10 Ways to Creativity

The Mechanical Engineer’s Perspective

  1. Music:  Certain types of music may be used to create a desired mood such as hard rock in a fabrication shop, jazz in the elevator, Kenny G at the grocery store, or Vivaldi playing low in a restaurant.  If there is a genre of music that provokes your spontaneous side, getting into that mood might help boost your creativity.
  2. Change of view:  When we have become numb to our daily routine and surroundings our senses tend to be in a lesser state of awareness.  Changing the physical location of your work space can be an effective way to awaken the sleeping sense of creativity.
  3. Strange Things:  Ambiance, tone, mood, and setting all play a role in your creativity.  Is there something that you can place in your work space that will help heighten your senses and capture your interest?  A Venus Fly Trap?  A clay sculpture?  A 1969 Camaro?  Make your work space someplace that calls to your creative side and beckons for the genius and artist in you to step forward.
  4. Retreat:  If you have been concentrating intently on one issue for too long and keep hitting dead ends, break away from it and “sharpen your blade”.   Is there grass outside that might allow you a brief escape and feel sunshine while you clear your head?  Investing 5 minutes in clearing your head and taking a step back to re-evaluate the problem will be more productive than 30 minutes of spinning your wheels without progress.
  5. On Your Feet:  At Setpoint we have a saying: “To the Whiteboard!!” We find it most effective to communicate our design ideas to each other by gathering around a whiteboard and letting these ideas come to life in sketches, diagrams, and pictures.  While we’re on our feet gathered around a whiteboard ideas are communicated effectively and develop quickly.  This is a great way to help others “see what you are thinking.”  Thinking on your feet in front of a whiteboard can be engaging and allows you to focus your thoughts in a visual and creative way.
  6. Confidence Builders:   It may sound cliché, but there is profound truth in accomplishing something because you “think you can.”  Sometimes when we’re up against a mental block, we just need something to push us forward.  Accomplishing a small task that you know you can do well is one way to achieve that needed boost.  Maybe it’s repairing an engine, fixing something around the house, or building something out of wood.  When you have completed this task – revel in the accomplishment.  Indulge in the reward of knowing you finished this task with perfection, review how you thought of every angle and went the extra mile.
  7. Good Meeting Management:  In the context of a brainstorm meeting, inspiring creativity can depend on the meeting manager among other things.  A good manager can keep a meeting focused on the subject.  A better manager can maintain meeting direction in a manner that the discussion flows freely while generating ideas from the team.  The best manager is decisive and can lead the team into creativity by giving clear guidelines and hearing ALL ideas, allowing expansion on different perspectives, encouraging positive objectivity, does not allow negative commentary on any idea, all while holding the meeting focus and reading the body language of participants to know when it’s time to “move on.”  A productive meeting has a clearly defined objective and end result.
  8. Dealing with Stress:  Stress chokes creativity unless it can be compartmentalized and channeled.  Defining the problem and knowing what the next step is to solving it will give you instant results for reducing your stress level and allowing your creative side to flourish.  Try the following exercise:  Take two minutes to write down all the tasks you are keeping a mental list of, beginning with those that cause you the most stress.  Completely drain onto paper that mental list you are packing around, exhaust every last item.  Including work related items, things from home, and anything else that’s on your mind – one big list.  This should be fast and informal, just find a pencil & paper and start scrawling away.  Next, categorize the items into two separate lists, either “Work” related, or “Personal.”  Finally, prioritize each item in each list in numerical order of what needs to be finished immediately and what can wait.  Having this list in front of you is very empowering, it will help you compare importance of all your tasks and will cause you to re-evaluate your stress level.  All you need to determine is what the next step is for each item.  Don’t solve the entire issue – ONLY THE NEXT STEP. Be realistic, maybe it’s a phone call, a trip to the store, or composing an email.  In some cases you may be able to completely eliminate tasks altogether.  Knowing you have a plan to take action on these items will tremendously relieve your burden.
  9. Use the “Other side”:  Do you dominantly use the right side of your brain or the left?  We tend to approach problem solving in the same way every time.  What if you could teach yourself to approach a problem from a different angle?  There is rarely only one perfect solution for a problem.  Then it follows there are endless ways to arrive at one of the many solutions that will work.  Try some exercises that will get the other half of your brain involved.  The left side of the brain is used for thinking analytically and logically.  We also use it for reading, writing, arithmetic, and understanding symbolism.  The right side of the brain is used for spatial reasoning, visual thinking, and intuition. The right side can deal with complexity, ambiguity, and paradox while the left side looks at sequences, patterns, and lists.  The left side of the brain looks at parts while the right side looks at the whole.  Sometimes, we use the excuse: “My mind doesn’t work that way.”  Therein lies the problem.  Why not train it to work that way and see what you are capable of when you tap into that reservoir of creativity hidden in “the other side.”  (Reference:     http://www.funderstanding.com/content/right-brain-vs-left-brain)
  10. Defining the Problem:  Moving forward with an idea without stopping to question all of the underlying assumptions can be risky.  Understanding the problem from multiple perspectives sheds new light on the solution.  For example, if I were redesigning a dishwasher I would want the insights of several disciplines including: Electrician who has to wire it, maintenance guy who has to install it, maybe even the teenager who would use it.  I would also seek out the Chemical engineer’s input on corrosion resistance, the mechanical engineer’s input on motors and wear.  I would also consider the programmer’s input on failure modes and troubleshooting. What about a blind person’s perspective?  A really short or tall person?    The point is – by thoroughly identifying all of the key issues surrounding a problem you have already developed a significant portion of the solution.