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Can you trick your way to creativity?


Innovation is one of those things that is the top of hitlist of things managers want more of in their company.  What if you could get your team being more creative simply by employing a bit of psychological tomfoolery?

Sounds to good to be true, but some research suggests it may well be possible.  They conducted five studies to see if creativity could be encouraged by the simple act of changing our posture.

Study 1 – on one hand

Ok, so you’ve heard of the construct whereby you compare two things by using on one hand vs the other hand.  This is used to allow us mentally to see a problem from different sides.  The researchers found that if you actually physically hold up one hand, followed by the other, came up with better ideas than people who just held up one hand.  This simple act sends an unconscious signal to the brain to consider the problem from multiple angles.

Study 2 – sitting outside the box

Along with blue sky thinking, thinking outside the box is possibly the most cliche’d description of creative thinking.  The researchers asked participants to sit a creativity test.  Half were sat inside a box, whilst the other half were sat outside the box.  Can you guess which group did best?

Study 3 – Creative rambling

If you don’t have a box to sit outside you can try going for a walk instead.  Whatever you do though, don’t walk around in a square.  The research found that walking in a random pattern encouraged better ideas than walking in a square or when not walking at all.

Study 4 – Engage your brain

Legend has it that creative thinking is the light bulb moment of cartoon lore.  It’s the moment where we leap out of the bath and run down the road naked exhorting our brilliance.  Sometimes you need to do a little convergent thinking though.

The 4th experiment asked participants to sort piles of cards from two stacks into one.  Their theory was that this would encourage convergent thinking as participants who performed this simple activity did much better on tests afterwards.

Study 5 – Let your imagination run wild

If all of the above sounds a bit too much like hard work, their final experiment discovered that you can achieve much the same results just by imagining yourself doing all of these things.

They had participants watch an avatar in Second Life walking around as described in study 3.  So some walked in squares, others walked a bit more randomly.  Amazingly the people who watched the random ramblers were subsequently more creative than those watching the virtual squares.

This one is cool because it shows that the postures aren’t as important as the state of mind that they encourage. The mere suggestion that someone might adopt these postures was enough to cue a more creative state of mind.

So there you have it.  Five really simple ways you or your team can be more creative.

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