Becoming more creative is easier than it might seem. While some people relegate creativity to domain of only the super-talented or geniuses, creativity is rather simple and it is a skill that can be learned (though it is not often learned in formal education). Creativity, at its core, is the ability to generate novel ideas that are useful in some way. The following are three simple tools that can help you generate new ideas.
Combine ideas to form novel combinations
Ideas are the building blocks of creativity. By combining one or more ideas, you can generate a brand new concept. Recently, I was on the way to a weekend ski trip in Snowshoe West Virginia and noticed an interesting “in the field” innovation on an old, leaky gas pump. As shown in the picture, a resourceful manager-turned-innovator installed a hand sanitizer on the gas pump in order to help customers get rid of the “gas smell” off their hands.
Creativity by combination is an effective way to be creative, but the tricky part is combining the right two elements. One way is to do this is to break the problem into multiple elements (fueling car, smelly hands) and then look for solutions or elements that could solve each individual problem (pump, hand sanitizer dispenser), but that could conceivably be combined into a new product. While I doubt Exxon will be bringing this innovation to gas pumps across the nation, the gas pump/hand sanitizer was a still a very creative idea.
I frequently use combination creativity by combining activities into one super-awesome activity. For example, I have combined two of my favorite pastimes – reading my kindle and taking a bath – by using a simple zip-lock freezer bag to keep it safe from water and condensation.
Borrow ideas from different fields
Another way to develop new ideas is by finding an existing idea or product and seeing if you can transport them to a new context in order to solve a specific problem. Alternatively, when you are solving a difficult problem, and are stumped, you can look to different fields for ideas that you can borrow.
A good example is when the Wright brothers looked to birds for inspiration when attempting to build the first airplane. They had the basic design, but were having trouble developing controls that would keep their plane from rolling when it was in the air (without which a short flight would certainly end with a crash).
Drawing inspiration from nature, Wilbur Wright noticed that birds change the angle at the ends of their wing tips to make their bodies roll right or left. From these observations, the Wright brothers developed a wing warping design that twisted the trailing edge of the airplane wing tips in opposite directions, allowing for basic roll control. This design was eventually modified by Glen Curtis into hinged control structures, the precursor to the ailerons used in modern airplanes.
Add to or subtract from an existing idea
A great way to have a new idea is to add or subtract something in order to optimize an existing idea. The goal is usually to maintain or enhance functionality, while improving design, cost, or even performance. For instance, the automobile industry has constantly improved the same basic idea for a hundred years. The original Ford Model T relied on hand cranks to start the engine, which crank was eventually rendered unnecessary by the advent of electric starters. Over the years, automakers have added additional features including rear and side mirrors, windshield wipers, seat belts, airbags, anti-lock brakes, review-view cameras, and on-board computer systems.
One way to apply this concept in your life is by seeking to add things that bring value and eliminate anything from your life that is negative. When you do this, the only things that remain in your life are awesome, which helps you maintain a positive attitude. In addition, it is helpful to de-clutter your life so that you will have time complete creative projects.