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Boosting your creativity

'There is no use trying,' said Alice; 'one can't believe impossible things.' 'I dare say you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for a half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.'
Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland)

Where does impossible end and a prototype begin? How many times do we use the words '' It can't be done' and cut off any chance we might have of finding out whether there is something to salvage, to nurture or to fan the flame of possibility over? Too often our rational thinking might miss out the seeds of potential options. History is littered with one generation saying 'can't be done' and the next one saying 'look again, it's happening.'

Children are good examples to learn from. In play all ideas are up for grabs and using imagination is second nature. My six-year-old granddaughter is up for that. If I say, 'let's build an interplanetary home for lost dragonflies,' she would say, 'where shall we put the bedrooms?' Not 'Are you nuts?' Or 'what is 'interplanetary', give me a break, I'm only six!'

Dreaming up impossible things before breakfast might not solve the problems of the world. Einstein, in another league from the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland said, 'The problems of today will never be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.' We absolutely need the ability to go far beyond the world we can weigh and let our imagination be a critical part of how we grow ourselves and our solutions and meet the world.

This is the ' what if… thinking' of creativity and it gives the thinker a chance to breathe life into his/her ideas.

There are ways we can encourage these activities and in so doing offer ourselves and others a chance to let new thinking, new ideas and new energy see the light of day even if some of those ideas are ultimately discarded. Nothing is completely lost because in the process of exploring confidence to experiment grows. Too often we think of a good idea, then a second idea and stop looking for a third, fourth or fifth one. We shut our thinking down too soon and potentially miss out on what is just at the periphery of our thinking, beyond the rules that govern our usual thinking preferences.

Edward de Bono's well known '6 Hat Thinking' is a process especially useful for teams keen to try to access the widest and best thinking outside of the habitual think streams they operate in.

Sometimes we are too close to see multiple perspectives and a 'creativity greenhouse' can help. It gives some time early on to allow positive exploration of new shoots to be nurtured and 'earthed' for awhile.

There is always plenty of time to add the reasons why an idea can't work, won't work but too soon and the thinker and their idea are sometimes so discouraged they shut down and are not heard from again.

Here are three ways to boost your creativity and idea generation

1) Take some time for the serious business of play.

It helps increase our resourcefulness. Stepping away from a place of judgment to a 'play area' is something the right brain loves! It makes connections that are freer when we give the left-brain's patroller function some time off. Start by gathering some coloured pens, felt tips, pencils- whatever kind feels best. Sometimes wax crayons are a good choice as they take us back to childhood. Have some plain paper too. You don't have to know how to draw.

Many people still draw at the level they did when they were 8. What's important is having a go. Not keen on drawing? Get a pack of modelling clay from The Early Learning Centre. Only £2. Or buy yourself a blank moleskin notebook to capture some 'what if…' thoughts. Be sure this is a separate one from a to do list or diary- this is about play!

2)Freshening your thinking

Our mind searches to find answers to a challenge by looking where it has seen and solved this problem before. There are obvious advantages to this and a couple of disadvantages: first the previous solution might not be the best one for the new issue. Secondly we miss out on lots of potential options because we don't go looking for them. 'Jumping the river' is a phrase from What if…an organisation that helps companies turn ideas into innovation. The phrase means for us to freshen our thinking we need to get out of our river of habitual thinking in order to 'trick' our brain from going down its same old regular thought stream and get some new possibilities to consider. The purpose is to stimulate the generation of ideas not deliver solutions- that's another stage. Here are two techniques to freshen thinking:

How would my problem or issue be resolved seen through the eyes of someone very different than me?

For example how would a five-year solve this? A policeman? A nun? An alien? A gardener? Take a little time to see how one of these might view the challenge you are facing. Note down what they might think or do. When you have finished this exploration mine it for any nuggets that could give you a fresh perspective on the real issue.

Random metaphor

There are two rules for this technique a) the metaphor must absolutely be random and b) you must force a connection. For example 'learning to sail'.

First write down all the features you know or imagine about learning to sail. Then ask yourself how is solving my problem or issue like learning to sail? Force yourself to make connections between the two. When you have finished the lists there is a good chance some sparks from the first list will have stretched your thinking and you will have 'jumped the river'. Do this with others and the collective mind will make it even more effective.

For a big list of random metaphors or more tools like these email me at

3) Silence, stillness and space

The Red Queen actually had it sewn up. We may not all be able to achieve so much creativity before breakfast but we can give ourselves a daily amount of time to foster creativity. The process of taking a little bit of space, some stillness and silence from the regular rush of daily life can yield gold the more we do it. Anyone interested in writing the practice of stillness, silence and space is highly recommended by Julia McCutchen of the International Association of Conscious and Creative Writers . ( She says it helps us to really access our own most authentic voice. A regular practice it allows us to step into what the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu called 'wu wei' or the 'fertile void'. This is not the empty space it sounds like but rather a space for our potential.

Whilst we are not currently relying on my granddaughter's skills and abilities to build a real structure (interplanetary or no), one day we might. Her age group will be the ones coping with the world we leave as a legacy. When she is 30 her ability to believe the impossible might be a case of life or death. So I hope she keeps a sense of that precious playfulness from her early years. I think I might buy her a copy of Alice in Wonderland, just in case.

Karyn Prentice 2010


Sticky Wisdom, by What if!, Capstone Publishing, 2002
Six Thinking Hats by Edward DeBono, Penguin, 1985