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Stop brainstorming! And other ways to improve creativity

By Jennie Kitchin

Stop brainstorming! And other ways to improve creativity

Our London office recently hosted the second ‘Good To Great’ event of the year. The event, in association with Make Your Words Work, focussed on keeping your design team motivated and creative. International Keynote Speaker, Dave Birss, gave us a fantastic talk on creative inspiration - what it is, how to nurture it and how to turn it into an original and valuable idea. Dave helps people and organisations boost their creativity and innovation by drawing on neuroscience, psychology, biology and behavioural economics.

Dave began by explaining that the brain is a processor that responds to stimulus based on experience and stored information. Learning creative techniques doesn’t necessarily result in great ideas, it’s what you input into your brain that gives interesting output. If you have the same information input as everyone else then the ideas that come from it will be similar and unoriginal. However, if you feed your brain different information, you’ll produce ideas that nobody else does.

Your brain has four modes:

Resting - studies have shown that a 12-17 minute nap is the ideal amount of time to reset your brain and gives you 30% more energy

Feeding - inputting valuable information

Exercising - trying new things and practicing skills

Occupying - inputting non-valuable information (reality tv, social media, etc.)

In order to nurture your creativity, it’s important to focus on feeding your brain valuable, original and engaging content and then exercise it by using this content to try out new things. Below we’ve picked out some of our best takeaways from Dave’s talk in order to help you do that!

Boycott the internet

Looking for creative inspiration on the internet isn’t real inspiration because you will struggle to have any original ideas. Social media, YouTube, etc. occupy your mind but don’t feed your brain. ‘The Google Effect’ is also referred to as digital amnesia and means that our brains are programmed to not store information we know is readily available online. Therefore, anything we know we can search for on a search engine, we won’t store ourselves. When we do search for a topic, less than 20% of people will click on even the second page of results and over 50% of those people will click on the first three links. Which means when you are researching online, you are getting the same information as everyone else and there is no long term value.

Instead, try widening your influences and aim to absorb information from lots of different places. Get out of the office and go somewhere that will inspire you. This will change your environment and increase your stimulus, meaning that your ideas will be original, personal and valuable.

Think yourself lucky

Psychologist Richard Wiseman carried out a study on lucky and unlucky people. Each was asked to count how many photographs were in a newspaper. The unlucky people took several minutes and most got the answer wrong. The lucky people all took just seconds to give the correct answer. The answer to the question has been printed on the inside cover of the newspaper. The experiment shows how luck is no more than an attitude. The unlucky people were too hyper-focussed and closed off to any stimulus that wasn’t directly related to the task in hand. Being creatively open is the same as being lucky, it’s about being open to what your focus is and not shutting yourself off to other opportunities and possibilities.

Always be open to different stimulus, even in the most unlikely places. Dave suggests having a notebook or tablet on you at all times and creating your own idea bank from things you see in your daily life. If you see something that impresses you, it can be anything at all, write down three things you can learn from it. You’ll end up with pages of principles you’ve learnt and you can use them when you have a creative block.

Stop brainstorming

For most creative businesses, brainstorming is the go to way to hash out ideas or come up with new concepts. But they are a very old and outdated process. Dave believes they produce less effective and diverse ideas than if you had the same group of people thinking of ideas individually. People tend to go into a brainstorm without prior knowledge of the issue or project and they don’t have the full context or correct information. This can create a mass of ideas, none of which actually fulfil the brief.

Rather than brainstorming, think outside of the box and don’t be scared to try different things. If you do decide to put together a focus group, make sure they are fully briefed and have all the details they need to make informed comments. And make sure they are a diverse group, ideas that come from normality tend to be unoriginal so be open to suggestions from people outside your normal circle. Fear is the number one creativity killer so don’t worry about what others think and dare to be different!

Finally, don’t be nervous to do things for the sake of it. Keep creating and experimenting and don’t always concern yourself with finding the value of a project straight away. Sometimes it’s important to simply do something because it’s excites you and you’re passionate about it. Your comfort zone will shrink as you get older unless you fight it, so try to keep doing new things.

If you’d like to learn more about the psychology of creativity, check out Dave’s book A User Guide to the Creative Mind and if you’re interested in attending any of our industry events, please get in touch!

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