Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.
Creative thinking is essential for all kinds of things, from solving problems to achieving personal satisfaction. But what can we do to feed it?
Every day we are expected to make hundreds of decisions and judge things.
Some are small, like choosing what to eat breakfast; others are bigger, like accepting a job.
The problem is that our mental resources are limited: the human mind can not encompass so many things .
Given this great challenge, we adopt mental shortcuts to function effectively. It is an approach that allows us to move forward in life, but it can also limit our growth as people.
Something as simple as thinking about the people around us can be very useful to change that and even help us to be more creative.
101 uses for a spoon
It may seem like a strange question, but what good is a spoon?
Your automatic assumption may be “to remove the coffee” or “to eat cereal.”
We do not usually think about the many other uses that a spoon can have. Can it not be used to dig a hole in the sand, as a door stop or to catapult some peas on the table?
The idea we came to before is a mental shortcut: it does not require thinking and comes to mind without any effort. It is a stereotype of the reasons why we use a spoon.
This is an example of heuristic thinking , or what many people would call a visceral sensation.
However, there is research that suggests that there are surprising ways to think more creatively and get rid of the many automatic thoughts we have.
One of them is to open ourselves to greater social diversity. In other words, doing things like mixing with people who “are not like us”.
There are many ways to do it and they can differ among them: age, race, education, hometown, etcetera.
When we are asked to interact with someone from a different culture or origin, we need to take a leap out of our comfort zone . Even just imagining it can have an effect.
That is, diversity makes our brain work. And, just like physical training, it can be very beneficial for us.
Beyond the obvious
However, we know that, as the saying goes, “every sheep with its partner”. People make friends with similar people in terms of values, preferences and personality traits.
But breaking those habits helps us to challenge the heuristic thinking that shapes our automatic thoughts.
When people are exposed to a more diverse group of people, their brains are forced to process complex and unexpected information.
The more we do it, the better we are at the time of producing complex and unexpected information ourselves.
This enables us to observe more easily beyond the obvious. And that is precisely the hallmark of creative thinking.
The problem of candles
In a study on the benefits of social diversity, we asked a group of participants to think of someone who fulfilled certain stereotypes, for example, a woman who works as a midwife (helping to give birth to other women).
We asked another group to think in the opposite case, that is, a man who has that profession.
Then we measured the effects of the creativity by asking the participants to think of original names for a new type of pasta and we gave them some examples.
The results showed that those who imagined someone not meeting the stereotypes were more creative .
That’s because they relied less on knowledge based on heuristics for a task and thought of better (and newer) options.
Other research explored whether the experience of living abroad fosters creativity.
The researchers used a riddle called the “candle problem” by Karl Duncker. They showed the participants an image in which there was a candle, a box of matches and another one of bed bugs.
His task was to find out how to put the candle on the wall using only the objects that were on the table and so that the candle burned well and without spilling wax on the floor.
The solution is to use the box of chiches as a candelabrum.
This task requires participants to ignore their pre-existing associations and to see objects capable of performing functions different from the typical ones.
The results showed that the experience of living abroad improves the results in this creativity exercise.
A new perspective
Of course, most of us will not improve our creativity by thinking about spoons, names for pasta or putting candles on the wall.
But there are many other things that can help us.
Interacting with diversity can range from watching foreign films to reading books by authors with origins different from ours.
It can mean making friends through volunteering in a group that includes people of all ages or joining sports clubs that involve people from other cultures.
The researchers also discovered that creating and enjoying the arts can help us see things from a new perspective by putting ourselves in the shoes of the characters.
They can also create a feeling of connectivity and general kindness.
Opening up to new experiences may seem hard, but it can help us cross divisions and nurture new and inclusive friendships.
In these challenging times for social cohesion , there may be real benefits in embracing the new and unexpected.
By doing so, we may not only be helping our own personal growth, but we are putting ourselves in the best possible position to help solve the lasting problems of our society.