Wednesday, December 31, 2008

12 activities to get "thinking"

Here we are at the end of 2008. I am reflecting back on this year, what I've been up to and how things have evolved in my life. One of the key characteristics of this year is a focus on thinking "differently". I've been nurturing my creative thinking side this year, and have compiled the following list of 12 activities that can help me think differently (or even just to get thinking). Maybe they'll be helpful to you too...

1. Draw a storyboard. So often, I focus on problem and solution. But, by trying to convey the problem and solution in a story format, I have to think about context, mindset and impact. It's a different frame to look at, and sometimes I realize that I wasn't really thinking about the whole picture.

2. Write a letter. This works particularly well when I am obsessing or frustrated. I seem to think more clearly when writing. I have to chose my words and thoughts and put them into semi-coherent form. It needs to flow and be logical. This forces rigor into my thoughts, which often opens up new ideas for dealing with the issues that I am obsessed or frustrated about.

3. Find an image (or images) that represent what I think or feel about something. Sometimes, the right image can help me uncover a new lens to look through at the problem, which can help suggest different paths or solutions I hadn't thought of.

4. Sticky-Note thoughts. When there is lots of stuff roaming around my head, I write down one thought per note and shuffle them around, then organize them into dimensions, groups or flowcharts. This can really help me lasso my thoughts and ideas and put them into some usable form.

5. Take a camera out and try to capture things related to the issue I'm thinking about. Looking through the small window at the world helps me focus on small details that I might otherwise miss.

6. Draw with crayons and blank paper... it's like reconnecting with my inner kindergartner. Somehow, having chunky wax of many colors and a white canvas that I can scribble on gets my creative juices flowing. Let me make one thing clear... this isn't about the output of the drawing, it's about the ACTION of scribbling that is freeing. How often do you allow yourself to just play, with no particular goal in mind? I don't do it often, but kids do all the time. Harnessing that freedom can get my creative juices flowing. No one ever has to see what you've done... just toss the results in the recycling bin, then turn your thoughts back to the issue at hand.

7. Put it all together, then throw stuff out. I do this with presentations all the time. It's somehow always easy to add a new slide. But then, there are too many... so, I try to take out half and see if the story still holds together. I keep eliminating until I reach the core point or message that I need to focus on. It's hard to let things go, but it almost always makes it better.

8. Mind map. There is some great software out there for mind mapping, which works wonderfully, but somehow there is something even more powerful about drawing it out by hand. A mind map starts with a central concept or idea. Then, you just free associate... (people much smarter than me have summarized the concept pretty well here:

9. Collage. We do it with customers, but you can just do it with yourself. Use images from the internet, magazines or anywhere else. Build a collage to capture the problem or idea. Very abstract and creative. Works for getting me "un-stuck".

10. Photo Diary. This is something I use for research, but I've also used just for myself. It kind of relates to #3, #5, and #9 above. But, it is a little more structured. Start by making yourself a "shot list" of both concrete and abstract things relating to what you are interested in thinking about. Then, actually complete the photo diary by taking or finding pictures for each. Here's an example that you can see where I did a photo diary for myself (it's in reverse chronological order). This particular example was just where I was exploring the experience of doing a photo diary...

11. Write a newspaper article. I got this idea first from a company activity a while ago... but the idea is pretty sound. The idea is that you write the story of your future success in the past tense from someone else's perspective. This requires that you come up with a vision and think about the implications and insights. And, it's kinda fun. Again, no one ever has to see it.

12. List X things. I do this all the time and it gets me moving. For example, I wanted to write a blog post today (I haven't done one in quite a long time). So, to get myself motivated, I put in the title the number 12. This was arbitrary, and I could change it at any time. But, the challenge was then to come up with 12 things. And I did! Try it. It is amazing... it nearly always works. (I like to use 3, 5, 7 and 10 too.)