12 Simple Ways to Unleash More Creative Thinking

1. Regularly consume media outside your normal reading routine: magazines, TV shows, websites, blogs, music, etc.  This will let you temporarily immerse yourself into someone else's world.  For a quick field trip, just visit the periodicals section fo your local library or spend time looking at the covers of the magazines in an airport shop.

2. Maintain close connections with colleagues and friends who work in disciplines other than your own.  Check in with them periodically and ask them what they are reading, thinking about, etc. On Twitter?  Build a network of loose connections by following people from/with diverse disciplines and interests.

3. Become a good Web explorer and spend at least 30 minutes every 2-3 weeks visiting new sites, as well as returning to favorite sites to see what’s new.  Subscribe to electronic newsletters and become a good scanner, reading them quickly in a search for interesting tidbits.

4. Force yourself (and others) to think differently by placing constraints on the question you are exploring.  Example: How can we do 10% more next year while using 10% less money to do so?  Constraints cause you to automatically shift your thinking outside the limits of the more mundane question.

5. Similarly, use the “random word” technique to inspire new ideas: (1) take any area where you are looking for ideas (example: conferences); (2) add in a random noun (example: camera); (3) force the two words together and create a new question to explore: What interesting ideas can emerge when we bring together conferences and camera?  Possible answers: give participants an instant camera to create a photo wall during the event.  Capture all attendees photos digitally as they arrive on-site and create an on-line directory of attendees.

6. During one of the breaks you have at a regular board (or staff) meeting, give people 15-30 minutes, ask them to pair up, and offer them a compelling question to ponder together over a cup of coffee or short walk.  Frame the question in the most interesting and provocative language possible to inspire more creative thinking about the question.

7.  Hold meetings in rooms and locations that foster creativity—no windowless hotel conference rooms allowed!  Consider grade schools, galleries and museums, outdoor spaces, etc.  Always select spaces and manage the environment so it encourages and supports the type of thinking you are trying to generate.

8. Invite “wild cards,” to participate in your meetings and strategy sessions.  Wild cards are people not tied to your organization who are good thinkers with contributions that could benefit you and your organization.

9. Spend time with others as a group working on a bulk mailing or otherwise “tedious and labor intensive” activity.  You’ll be amazed at the conversations and ideas that occur while doing the task.  A great deal of research validates the value of not focusing on the issue at hand as an effective strategy for generating new and powerful ideas.

10. Post a Compelling Question of the Week (or month) in your office break area.  Put it on butcher block paper and hang some markers next to it, so people can share their ideas.  Discuss the postings in a quick stand-up meeting (15 minutes or less).  Or do the same thing in an electronic discussion area.

11. Create an “Experimental Fund” that provides seed money and incentive for staff, committees, etc. to experiment with new projects and see what works out.  The equivalent of a corporations research and development fund, this nominal financial support can foster the type of ongoing experimentation needed for innovation to occur.

12.  Use the power of metaphors to inspire new thinking.  Let’s say you are trying to increase the community among members of your organization.  Apply different metaphors to the concept of community and see what new ideas might emerge from subsequent discussion:  community as the roots of a tree, community as the five Olympic rings, community as a spider web, community as the foundation of a house, etc.

What's a simple way you could add to the list to make it a baker's dozen set of tips?