Do you know one of the most common, agreed-upon definitions of creativity in literature and practice?
Solving problems in novel and useful ways (Puccio, Mance, and Murdock, 2011).
This definition of creativity is solid, true, and provides a good baseline for research. Yet, creativity is considered the highest form of mental functioning (Krathwohl, 2002; Torrance and Safter, 1990) and there’s so much more to it.
When we dare to think up, suggest, and pursue new solutions, we wrest ourselves out of the human tendency toward sameness; we think beyond perceived assumptions; and we pulverize limitations.
Creative thinking is transformational thinking.
When we think creatively, we transform assumptions and limitations into new ideas. We move from the downward gravitational pull of conformity to the freedom-filled dimension of possibility thinking (Craft, Cremin, Burnard, & Chappell, 2007).
“Solving problems in novel and useful ways,” although correct, doesn’t capture the depth of what it means to think creatively. But the following expanded definition of creativity does:
Being creative is breaking through the inertia of no by seeking and finding new possibilities.
The inertia of no is a new phrase that is immediately recognizable to most people. We’ve all experienced the inertia of no in our lives.
On the most basic level, it’s the inertia of no that compels us to keep sitting on the couch when we have other things to do.
The inertia of no is our tendency to keep things as they are, even if they are in decline.
The inertia of no resists anything new and different and leads to boredom, fear, apathy, and inactivity.
How to Break Through the Inertia of No
So if the inertia of no is a fact of life, how do we break through it to seek and find new possibilities?
It comes down to the basic components of creative thinking.
Creative thinking consists of two types of thinking: divergent (ideational, visionary) and convergent (judgmental, analytical). We need to use both types of thinking at different times.
Yet humans gravitate towards convergent thinking. Convergent thinking is necessary and helps us get along with others, develop cultures, analyze, and make good decisions. However, if we only use convergent thinking, we have no new ideas, no new thoughts, and we get stuck.
The inertia of no is the result of this thinking imbalance, when convergent thinking dominates.
To break through the inertia of no, most of us need to rebalance by exercising our divergent thinking muscles.
How to Exercise Divergent Thinking
There are many ways to practice divergent thinking, but to get started there is only one point to remember: make time for it.
Too often, we grab the most top-of-mind idea and rush straight to get it done. But to practice divergent thinking, we need to make time for multiple possibilities.
Next time you have a problem you need to solve, micro or macro, pause. Get a piece of paper, open the notes on your phone, or go to your white board.
Give yourself five minutes, or an hour, to come up with several ideas to solve the problem. Stop being so serious, and have fun with it. Write down anything that comes to you, and allow yourself to include ideas that seem totally outlandish. Write as many ideas as you can; 15 to 20 is a good place to start.
As you are doing this, don’t use convergent thinking at all. Stop judging your ideas! Stop analyzing whether they will work or not. Once you have all the ideas recorded, move on to a completely different task. Some new ones might pop up to add to your list when you’re not actively thinking about it.
Then, at a separate time, look through your ideas, think about your goals and objectives, and choose the ones that have the most promise. This is convergent thinking. Now you can improve upon the ideas you chose and start thinking about how to get them done.
Every time you need to solve a problem, practice setting aside separate time for divergent thinking first. Then use convergent thinking to analyze and improve later.
Making time for divergent thinking is the first step to breaking through the inertia of no. This strategy, invented in the last century by Alex Osborn (1953), continues to help those who use it improve their ability to seek and find new possibilities.
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