Creative Thinking Exercises To Open Your Mind

Woman thinking blackboard concept. Pensive girl looking at thougWhether you want to write the great American novel or invent the next iPhone, creativity is the key to your work. But thinking outside the box is not always easy. The good news is that creativity is a skill you can learn – you do not need to sit and wait helplessly for a moment of inspiration to strike. Creative thinking exercises will open your mind, teach you new skills, and help you innovate.

In our chaotic society, new ideas and new ways of thinking are what will help you get ahead. Our world is limited only by our imagination. Think of all the changes in society, technology, and medicine that have occurred in just your own lifetime.

Famed science educator Neil DeGrasse Tyson explained that if the existence of the Earth were the length of a football field, then human existence – from the era of cavemen until now – is just the width of one single blade of grass. And in that relatively short time, we have transformed our world – from the wheel to the car, from cave paintings to the Internet, from the cave to the skyscraper. Human ingenuity knows no bounds.

Creativity can help you get ahead in whatever field you work in, whether it is business, medicine, science, or the arts. And creativity is something you can cultivate by learning more and practicing.

As Steve Jobs said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Jobs helmed Apple through its rebirth and growth. He brought us the iPod, the iPad, and the iPhone, all of which have transformed today’s world. And he helped to brand Apple with its famous slogan – “Think different.” Now that we have smartphones, we find that they are indispensable; however, we should remember that they were not inevitable. Creative thinking is what helped a company like Apple innovate, invent, and succeed.

Creativity in Business

Entrepreneurs and business leaders always need to think creatively. Whether it’s inventing something new, developing a different way to do something, or crafting effective marketing campaigns, your business and career can benefit from creative thinking. To get ahead and stay on top you need to learn to boost your creative thinking as an individual and as an organization.

You can harness the power of the people in your company to think creatively and challenge your assumptions. One great creative thinking exercise is to brainstorm as a group, while ensuring everyone contributes ideas.

Write down different aspects of whatever challenges you are facing on separate pieces of paper and tape them to the wall. Then arm each individual with a pencil and stand each one in front of a paper. Each person scribbles down one idea or thought on the paper – and then walks on to the next piece. Everyone will walk around the room, adding to the ideas, writing each thought on the papers, and building on what others have said. In a way, it’s like musical chairs of the mind.

Using this creative thinking exercise, every person can contribute to each different brainstorming challenge without feeling silly or self-conscious. Writing down your ideas means that even shy people can join in. And the physical movement helps to free up your thinking and perspective

Creativity in Science

Science may seem rigid and obvious – a study of incontrovertible facts that are just waiting to be learned. But in reality it requires creative thinking to reveal new ways and new ideas. You can harness the power of your mind and enhance your creativity using different thinking exercises.

Archimedes was a Greek mathematician and scholar. Legend has it that a tyrant had asked a pure gold crown to be made for him to wear. But this cruel king believed he had been cheated by the craftsman, and that silver had been mixed in with the gold during the process. He demanded that Archimedes determine if the crown were indeed one hundred percent gold. But how could this be done without melting it down? Archimedes pondered this problem for some time, to no avail. He eventually decided to take a bath to relax instead of continuing to struggle with the problem. As he settled in he noticed the level of the water in the tub rose. He realized that he was displacing water in direct correlation to his volume, and he could use the same technique to measure the crown and an equivalent lump of gold. He jumped out of the tub and ran naked through the streets, as the story goes, shouting “Eureka!” In Greek this means, “I have found it!” We still refer to these moments of clarity as a “eureka” moment. And although the story of Archimedes and his bathtub epiphany may not be verifiable fact, there are plenty of similar moments throughout the history of scientific discovery.

In scientific thinking, you need to know what questions to pose in order to then try to answer them. Hypothetical thinking is an essential skill for discovery and experimentation. Try this creative thinking exercise to spark your mind’s ability to think of different approaches. Find a news article online or in your newspaper and imagine one key change in the story. Create a big “what if” and let your mind wander for a five minutes. Set a timer and think it through. For instance, you might see a story about an upcoming election. Imagine what would happen if every single person did vote – what would that be like? What are all the implications? What would happen practically speaking? Would there be long lines? Would be people be more engaged or more likely to vote arbitrarily? Who would be elected? What would the consequences be thereafter?

This kind of exercise frees your mind of to think of different scenarios, and to follow ideas that may seem far-fetched as logically as possible.

Creativity in The Arts

Of course, no field demands creativity more so than the arts. Whether it’s painting or writing, even crafts or cooking, you strive to be original and innovative. The whole goal of undertaking artistic endeavors is to explore new things, to express your own unique vision, and to be different.  But this demand for distinctive new ideas means that artistic pursuits are often a challenge. It is hard to forget the similar efforts that came before and still forge your own path. If you’re a sculptor, for instance, then chances are you are familiar with all the different forms sculpture can take. The first challenge is figuring out what your own style is. You can take a class to help you discover and foster your own special talents.

Another challenge in the arts is continuing your creative streak. Writer’s block and other similar situations can arise where you lose your motivation, your confidence, and your enthusiasm for the work.This can be true whether you are an individual pursuing a hobby, or a creative professional wanting to know how to break through the create blockage. 

When looking to tap into your potential or keep yourself motivated, creative thinking exercises that spark activity in the brain can always help. For instance, you want the creative right hemisphere of your brain communicating with your logical left hemisphere in order to think originally but in a productive way. Simple and consistent creative methods that you can learn can help you with this.

Psychological studies have shown that simply shifting your eyes from right to left for thirty seconds helps jumpstart the process of communication between the halves of your brain. And although it may not seem like the most natural activity for creative thinking, even juggling can help you think more originally. It requires using both hands, and thus both sides of your brain, and stimulates you visually as you keep an eye on all the balls in the air.

Studies of the mind have also shown that if we give ourselves some emotional distance from the subject at hand that we can think more creatively. Don’t think of how you would write the story or paint the picture. Think of what you would tell someone else to do. Removed from the concerns of having to ensure the results, you are more free to let your mind take flights of fancy and think outside the box. One study, conducted by professors from NYU and Cornell, showed that participants asked to draw an extraterrestrial for a story they would write – and thus an alien creature they would then have to describe – created beasts that were very similar to existing animals. But when asked to draw an extraterrestrial for others to describe – once freed from the obligation to do the rest of the hard work – the drawings became much more unique and unexpected. The lesson here is that your mind is more capable of thinking up new and challenging ideas when being asked to do it for another.

Embracing Failure

Creative thinking involves not only innovating new ideas but also reevaluating old ideas from a fresh perspective. Perhaps most importantly, in order to be able to innovate and create, you have got to be willing to embrace failure. Thomas Edison and his team tried quite literally thousands of iterations of materials and designs while creating the incandescent light bulb. It took over two years but they finally found a design that worked, and a design that could be readily made and marketed. This simple invention transformed human lives forever. (There’s a reason we think of that “a-ha moment” of discovery as being symbolized by a light bulb, right?) A newspaper reporter supposedly asked Edison what it felt like to have failed a thousand times – and Edison is said to have responded, “I didn’t fail a thousand times. The light bulb was an invention with a thousand steps.” Being unafraid to fail, to try again, and to toss out ideas that do not work is another key element to innovation.