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How to Unlock Your Creativity

Unlocking creativity is a good way to put it, because it seems that though we are all creative as children, we lock away our imagination and playfulness as adults. Here's a look at how to reverse that, using examples from my own life.

If you've been a reader of my newsletter, you know that I believe in being "systematically" creative. In other words, I often recommend that to regularly have new ideas and solutions you learn a technique or two or ten, and then use them repeatedly. I usually also demonstrate the different techniques with examples that I invent as I am writing.

Some of you have written and asked that I have more "real life" examples of creativity. Specifically, it seems that you want real examples of creative solutions to everyday problems, and the techniques that lead to them. That's what I'll try to do here. It's time to unlock your creativity.

Technique: Ask "What If"

Get in the habit of asking "what if" questions. It's a great way to get new ideas. When I worked as a manager of a fast food restaurant in the 1980's I asked "What if we had bus loads of customers coming in?" Of course that got me thinking about how to make that happen. In a minute or two I realized that bus loads of hungry teenagers passed through town all the time. They came to play basketball or other sports against local teams. How could I get them to visit our restaurant?

My idea: I got a schedule of games and sent a letter to the coaches of each of the next four teams that would be coming to town. I invited him to bring his team to our restaurant, and offered him a free meal if he did. It costs just four stamps and envelopes. Two took me up on my offer, bringing a bus load of hungry kids each time. The profit from dozens of meals made it worth a giving the coach a free meal.

Technique: Look for Essentials

Always try to get at the essential qualities of things and systems. A natural question for this is "What's important here?" That was my thinking process years ago as I looked at how to make a super-lightweight insulating layer to wear backpacking.

Looking at at winter vests, I saw that the filling was the most important part. Could I get rid of the shell material, which was most of the weight? I cut a piece of polyester batting (used for filling pillows and blankets normally) to wear as a tunic, with a hole for my head. My outer shell blocked the wind and held the batting in place, so there was no reason for other materials. At four ounces, it was probably the lightest insulating vest to ever go across the glaciers to the top of Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador (20,610 feet high and far below freezing - I went in 2001).

Technique: Create a Problem to Solve It

Think of ways to cause a problem or make it worse in order to solve it. That is roughly the mental process that cured my insomnia as a young man. I realized that I could stay awake all night if I kept thinking about interesting things. What if I thought about things that were tedious and boring?

More specifically, I invented a technique for stopping any rational thought. If in my mind I saw a car, I would see it go into a tree. If a sentence started to make sense, I inserted random words. I essentially short-circuited any linear or logical thought, and soon my mind shut down. I fell asleep.

To apply that creativity in everyday life and your job, see the Creative Work section on

Technique: Play With Words

Playing with words is another great creativity technique. That's how I coined the term "metaphorology," which I defined as "The study and conscious use of metaphors as a "thinking technology," as well as a kind of "science of personal transformation." It resulted in my website Others had used the term before, but it was new to me (and not yet in dictionaries). Not much of a money maker yet, but I enjoy writing the pages.

Perhaps you've heard of "viral marketing." This great metaphor describes marketing that spreads from person to person automatically. You might write an ebook that promotes your website, for example, and allow business websites to use it as a bonus with their products, and their customers can give it away as well, so it is spread around without any additional effort on your part. Playing with that metaphor, I plan to find the most "infectious" qualities involved, to see if I can make this work even better (I'll let you know).

Unlock Your Creativity Systematically

Those are just a few examples of how I have applied creative thinking techniques to my own life. Most of these methods were "programmed" into me on an unconscious level after using them consciously for a while. As a result I often don't know where an idea came from. But not being able to identify the process in my mind doesn't mean there isn't one operating there.

Try this: consciously use one of the techniques discussed on the pages of this website, or in my ebook "Problem Solving Power." After a few weeks of consistent use, it will become second nature. Then "program" yourself with another. This is a great way to develop your creative thinking abilities.

Note: In part two I have examples that demonstrate the various thought patterns of creativity. You can find that here: Serious Creativity.

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