A good way to stimulate creativity is by thinking in pictures.
Please try these little thinking exercises:
a) Recite a line from a poem – any line, any poem.
b) Sing along in your head to a tune you heard recently.
c) Calculate 60% of (4 + 7 +9).
d) Remember a scene from a film and give it a different ending.
If you completed the exercise then you used your brain in four different ways. You employed:
a) Word and language skills
b) Music and rhythm
c) Mathematical or numerical reasoning
d) Visual thinking
Which mode of thinking suits you best? And which do you use most of the time? In business, word and language skills dominate. We talk about things at meetings. We read and write emails and reports. Occasionally we use numerical or basic mathematical thinking as we complete spreadsheets or calculate percentages. We use visual thinking rarely and musical thinking hardly ever. Most of our thinking and communication at work is in words. We should use pictures more often because they are powerful communication tools and many people think visually.
You dream in pictures. You remember people by the image of their face. If I ask you to imagine a new service, a new product or a new customer experience you will most likely picture it in your mind before turning your idea into words. Pinterest, Instagram and Youtube are all popular because they are visual media. When the police set up a major incident room after a murder they set up a notice board covered with pictures with arrows and timelines. They build a storyboard of what happened. When Crick and Watson discovered the structure of DNA they did not do it with mathematics or chemical symbols – they had to imagine the shape of the double helix.
Let’s introduce more pictures into our meetings and in particular into our brainstorm meetings. People react differently to pictures and images can often spark new and different ideas.
For an ideas meeting I suggest that you use dozens of pictures. They can either go around the wall or on a PowerPoint slide show. Some people use pictures of things related to the topic at hand but I prefer completely random pictures. Get a list of random words from a dictionary or from the internet. Then go to a free picture site such as pixabay.com. Enter the random word into the search box and then use say the fifth photo or picture which is displayed. Do this for 20 words and you have 20 random pictures. You can use these pictures as a random stimulus where the group calls out ideas based on a picture. People build on each others’ ideas. Alternatively, you can show the pictures sequentially and everyone has to write down ideas silently and on their own. Take a little time on each picture. Then they pair and share. In small groups of two or three people pool their ideas and develop one or two to feed back to the whole group. I have tried this approach with groups and people generally like the fresh stimulus that pictures bring. And they often generate really novel ideas.
Another idea is to use a cartoonist to draw pictures of the main issues, decisions and actions in a meeting. Then circulate the cartoon to all the attendees. Likely they will remember the key points better.
The methods that work for group brainstorms also work for individual creativity. Try random pictures to provoke your thinking. If you are working on a project, say writing a book or redecorating a house, then keep a scrapbook with cuttings from magazines. Or use Pinterest to pin internet images. Include anything that appeals to you, amuses you or shocks you. When you need some new ideas, browse the scrapbook.
Improve your communication by using more pictures. Use images but also you can paint a picture with words. Instead of giving a dry factual description of your idea, tell a story, ‘Imagine a customer using this new product…..’ People relate to pictures and stories. Use pictures to stimulate ideas, visualise ideas and communicate ideas.
Paul is a professional keynote conference speaker and expert facilitator on innovation and lateral thinking. He helps companies improve idea generation and creative leadership. His workshops transform innovation leadership skills and generate great ideas for business issues. His recent clients include Airbus, Microsoft, Unilever, Nike, Novartis and Swarovski. He has published 30 books on lateral thinking puzzles, innovation, leadership and problem solving (with over 2 million copies sold). He also acts as link presenter at conferences and facilitator at high level meetings such as a corporate advisory board. He has acted as host or MC at Awards Dinners. Previously, he was CEO of Monactive, VP International of MathSoft and UK MD of Ashton-Tate. He recently launched a series of podcast interviews entitled Insights from Successful People.