10 surprising ways to transform your creative thinking

Silence, in fact, helps us sharpen our concentration, so it is useful for intense problem-solving or detail-oriented tasks. Creative thinking, on the other hand, requires the kind of ambient sonic buzz you might find in a coffee shop to promote broader thinking and new ideas.

So much so that tools like Coffitivity exist to bring that ambient cafe sound to your desktop:


4. Nothing is original: creativity is about making connections


I always thought creativity was about coming up with original ideas, but it turns out that creativity is just about making new connections between existing ideas. That’s pretty exciting, because it means creativity suddenly seems less scary: we can all connect things that already exist, can’t we?

Even Steve Jobs agrees with this theory of what creativity is:

“Creativity is simply connecting things. When you ask creatives how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t actually do it, they just saw something.

Another quote I like about this is from artist Austin Kleon:

“Every artist asks themselves the question: ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’

The honest artist answers: “I steal them”.

Research has even discovered that intelligence is something that comes from physical connections in the brain:

“Multiple regions of the brain, and the connections between them, were what mattered most for general intelligence.”


“The brain regions important for general intelligence are found in several specific places (orange regions shown on the brain on the left). Looking inside the brain reveals the connections between these regions, which are particularly important for general intelligence In the image on the right, the brain has been rendered partially transparent.The large orange regions in the image on the right are connections (like cables) that connect specific brain regions in the image on the left.

5. Traveling abroad can enhance your creative thinking

Research on this one is still weak, but one study found that for college students, those who traveled overseas performed better on creative thinking tests than those who stayed on their home campus. This particular study followed students who traveled from college in the United States to attend a summer study program in England.

In many countries, cultural norms differ significantly between different states or regions, so it follows that we might see an increase in creativity, even interstate travel.

6. Dim lighting makes us feel freer

I really like natural light in my workspace and get quite frustrated in dark rooms when I need to focus. However, I was surprised to find this research that proved that dim lighting can improve creative performance.

The researchers performed six different studies, all of which showed that dim lighting increased creativity. They found that even without noticing a difference in visibility, if the lighting around them was dim, participants were likely to be more creative. The reasoning came from the subconscious feeling of being more free to explore:

“…darkness elicits a sense of being free from restraints and triggers a risky, exploratory style of processing.”

For times when you can’t control the lighting around you, you can just think about being in the dark and it might have an effect:

Writer and actor John Cleese describes creativity as something that can be so elusive that you almost have to trap it with restraints.

“You have to create space limits, then you have to create time limits.”

One of my favorite examples of amazing creativity arising from constraints is an old story in which an author (often Ernest Hemingway, but the real authorship is debatable) bet his friends that he could write an entire story using just six words. Here is the result :

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”

9. A separate, messy desk can enhance your creativity

I’ve never been a fan of having a messy desk, but I’m starting to think I might need one. This research has proven that a disordered environment leads to more creative thinking. It also subconsciously encouraged attendees to be more drawn to new things than anything labeled as “classic.”

The study also found that a more orderly environment led participants to be more generous and choose healthier snacks than those in a messy environment. The answer may be to have two workspaces, for different types of work, as writer Austin Kleon does:


His digital desk in the background is where his analytical work takes place, while the foreground houses his messy analog desk for creative thinking tasks.

10. Being sleepy can make you more creative

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never felt particularly ready to work when I’m still awake. This period of coming out of sleep is called the hypnopompic state. We often find ourselves with strong persistent visual images of our dreams when we wake up from REM sleep, when most of our dreams occur. For this reason, many artists have coveted this awakening period to enhance their creative thinking.

Famous surrealist painter Salvador Dalí was known for using the hypnopompic state to help him generate creative ideas. He often took a nap in a chair, holding a spoon in his hand. Under the spoon, on the floor, was a tin plate. When he fell asleep, he would drop the spoon, and the rattling noise it made on the plate would wake him up, helping him to cling to those vivid images that occur in our dreams.


There’s a lot to take away here, and I probably missed other studies on how to improve your creative thinking. Changing one thing at a time in your process or work environment could eventually lead you to incorporate more into your day.

What works best for your creative thinking? Let us know in the comments.