A young Albert Einstein struggled to solve the perplexing problem of relativity. He took to one of his many famous thought experiments and imagined what he would see if he traveled alongside a beam of light. By imagining the perspective of such an observer, he was able to improve his creative thinking skills. This led to him solving the theory of relativity.
The power of critical thinking skills can be equally useful to us as it was to Einstein. By having a means to interact with a problem we have a way to model ideas and experiment in ways not available to us in reality. A creative imagination can help get us outside of the proverbial box.
But, ironically, imagining that which we have never experienced can only by realized by the experiences we have.
Lev Vygotsky stated:
“the creative activity of the imagination depends directly on the richness and variety of a person’s previous experience because this experience provides the material from which the products of fantasy are constructed. The richer a person’s experience, the richer is the material his imagination has access to.”
Therefore, a great way to improve our critical thinking skills is to improve the diversity and quality of our experiences.
Related post: How You Are Destroying your Creativity and Imagination
Here are effective ways to do just that:
Try new things
By trying new things, we gain new experiences.
Listen to a genre of music you would ordinarily never listen to. Watch some movies you would normally scoff at. Take up a hobby you’ve never considered. Forcing yourself into experiencing the world in new ways helps you be more creative and imaginative.
By having a diversity of experiences, you have more building blocks to build your imagination with.
When my two children were younger, they were fortunate to inherit several large bins of Legos from a family friend. What made their eyes light up was not just that there were so many pieces but that there were so many different types. There were helicopter pieces, house pieces, car pieces, animals, people—you name it.
The diversity gave us (yes, me too) the ability to build so many more imaginative things. If we compared that to a box of 10,000 pieces—but all of the same size, shape, and color—the extent of imaginative possibilities would likely be limited. In the same way, a diversity of experiences can give your imagination more to build from.
Creative thinking skills … build on others
One of the misunderstandings around creativity and imagination is that you have to be utterly original to do it. The truth is all creative people stand on the shoulders of those who came before. Writers learn to write by reading; painting students are sent to museums to copy the masters, while great chefs learn the already tested basics of cooking to create some new dish.
Innovation stands on a platform that already exists. Yes, inspiration is involved, those flashes of insight, the ah…ha moments. You start with something that already exists and takes it to another level. So relax. Let go of thinking you have to do something original. Take the pressure off. Celebrate that there is all this help available.
Investigate ‘thought experiments’
Construct a few of your own. One such experiment might be to imagine you are a microscopic entity and place your awareness somewhere in your room. Perhaps leaping from key to key on your keyboard..inhabit the keyboard with a world of imaginary civilizations. Enact massive wars on a microscopic scale, within your mind…again, let your mind run free.
Develop a taste for novelty
Explore artwork and the result of other people’s imagination, discover how other people conceived their ideas. Look at the abstract and surreal artwork on Deviant Art.
Change your thought patterns
By this, I mean consciously make an effort to look at the world differently and in a more creative way, as if you were a child. On a more intellectual level, attempt to vocalize these creative insights. The more you make an effort to see novel ways of looking at the things, the more these efforts will turn into habits, and the easier it will become. People are rarely born creatively acute, or funny, or negative, or optimistic; it is learned behavior. The underlying behavior of creative people is their thought patterns are creative.
Want to think what nobody has ever thought? Start by questioning all assumptions.
There comes a moment in time where everyone agrees with everybody about pretty much everything. For any sized organization that is focused on creating a culture of relentless innovation, hardened dogma is an innovation obstacle they must overcome.
And that starts best with questioning everything, assumptions included.
Pay attention to patterns
Treat patterns as part of the problem. Recognizing a new pattern is very useful, but be careful not to become part of it.
Observe with all senses
Truly creative people have developed their ability to observe and to use all of their senses, which can get dull over time. Take time to “sharpen the blade” and take everything in. Add thoughts as you go.
Meet new people
Brian Grazer is an Oscar-winning producer and co-founder of Imagine Entertainment. In his book, A Curious Mind, he writes about a personal discipline he has had since his earliest days in Hollywood.
In what he calls “Curiosity Conversations” Brian would schedule meetings with top influencers in the industry. He found such benefit from these encounters that he branched out to meet with the most successful people in all areas of life.
He has met with Jonas Salk, Barack Obama, 50 Cent, Muhammad Ali, Gloria Allred, F. Lee Bailey, Jeff Bezos, Mark Cuban, Henry Kissinger, John McCain, Wolfgang Puck, Ronald Reagan, Condoleeza Rice, Tony Robbins, our Betty above Edwards, and countless others.
“It’s refreshing to be reminded, over and over, how different the world looks to other people.” — Brian Grazer
Each meeting exposed him to new angles on familiar concepts and produced an understanding of altogether unfamiliar ideas. By gaining different perspectives from different people he has been able to imagine and produce stories in a way, he might not otherwise—stories such as A Beautiful Mind, Splash, The Da Vinci Code, Apollo 13, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and many others.
In the same way, by opening ourselves to new people, we open our minds to new understandings of the universe. As we develop relationships with different people, we will find the quality of our imagination increased.
Both creativity and innovation are based on knowledge. Therefore, you need to continually expand your knowledge base. Read things you don’t normally read as often as you can.
Your perceptions may limit your reasoning. Be careful about how you perceive things. In other words, defer judgment. Let it all hang out.
Related post: Secrets to Unlocking the Genie in the Creativity Bottle
Creative thinking skills … widen your experiences
Experience as much as you can. Exposure puts more ideas into your subconscious. Actively seek out new and very different experiences to broaden your idea thinking experience portfolio.
Look for what is not easily seen
Look where others aren’t looking to see what others aren’t seeing.
Betty Edwards is a world famous author and art teacher known for helping people see what is in front of them as opposed to their perceptions of what they see. For instance, the average person asked to draw an apple will produce an image symbolic of an apple. Such a drawing often has a high degree of abstraction to catch the essence of apples everywhere. It’s called drawing what you know, not what you see.
Someone trained to see models properly, however, will draw an apple in front of them with great realism. The exact contour, the angle of the stem, blemishes, even tonal differences are repeated in exact detail. Her students often produce the symbolic version on the first day of her course and end with extraordinary examples of the realistic.
To produce such results, Dr. Edwards teaches a technique of viewing models upside down to trick the definition-prone left hemisphere of the brain to bow-out. In its absence, the spatially-oriented right brain can begin to dominate perception. Invariably, observation improves dramatically and immediately because of the part of the brain that judges and names what it sees take a backseat. Drawing is one of the only ways I know of that this degree of improvement in observation can be developed.
When I was taught this method in my college graphical drawing class, I immediately began to notice things for what they were. I could see shape and form as something very individual to each person or object I drew. Texture and tone became real to me. I even began to experience light.
A deliberate way to strengthen our experiences is to become more observant by recording them through drawing.
Be able to overlook rules
Rules, to the creative person, are indeed made to be broken. They are created for us by other people, generally to control a process; the creative person needs the freedom to work.
Seeing new possibilities is a little risky because it means that something will change and some action will have to be taken. Curiosity is probably the single most important trait of creative people.
Push the boundaries of mistakes
A photographer doesn’t just take one shot, and a composer doesn’t just write down a fully realized symphony. Creation is a long process, involving lots of boo-boos along the way. A lot goes in the trash.
The hermit artist, alone in his garret, is a romantic notion but not always an accurate one. Comedians, musicians, painters, chefs all get a little better by sharing with others in their fields.
The bottom line
Since as much as 90% of what we learned in a life-time always come to us via visual cues, we should constantly enhance our perceptual sensitivity to the environment, according to information scientists.
So, more than 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci was right when he said, use all our senses, especially our sense of sight.
Our power of observation and imagination depends on it.
Productive thoughts often have their origins in the combinatorial play and dynamics of sensory inputs from environmental cues.
In my view, our thinking cap is often governed by how far we can stretch our power of vision and imagination.
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Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he writes about topics to help improve the performance of small business. Find him on G+, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
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