Creative Insights: People and Places Influence the Mind

Creative-InsightsIn my attempt to understand how we can improve our abilities to be innovative and adopt a creative mindset, I’ve been reading and posting about creative insights. What practical things can we do to stimulate new thinking? This is key to managers and leaders who must be prepared for all the rapidly changing marketplace demands.

Studies have shown that even thinking about unusual people or events primes the brain for creativity. On the other hand, thinking about analytical people, conformism, rules, and the way things are done enhances analytical thinking. Surrounding yourself with people who are creative is a good way to stimulate your own imagination. Perhaps there is some sort of contagious mind meld?

Another way to prime your brain for insights is to aim for psychological distance — even if it’s only imaginary. Distance increases insightfulness. Try to think about the big picture, the thirty-thousand-foot view. Imagine the world five years from now. Immerse yourself in books about the future.

Are there any good mental training programs designed to teach this? There are only a handful of studies designed to train people to solve problems insightfully. Some focus on making you more systemically aware of your assumptions and the fixations that lead you away from solving a problem. This allows you to dismantle an incorrect perspective and construct a new understanding that points to fresh ideas.

Most of us are experts at what we do. And this can be a problem when it comes to seeing new ideas. This is why diversity is important for teams and work groups. Non-experts and beginners often see what we don’t. But this means we need to listen carefully and think before quickly dismissing unusual perspectives.

Environmental Influences

Many of the research findings in The Eureka Factor suggest that your environment can help influence a brain state amenable to “aha” moments.

“You are more likely to have creative insights and valid intuitions when your brain is in a general state characterized by remote associations, broad flexible attention, abstract thought, positive mood, a sense of psychological distance, and a promotion orientation.”~ Kounias and Beeman, The Eureka Factor.

Expansive surroundings have been shown to be more conducive to the creative state. There is a sense of psychological distance provided with spaciousness. High ceilings, a view, all help to broaden attention, encourage remote associations, and discourage a feeling of confinement. The ideal environment for creative thinking is open, airy, soft, rounded, and calm. Small, windowless offices with low ceilings may lower expenses, but don’t work to encourage flexible, open ideas.

In addition, relaxing outdoor colors such as blue and green contribute to a creative state. Dim lighting also works because it obscures visual details and helps shift the mind toward abstract thoughts and expansive focusing.

Not only should your working environment be soft and diffuse, it should occasionally change. When we find outside places to visit while thinking about a problem, our thoughts often become unstuck. Change of place will often destabilize entrenched thoughts and fixations. This lubricates your mind to enhance breakthrough ideas.

So think about changing your routines, visit a coffee shop or museum, and go for walks in new places. You can even hold meetings in a variety of places to stimulate a shift in thinking. While good habits can help us be productive, they may interfere with insightful thinking.

What do you do to stimulate fresh insights? Where have you found your best ideas? I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me here and on LinkedIn.

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