It is no longer enough to be efficient. Today's knowledge workers are also expected to be creative. Here are four strategies for coming up with creative solutions to problems.
Along with the traditional pressures to generate profits and improve efficiency, knowledge workers are increasingly being challenged to find more creative solutions to business problems. While creativity is hardly second nature to many of them, the good news is it can be learned – much like any other skill.
“Creativity is a muscle; use it or lose it,” says New York Times best-selling author and writing coach Michael Levin.
Levin, whose Books Are My Babies YouTube channel offers 160-plus free tutorials for writers says his definition of creativity is “the ability to develop great ideas while under pressure.” Years of writing under deadline pressure have helped him create strategies to stimulate his creativity and come up with great ideas under pressure. Here are four of them:
Ask, “What’s a dangerous, expensive and illegal way to solve this problem?” We usually take the same approach to solving problems every time with the resources we have at hand. “This doesn’t exactly translate into breathtaking creativity,” Levin says. So imagine that you can do literally anything to solve your problem. The far-fetched ideas you develop may not be practical, but they’ll lead you to new ways of thinking about your problem. And then you can find a non-life-threatening, legal way to solve it, Levin says.
Hide. We live in a world of constant demands, unanswered texts and emails. Levin suggests locking yourself in your car or hunkering down in a bathroom stall, anything to escape those responsibilities for a time. “Your creative brain can’t operate when you’re responding to endless external stimuli,” he says. “The best ideas often come when you run from your responsibilities.”
Count to 20. Go somewhere where you can be undisturbed, bring a pad and a pen, turn off your phone, and sit there until you come up with 20 ideas for solving your problem, Levin advises. This approach requires discipline, he says, because most of us are so happy when we come up with a single answer to a problem that we want to move to the next item on our agendas.
Not every idea will be a great one, but that’s OK. “It may be idea number 17 that’s truly brilliant, but you’d never get there if you ran back to your desk after you came up with one, two or even five ideas,” he says. If you do this daily, you’ll develop 100 new ideas a week, he notes.
Give up. Cardiologists advise heart patients to visit nature, go to a museum or attend a classical concert. Why? It slows them down and allows them to appreciate beauty instead of seeing life as a constant battle. The same approach can help when looking for creative solutions to problems.Take a major step away, even for a couple of hours, from whatever battles you’re facing, contemplate the greatness of the human spirit or the wonder of nature, and reawaken your creative energy, Levin suggests.
New York Times best-selling author Michael Levin runs the Books Are My Babies YouTube channel, a free resource of tutorial videos for writers. He has written more than 100 books, including eight national best-sellers; five that were optioned for film or TV by Steven Soderbergh/Paramount, HBO, Disney and ABC, among others; and one that became “Model Behavior,” an ABC Sunday night Disney movie of the week.