4 Techniques to Boost Creativity

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” ― John Steinbeck

This is part II of my blog on Creativity, so if you haven’t read the part I, I recommend you start there first. In my first post, I shared some common myths that hold people back from discovering their true creative potential.

I love John Steinbeck’s quote – once you start to nurture your creative potential, you will become an idea machine and unstoppable force. I can attest to that from my own transformational journey. But it does require re-training your brain to create a “diversity of thought” in your thinking processes. You have to change how you approach problems and more importantly, develop a habit to pause and ask – “how can it be done differently?”

Internalize this mantra – “speed kills creativity.”

Good news is that creativity is a skill, and just like every other skill, it can be learned and developed. So, here are four of my favorite techniques to help you get started:

  1. Try New Experiences
    • Creativity, by the very definition of it, is coming up with novel ways to express something or solve problems. To come up with new creative solutions, you need to rewire your brain to see things from a different perspective. Remember Steve Job’s famous quote “Creativity is Connecting the Dots.” Solutions are often right in front of us, but our approach and mental models limit us from seeing them. When faced with a challenge, look for inspiration from adjoining fields, professions or professionals who may have dealt with similar situation. To connect the dots between previous unknowns you need to broaden your knowledge and adopt a beginner’s mind, which will help you develop new perspectives and mental models. Best way to accomplish this is by trying new experiences, learning new skills and developing expertise in new disciplines. Research shows that creative ideas always emerge from intersection of two or more fields. So, learn new skills, take online classes, invest in those hobbies you have been postponing. If you want to take it next level, try new experiences and skills that make you uncomfortable.
  2. Be Curious
    • Everybody know how to work a toilet; how many know how toilet works? To become creative, you need to be curious about the world around you. How things work? Why it is the way it is? Can it be done differently? When faced with a challenge, be curious how someone else might approach this problem? Creative individuals are always curious about the world around them. They seek inspiration in everyday objects. Contrary to popular belief, they are very attuned to the world around them and are perpetual knowledge seekers. Unfortunately, the universe of knowledge embedded in everyday life is very vast, so getting started can be overwhelming. I recommend you start with what’s around you. It could be the products, processes, data or mental models used in your profession. You do not need to master everything but be curious to develop better understanding of them. You cannot challenge status-quo if you don’t understand how it got there. One of my favorite curiosity tools is asking why 5 times. Most problems often surface as the symptoms of the underlying disease. People rush to fix the symptoms, but problem keeps changing form. But, if you pause and ask probing “why” questions five times, like peeling layers of onion, soon you will get to the disease. When the final solution emerges, people often say “wow, that’s so creative.” But in reality, you just exercised curiosity.
  3. Don’t be Afraid of Failures
    • “The only way to come up with good ideas is to try lots of them, while knowing that most will fail.” – David Kelly. You cannot come up with creative solution without trying new things and when you try new things, you are bound to fail. But most of us carry an insurmountable fear of failure. It starts at home from early childhood – “don’t do this”, “don’t touch that”, which magnifies many folds when you go to school where you are publicly reprimanded for failing. When you go to work, you are expected to know everything and are told “failure is not an option”. This years of conditioning makes us afraid of failures. Fear of looking stupid or embarrassed in front of others makes people stick to tried and trusted paths, which produces the same old results. If you want to be creative and produce exponential results, you have to learn to be comfortable with failures. I know it’s a very difficult ask, so I recommend you start where the stakes are not so high and gradually up your game. You can start with cooking something new. Cooking is a great creative outlet. Know that failure is never an end all game. You learn the most from your failures, and often the ideas that fail in one situation become the solution for another.
  4. Make Time to Relax and Have fun
    • “The idea came to me in the shower.” You may have heard this statement or some version of it. Well, there is a lot of truth to that. It has to do with how human brain has evolved over time. In very simple terms, our thinking processes bounce back and forth between conscious and subconscious pasts of the brain, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Our primordial need of survival has shaped our conscious brain to process limited and immediate input of information. This mechanism help you focus and evade life threats. Under threat or stress, your brain gets flooded with cortisol, which is an evolutionary design to limit sensory inputs to get you into fight or flight response mode. While some stress is good and helps you focus, chronic stress is the enemy of creativity. Relaxation has the opposite effect; it encourages information flow and idea exchange. Humans are blessed with a large prefrontal cortex and hippocampus that allows subconscious brain to process vast amount of information. This is where the creative magic happens. When you are in a relaxed state, whether in shower, sleeping, meditating or vacationing, you pause your conscious from high jacking all mental resources and give your subconscious brain the opportunity do its magic. Fun often induces the state of relaxation. It suppresses cortisol and floods the brain with serotonin that lets your guards down. So, make time to relax, have fun and get away from the routine. My favorite technique is to maintain a list of things that help you relax and find ways to do more of them.

If you practice there four techniques, you will be amazed to discover creative genius hidden inside you. Now I want to hear and learn from you. Share what works for you. What is your favorite activity or tool to get your creative juices flowing?

Importance of Creativity in Times of Crisis

We are living through unprecedented and challenging times. The COVID-19 pandemic is going to bring many long-term changes to our lives, businesses, economy, and for some of us “what is really important in life”. There are many unknowns and uncertainties ahead, but one thing I know for sure is that we will make it through. Not only we will make it through, we will come out stronger on the other side.

If you read history, this is not the first time we have faced this type of challenge. There have been many pandemics, wars, economic collapses, depressions, and market cycles but we, as a human race collectively, always manage to come out stronger after every calamity. The reason why we bounce back is the power of human creativity. I am a strong believer of human ingenuity – our ability to think, reflect, collaborate and come up with novel solutions that make us even stronger and better. This is the one quality that sets us apart from all other life form on earth. It is the number one reason why we, humans, has come to dominate the planet in a blink of an eye. We are at the top of the pyramid because we are creative.

Unfortunately, creativity is also a very misunderstood skill. If you ask people “what come to mind when you hear the word creativity”, they will invariably say things like painting, sculpture, music, theater etc. Most people subconsciously associate creativity with disciplines of arts. But this is a very limiting and, in many ways, a very misleading view of creativity. This narrow view of creativity is the number one reason why many people fail to realize their creative potential.

Creativity is “use of imagination to do things differently.” Creativity is always very intentional and purposeful. Artists use imagination to find new ways to portray their subject, similarly scientists use imagination to find new ways to solve the problems, doctors use imagination to find cures, engineers use imagination to build stronger and more powerful machines, and lawyers use creative argument to persuade jury. Creativity is a very uniquely human trait. Our brains are wired to imagine and invent things. Imagination is as innate to us as speech or sight. So, if you can imagine, you are creative. Regardless whether you are an artist, scientist, engineer, doctor, lawyer, frontline worker, farmer, accountant, analyst, or any other profession, you can find creative ways to solve problems. Invention of light bulb was as creative as the portrait of Mona Lisa.

Creativity also plays a vital role in personal success. Let me give you the secret to success: your success, your net worth, your accomplishments are directly proportionate to your ability to solve problems creatively. All of us face problems – in our personal and professional life. We face problems in simple tasks like driving to work and we face even bigger problems when we get to work. As a matter of fact, you are hired to solve problems. Future Job Report published by Word Economic Form ranks Problem solving, Critical Thinking and Creativity as the top three desired skills in the workforce. People who succeed by leaps and bounds are those who combine all three and find creative solutions to everyday problems. These people advance in career, create successful businesses and produce noteworthy works of art. More creatively you solve a problem – more handsomely the world rewards you for it.

COVID-19 crisis had expose us to a new set of problems. Scientists are racing against the clock to develop accurate tests and preventative vaccines. Those of us who are not in the field of medicine, we are facing very different challenges. We need human creativity and ingenuity more than ever. It all starts with you recognizing that you have more creative potential than you think.

Creative thinking is a skill and just like any other skill, it can be developed. In my next post, I will share some tools to sharpen your creative thinking skills. In the meantime, stay well and healthy.

Can an Employee Idea Transform the Company?


Who invented frappuccino? – A Starbucks employee in Southern California trying to beat the heat without giving up the caffeine boost.

Who invented iPod’s circular dial? – An Apple employee playing with a number lock at home.

Who invented furniture in a box? – An Ikea employee who couldn’t re-load the furniture back into the truck after a photo shoot.

Who invented masking tape? – A 3M employee who saw car painters struggling to mask parts and how much effort it took to paint in straight lines.

Who invented the world’s most popular news aggregator? – A Google employee who was interested in global news after the September 11 attacks.

Who invented pointy nose bullet trains? – An automotive engineer fishing at a local pond who saw a Kingfisher diving to catch a fish without making a splash.

Okay, I will stop right here. You get the idea.

Are you capturing your employees’ ideas? Do your employees submit ideas that could benefit your company and customers? Have you created means for your employees to submit ideas? Are you celebrating employee ideas to encourage more ideas?

Companies like 3M, Apple, Google, GoreTex, Pixar, Procter & Gamble, Ritz-Carlton, Starbucks, Toyota, WholeFoods, and countless others have built vast empires by empowering their employees to submit and develop ideas. You too can do the same.

All you have to do is “ask.” Create a formal program to solicit ideas from employees.

Internet of Things: The Next Era of Computing Innovations

It was a perfect evening for barbeque. We had a few friends over for dinner, and I had bought really nice rib-eye steaks for the occasion. I heated the grill to 400F and slapped on the steaks. Five minutes later, I opened the grill to flip the steaks and…NO GAS! ARGH! I was so upset with myself. With tail tucked, I excused myself to buy gas, but on the way, a thought occurred to me, “Why didn’t the gas cylinder tell me that it needed a refill?” Where is the Internet of Things when you really need it?Internet of Things

I am sure some entrepreneur is already working on this idea. This is not a futuristic dream. Soon my gas distributor will know when my cylinder is about to run out, and he will replace it with a new one without me lifting a finger. Needs like this, from everyday conveniences to saving patients’ lives via remote sensors, are fueling a new era of Internet innovations—The Internet of Things. This era will be the next phase of computing advances where smart sensors will bring artificial things to life and have them communicate with each other.

The first phase of the Internet, Web 1.0, was the Internet of information, which democratized information and gave birth to eCommerce. The second phase of the Internet, Web 2.0, was the Internet of People, which gave rise to Social and Mobile computing. The third phase of the Internet, Web 3.0, is the Internet of Things (IoT), where living and non-living things will communicate with each other to form a web of artificial intelligence.

Some analysts predict that the Internet of Things industry will top $11 trillion by 2020. Continue reading

Where Do Ideas Come From?

My nine-year old daughter was reading the story of how Newton discovered the Theory of Gravity when her curiosity led her to ask me the age old question – “Dad, where do ideas come from?”

The story of how Sir Isaac Newton discovered the Theory of Gravity portrays a very romantic image of where great ideas come from. You can almost visualize Newton sitting down under the apple tree, contemplating the universe, when suddenly—boink! An apple fell on his head—bam…Newton discovers the Theory of Gravity. But is this a true story? Do ideas really fall from the sky? Are ideas merely a chance of serendipity? Do we get our best ideas when we are not thinking or trying?

Where Do Ideas Come From

It’s a nice feel good story, but sadly, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Newton did not discover gravity because an apple fell on his head. Newton had been working on the gravitational pull and orbital paths for a number of years before he published his Theory of Gravity in his work Principia. The fall of an apple was simply the context he used to explain his discovery. Newton did not discover the Theory of Gravity because an apple fell on his head, but rather because he was actively looking for ideas to explain the effects of gravity. Nobody knows for sure whether an apple really was involved in his epiphany, but what is definitely known is that Newton got this idea because he was looking for ideas to explain his observations.

Ideas come to those who look for ideas.

Ideas are the byproduct of your imagination. Continue reading

How to Become a Chief Innovation Officer

Have you ever wondered how someone becomes a Chief Innovation Officer? More importantly, “How can I become one?”

Chief Innovation Officer is the hottest new career track that is quickly making its way into the mainstream business lexicon. CEOs across all industries rank innovation among the top three business priorities and consider innovation critical for future success. The most notable change in recent years, however, is the growing interest in innovation in the service industries, as well as in public welfare entities, including government and non-profit organizations. Globalization is pressuring all businesses to innovate their products and services on an ongoing basis.

The heightened interest in continuous innovation has created a growing demand for innovation champions. Ironically, these professionals are in high demand and short supply. If your company does not already have an innovation program and an innovation leader, consider yourself lucky. You have the opportunity of a lifetime to exploit. In this article, I will share how you can position yourself to become the future Chief Innovation Officer by creating and leading an innovation program.
How to Become a Chief Innovation Officer
The best career advice I ever received was “If you want to become a leader, start acting like one today.” Continue reading

Can’t afford to pay for employees’ college tuition? Here’s an alternative

Starbucks is in the news again. It is already known for many of its great employee benefits, but this one struck a chord with the media—Starbucks is paying the tuition for its employees’ college educations. This program is wonderful, and it benefits the company at multiple levels. First, it keeps employees with the company for the time they are finishing their degrees. Second, it creates stronger employee loyalty and pride for the company, which increases retention and attracts new talent. Third, education prepares Starbucks employees to take on new roles and increases their potential to do more. Fourth, and perhaps most important, it improves customer service. Starbucks is in the hospitality business. It relies on its employees to deliver its services and the repeat business Starbucks enjoys hinges on the quality of service its employees deliver. This program is an excellent stride to ensuring that Starbucks employees are engaged and deliver excellent service. If you are in a service industry, you should also consider a similar program. BUT…what if you don’t have money to fund college education for your employees?

Stash of Cash
Not every company is fortunate to have the amount of capital required to fund such employee development programs. If you are such a company, please don’t be discouraged. The most profound discovery Continue reading

Top Innovation Management Software

Idea Capturing and Management Systems play an important role in the success of an innovation program. In my book The Bright Idea Box and in public, I speak about creating a bottom-up innovation program, in which employees submit ideas that benefit the business and customers, and the number one question I get in response is: “Which software program or tool do you recommend?” The concept of capturing employee ideas is not entirely new, and the demand for such solutions is growing by the day. Innovation speakers, myself included, and industry experts are fueling the demand for such solutions. Many smart entrepreneurs have realized the potential of this and have already developed solutions to serve this market.

In 2012, when I was looking for such a solution, I found more than fifty software solutions, with a very wide range of capabilities—some were very mature, some promising up-and-coming solutions, and some very primitive products. I’ve looked at most of them and reviewed the list of features and functionalities for all of them. My evaluation criteria is based on some of the key features and functionalities I listed in The Bright Idea Box, so I will not go into the details of these features and functionalities, but I cannot help myself to repeat that the tool must appeal to employees. The design of the tool must encourage employees to visit the site and want to submit ideas. You may have your own organizational needs, but do not forget that the most overriding need is for “new ideas.” Do not select tools based on your needs, but rather on how they will entice employees to submit new ideas.

Here’s a list of the Top Ten Vendors that, in my opinion, offer quality enterprise grade solutions. I revised this list in April 2014. Disclaimer: I have no affiliations with any of these vendors. I have opinions about these solutions, and this list is based on the work I did to narrow down the list of quality vendors.

Top Innovation Management Solutions (Alphabetical):

  1. Brain Bank www.brainbankinc.com
  2. Bright Idea www.brightidea.com
  3. Coras Works www.corasworks.net
  4. Hype www.hypeinnovation.com
  5. ID8 Systems www.id8systems.com
  6. Imaginatik www.imaginatik.com
  7. Induct www.inductsoftware.com
  8. Innovation Cast www.innovationcast.com
  9. Kindling www.kindlingapp.com
  10. Nosco www.nos.co
  11. Qmarkets www.qmarkets.net
  12. Spigit www.spigit.com


If you have any questions or want more detailed review of any of these products, feel free to drop me a line at Jag@IdeaEmployee.com


Want to be Innovative? Stop hiring employees…

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others – African proverb

Ok I admit it, the title is misleading. It should read: “if you want to be innovative, stop hiring employees and start hiring partners.”

All those who manage a budget for a department or company, know that the employees are the most expensive line item in their budget. What’s not known is how effective and efficient is that most expensive line item. A recent Gallup poll reported employee engagement at an all-time low. Since 2009, employee engagement has hovered around 30%. In these competitive times where businesses are looking for 1-2% competitive advantage, 30% employee engagement is like having a sinkhole in the backyard. When customers interact with disengaged employees, no amount of strategy or sophistication will help sustain the business.

Employees as Partners

Steve Jobs turned around two dying companies from near bankruptcy to today’s most valued companies. His secret: believe in employees and engage them on a higher level. Even after his death, Apple still echoes his message: Continue reading

What is Innovation?

Creativity is about thinking new things. Innovation is about doing new things – Theodore Levitt.

Innovation is combining new and existing ideas to create something new that adds value to the marketplace. It could emerge as a new product or selling the existing products new ways.

Most people associate Innovation with Invention. While the two are related, you don’t have to invent something to be innovative. This association paralyzes many individuals and companies, who never set foot on the road to become innovative. People are often looking for that “aha moment”, the “genius idea”, or that “clever product” that will captivate the market. In the process, they ignore the importance of adding value to existing products and service. Take Toyota for example. Toyota is recognized among the top most innovative companies, but Toyota did not invent the car. Similarly, Netflix did not invent the DVD rental business, but changed the way we rent and watch movies. Starbucks did not invent the café, but revived the coffee industry. All of these companies changed their respective industries without inventing the core product.
Innovation and invention are two different things Continue reading