Exercises and tools to help you or your group be more creative in life

Following on from my post on the importance of creativity to everyday life and to struggle, here are some activities you, your workplace, family, organisation, or other types of groups can try.

These tools can help you generate ideas when you are at a loss for how to solve a problem, or they can help you when you’re in a rut as to how to approach something that is challenging, but obviously some will be more appropriate for some situations than others.

Also, over the years, I’ve provided a tonne of creative writing exercises aimed particularly at personal and political liberation and expression. These include important tips, such as deferring judgment, forgetting about failure, and getting distance. The below exercises are aimed more at life than writing, but there can be some overlap, if you like!

Warm up the brain (for groups): Have small groups come up with eight uses for a spoon, then have them share their ideas. Next, the whole group has to come up with five more uses that haven’t been thought of yet. These will typically be the most creative and unusual.

Inventive solutions: Individuals or groups can define an issue, then use the Osborne list to ask themselves questions about it and see it from different perspectives.

Shift your perspective: As an individual or in groups brainstorm solutions to problem A (the one you want to solve). Then, shift over to brainstorming solutions to problem B (this can be hypothetical, silly, or real). After that, go back to brainstorming A – the process with B should shift the way you see the original problem.

Story it: Another way to see a problem differently is by turning it into the story. I did this once with a relationship issue that I couldn’t understand well. I described it with two elephants and a lizard toy. The story was silly, two paragraphs long, and not very good, but the process of writing it helped me to see what I was going through differently, and more clearly.

Get out of a rut: Often, once a first idea occurs to us, or we see something one way, it can be hard to think of anything else. Go to a random word generator online (like this one), and make yourself see your idea or solution in light of these words. (Eg, for What gift should I get the close friend, instead of the obvious chocolate, you may think, “I could get them a train station, or a fake butterfly). It’s fine if many of them don’t make sense, and the ones that do aren’t good ideas. The intention is to show yourself that there are alternative ways to do this thing, and to free yourself up to think of those.

Unexpected connections: Creativity is all about connecting new things. Let’s say you need to create a book cover. Brainstorm 20 words related to that cover (eg gloomy, haunted house, squishy ghosts). Put 10 in one column and 10 in the other, then randomly connect the words together. As usual, some things won’t make sense, but you might be surprised by some ideas you haven’t thought of, and often that feeling alone can be enough to prompt more creative thinking.

Anything is possible: Open your mind up to the many ways of handling a situation or resolving a problem by using What if questions. What if there were no cars? What if tree trunks stored stories? What if history were reversible? What if bird poo were edible? Think about these random things, then ask yourself (or your group) the wildest What if questions you can about the problem or situation. What if money or time were unlimited? What if we believed we were geniuses? What if the broken car could talk? Ask and answer these questions without being worried about reality, and see where it takes you.

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