The various studies around the creative process have shown that everyone has creative potential.
Some psychologists have even noticed that changing people’s attitudes is enough to make them build new and unexpected associations.
Yet, among these behavioral studies, highly creative people stand out, showing thinking and making habits that enable strong practical imagination.
According to Keith Sawyer in Zig Zag, what differentiates these creative professionals is that they know how to incorporate all stages of the creative process into their lifestyle habits.
Whether in the phases of observation, reflection, ideation, creation, or correction, they show singular behaviors that increase their productivity and inspiration.
Here are 5 psychological studies that show how you can significantly increase the power of your imagination through these attitudes.
#1 Finding The Right Question, Not the Right Answer
When faced with a problem, one of the first reflexes of your mind might be to find a way to solve it.
You want to find the perfect element that might fit your situation.
Research has shown that this problem-solving attitude can stick you to a single framework of problematization while seeking solutions.
Instead of helping you find the best solution, this attitude can reduce you to a single perspective detrimental to your creativity.
The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his team at the University of Chicago have led experiments highlighting a more creative attitude.
Observing art students arranging diverse objects on a table into a composition, they noticed two groups of artists who had different approaches to the exercise.
The first group would quickly select the objects within their reach and immediately begin working on their composition.
The second group would take some time to examine the objects, picking them up, turning them down, even changing their arrangement while working on their composition.
The result was that the latter group produced works that were judged much more favorably by judges than those in the first group.
What made the second type of student more creative was their ability to keep their compositional arrangements open, actively seeking questions to ask instead of finding immediate answers.
Meanwhile, the first type of students, by focusing on one framework, prevented themselves from experimenting with other perspectives and finding unexpected solutions.
Like the most talented students, you may avoid getting stuck in one way of asking a question for your problem: always try to find other questions that might be more relevant to your situation.
#2 Starting From Unexpected Associations
When it comes to creative people, we often think they can apply their imagination to just about anything and come up with new ideas.
But, in reality, starting from a way of thinking that is banal and unoriginal is unlikely to lead to discoveries. You can try to make a commonplace reflection original, but it is rather difficult.
The neuroscientist Paul Howard-Jones has tried to study the impact of teaching creativity in precise experiments.
Asking participants to invent a story based on 3-word associations, he formed two groups of people. The first group was given clearly related words associations like “brush, tooth, shine”. The second group received word associations with less obvious connection: “bear, star, wood”.
Although he asked the first group to be creative, the scenarios imagined by the participants were always relatively mundane: “a child brushing his teeth to make them shine”.
The second group, however creative they’ll have to be, always came up with elaborate and different scenarios. “It’s the story of a bear capturing the light of the stars to make a wood fire”; “It’s the story of a star lost in the woods who saw in a bear’s eyes his light”.
What it shows is that starting from unexpected associations is much more likely to lead to inspired ideas. You can feel uncreative and yet feel inspired by such extravagant associations as “the common point between a cow, a light switch and a meteorite”.
Using this conclusion, learn from distant associations and multiple origins in your work to increase your creativity. For example, by invoking expertise and references from a variety of backgrounds.
This way, you will always find a new path to your problems!
#3 Betting on Quantity not Quality
Another common misconception about great creatives is that they are good at producing outstanding ideas. Their creativity would come from the quality of their discovery rather than their quantity.
The psychologist Dean Keith Simonton, by thoroughly examining the research archives and documents of great thinkers and artists, has found the opposite.
Showing the immense store of useless and irrelevant ideas they produced, he realized that their genius comes from producing a high number of small and worthless ideas.
Persevering intensely in each of their research, their high productivity increases their chance to come up with truly new ideas. It leads them to a lot of bad and uninteresting foundings, but overall, it gives them the energy to broadly embrace their field of study.
By constantly experimenting in new areas, they had a better chance of clearing nuggets.
Following their example, you need to streamline your ideation process by focusing on the number of ideas rather than their individual quality.
Give yourself broad enough idea goals to push your mind to be more imaginative and original.
When you are stuck in front of a problem, list 20 different solutions that might come to you. The first ones will be hard to come up with, but in the rush, you will find the others more easily and activate your creativity.
#4 Always Experimenting New Ideas
When Vera John Steiner, a psychologist at the University of New Mexico, studied the notebooks and diaries of exceptional creators she found surprising treasures.
Inside, she discovered barely begun sketches, outlined dialogues, barely imagined thoughts. Most of them went nowhere, but some of them led to significant ideas…
What Steiner realizes is another essential characteristic of highly creative people: their obsession to experiment and concretize every idea that comes into their heads.
Rather than leaving their ideas in the corner of their memory, they don’t hesitate to write them down in their notebooks, to make sketches, to imagine their realization, and to conceive immediate prototypes.
This active attitude embodies the Design Thinking’s ideal, that you need to make what you think, doing collages, drawings, do-it-yourself leading you to discoveries.
The more you experiment and build, the more the mind can think clearly and select relevant ideas from those that are less relevant. The more you concretize all the ideas that passed through your minds, the more you realize they had any value whatsoever.
As you find inspiration in your work, always keep a notebook with you to record your ideas. Don’t hesitate to illustrate your discoveries to test them directly and present them to the public. Build prototypes, even provisional and simplistic ones, to see if the product idea you are designing is worthwhile.
By taking the effort to design them, you receive valuable feedback that will boost your intellectual research.
#5 Rigorously Filtering Your Insights
As they are driven by their creative flow, great creatives differentiate themselves by a critical attitude regarding their realizations.
Far from falling in love with their discovery, they can rigorously evaluate and choose what in their work is valuable and what is not, what is worth keeping or correcting, and what should be discarded.
That’s what teachers of psychology, cited by Keith Sawyer, found when they had the idea of brainstorming two types of groups.
They asked the first group to think of the most original and newest ideas that came into their heads. In the second group, they asked them to find ideas carefully, selecting them in a very precise way.
They found that the second group, which was more reluctant and critical, was better able to come up with ideas that were appropriate and relevant. By rigorously selecting their ideas, the latter showed a significant ability to sort, edit, and recycle that enabled them to find the right idea.
The lesson is to always take a step back from what you have just produced. Try to have an objective view from outside references, knowledge, and expertise. The more you increase your judgment, the more you focus on the valuable ideas and get rid of the worthless one.
A strong rigor in idea selection allows you to increase your productivity and position yourself as a true expert in your field of knowledge. It allows you to identify the most promising research and the most fertile ground for creative ideas.
Now it’s your turn to be inspired by the attitudes of the great creative minds to unlock your talent!