Coming up with original ideas — thinking outside the box, if you will — is hard to do, even for the highest-achieving among us.
Here are the best tips.
Start thinking about lateral thinking. “Lateral thinking is when an assumption that most people believe is true is challenged, leading to a new line of thought that would probably not have been considered otherwise,” explains Anirudh Joshi. He suggests considering what folks thought about the PC when it first came out — a toy for geeks that wouldn’t do anything helpful. But people who challenged that assumption and bet on the PC became legends: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and the rest.
This, by the way, is what billionaire investor Peter Thiel trains readers to do in his new book “Zero to One.” His favourite question: What is one thing you believe to be true that most do not?
Open up your experiences. “Your thinking will always be limited to your own opinions and experience,” says Alexandra Damsker. “So expand your worldview, experience, and opinions as much as possible.”
Her recommendations: Listen when people speak, rather than waiting to talk. Give your opinions, engage in arguments, and revise your perspectives. Seek out people with different backgrounds than yours. Take an art class, a comedy class, or go to concerts you’d usually skip.
“Be in your world,” she says.
Read aggressively. “You just won’t have the time to broaden your thinking by experiencing things all by yourself,” says Thyag Sundaramoorthy. “You have to draw from other’s experiences as well — and that’s why books are written.”
The key, however, is to not just reinforce your already great opinions, but to refine them through taking in the other view.
“If you are an atheist, read about Eastern spirituality,” he says. “If you are a strong believer, read [outspoken evolutionary biologist] Richard Dawkins.”
Journal. Writing down your thoughts is a great tool for problem solving,” says Vinu Cherian. “Every journal session I have, I leave amazed with the answers to tough problems I can come up with.”
Journaling — reflecting on your experiences, disclosing your feelings, and finding meaning in them — has been shown to improve your “working memory,” or the number of things you can hold in your mind at a time, which should help with the lateral thinking. A bonus: Only 15 minutes of journaling can make you better at your job.
Study great minds. “Choose people who embody what you are trying to become and study them,” says Roy Bauman, Jr. “How do they make their decisions? What do they believe in? Why do they act the way they do?”
Studying those lives can teach you patterns of success and expand your perspectives. We’ve done some homework for you: Consider how people as diverse as Teddy Roosevelt, Sheryl Sandberg, and Stephen Hawking engage the world.
Learn to think ahead. “People that are great at solving problems and, most importantly, preventing them are great at thinking ahead,” Bauman says.
His recommendation: Start playing chess, since it teaches you to think a few turns ahead in the game and in life. There’s a reason 28 of the world’s standout executives also happen to be phenomenal chess players.
Stay humble. “I’ve seen way too many pseudo-intellectuals vomiting out pages of facts and figures in an attempt to convince others of their intellectual ability,” says Quah Xin Ze. “Intelligence is something you wish to gain for the sake of improving yourself and not trying to make a point to your peers.”
And research shows that the more certain you are of your perspective, the less you’ll be able to receive new ideas — closing yourself off that lateral thinking.