Contrary to popular belief, creative problem-solving is not just for people in the arts. And none of us—not even famous innovators like the Wright brothers—requires any special mental processes to think creatively. An ordinary brain will do!
Few of us realize that an ordinary brain can be more creative when you give it a break. When you’re working on a problem, one way to make progress is to change the context. Different areas of your brain are activated when you start doing something new. You might see or hear something that triggers an idea, even if it doesn’t exactly relate to the problem you temporarily put aside. That explains the remarkable ideas we sometimes get while doing repetitive exercise, riding in the car, taking a nap or taking a shower—anywhere but sitting at our desk, staring at our work.
The bed, the bathtub and the bus: The Three Bs of creativity research, have been the setting for many an “aha!” moment. In 1990, while taking a shower in a German hotel, NASA engineer Jim Crocker thought of a way to correct the distorted lenses in the Hubble telescope. The expensive telescope was already in orbit, but handicapped by this serious design flaw. One expert had already suggested inversely distorted mirrors as a fix, but how to install them? Crocker noticed the shower head mounted on an adjustable rod. The mirrors could slide into place on such a rod. Bingo! The Hubble was back in business with corrective mirrors in place on adjustable arms, thanks to Crocker’s shower.
One more tip: Befriend your creative brain. If you’re in a creative dry spell, give it time and a change of scenery. The more you practice unblocking your creative mind, the easier it becomes. “No pain no gain” applies to your creative muscles too.