How to Be More Creative
If you think some people are just born that way (and you’re not one of them), think again. Experts say we all have a wellspring of creative energy. The secret is how to tap it.
Being a Kid Again
A couple of days later, I enroll in a creativity class. This seems like an oxymoron. Isn’t it like taking a class in how to
be tall or have a smaller nose? But I guess creative people are open-minded, so I want to give it a shot.
I arrive at the Creativity Workshop, in New York City, for my one-on-one training with the directors, a ponytailed artist named Alejandro Fogel and his partner, Shelley Berc, a novelist. Berc asks me to sit on the floor, as a kid would. She says I need to be more playful.
My problem is that I’m too logical, Berc tells me. I like to analyze and compartmentalize. “We’re going to try to make you think less,” she says in a soothing voice. “Logic is important. But if it comes in too early, it ruins things.” Neuroscience backs her up: According to Jung, creative people know how to mute the volume on the frontal lobes (the buttoned-up, analytical portion of the brain), freeing the rest of the brain to make unexpected connections.
Fogel and Berc lead me through a series of exercises to help unburden me from linear, sensible thinking. I draw doodles with my eyes closed. I make up a story about 10 random objects, including a penny and a plastic lobster. (It’s a love story in which the lobster is really a beautiful wizard.) I feel dorky, but that’s my analytical side talking.
I pledge to try the techniques at home. The next night, I tell my wife that I can’t watch Downton Abbey. I have a date. Fogel told me, “Make an appointment with your creativity.” We can’t wait for creativity to strike us like lightning, he says. We have to build it into our lives as a discipline.
My goal is to brainstorm article ideas about fatherhood. As my gurus instructed, I sit on the floor. I look around the room, at the towering lamps, at the underside of the table. This is what the world looks like to my sons, I think. Hmm. What if I wrote an article from the point of view of kids? Or, better yet, an article of kids’ advice to dads? It’s a lightbulb. Not the brightest bulb, but not bad.
Flipping the Problem Over
I’m in charge of my five-year-old twins, and they’re about to come to blows because they both want to play with the lone plastic
light saber. I need to engage in some creative parenting. “You guys can take turns,” I say. “I’ll flip a coin to see who goes
They agree. And then get in a fight over who is heads and who is tails. This could get ugly fast. I know I should remain calm. Research shows that a positive mood is most conducive to creative thinking; negativity inhibits ingenuity. I take some deep breaths. (Sniff the flower; blow out the candle, as I tell the kids.)
I think of a classic technique I read about in Cracking Creativity ($20, amazon.com), by creativity expert Michael Michalko: reversal, in which you turn the problem on its head. Take Henry Ford. In the beginning, carmakers kept the vehicle stationary and had factory workers congregate around it to install parts. Ford’s idea was to keep the workers stationary and move the car from worker to worker. Thus was born the assembly line. Maybe instead of discouraging my kids’ argument, I should push it further.
“I know how we decide who gets heads,” I say. “We need to roll a die. Who wants evens, and who wants odds?” As predicted, the twins get in a fight over evens and odds. To decide that fight, we use the spinner from Twister. To settle the Twister, we use dreidels. Then playing cards. The boys are having so much fun, they forget all about the light saber.