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Coming up with great ideas when the pressure is on

National Ideas Month shines a light on creativity

Published: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 10:59 a.m. CDT

March is National Ideas Month. Hey, whose bright idea was that?

Here’s an intriguing idea from New York Times best-selling author and writing coach Michael Levin: “Creativity is a muscle; use it or lose it.”

But sometimes, pressure paralyzes creativity.

Here are four of Levin’s no-fail tips for generating creative ideas under pressure:

1. Ask yourself, “What’s the most dangerous, expensive and illegal way to solve this problem?” We usually take the same approach to solving problems every time with the resources we have at hand. “This doesn’t exactly translate into breathtaking creativity,” Levin says.  So imagine that you have no limits — legal, moral, financial, whatever. You can do literally anything to solve the problem. The way-out ideas you develop may not be practical, but they’ll lead you to new ways of thinking about your problem. And then you can find a non-life-threatening, legal way to solve it!

2. Hide. We live in a world of constant, thin-sliced demands. Unanswered texts and emails. People waiting for you to say something, do something, read something, decide something. Run and hide. Lock yourself in your car or hunker down in a bathroom stall. Slow down and get your brain back.

It’s all but impossible for your creative brain to operate when you’re responding to endless external stimuli. The best ideas often come when you run from your responsibilities.

3. Count to 20. Go somewhere where you can be undisturbed, bring a yellow pad and a pen, turn off your phone, and sit there until you come up with 20 ideas for solving your problem. This requires discipline because most of us are so happy when we have one answer to a problem that we want to move to the next agenda item. Not every idea you invent will be a great one, but that’s OK. It may be idea No. 17 that’s truly brilliant, but you’d never get there if you ran back to your desk after you came up with one, two or even five ideas. If you do this daily, you’ll develop 100 new ideas a week. Imagine how strong your idea muscle will be!

4. Give up. Cardiologists recommend to heart patients that they visit nature, go to a museum, or attend a classical concert. Why? It slows them down and allows them to appreciate beauty instead of seeing life as a constant battle. Surrender your own siege mentality. Life isn’t war, thank goodness. Take a major step away, even for a couple of hours, from whatever battles you’re facing, contemplate the greatness of the human spirit or the wonder of nature, and reawaken the creative energy that our fight-minded world suppresses.

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