It’s the ultimate easier-said-than-done advice: Be more creative. But now more than ever, bosses want employees who can dream up novel solutions and new ways to keep their revenue sheet in the red. (And so do the ladies: See Why Women Find Creativity Hot.)
So how do you think more creatively? Here are six solid starting points:
Shut up and Listen
Ambient noise can be a great inspiration, says Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works. The sounds of New York City were the inspiration behind the game-changing music of the Talking Heads, for example. It’s all about the right level of noise. According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, people working in a level of noise equal to what you’d hear in a coffee shop came up with more innovative solutions to tough problems.
Keep Barreling Through
When facing a difficult problem, the left side of your brain goes to work looking for the most logical answer. When one isn’t readily apparent, you’ll reach the frustration phase, finds research in Psychological Science. That’s when you’ll want to quit. Don’t—the frustration signals it’s time to switch to the right side of the brain and consider the problem from a creative perspective. The switch from left to right is what causes a “eureka” moment.
Have the Blues
Studies show the color blue calls to mind peace, tranquility, and open space. You probably can’t repaint your office, but a blue picture could help you think more creatively. But steer clear of one color: According to a study from the University of British Colombia, red rooms make people think about danger, mistakes, and caution.
Talk to Someone New
Pixar offers improv classes to all employees from security guards to executives, has centralized bathrooms, and makes it a point to have animators working on technical scenes sit near actual computer scientists. Why? Diverse groups spark creativity. Start by brainstorming on your own, then run your ideas past someone who isn’t involved and can give you a fresh perspective, like your girlfriend or a friend in a different field.
Think Like Your Kid
As parts of your brain mature, you stop thinking about creating things and focus more on what people will say about your creation. Per a study cited in Imagine, people came up with twice as many creative solutions to problems when instructed to pretend they were 7 years old and write an essay about what they would do with a day off from school. Instead of planning your dream day, take a piece of paper, cut it in half and focus on bringing the two halves together on your desk. Sounds silly? Sure. But it works. Research shows the literal act of “putting two and two together” promotes creative problem-solving.
Take a Hike
If you’re in a positive mood—not stomping around your office in cranky rage—your brain is more likely to think creatively, shows research in Psychological Science. If you’re stuck in your cube, try listening to a peppy Mozart piece—researchers found this was the most effective mood lifter.
For more productivity-boosting tips, try these 5 Brain Tricks That Will Make You More Successful.