Three things you didn't know about original thinking

Ever wondered what it is that helps us to come up with better ideas? Or why some people are better at thinking creatively than others? We took a look at what some of the research has to say…

In this article you will learn:

  • Why procrastination isn’t necessarily a bad thing
  • How we could all learn a thing or two from kindergartners
  • Why we should think with our hands

1. Procrastination can actually help you to come up with better ideas

Organisational psychologist Adam Grant started researching procrastination after one of his most creative students said that she came up with her best ideas when she was procrastinating. He challenged her to get some data and she went into businesses and asked employees to fill out a survey about how much they procrastinate. Grant explained their findings in his TED talk: “You actually do see that the people who wait until the last minute are so busy goofing off that they don't have any new ideas. And on the flip side, the people who race in are in such a frenzy of anxiety that they don't have original thoughts either. There's a sweet spot where originals seem to live.”

They followed this up with an experiment to see exactly how procrastination impacts creativity. They asked people to come up with new business ideas – some were given five or 10 minutes to play Minesweeper before reporting their ideas, while others had to dive straight in. “Sure enough, the moderate procrastinators are 16 per cent more creative than the other two groups,” Grant said. “Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps.”

2. We lose our ability to think creatively as we grow older

According to a study by Dr George Land, we are all creative geniuses from birth and then as we grow older our ability to think creatively diminishes. Using a creativity test he devised for NASA to help find innovative engineers and scientists, Dr Land tested the creativity of 1,600 children aged between three and five – and then again aged 10, and again at 15. He found that at five years old, 98 per cent of the children were able to think creatively, at age 10 that had fallen to 30 per cent, and by the age of 15, just 12 per cent of the children had maintained the ability to think creatively. When the same test was completed by 280,000 adults, just two per cent of them were able to come up with original ideas.

3. Using our hands makes finding creative solutions easier

Two psychology experts from Kingston University found that thinking doesn’t just take place in the head – and in fact, using our hands to think can make us more creative when problem solving. Professor Gaëlle Vallée-Tourangeau explained: “When you write or draw, the action itself makes you think differently," she said. "In cognitive psychology you are trained to see the mind as a computer, but we've found that people don't think that way in the real world. If you give them something to interact with they think in a different way.”

The team at Kingston asked participants to solve the problem of how to put 17 animals into four pens so that there were an odd number of animals in each one. Some participants were given tools to build physical models, while others could sketch out an answer. They found that those building models were much more likely to find the solution (which requires designing an overlapping pen configuration).


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