Creative problem solving is enhanced by thinking more abstractly or at an intellectual distance, rather than more concretely, according to research studies.
In my post Using Research to Enhance Creative Thinking – Part 2, I quoted from the article “15 Scientific Facts About Creativity” which notes that “psychological distance” facilitates creativity, and “when hitting a creative snag, the best thing thinkers can do for themselves is step away and try to look at everything from a completely different point of view.”
Evan Polman of New York University and Kyle Emich of Cornell University devised four studies on this creative strategy, with results published in their paper: “Decisions for others are more creative than decisions for the self” [Abstract].
One of the ways that art students learn to paint is to copy the work of a master.
Of course, there are many more complex and abstract design, creativity and innovation challenges than traditional portraiture.
The Human-Computer Interaction Group at Stanford trains people in designing interactive systems.
In a research study they conducted, subjects drew animals to inhabit an alien Earth-like planet and were presented with example drawings at different stages in the experiment.
The results indicated that “Early exposure to examples improves creativity (measured by the number of common and novel features in drawings, and subjective ratings by independent raters).
How can parents, educators and business leaders support people to become more creative, innovative and entrepreneurial?
“Innovation-minded parents encouraged their children’s play, passion and purpose.”
Tony Wagner is currently the first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard and the founder and former co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The quote above is paraphrased from his article My View: Creating innovators, in which he notes that many people believe that “America’s economic future depends on more students taking courses in science, technology, engineering and math.”
“However,” he adds, “it is clear to me that the more important goal is for all students to graduate from high school or college ‘innovation-ready,’ and merely requiring students to take more of the same kinds of classes will not be adequate preparation.”
“People often avoid the uncomfortable uncertainty of novel solutions regardless of potential benefit.”
That quote comes from the Forbes magazine article Managing The Psychological Bias Against Creativity by Todd Essig, who notes the situation where “You come up with a great new idea at work, or at home.
“Or a political leader actually tries something ‘new and different’ when faced with a previously intractable problem. But then, rather than grateful acceptance, or even a fair hearing, the idea is squashed, ridiculed, or otherwise ignored.”
New research, he says, “empirically documents how our resistance to uncertainty makes the ‘old ways’ far stickier than they should be given the practical benefits of creative, new solutions.
“Once again, the biases built into our minds leave us simultaneously moving in opposite directions; we like creativity but avoid creative ideas because creative ideas are too, in a word, creative.”
Do we need to invest exceptional levels of time and attention in becoming experts before we can make significant creative contributions?
One of the key ideas of author Malcolm Gladwell is that “outliers” on the upper end of intelligence, ability and achievement have engaged in about 10,000 concentrated hours of practice and study in a specific knowledge area.
From my post Outliers and developing exceptional abilities.
Malcolm Gladwell is author of Outliers: The Story of Success.
But a new article by entrepreneur and philanthropist Naveen Jain, the founder of World Innovation Institute (among other credits) writes that while this may be “an interesting thesis” and perhaps true earlier, it may not apply “in today’s world of growing exponential technologies.”
Creative thinking is a vital element in healthy and growing people and cultures.
As The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity puts it, “We live in a society where those who do not creatively innovate risk failure in any of several domains of life.”
The book adds that “Legendary thinkers throughout time, from Aristotle to Einstein, have pondered what it means to be creative.
“There are still debates, after more than six decades of intensive research, on how to measure, utilize, and improve it.”
One of the most widely used evaluations of creativity is the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), which includes scores on four scales:
Getting flashes of creative insight or inspiration can solve real problems. But be wary of thinking you have to wait for them to be creative.
Psychologist R. Keith Sawyer says creativity researchers refer to “the three Bs—for the bathtub, the bed and the bus—places where ideas have famously and suddenly emerged.”
The photo shows an un-corrected Hubble telescope image at the left, next to an image at the right made with corrected optics.
Sawyer explained in a magazine article that in 1990 a team of NASA scientists “was trying to fix the distorted lenses in the Hubble telescope, which was already in orbit. An expert in optics suggested that tiny inversely distorted mirrors could correct the images, but nobody could figure out how to fit them into the hard-to-reach space inside.
Assurance, backbone, boldness, brashness, daring – engaging in a creative endeavor takes confidence.
Large scale collaborations like movies often take years to develop, requiring intense commitment on the part of writers and directors and other filmmakers.
A bit of hypomania and creative obsession can help.
Individual creators also need that kind of energy, motivation and confidence to keep working at projects for long periods.
This is a photo of “Fallen Star” by artist Do Ho Suh – a small house, with a sloping floor, installed onto the top floor at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UCSD.
You can see more photos at the Stuart Collection site.
An article notes it took “Fallen Star” seven years to be realized.
Einstein was expelled from school for “undermining the authority of his teachers and being a disruptive influence.”
I was reminded of that item when reading the article Can Innovative Thinking Be Learned? (Forbes mag.), in which writer Erica Swallow lists several “disruptive innovators”: Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Pierre Omidyar, referring to the book “The Innovator’s DNA” – which fortunately also includes a number of women innovators.
She writes that they think and behave differently, and “possess a suite of skills that enable them to connect dots that the rest of us don’t usually perceive.”
In Part 1 of this post, I mentioned two articles that refer to multiple research studies; here are more excerpts from those articles, plus additional material.
In “The science of creativity,” Amy Novotney notes a study at Harvard Medical School in which creativity researchers suggest sleeping on a problem.
Psychologist Deirde Barrett, PhD “asked her students to imagine a problem they were trying to solve before going to sleep and found that they were able to come up with novel solutions in their dreams.
“In the study, published in Dreaming (Vol. 3, No. 2), half of the participants reported having dreams that addressed their chosen problems, and a quarter came up with solutions in their dreams.”
“We’re in a different biochemical state when we’re dreaming, and that’s why I think dreams can be so helpful anytime we’re stuck in our usual mode of thinking,” Barrett says.