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On divergent thinking
Creativity might as well be a walk in the park
Creative challenge no. 1
In 1967 psychologist Joy Paul Guilford developed the Alternative Uses Test, meant to enhance your creativity by giving you two minutes to think of as many uses as possible for an everyday object like a chair, a shoe, or a brick. For example, during this exercise, some of the uses participants found for a paper clip were: holds papers together/ cufflinks/ fix a zipper/ hang Christmas decorations/ earrings/ toothpick/ thing you use to push that emergency restart button on your router/ keeping headphones from getting tangled up/ bookmark. I’ve actually used a paperclip as a bookmark (and many other things can be a bookmark in times of need) and I’ve definitely used one to take out the sim card from my phone.
The test measures divergent thinking* across four sub-categories:
Fluency – the total number of alternative uses you come up with
Originality – how unique your answers are
Flexibility – how many categories you cover with your ideas
Elaboration – the amount of detail you give in your answers
The test can be done individually or in a group setting, with a two-minute limit or without time limitations and all you need is something to write on.
‘All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking’
That’s something Nietzsche supposedly said. But Stanford researchers found that walking boosts creative inspiration. They examined the creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat. A person's creative output increased by an average of 60% when walking.
Walking stimulates creativity by improving divergent thinking and this generates creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions rather than concentrating on one focused task. Walking distracts (and relaxes) our brains enough to allow the free-flow of information from our subconscious minds. Taking a shower can have a similar effect, that’s why a lot of great ideas stem from those relaxing moments.
While working on his theories, Charles Darwin took daily walks (one in the morning, one in the afternoon) to exercise his mind and body, to think and to observe. Walking the same route each day from his house, through the woods, and back along a field, Darwin referred to this as his ‘thinking path’.
So whenever you feel stuck, a walk might be just what you need.
*Convergent and divergent thinking in a nutshell
Convergent and divergent thinking (the same J. P. Guilford proposed these terms) are like two sides of a coin. The process of figuring out a concrete solution to any problem is called convergent thinking, while divergent thinking is the process that explores multiple possible solutions in order to generate creative ideas. Convergent thinking is characterised by speed, accuracy and logic. On the other hand, the characteristics of divergent thinking include spontaneous, free-flowing, non-linear. It may seem like these two approaches are competitive, but they actually go hand in hand (though culturally we might encourage one more than the other). Anne Manning (consultant, teacher and trainer) demonstrates these concepts in the short video below.