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Expand your mind: 7 simple steps to thinking outside the box

Joel Willans Published by Joel Willans Tue, Sep 25

Expand your mind: 7 simple steps to thinking outside the box

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Joel Willans Published by Joel Willans Tue, Sep 25

Ever wondered how Nokians come up with ingenious new ideas day after day after day?

In the fast moving world of mobile technology, creative thinking is the problem-solving Holy Grail. Just look at the Nokia Lumia 920. Jammed packed with innovative new solutions to life’s challenges, it’s a tangible example of what happens when you unleash your imagination.

So what do Nokia’s awe-inspiring band of designers, engineers, creatives and futurists do to help themselves think outside the box? We asked around and uncovered a variety of useful techniques.

Exercise!

Research shows that aerobic exercise helps to unlock our creative potential – try taking a walk or hitting the pavements. While you’re working up a sweat instead of consciously working on your sticky problem, your brain will make the missing connections.

As Henry Miller said, ‘your mind is working on this problem in the back of your head. So, when you get back to the machine it’s a mere matter of transfer.’ So take a leaf out of Haruki Murakami’s book, and run!

Sleep…

From one extreme to the next: rack up those REM cycles! Studies show that the way our neurotransmitters behave during dreaming sleep helps ours brain make new connections, so that after we’ve been dreaming, we’re not just refreshed, but we’re actually more creative. When in doubt – nap it out!

Switch Jobs

We don’t mean literally – though don’t let us stop you, either! – but sometimes it helps to see how people in different industries approach similar problems.

Talk to friends in other fields or pick up a trade magazine – see if they use different techniques. Or, if it’s a creative problem, check out another genre – maybe your thriller has a plot hole, so read some science-fiction for inspiration. 

Think Like A Kid

Little children don’t have the same repositories of received wisdom as the rest of us do, so sometimes they can throw up some pretty left-field answers to standard questions.

If you could reformulate your problem so that a kid could understand it, you might see a different way around it. Or ask an actual child what you ought to do! At the least, you’ll glimpse some unconventional ways of thinking…

Free Associate

Brainstorm, mind-map or do a spot free-writing to find new ideas or links between old ideas – it’s an ancient technique but a good one.

The first ideas we tend to think of are usually the obvious, clichéd ones, so for the innovative solution, we have to push on through, and the wackier, the better. It’s all about shaking your mind out of its established grooves.   

Get A Hobby

Sometimes just shaking up your routine is enough to jolt your mind into unexpected places – but combine that with a new hobby and you might kick-start a mental revolution. Try pottery, pigeon-racing, knitting, orienteering – or join a book group, a film group, a debating society! Anything that pushes you in a new direction. Your mind will thank you!

Critics Out!

Our inner critics are harsh taskmasters, so tell them to shut up! When you’ve got a new idea, or you’re setting out on an untested path, it’s easy to be discouraged and give in to negative thoughts.

But there’s no change without risk, so you’ve got to learn to plough on regardless, even if your new approach does seem weird or untenable. Eventually you’ll trust your own creative powers and you’ll forget you were ever stuck inside that dull old box. 

You only have to look at the Nokia Asha and Lumia smartphones to see these magnificent seven techniques bearing fruit. But are there other methods you use to spark your brain into action? 

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