Most of our lives consist of habits. We walk/drive to walk along the same route. In meetings, we sit in the same seat and at restaurants, we order the same dish. Generally, if you do something right and well the first time it is a good idea to do it that way again. Unfortunately, that reliance on memory can also hinder your creativity. Psychologist Tom Ward calls the use of memory in problem solving the Path of Least Resistance. In his research, he finds that when he asks people to be creative, they are still strongly influenced by what they know.
So how do we spark creativity? Art Markman, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin recommends the following:
- Place constraints on the problem. This may sound a little wonky. We often think it is best to have as few constraints as possible to be creative, but the focus may allow you to maneuver through solution quicker.
- Inject some randomness. Create a solution that incorporates an element that is selected at random. The randos keep you from using solutions you already know about.
- Add distance. There is a fancy psychology theory that says the further you are from something, the more abstractly you think about it. Markman suggests thinking that you have to create a solution to your problem that will be used in another country.
- Do it for someone else. Try to imagine solving the issue for someone else.
- Experience new cultures. Adapting to and learning about new cultures helps new memories and ideas form. This helps people become better at seeing that any problem can be approached in multiple ways.