Quick Creativity Tip: Make Lists, Then Make Choices

By Gregg Fraley

If you’re stumped by a challenge in your life, here’s a simple technique that will help you generate breakthrough creative ideas. When you can’t think of one more thing, and your current options aren’t attractive, try it. It boils down to this: Make Lists, Then Make Choices.

Our immediate response to a challenge is to try to think of the one perfect answer. That’s what our educational system has trained us to do. We think of ideas, but as soon as we do we fall into the trap of immediately analyzing it. “That won’t work” or “it’s too expensive” or “they’ll laugh at me”. By making a list of ideas without critique, you allow a flow of ideas to develop. We shut down the flow of ideas in our own mind when we stop to analyze. It’s like stepping on the gas and the brake of a car at the same time – you’ll spin your wheels and not get anywhere.

So, make a list of ideas first, then critique and make choices. Separate imaginative thinking from critical thinking and your brain will reward you with better ideas and better choices. Do this:

1. Keep a notebook with you to record ideas as they occur to you.

2. Make a list of ideas to meet your challenge — without thinking at all about whether they are practical or perfect. In fact, give yourself a pat on the back if you think of something wildly impractical. It jars your mind out of its current pattern.

3. Make as long a list of ideas as time allows, and keep adding on. Set a goal for a number of ideas that is beyond what you think you can do. If you think there are 10 possible solutions to your challenge, set a goal of 20 ideas.

4. Free associate – just keep writing down idea after idea. The most innovative solutions often pop up when all the obvious answers are already on the list. Your brain makes new connections when it’s asked to.

5. You’ll hit a wall at some point. Try shifting perspective. How would Abe Lincoln meet this challenge? How would your favorite teacher from grade school view it? Read the paper and “look” for ideas in unrelated news. Push until you get your “second wave” of ideas – you’ll be surprised at how different they are.

6. If an incredibly great idea pops up – don’t shout Eureka. Keep going. There may be an even better one right around the corner.

7. If you get frustrated, then give it a rest and try again later. Come back fresh.

8. When you’ve reached your idea goal, review them and select a small number of ideas that seem closest to a solution.

9. See if you can combine them. Think of ways to make them just a little better.

10. Narrow down to your one best idea — based on criteria appropriate to your challenge.

Make Lists, Then Make Choices. Don’t mix up these two very different kinds of thinking!

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