Becoming more creative requires you to get proactive. You can’t force creativity, but you can do things and dive into experiences which help you to increase your creativity.
One of these things is to live abroad for some time. And what might have been an extreme decision some years ago is now becoming more and more commonplace for people from all over the world.
William Maddux, Hajo Adam, and Adam Galinsky studied how living in a foreign country could boost your creativity.
The idea here is that when you go to a different culture, there are often subtle differences that you have to learn about. For example, in the US, if you go to someone’s house and they offer you a drink or snack, you respond “Yes” or “No” depending on whether you want a snack. In Russia, though, it is impolite to say “Yes” the first time something is offered, and so you refuse the first request. The host asks again, and after a brief negotiation, you may settle on having a snack. A Russian visiting the US for the first time might refuse the offer of a snack, only to be surprised that she is not asked a second time. Eventually, she must learn that the practices are different.Learning that the same task (getting a snack) has different solutions is a hallmark of creativity. Thus, living in another culture and learning the practices of that culture may enhance the psychological processes that make people more creative.
To test this possibility, the authors ran a series of studies. In one study, all of the participants were students who had some experience living abroad. At the start of the study, some participants were asked to think about an experience in another culture in which they learned something new about the culture and also learned the reason why people did what they did. Others thought about an experience in which they learned something about their own culture and why people do what they do. A third group thought about learning something new about a sport. A fourth group did not do an initial memory task.Then, all the participants performed the Remote Associates Task. In this task, you see three words and have to come up with a fourth word that relates to the first three. For example, you might see the words PUTTING BACK HORN. The correct answer in this case would be GREEN. Doing this task successfully requires thinking differently about all of the words.The authors found that the group who thought about their experiences learning about a new culture solved many more of the items from the Remote Associates Task than people in any of the other experimental groups. This finding suggests that reminding people about their cultural learning experiences increased their creativity.Other studies demonstrated that asking people who have never lived abroad to think about learning something about a new culture did not increase creativity. These other studies also demonstrated that the key aspect of learning something new about another culture is understanding why people do what they do.This work demonstrates a clear benefit of living in another culture. There are few experiences in life that require you to really re-think the many aspects of life that you take for granted. Living in another culture and adapting to it is one of the most powerful of those learning opportunities. Living successfully in another culture then helps you to be creative in a variety of other circumstances.
Pretend. Stop thinking like a designer or writer or whatever you are for a minute. Pretend you’re a pastry chef. Pretend you’re an elevator repair contractor. A pilot. A hot dog vendor. How do these people look at the world?– Marc Johns, Illustrator in Breakthrough!: Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination
They say an elephant never forgets. Well, you are not an elephant. Take notes, constantly. Save interesting thoughts, quotations, films, technologies…the medium doesn’t matter, so long as it inspires you. When you’re stumped, go to your notes like a wizard to his spellbook. Mash those thoughts together. Extend them in every direction until they meet.
By forcing your mind to connect disparate bits of information, you’ll jump-start your thinking, and you’ll fill in blank after blank with thought after thought.