7 Simple Ways To Spark Your Creative Fire

I had the good fortune to attend the first day of the 2009 American Creativity Association (ACA) annual conference.  And good fortune is probably too light of a term – Philadelphia, where the conference was held, was experiencing a Noreaster that threatened to dump between 6 – 9 inches of snow on the city.  Despite Mother Nature’s best efforts to keep me away, I was able to attend with little or no hardship (although, I didn’t get to see a friend or 2 that I was really looking forward to seeing.)

The conference seemed a little down this year.  I attribute this to the economy and the bad weather.  For all I know, attendance could have double the next day when the weather was better.  It was attended by an ample amount of thought leaders and practitioners of creativity.  Unlike CPSI, you got to learn a broad gambit of different techniques and practices.  While CPSI was more immersive and experiential, the ACA conference was more for people familiar or currently practicing creative techniques.

But enough about the overall conference – let’s get to the good stuff.  I attended a breakout session run by Amantha Imber.  She’s the head Inventologist for a company called Inventium.  An Aussie by birth and nature, she was the most engaging and effective speaker I saw during the day.  She was funny, informative and insight.  I seriously didn’t want the session to end.

She taught us 7 science-based tips to enhance your creativity.  These tips are based on neuroscience and psychological research and have been proven to work.  I’m working on getting the references to each tip from Amantha. Once I do, I’ll post them here.  Without further adieu, here they are:

  1. Warm Up Your Mind
    We started off the session with a task: Increase Paris Hilton’s IQ by 100 points…..by 12pm tomorrow.  Pretty tough, huh?  The group I was working with came up with a few ideas – color her hair, change the way we rate IQ, get her a detox program – in the minute or so we were given.  Amantha called this technique “Fat-Chance”, which is an impossible task set in a very tight timeframe.  It forced us to throw logic out the window and take wild shots at how to do accomplish the task we’ve been assigned.    This got us “out of the box” very quickly.  Anything else we were given to ideate on after that would seem like a piece of cake.
  2. Warm Colors
    Next, we were asked to think about what color our offices were. 80% of us worked in offices with gray or neutral-colored walls.  Which is interesting because research has shown that warmer colors help creativity.  Warm colors, such as yellows, oranges, browns, yellowish greens, and orangish reds make you feel happy.  When you’re happy, your brain releases dopamine – a key ingredient to creativity.  We learned there are simple ways besides repainting to introduce warm colors into your office, like using red folders instead of manila and decorating with posters or artwork with predominately warm colors.
  3. Expose Yourself To A Wide Amount of Information
    Next we were asked whether or not we’ve been to a conference we knew anything about.  While we were confused by this, there was a point.  Exposing yourself to something you have no idea about gives you a larger amount of information to pull from when you’re trying to solve a problem.  It gives your mind a lot of data to compare and look for connections in.  Creativity and humor are related this way – by drawing a connection between two unrelated things. Some examples my group use in their everyday life are: subscribing to multiple news sources, visiting random websites you know nothing about, buying a bunch of magazines you have no interest in, and changing the way you go to work everyday to see some new things.
  4. Constraints Provide Direction
    I’ve written about this one before as well. We remembered back to our first task of improving Paris Hilton’s IQ in less than a day.  We could have just focused on improving her IQ, but that may have taken a little bit to get started.  Our minds really got going when we were told we had to do it in less than 24 hours.   The reason is because constraints provide direction.  It’s tough to ideate when facing a blank slate.  By popping a big, fat constraint in the middle of our problem, our mind was forced to think of creative ways to get around it.  Artificial constraints work just as well as real ones.
  5. Deviant Images Increase Creativity
    No, we’re weren’t shown pictures of devils or ill-behavior.  We were given the task of coming up with a name for a new chocolate bar that has 0 fat.  Then, we divided everyone into 2 groups.  The first group was shown an image on the screen while my group had their backs turned.  Then, we switched and we were shown an image.  After that, we started ideating names for the chocolate bar.  Some of my groups highlights were: Chocolate Minus, Not Really Chocolate, Healthy Chocolate, Guilt-Free and Chocolate Innocence. Each group read out the names they came up with.  Once we were done, we were shown the images each group saw.  The first group saw an image of the letter X in 4 even rows of 3.  My group was shown the same image, except one of the X’s was red instead of all black like the rest of the X’s.  This is because our minds act consistently with the image we’re shown.  The image my group saw was a little more abstract than the first group’s image, and we came up with more abstract names for our chocolate bar than the first group, whose names were a little more functional.
  6. Imagine You’re On A Date
    When we first came into the session, even before the introduction, we were told to close our eyes and imagine we were on a hot date with either Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt.  Then we got started with the session.  We cycled back to this towards the end.  Apparently, imagining you’re on a date helps you be more creative.  It taps into Evolutionary Theory of when you’re on your game trying to attract your best mate.  My group thinks it has something to do with arousal that triggers your creativity.  I’m hoping to get the references to this one to give it a little more clarity, but I can kind of see how this one works.
  7. Squeeze Your Left Hand
    Last, but certainly not hardest, was squeezing your left hand.  We didn’t have to squeeze it for long – maybe 30 second at a time.  This activates your Extension Memory System located in your right brain, which makes you more creative.  Again, I’m working on getting the references to look at these a little more closely.  My group thought that this is why lefties are considered to be more creative.

Overall, these were really good, simple steps that were pretty effective in the short time we used them.  I plan on incorporating some of them into my everyday life.  I’ve already signed up for a few new news feeds, and I’m trying to squeeze my left hand more (which is making typing especially difficult.  This explains any typos you find above, I swear!)