Category Archives: Brainstorming

Creativity and Innovation

Walk your way to Creativity

Creativity and InnovationIn a recent Journal of Experimental Psychology article, Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking, by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz of Santa Clara University, the researchers looked at ways that walking could be used improve your creativity and thinking skills.  While there had been plenty of anecdotal evidence for such a correlation, there was never a thorough scientific study. What they were able to determine, was that people who walked, were more likely to be more creative than those who did not walk. They defined creativity as the number of ways that people come up with different uses for particular object, such as how you might use a tire. They compared this creativity, against normal mental capabilities, such as determining the answers to tests that required particular answers (as opposed to free thinking). They found that walking had no improvement over these “convergent thinking” tests versus “divergent thinking” tests.

During the course of their research, they were able to demonstrate an 81% increase in creativity associated with walking. And you’ll be in good company if you do the same–Aristotle Steve Jobs, and Nietzsche, all made walks part of their daily routine. Unfortunately, researchers were not able to come up with any reason why walking actually improved creativity, but they did empirically test it and determined it to be true. So, if you want to improve yourself, go for a walk–it’ll do you good.

Ultradian Rhythm

Ultradian Rhythms

Ultradian RhythmWe’ve all heard of Circadian Rhythms, the natural 24 hour daily cycle that our bodies go through.  On the other hand, Ultradian Rhythms, are periods that are shorter than a day, and typically longer than one hour.  Ultradian Rhythms are naturally occurring cycles in the body, such as hormonal release, thermoregulation,  and eating. This article by shows you how you can tap into these naturally occurring rhythms to maximize your body’s productivity. They refer to this state where you’re acting in the highest mental capacity as “Hero Mode”.

To figure out the times when your most productive and have the highest level of concentration, you go through a process of determining and building your perfect schedule. For each hour the day, you document the amount of physical energy, concentration, and mood.  They are scored from 1-low to 3-high. At the end of this 5-day process , you have an diagram, or graphic that shows you when you’re most alert during different times of the day. The article includes links to a spreadsheet and other helpful tools for creating your own chart. The article further suggests, that most of these cycles occur between 90 and 120 minutes. At the end of these periods, they suggest that you drink some water, have a small snack, and disengage in what you’re working on. This ensures that you’re working at your optimal mode.


10 Tricks to Improve Memory

MethodofLociI found this short article and kept forgetting to post it! There are a couple of fun tips to improving your memory–some of them based on significant research and repeated results. Based on what I’ve read, the best is the “Method of Loci”.  Read the article here.

Beer and Coffee for Innovation

I read an article by Mikael Cho at Lifehacker about the effects of beer and coffee on innovation. There are lots of studies on the effect of caffeine on productivity, with the overwhelming consensus that it can increase quality and performance on tasks that don’t require too much abstract thinking.  So once you have a good idea, coffee will help you implement it faster/better.

For the beer side, he cites an interesting, but not particularly scientific study of alcohol and its effect on creativity.  He explains, “author Dave Birss brought together a group of about 20 advertising creative directors and split them into two teams based on their amount of career experience. One team was allowed to drink as much alcohol as they wanted while the other team had to stay sober. The groups were given a brief and had to come up with as many ideas as they could in three hours. These ideas were then graded by a collection of top creative directors.”

The result was that the team of drinkers not only had the most ideas, but also came up with the 80% of the best ideas.  No information was provided on their productivity the next morning!

How to Kill Innovation

I read an article by Jason Hiner in Tech Republic talking about the 5 things that can kill innovation. Here they are:

  1. Don’t give ownership of projects
    His basic premise is that individuals do better at managing projects/ideas than teams. The old saying that “Too many cooks spoil the broth” is the acting principle here.  While it may seem “progressive” and socially acceptable to allow the team to make decisions by committee, in practice it just doesn’t work.   There is a difference between “working as a team” and being run as a team.  Consider the real world example of an airline cockpit.  Great effort has been put into getting the pilot and co-pilot to act as equals while managing the aircraft.  It’s called cockpit management, and resulted from accidents where one person–typically the pilot–acted without regard to the opinion of the other.  The pilot and co-pilot now work together, but ultimately, there is only one person in charge.  Consider the case of the USAirways flight that crashed into the Hudson river.  As soon as the birds struck the airplane and they began to lose power, captain Sullivan states, “I’ve got the plane” indicating that he is the one now in charge.  With that said, there is still an active collaborative dialogue as captain Sullivan asks his co-pilot, “can you think of anything else [to do]”.
  2. Create too many layers of management
    To create an innovative environment, Mr. Hiner states, “that you have to find ways to flatten your organization and create less hierarchy, while making sure every employee still gets a little bit of time with the boss on a regular basis in order to stay energized and on target.”  I agree completely.  Management is one of the most critical aspects of innovation, and in addition to his suggestions, you also need management that is supportive (and demonstrates their support) of innovation.
  3. Ignore brainstorming rules
    If you want to be innovative, he suggests that you keep good brainstorming rules, such as limiting negativity because, “some of the craziest ideas could morph into something amazingly useful.”  Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be true, as there is little evidence (in the research literature) that anything of industrial/commercial value has come from brainstorming.   There are plenty of examples of people coming up with a 100 different ways to use a paperclip, but commercially successful innovation almost never involves brainstorming.  It goes against our nature–we’re too competitive.    Nonsense, you might say, “everyone at our organization is happy to help others develop ideas,” and I believe this to be true.  But if you open an idea up to an entire group, you’re going to do a couple of things.  First, you’re diluting the inventors’ idea, possibly in a way that doesn’t make sense, especially if the group is trying to reach consensus.  Second, you’re removing a large part of the incentive for the inventor to push the idea to completion, because you’re reducing the impact of his/her reward. One of the best examples of this is in academia.  I used to believe that this was the most open and collaborative area around, however, this is not the case.  Researchers/Professors are extremely guarded with their ideas, and rarely “brainstorm” them with an entire group.  Why?  Because in most cases, their career, prestige, and funding are directly related to the number of successful ideas that they can come up with.  Sharing can be catastrophic.    Do they collaborate?  Sure, but usually with a very, very limited number of trusted associates.  These people are solicited specifically and are invited to participate because the originator believes that they’ll benefit. When I invent something, I hope (and expect) to be rewarded in some way, i.e., keep my job, get a promotion, get a raise, get a better position, etc.   There are very few people who freely give their best ideas to their colleagues.  More realistically, when people want to collaborate, they do so with some understanding of secrecy, such as NDAs and other agreements to guard their intellectual property.
  4. Rely too heavily on data and dashboards
    Innovation has a tough ROI.  Mr Hiner writes, “Beyond some of the basic data, such as sales and customer traffic, a lot of the data requires sophisticated analysis (because it’s so ambiguous) and many of the truths it contains are relative — or worse, they hide other truths.”  This is really true.  It’s hard to create a return on investment report for an idea.  If the idea is successful, the ROI could so high it would seem unrealistic.  On the other hand, innovation rarely lasts (beyond a 6 months to a year) without payback.   One of the best ways to generate payback and ROI is to innovate against specific problems/issues.  If you innovate against strategic issues, you already have a built-in ROI.
  5. Under-resource your hidden opportunities
    The article states, “Having too many resources makes people sloppy. When you have to get something done with fewer resources than you think you need, it often sharpens your wits, forces you to hustle, and leads you to break through barriers.”  Completely agree.  It’s a great mental challenge to find an answer with limited resources.  It reminds me of the story of the Apollo 13 mission where they had a catastrophic failure shortly after launch.  One of the pressing issues was that the carbon dioxide in the module where the astronauts were living was increasing.  In order to remove the carbon dioxide, the engineers at NASA had to figure out how to fit a “square filter into a round hole” using only the materials available to the astronauts.  They obviously did it and saved the astronaut’s lives.

Morning People vs. Night People

Another interesting article about an individual’s most creative time of day.  It might seem logical that you’d be more creative during the time of day that you’re also most awake or at your best.  For “morning people”, this would be during the morning, and for “night people”, it would be in the late afternoon.  While researchers found that were are better at analytical tasks during our most awake times, we are better at creative tasks during the opposite time.  Here is the specific research:

What Dr. Wieth and her colleagues did was ask volunteers to fill out a questionnaire that assessed whether they were at their best in the morning or evening (this questionnaire, by the way, is highly predictive of people’s peak circadian arousal). She then invited the volunteers to the lab to solve both insight and analytic problems in either the morning (between 8:30 and 9:30 AM) or the afternoon (between 4:30 and 5:30 PM). While people did slightly better on the analytic problems during their optimal time of day, volunteers were much more likely to come up with a creative – and correct – answer to the insight problems at their self-professed non-optimal time.


How Memory Works

memoryI read an interesting article about how memory works at PsyBlog.  The nice thing about this article is that each statement is backed by legitimate research, and has examples to highlight each point.  These pseudo-facts are useful because they can help you to appreciate the difficulties that you or your team might be experiencing from an innovation perspective, and how they can be overcome.  It also provides useful advice on how to improve your own thought processes.  Here are the ten major points:

  1. Memory does not decay
  2. Forgetting helps you learn
  3. ‘Lost’ memories can live again
  4. Recalling memories alters them
  5. Memory is unstable
  6. The foresight bias
  7. When recall is easy, learning is low
  8. Learning depends heavily on context
  9. Memory, reloaded (mix it up learning styles)
  10. Learning is under your control


Impairment and Creativity

According to article published by the British Psychological Society, people who have been moderately impaired with alcohol fair much better on creativity exercises than their non-impaired counterparts, by a sizable margin: (they solved 58 per cent of 15 items on average vs. 42 per cent average success achieved by controls, and they tended to solve the items more quickly 11.54 seconds per item vs. 15.24 seconds).

The impaired participant’s blood alcohol level was 0.07, (barely below the legal limit in most U.S. states). The researchers were careful to note that participants performed more poorly at on memory tests, and that higher levels of impairment did not produce the same creativity–so more was not better.

The general finding is that people who are not functioning at their peak mental capacity, have more creative insights, most likely from not thinking along conventional lines. This hypothesis was evidenced in this post, The Best Time for you to Solve Problems, where more creativity was found in people who worked during their non-peak part of the day (for morning people, the night was more creative, and vice versa).

So, while I’m not advocating a Happy Hour to inspire creativity, shaking people out of their comfort zone certainly seems to help.

Crazy Creativity

Why does it seem that the most creative people are the craziest? History is ripe with accounts of the eccentricities of creative people. Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Vince Van Gogh, Howard Hughes and others dazzled us with both brilliance and unusual traits. But are creativity people really crazy, or are they just victims of popularity, jealousy and tabloids?

In a 2011 study by Gino and Ariely, they concluded that:

  • Participants with creative personalities who scored high on a test measuring divergent thinking tended to cheat more;
  • Dispositional creativity is a better predictor of unethical behavior than intelligence;
  • Participants who were primed to think creatively were more likely to behave dishonestly because of their creativity motivation and,
  • they had a greater ability to justify their dishonest behavior.

In a 2008 study by Wazcheic,, they found that creativity individuals tend to be better at lying. Their premise was that lying, although frowned upon, was very useful in accomplishing many social goals, such as collaboration and exploiting others. They found that the best liars where also the most creative, perhaps because of their ability to get what they wanted the quickest.

Finally, in a 2011 article by Mayer, Jennifer; Mussweiler, Thomas, the researchers tested whether creative people where more distrustful. Their basic conclusion, was that they were, and is probably a result of their tendencies to wonder why something had to be done a certain way.

Creativity Test with Rabbit Duck Illusion

Most likely you’ve seen or heard about the Rabbit Duck illusion. If you look at the picture you can see either a rabbit or a duck, depending on how you look at it. Most people see the duck first, but can flip to see the rabbit. The measure of creativity is whether you can easily “flip” between the two pictures.

In an article published by the British Journal of Psychology, the authors tested a person’s ability to first come up with uses for a random object, such as how many ways they could use a paperclip. For example, in addition to using it to hold papers together, you could also make it into a key holder, or combine several to make a dinosaur. Creativity people (as defined by how many different ways they could use a paperclip) were not only able to use the paperclip in more ways than their non-creativity counterparts, but they were also able to easily see both the rabbit and the duck.

The hypothesis is that when you switch between the duck and rabbit, you are experiencing a small creative insight, by viewing the same object in a different way. In the process of creativity, people are often called on to improve or change an existing product/service to make it better. Creativity people are able to look at an object and easily imagine different uses–in the same way that they could look at the picture and see different images. So, which do you see, and how easily can you see both the rabbit and the duck?