Sunday, July 4, 2010

Creativity, Empathy, & Problem-Solving

When it comes to problem solving, I often find the best approach is to cultivate a garden rich with potential thought seeds, and to step into a different pair of shoes before you go outside. How to trigger such creativity and empathy? Below are a few catalysts for me: 

1. Look around.  Given that throughout the day the human brain constantly soaks up sights, sounds, words and passing thoughts (and probably only retains a small percentage of what we are exposed to), any random moment can trigger an association with something lying dormant, and an idea can be born.  For example, when I was 11, I went to London for the first time.  I took a train with my friend Louise and while waiting at the train station, all I remember was grey.  The train platform was gray, the train was gray and the sky was gray.  Ten years later, I was living in Cambridge, MA, and on my way to work one day, (on a similar train), everything looked the same.  They sky, the platform, and the train.  I instantly was reminded of my time in London, and I felt as if I was peering through my 11 year old eyes.  This thinking and feeling starting to lead me down different paths (or perhaps memory lane), and my creative juices started flowing.  Take away message?  When trying to think of different ways to look at an issue or solve an old problem, try looking around.  Photograph by Sebastiaan Bremer.

2.  Anecdotes and Quotes.  Sometimes, you just need to glean wisdom from others.  Quotes and anecdotes are great for this.  Magazines such as Real Simple and Oprah's O are chock full of famous quotes and constructive life lessons that you might just be able to apply to your own quandary.

3. Take your mind off the issue you are trying to solve.  Sometimes the best ideas come when you are not trying to find them.  Activities such as running are notorious for this.  As you focus on a repetitive task (ie; running), your brain is free to roam where it may, and just might trigger an answer to a question you've been pondering. 

To summarize - answers to the hardest questions are found when you cultivate an environment for creativity, and try to look at life by stepping into someone else's shoes.

What triggers your creativity?  And does being empathetic help you solve problems?


  1. For me, it's a no-brainer: MUSIC. Performing, listening, and even sometimes (for me it's more like very rarely) writing it! Especially since my day job requires such "left-brain" thinking, switching to something so opposite is like having an apéritif! And if you think about the Latin root of the word (to open), it becomes an even more poignant analogy. Whether it's a country song that helps you bounce around the room or a 16th century motet that gives you chills, the music that moves us is the music that can "trigger our creativity".

  2. Absolutely. I was talking to my friend Jeremy today who was solving business problems by referring to "sliders" in music. Awesome stuff AJ.