@wildlittlethingsphoto via Unsplash

Brainstorming is a lot like Where's Waldo.

By the end of a brainstorming session, good ideas, bad ideas, unfeasible ideas, tried-it-already ideas, and a couple amazing ideas are all mixed up on a whiteboard or notepad.

It can be hard to spot the game-changing idea in the sea of almost-but-not-quite-right ideas.

But there's a simple trick, discovered by this study, that you can use to upgrade your team's idea-spotting abilities. Let me explain.

For Skimmers:

  • The setup: A group of employees from the Dutch Tax Ministry agreed to participate in a research study exploring brainstorming techniques. Employees were each given a list of 18 pre-brainstormed ideas for improving public trains and were asked to select the five most creative. Researchers already had creativity ratings for each of the 18 ideas, generated by a group of 10 creativity experts. They compared each employee's rankings of idea creativity against the master rankings to see how successful they were at picking the most creative.
  • The twist: But, before completing this task, half the employees were given a special experimental treatment: they looked at a picture of a smiling baby and listened to upbeat music (designed to make employees feel happier), read slogans such as "where there's a will, there's a way," (designed to make them feel more outgoing), and completed a self-affirmation writing exercise (designed to make them feel more confident). The other half of the employee group received no experimental treatments.
  • The results: The group that had been made to feel happier, more outgoing, and more confident were much better at correctly selecting creative ideas. Boosting your team's mood can improve their ability to spot creative ideas.
Keep reading... Show less
@85fifteen via Unsplash

How many times has this happened to you?

You walk away from a conversation, meeting, or presentation with a stack of notes and a brain full of things to remember.

Then, over the next couple of hours, something starts to happen. I like to call it the "Memory Hunger Games." One by one, the things you committed to memory as you were taking notes (deadlines, project specs, feedback, instructions, etc.) start dropping away.

By the end of the day, your notepad is still full, but your memory feels empty.

On one hand, that's totally cool—that's why people take notes, to remember things they might forget. On the other hand, wouldn't it be better if you didn't have to rely completely on your notes?

Good notes should supplement your memory, not replace it. Here are two science-backed tips for keeping your memory sharp when it comes to notetaking.

For Skimmers:

  • Write it by hand: In an appropriately named study ("The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard"), a group of researchers found that taking notes by hand is more effective (leads to deeper processing and longer retention) than taking notes on a computer.
  • Read it out loud: In another study, researchers found that reading something aloud improved memory more than reading something in your head. Reading aloud combined reading and listening in a way that improved information recall.
Keep reading... Show less

Get This In Your Inbox!

A little bit of weird might be the key to a whole lot of creativity.

A group of researchers ran a study to see whether completing normal tasks in weird ways helped enhance cognitive flexibility (a key component of creativity). Here's what they found.

For Skimmers:

  • The setup: Researchers gathered a pool of Dutch college students and divided them into two groups. One group was asked to prepare a butter and chocolate chip sandwich (apparently this is a common Dutch breakfast).The other group was asked to prepare the same sandwich but was told to do so in a weird way—instead of sprinkling the chips on the buttered bread, they put the chips on a dish and pressed the bread onto the chips butter-side down so that the chips would stick. Both groups were then given a test to measure cognitive flexibility.
  • The findings: Students who prepared the breakfast sandwich in the unconventional way scored better on the cognitive flexibility test than those who made the sandwich in the usual way.
  • The takeaway: Adding some weird to your daily tasks may help make your mind more flexible and more creative.

Let's Get Weird

Routine-breaking can push your brain to think out of the box. Weird experiences, even just switching up your sandwich-prep pattern,couldbreak you out of your mental ruts.

Think of your daily routines as a game of Boggle. At a certain point, if you want to discover something new, you're going to have to shake things up.

There's growing support in the scholarly literature that routine-busting experiences can act as jet fuel for your creative spark.

One study found that the disruptive experience of studying abroad had a significantly positive impact on creativity.Another study showed that children taught a second language were more creative than their single-language peers. Jumping between languages was disruptive enough to encourage creative flexibility.

But luckily, you don't have to learn another language or visit another country to boost your creativity.

You just have to do what you usually do, but weirder. Brush your teeth and shower in a different order. Or take a different route to work. Or sit in a different place during lunch.

As this study makes clear, a little bit of weird can go a long way.

@coopery via Unsplash

Cat videos are the prototypical example of wasted on-the-job time. Only goof-offs and slackers waste worktime surfing YouTube for videos of kittens wearing hats or puppies meeting piglets, right?

Maybe not.

Believe it or not, a study run by four Japanese researchers found that looking at videos or pictures of cute animals may actually help make you more focused and more careful when completing tasks that require deliberateness and precision. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers:

  • The set up: Researchers asked a group of students to play a game similar to Operation. With tweezers, each study participant would remove tiny plastic toys from holes on a game board made to look like a patient's body without touching the sides of the holes with the tweezers. Students were instructed to spend as much time as they needed to obtain the best possible score.
  • The twist: Before playing the game, half the students were shown extremely cute pictures of baby animals. The other students viewed pictures of adult animals (also cute, but not nearly as furry/fuzzy/huggable as the baby animals).
  • The findings: Participants who looked at cute animals scored higher and worked more deliberately than participants who viewed photos of adult animals. Researchers ran two additional experiments with slightly different study designs, both of which confirmed their initial conclusions: seeing cute animals improves focus and carefulness on subsequent tasks.
Keep reading... Show less

So Much Social Media

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

You start the day with a long list of things you need to do. You work productively throughout the day and cross a good number of those things off your to-do list.

But at the end of the day, as you lie in bed trying to fall asleep, your mind keeps returning to the things you didn't do. It seems like there's still so much left undone. It feels like you didn't really make a dent.

Frustrating, right?

Well, if you'd like to blame something for keeping you up, blame the "Zeigarnik Effect."

For Skimmers:

  • The setup: In a classic psychology study, Bluma Zeigarnik (after whom the effect is named) gave a group of subjects a series of 18-22 simple tasks to complete. About half of the individuals were allowed to complete all the tasks without interruption, while the other half were repeatedly interrupted mid-task and asked to move on.
  • The twist: When both groups had reached the end of the task list, Zeigarnik asked subjects to recall as many of their tasks as possible. Subjects did a much better job of remembering tasks that they didn't complete than the ones they did.
  • The findings: This is the Zeigarnik Effect. Incomplete tasks are much more likely to stick in your mind than completed ones. It's why you may not be able to fall asleep easily after having a productive day. Luckily, the Zeigarnik Effect can be defeated.
Keep reading... Show less
@lvnatikk via Unsplash

Cat videos are the prototypical example of wasted on-the-job time. Only goof-offs and slackers waste worktime surfing YouTube for videos of kittens wearing hats or puppies meeting piglets, right?

Maybe not.

Believe it or not, a study run by four Japanese researchers found that looking at videos or pictures of cute animals may actually help make you more focused and more careful when completing tasks that require deliberateness and precision. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers:

  • The set up: Researchers asked a group of students to play a game similar to Operation. With tweezers, each study participant would remove tiny plastic toys from holes on a game board made to look like a patient's body without touching the sides of the holes with the tweezers. Students were instructed to spend as much time as they needed to obtain the best possible score.
  • The twist: Before playing the game, half the students were shown extremely cute pictures of baby animals. The other students viewed pictures of adult animals (also cute, but not nearly as furry/fuzzy/huggable as the baby animals).
  • The findings: Participants who looked at cute animals scored higher and worked more deliberately than participants who viewed photos of adult animals. Researchers ran two additional experiments with slightly different study designs, both of which confirmed their initial conclusions: seeing cute animals improves focus and carefulness on subsequent tasks.
Keep reading... Show less
@breather via Unsplash

Fights over the office thermostat are as inevitable as the seasons.

If you work in an office, chances are you've surreptitiously tweaked the temperature dial, only to find your change undone by one of your equally sneaky coworkers. Thermostat battles can lead to heated disagreements and icy stares.

Those who prefer a warmer workplace will be happy to know that they have a group of Cornell researchers on their side.

Their study found that turning up the thermostat can be great for productivity. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers

  • The setup: Researchers outfitted a group of office workers at an insurance company in Orlando, Florida, with portable temperature sensors and loaded their computers with productivity tracking software that measured total time spent typing and typing errors, among other things. Measurements were taken every 15 minutes for more than three weeks.
  • The findings: Higher temperatures (around 77 degrees) were associated with greater productivity than lower temperatures (around 68 degrees). Warmer workers typed 150% more and made 44% fewer mistakes than their chillier colleagues.
  • The takeaway: Warm offices can help spur productivity hot streaks.
Keep reading... Show less

Get This In Your Inbox!

Let's say you're trying to come up with a big idea—a creative blockbuster that will really shake things up.

What's the first thing you do? If you're like most leaders, you pull your team together and start brainstorming. If two heads are better than one, than a group of heads must be fantastic, right?

Turns out, jumping right to group brainstorming could be stunting your collective creative process. A recent study might make you rethink your brainstorming strategy.

For Skimmers

  • The setup: In their first experiment, researchers placed a group of college students in a room and asked them to brainstorm ways to improve their campus. Half the individuals brainstormed in groups of four, while half the individuals brainstormed alone.
  • The findings: The loner brainstormers produced significantly more novel ideas (44% more in the first 5 minutes) than group brainstormers.
  • The reason: Why were groups less effective than individuals at brainstorming? Probably because of something known as "fixation effects." Group brainstormers seem to subconsciously gravitate toward ideas that are similar to ones that have already been suggested by others in the group. By fixating on ideas already proposed, group brainstormers generate fewer new ideas than individual brainstormers.
  • The takeaway: If you're looking to increase the novelty of ideas produced in your brainstorming sessions, you'll have to find a way to avoid these fixation effects.
Keep reading... Show less
@chrisbair via Unsplash

Humblebragging sucks. It mixes the worst parts of cockiness and false modesty into one irritating, cringe-inducing cocktail.

But it turns out humblebragging isn't just irritating; it's also ineffective. As a recently published study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Harvard Business School has shown, humblebragging is a terrible strategy for building interpersonal goodwill. Here's why.

For Skimmers

  • Over the course of nine different experiments, researchers exposed subjects to humblebrags (defined as "bragging masked by a complaint or humility") and askedthem to describe their feelings toward the person doing the bragging.
  • Subjects consistently rated humblebraggers as less likable and less competent than non-humblebraggers. Humblebragging made individuals seem both irritating and incompetent (quite the one-two punch of negative qualities).
  • What's more, researchers found that humblebraggers actually scored lower on perceived likability and competency than normal braggers. Translation? Humblebragging is even more alienating than regular old bragging!
Keep reading... Show less
@vitaliy77 via Unsplash

For most of my life, I approached creative projects like a mountain climber preparing to summit Everest.

Before I started, I would obsessively check my gear. Stacks of notes? Check. Oodles of time? Check. Pens, paper, computer, charger, stress ball, coffee, power bar, and white board? Check, check, check, check, check, check, check, and check.

I wanted to make sure I had everything I could possibly need at my fingertips. Once I started climbing my creative mountain, I didn't want anything impeding my journey. I wanted to create without limitation.

Turns out, that's a bad idea. Limitations are actually great for creativity. To understand why, we'll need to explore something called the "paradox of choice." And to understand the paradox of choice, let's talk about jam.

For Skimmers:

  • In a famous study, researchers set up two booths at a Northern California supermarket. Each booth offered free samples of a variety of jams. The only difference was in the number of flavor samples available. While one booth offered 24 flavors, the other offered only 6.
  • Researchers wanted to see which booth spurred more jam sales. Most people would assume the booth that offered more flavor options would sell more jam, right?
  • Turns out the 6-choice booth destroyed the 24-choice booth. Customers with fewer options bought jam 30% of the time, while customers with more options purchased jam only 3% of the time. What's more, researchers found that individuals who were offered more choices were actually less happy with their final decision.
  • That's the paradox of choice: Having more choices can actually hinder decision making.
Keep reading... Show less
@priscilladupreez via Unsplash

Class clowns everywhere, rejoice!

A new study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology has demonstrated that short breaks for humor can actually help sharpen focus and strengthen concentration. Turns out, when you were cracking up the kids in your class you weren't being distracting—you were helping create a robust learning environment.Here's what you jokesters need to know.

For Skimmers

  • Researchers assigned 124 Australian college students to groups. One group watched a humorous video (an 8-minute clip from one of the Mr. Bean movies), while the other two groups watched non-humorous videos (an educational video and a travel video of a beach).
  • Participants in all three groups were then given a specially designed persistence test that included an unsolvable problem. Researchers measured how long they worked on that impossible problem before giving up.
  • Individuals who had watched the humorous video before starting the impossible task worked, on average, more than 50% longer than individuals who watched the non-humorous videos. In short? Humor made them more persistent!
Keep reading... Show less

Lightbulb moments of creativity are kind of amazing. You're in the shower or taking a walk or folding laundry, and then BAM! A great idea drops out of the sky. It's like winning a mini creativity lottery. And it feels fantastic.

If you love lightbulb moments as much as I do, I think you'll be excited about a study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. It showed there's a simple way to make these lightbulb moments of creativity more likely: dim the lights. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers conducted a series of experiments to explore the impact that darkness has on creativity. In one study, participants were divided up into three different groups. The first group was placed in a dimly lit room (imagine a dark room with a single small reading lamp), the second in a normally lit room (imagine a typically lit coffee shop), and the third in a brightly lit room (imagine a brightly lit jewelry store). Each group was then given brain teasers that required creative insight (lightbulb moments) to solve.
  • In analyzing the scores of individuals in different groups, researchers reached a clear conclusion: darkness improves creativity. Individuals who worked in dark rooms had more creative insights than individuals who worked in well-lit rooms.
  • If you're trying to turn up your creative wattage, try turning down the lights. As this study shows, it's easier to spark a lightbulb moment in the dark. But why is that?
Keep reading... Show less

So Much Social Media

Ever wondered what successful CEO's do all day?

Researchersexamined the schedules of 1,000 CEOs from across the world and used a machine learning algorithm to try to figure out how the most successful CEOs spent their time. Here's what they found.

For Skimmers

  • The average CEO works 50 hours a week: 25% of the day working alone, 10% on personal matters, 8% in transit, and 56% working with others (often in meetings).
  • CEOs spend more than half their days in meetings. But not all meetings are created equal. Researchers found a simple difference between successful CEOs and their less successful counterparts.
  • Successful CEOs have more high-level meetings than less successful CEOs.
Keep reading... Show less
@ripato via Unsplash

A coat of paint could turn your office into a productivity dojo.

Researchers at the University of British Columbiaran a study to see whether looking at the colors blue or red could meaningfully impact task efficiency. Here's what they found.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers had a group of participants complete a battery of tasks after having been exposed to either red or blue.
  • Individuals who viewed the color red performed better on tasks that measured precision (detail-oriented tasks), while individuals exposed to blue performed better on tasks that measured creativity (flexibility-oriented tasks)
  • Harnessing the power of color is an easy way to enhance your performance. Surround yourself with the color best suited to your task and you could give yourself a competitive advantage.
Keep reading... Show less
@johnschno via Unsplash

Want to focus more and stress less? Pausing your email might be the key.

Working without access to email can significantly increase focus and decrease stress, says a study run by researchers from the University of California, Irvine, and the U.S. Army. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers studied a group of office workers for a week. Half the workers had their email access cut off entirely, while the other half were allowed to continue using their email normally.
  • Researchers monitored participants' work output and online behavior during the duration of the study to see how the differences in email access impacted performance. Participants in both groups wore monitors to measure their stress levels through heartrate variation (the more variation in heartrate, the more stressed the individual).
  • Participants without access to email blew their email-using colleagues out of the water; "email-free" individuals focused longer and stressed less. These findings suggest that working without the disruption of email could have some serious productivity benefits.
Keep reading... Show less
Jenelle Ball via Unsplash

Boring work is a part of life.

Dry reports must be read, messy files organized, and mind-numbing meetings attended. I hope that these tasks are few and far between for you, but unfortunately, almost all jobs (even the creative ones) involve some amount of boredom.

If you've been thinking of your boring tasks as wasted time, you could be missing out. According to two researchers from the U.K., your boring tasks can be harnessed to help increase your creativity. Here's what you need to know.

Keep reading... Show less
Mike Wilson via Unsplash

Hi!

Stuck on a difficult problem? Try approaching it step by step.

Researchers writing in the Journal of Experimental Psychology examined the impact of walking on creativity. Here's what they found.

For Skimmers

  • Researchers assigned study participants to a handful of experimental groups (i.e. walking inside, walking outside, walking then sitting, only sitting) and then measured their performance on a battery of creative tasks.
  • When ranking groups by their creative performance, researcher noticed two significant trends. Walking groups were consistently more creative than sedentary groups, and outdoor groups were more creative than their indoor counterparts.
  • Walkers were more creative both during their walks and after. So, if you're stuck on a difficult problem, take a stroll. It may help jog your creativity and keep you sharp.
Keep reading... Show less
@lubomirkin via unsplash

What do earmuffs, trampolines, and popsicles have in common? Give up? They were all invented by kids!

Childhood is a creativity hotspot. When I was a kid, my friends and I were innovation machines. We invented triple-decker pancake flippers, underwater airplanes, and edible T-shirts. I've never felt quite as creative as I did back then.

That's why I was so excited to read this study. Turns out, that creative childhood spark might not be lost to time. If you want to reinvigorate your creativity, all you have to do is think like a kid.

For Skimmers

  • Researchers divided study participants into two groups. Both groups were asked to brainstorm what they would do on a day off, but one of the groups was asked to imagine planning for that day as if they were seven years old. After brainstorming, both groups were then asked to complete a creativity test.
  • The participants who had first imagined themselves as 7-year-olds produced significantly more original responses on the creativity test than the control group did.
  • This research suggests that thinking like a kid can help boost spontaneity, reduce inhibition, and increase creative originality.
Keep reading... Show less
@alicegrace via Unsplash

Let me draw you a mental picture.

A paint-speckled artist stands in his studio. He is racked by despair; his paramour has just died a tragic and untimely death. Now, he will turn that suffering into magic. He dips his brush and reaches toward the canvas. This will be his masterpiece.

Except, it probably won't be.

A new study, authored by two economists, shows that the "tortured artist" trope is baloney. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers examined more than 15,000 paintings created by 33 French and 15 American artists from the early 20th century. Each of these artists experienced, at some point in their professional career, a significant personal loss (defined as the death of a friend or relative).
  • Researchers found that the paintings created in the year after a loss were, on average, less valuable and less likely to be included in a major museum's collection than works crafted during periods of emotional stability.
  • Don't let yourself fall into the trap of the tortured artist. You don't need to suffer to succeed.
Keep reading... Show less
@charles_forerunner via Unsplash

This post originally appeared in Fast Company.

You already know that networking is a relationships game–that you're supposed to give with no immediate expectation of getting. That's the wise starting premise, anyhow, of Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh's forthcoming book, Superconnector: Stop Networking and Start Building Relationships That Matter.

But if you're looking to grow your network in quality rather than just quantity, "I'd love to grab coffee and pick your brain" will only take you so far. So as you double down on those career resolutions for the year ahead, try these creative tactics–based on Gerber and Paugh's relationship-focused advice–to deepen and expand your network.

Keep reading... Show less
@dougswinson via Unsplash

You may be using the day to do some chores. You may even try and enlist some of your family members to help. But how can you best inspire people to help you?

Imagine I'm trying to convince you to help me clean out my garage. There are 10 boxes in the garage that I don't particularly feel like moving, and I'm willing to pay you $10 to get them out.

I could pay you this money in two ways: I could give you $1 per box after you move them, or I could offer you $10 up front and then dock you $1 for every box you don't move.

Financially these offers are identical. But according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, one is much more motivating. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers wanted to study how the wording of incentives impacted motivation. Study participants were asked to solve relatively impossible word puzzles, and were motivated either by a gain-focused incentive (i.e. you'll get 25 cents for each correctly unscrambled word, up to $1.50) or by a loss-focused incentive (i.e. you'll get $1.50 at the start and each word you fail to unscramble will cost you 25 cents).
  • Participants who were given the loss-focused incentive worked harder, spending 60% longer on the two impossible scrambles than participants given the gain-focused incentive.
  • These findings suggest that the desire to avoid a loss is a stronger motivating factor than the desire to achieve a gain. If you're trying to motivate yourself to accomplish a difficult task, try using the risk of loss instead of the promise of a reward.
Keep reading... Show less

Hi!


I run a company called TrackMaven and wrote a book coming out in June from Penguin Random House about how anyone can have moments of creative genius.


This blog is my musings on how you can identify your potential and act on it.


Every Wednesday and Sunday I send a "creative brief" with creativity hacks and tips backed by real-world science and case studies.


Join the family below.

All the Socials

FB

LinkedIn
LinkedIn