do the opposite. (You can learn more about this approach in our article on Reverse Brainstorming.)
Mix Your Media
Radical ideas can arise from tackling problems in unusual ways. A great way to do this is to apply different types of creativity – don't just talk or write about your plans, explore them through music, painting, photography, sculpture… whatever enables you to express yourself. Fresh thinking can emerge when you let your creative juices flow!
Interior designers, for example, often create "mood boards" made up of scraps of fabric, dabs of paint, photographs, sketches, typefaces, or even small objects. This process of visualization can produce original designs that wouldn't have occurred to them otherwise.
2. Making New Connections
Another way to generate new ideas is to make new and unexpected connections. Some of the best ideas seem to occur almost by chance – you see or hear something unconnected with the situation you're trying to resolve, and a lightbulb goes on in your head!
For instance, inventor George de Mestral was inspired to invent Velcro® by the burdock burrs that got stuck to his dog's fur during a countryside walk.  And architect Mick Pearce developed a groundbreaking climate-control system based on the self-cooling mounds built by termites. 
Try some of the following strategies for forging creative connections:
Random words. Pick a word at random from any document, then look for novel associations between that word and your problem.
For example, if you were exploring ways to reduce sick leave in your company, and your random word was "ball," you might hit on the idea of organizing a monthly softball game, to raise morale and motivate people to stay healthy.
Picture prompts. Images can be a great way to inspire creative thinking. Pick any image, find a connection with your problem – however tenuous – and notice any new possibilities that open up.
A picture of a giant redwood, for instance, might suggest new ways to organize the teams and "branches" within your business.
Objects of interest. How about asking your team members to bring a small object of their choice to your next ideas meeting? You could generate new ideas by asking questions such as, "How is this object like the problem we're trying to solve?" or "How could we use this object to meet our challenge?"
A stapler, say, might prompt you to consider whether people on your team are becoming disconnected. Maybe you could set up a new communications channel to "fasten" them back together?
See our article on Mind Maps® for another useful technique for making unexpected connections.
3. Finding Fresh Perspectives
Finally, you can add extra dynamism to your thinking by taking a step back from your usual standpoint and viewing a problem through "fresh eyes."
You'll often get a surprising new take on an issue by talking to someone with a different perspective, maybe because of their age, life experience, or cultural background.
Or, try playing the "If I Were" game. Ask yourself, how would I address this challenge "if I were…?" You could be an athlete, a successful entrepreneur, Abraham Lincoln… anyone!
Consider how the person you've chosen would approach the problem, and see if that gives you any new ideas. Identify that person's distinguishing characteristics, and use them to address the challenge. The entrepreneur, for instance, might take bigger risks, while the athlete would focus on achieving success through intensive training.
Our article, The Reframing Matrix, explores another useful method for seeing a problem from a range of different perspectives.
Five Ways to Encourage Creative Thinking
The strategies we've outlined above work best in an atmosphere of positivity and possibility. The following ideas may help you to establish the best conditions for creativity:
- Believe in yourself. Have faith that great ideas will come! Try using techniques such as positive affirmations to keep your spirits high.
- Find time for downtime. Some of the best ideas appear when you're thinking about something else – or not really thinking at all: maybe walking, listening to music, or playing with your kids.
Rest, relaxation and sleep are all important for recharging your creative batteries. But make sure that you have a notepad or device handy for capturing your brilliant thoughts, whatever you're doing!
Vary your environment. Changing your setting can transform your thinking, and offer new sources of inspiration – we've already mentioned the power of a country walk for the inventor George de Mestral.
Hold your meeting in a nearby coffee shop instead of the conference room in your office, or ask your people to join you for an "ideas walk" in the park.
Spend some time with your phone and laptop turned off and your door closed, so that nothing – and no one – disrupts your train of thought.
- Have fun! Playfulness and humor are essential ingredients of creativity, especially if you're exploring new ideas with a team. When the pressure's on to come up with something radical, make sure that you're still relaxed and open-minded enough for the very best ideas to emerge.
Creativity is important in many roles. But sometimes you need especially bold ideas to solve a difficult problem or to move forward in completely new ways.
It's important to remember that anyone can be creative, and that you can improve your ability to generate innovative ideas. The key techniques to do this are:
- Breaking out of old patterns of thinking. You can do this by challenging your assumptions, rephrasing the problem, mixing your media, and thinking in reverse.
- Forging new connections. Use random words, picture prompts, or objects of interest to force your mind to make new connections.
- Approaching issues from new perspectives. Talk to different people with different perspectives and backgrounds, and try playing the "If I Were..." game.
As well as these techniques, employ "enabling" strategies – such as boosting your confidence, allowing for downtime, and varying your environment – to encourage creativity.
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