We learn to invent new things in life and at work.

The expression “creative thinking” is used so often that these words have become sour. They have become a mandatory formula for a resume – along with responsibility, stress resistance and the ability to work in a team. However, the ability to come up with new things and find an unexpected way out of current circumstances is a truly useful skill both in life and at work. Let’s figure out how to learn this.

First Method. Developing Divergent Thinking

The term “divergent thinking” was coined by American psychologist Joy Paul Guilford in the 1950s. He noticed that the IQ test cannot fully assess a person’s intelligence, and developed his own theory, according to which people’s mental abilities include about two hundred different aspects. In particular, he distinguished between convergent and divergent thinking.

Guilford called convergent thinking the ability to analyze a large amount of data and use an algorithm to find the optimal solution. A classic example of the application of convergent thinking is school mathematics problems. There is always only one correct answer. To find it, you don’t need to invent anything. Just take the data from the condition and follow the template.

It is important to understand that divergent and convergent thinking are not “good” or “bad.” They are just needed in different situations. For example, to come up with new directions for the company’s development, you need creative divergent thinking. Here it is important not to limit yourself and offer even the most daring ideas. But to put them into practice, you will need convergent thinking: you need to divide the task into specific steps, analyze risks, and predict costs.

How to Proceed

Come up with new ways to use familiar things. This is a classic creativity exercise. Take any object: a pen, a plastic bottle or nylon tights. Think of as many ways to use these things as you can. For example, from a plastic bottle you can make a flower vase, a country washstand, a funnel or a small dollhouse. This game can be played in a group: whoever comes up with the most interesting options. Or develop creativity alone – on the way to work or in line at the checkout.

Never settle for the first option. This is a basic brainstorming technique: throw out as many ideas as possible before choosing the best one. It can always be practiced. For example, when you need to choose a gift for a friend, come up with plans for the weekend, or write a headline for an article. Don’t limit your imagination and write down all the options that come to mind. Then choose the best one.

Learn new things more often. Most new ideas are unexpected combinations of several old ones. The more you know, the broader the base from which you draw ideas. Therefore, try to learn new things more often: read books and watch movies of different genres, attend lectures and creative meetings, go to museums, learn new sports, communicate with professionals in different fields.

Second Method. We Write Stories and Invent Our Own Worlds

The theory of divergent thinking has been criticized for being too “academic.” It seems to put creativity into an algorithm and therefore can prevent you from thinking truly freely. For example, young children often cannot come up with original ways to use familiar objects in response to an adult’s request. But they do an excellent job of this task in free play, writing stories and creating entire worlds.

Making up stories is a common way for people to think. We easily organize any events and experiences from our own lives into coherent stories. However, it turns out that the more often we create and tell stories, the more creative we think. This was discovered by American scientists Angus Fletcher and Mike Benveniste. In their opinion, divergent thinking is based on memory, logic and associations, while narrative thinking frees up imagination and allows you to create new things.

How to Proceed

Invent your own universe. Fantasy and science fiction works have a large following because people enjoy exploring new worlds. Why not invent your own? If you don’t know where to start, try mentally changing something in the real world. For example, imagine that all people speak the same language and understand each other. How would the world change?

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Ideally, this exercise requires a partner to represent a different point of view. For example, your interlocutor is a teacher whose noisy and disobedient students are interfering with his lesson. Let him talk about the problem as he sees it. Try to understand it and come up with a solution that would suit the teacher. Now, on the contrary, look at the situation through the eyes of a bored fifth-grader who cannot wait for a change. Take his side and figure out how to fix the situation from that position.

Place a familiar character in an unusual situation. What laws would your grandmother pass if she became President of the United States? What would Karabas-Barabas do if he fell down the rabbit hole from Alice in Wonderland? How would Thumbelina act if she were Dr. House’s assistant? Before writing a story, do a thorough study of the character and the context in which he finds himself. This practice will help you understand others better and respond faster in critical situations.

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