Creativity is quickly becoming one of the most highly valued traits of the 21st century, and according to a 2016 report from the World Economic Forum, it’s one of the top three skills employers will be looking for by 2020. A survey by IBM also found that 60% of CEOs believe creativity is the most important leadership quality today.
Given its increasing importance, you might be wondering whether there is anything you can do to foster creativity. One tool we all have at our disposal but perhaps don’t always use as effectively as we could is technology.
Although technology is sometimes viewed as an unwelcome distraction in educational settings and the workplace, it also has huge potential to help us think in new ways and stumble on original ideas.
So if you want to be more creative in your daily life, here are a few tips for using technology to think more imaginatively and innovatively, whether you’re a student, entrepreneur or CEO.
1. Tune in to the right distractions
Teachers and employers often bemoan the fact that technology is a distraction, and that’s because it can indeed be quite distracting. When it comes to being creative, however, research shows that distractions can actually be a good thing.
One study found that people with low latent inhibition, which is the ability to block out or ignore seemingly irrelevant stimuli, tend to have a richer mixture of thoughts in their working memory. This makes sense, because if your attention is constantly flitting from one thing to the next, whether it’s a conversation two tables over or the sound of children playing outside, your thoughts are bound to be more random than someone who is focusing on just one thing at a time.
But if you want to generate useful ideas, it’s important to tune in to the ‘right’ distractions. For example, if you’re trying to come up with ideas for a new blog post, playing scrabble on your phone might not be particularly useful, but reading Buzzfeed lists related to the topic you want to write about could be.
2. Try to be open to new things
We all know that uncomfortable feeling of opening our favourite app or website only to discover that its interface has been upgraded and it no longer looks same or functions exactly how it used to.
But although it’s human nature to feel uncomfortable with new things, one important characteristic of creative people is openness to new experiences, ideas and opportunities. So if you’re hoping to use technology as a tool for creativity, try not to get too comfortable with what you already know or close yourself off to new resources, apps and tools.
3. Blur the line between work and play
One important thing that creative people tend to do differently is blurring the line between work and play. While on the surface this might seem like a bad thing, understanding that work and fun don’t have to be mutually exclusive is actually the key to a better work/life balance.
Once you accept that you can have fun while you’re working, and also that it’s possible to have brilliant work-related ideas in your downtime, you’ll be more open to new ways of thinking and ideas. So rather than approaching technology with a “this is for work and this is for play” attitude, look for ways to use it creatively in all areas of your life, whether you’re at work, at home or on the go.
4. Use technology to put restrictions in place
We usually turn to technology when we want to make things easier on ourselves, but using it to impose restrictions can also be a good way to get our creative juices flowing.
Research shows that when we’re faced with too many options or look at something in terms of unlimited possibilities, we tend to become overwhelmed and actually end up thinking less creatively. So to avoid this, we sometimes need to limit our choices by putting a few restrictions in place.
Fortunately, there are lots of apps that can help you do this. For instance, you could use an app like My Minutes to impose a time-limit and try to come up with as many new ideas as possible or write a certain number of words within that time frame. Or you could use apps like The Brainstormer or Brainsparker to get prompts that restrict what you’re allowed to think about.
5. Balance privacy and sharing
When you start using technology as part of your creative process it’s a lot easier to share your work widely, but creativity can actually be stifled by over sharing, especially in its early stages. So think carefully about how much of your creativity you want to share with the world.
Research shows that the creative process tends to involve a period of “incubation” or time spent alone, during which your thoughts have a chance to wander freely. This is a good thing because for every good idea you come up with; there will be countless others that you don’t necessarily want others to see.
Additionally, while feedback can be valuable at times, group think can also stifle creativity and innovation, so it’s important to find the right balance between sharing ideas and collaborating, and setting personal boundaries.
6. Use technology to ask questions
You’ve probably heard the saying that there is no such thing as a stupid question, and when it comes to creativity this might be particularly true. When you think of a new idea, you’ve actually retrieved something from your memory and connected it to whatever topic you’re thinking about.
So if you need to spark a creative insight or idea, asking yourself questions, even if they seem silly, can help you to retrieve seemingly unrelated information from memory and look at things in a new light.
Of course, the more questions you ask about a topic the more ideas you’ll generate, so one excellent use for technology is generating and answering questions. Tools like MindMeister, Coggle, and Popplet can help you brainstorm and generate questions on just about any topic, and if you have a burning question you need answered there are also resources like Quora.
7. Find the right technology tools
Not every piece of tech will inspire you or spark your creativity, so you’ll have to spend time learning which technology tools would work best for you. For instance, you may find that TED Talks spark your curiosity and get you to ask interesting questions, or maybe you’ll discover that using headphones to create ambient noise helps you concentrate on the task at hand and think more creatively.
If you’re not sure what tools, apps or resources would best fit your needs, start by following tech influencers on Twitter, reading leading tech blogs like Mashable, Gizmodo and ZDNet, and taking advantage of programs or apps with free trials.
8. Have fun with it
Finally, if you want to reap the creative benefits of technology, try to have some fun with it. Researchers have found that humour can increase creative thinking and problem solving skills, because it helps you think more broadly and associate ideas and relationships more freely.
Another study found that kids who played more video games were more creative in tasks like drawing and writing stories, regardless of the types of games they played.
So don’t be afraid to watch that funny cat video on YouTube, spend a few minutes playing a video game or share that meme that made you laugh. Creativity isn’t something that can be forced, so the more you let go and have fun with it, the better your chances will be of thinking in new ways and stumbling on some of your most brilliant ideas yet.