In this fascinating Scientific American article, the authors (Oren Shapira and Nira Liberman) tell us that creativity is not bound by the sole innate characteristics of an individual and can in fact be changed based on situation and context.
Consider this experiment: 2 groups of participants from the Indiana University were asked to list as many different modes of transportation as possible. The first group was told that the task had been developed by Indiana University students studying in Greece and the second group was told instead that the task had been developed by Indiana University students studying in Indiana. The first group was able to generate more numerous and original modes of transportation that the second group.
How can such a minute detail have any significant influence on creativity?!
This phenomenon is referred as “Construal Level Theory (CLT) of Psychological Distance”, i.e. anything that we do not experience as occurring now and here. Attempting to take another person’s perspective or by thinking of a question as if it were unreal and unlikely, also fall in to that category of “psychological distant”.
According to CLT, psychological distance affects how we mentally represent things, where distant things are represented in an abstract way. Once classified as abstract (vs. concrete), it seems that the mind get an extra boost of creativity in solving or manipulating those abstract things.
Studies have also shown that projecting an event into the remote future can enhance creativity. In a series of experiments examining how temporal distance affects performance of insight and creativity tasks, participants were asked to imagine their lives a year later (distant future) or the next day (near future), and then to imagine working on a task on that day in the future. Once again, participants who imagined a distant future were more creative and insightful.
Finally, evidence shows that study participants were more successful at solving problems when they believe that they were unlikely to encounter the full task.
These findings have interesting practical implications.
One can take simple steps to increase creativity by:
- traveling (in person or just thinking about it) to faraway places,
- envisioning distant future and
- considering improbable alternatives to reality.
So, next time you are stuck on a problem that requires creativity, just picture yourself in a faraway place, in a far future, dreaming up of unlikely scenarios.
Now, if you do this in a shower, there will be no stopping you!