Everybody can develop a more agile -- and creative -- mind, says University of Minnesota cognitive neuroscientist Wilma Koutstaal. All that's required are some simple changes in the way we approach the content and processing of our thoughts. Here are her nine key tips:
- Regularly expose yourself to new things, including new environments. Novelty is an important stimulus for the brain -- and for creative, agile thinking.
- Vary the level of control in your thinking. When your thinking feels "stuck," try harder to exert control -- or try less hard.
- Vary the level of specificity in your thinking. Avoid what William James called "vicious abstractionism" (taking statements out of their context), but don't get too bogged down in specifics, either.
- Reward yourself -- and others -- for using varying levels of control and specificity when problem solving and innovating.
- Capture ideas as they happen. Because our mental accessibility to our environment is always changing, reconstructing ideas that occurred even a few moments earlier can be difficult.
- Develop ideas in parallel rather than one at a time. Doing so will help keep you from overinvesting in a single idea or version of an idea.
- Pay attention to your inner voices -- your sensory perceptions, mood, memory and knowledge.
- Use and respond to your environment as part of your mind. The environment is not entirely separate from your mind, and it is often easier to control.
- Capitalize on the interplay of intrinsic motivation (doing something for the love and joy of it) and extrinsic motivation (doing it for financial or other rewards). Realize that each can contribute to creativity.