Want to Be More Creative? Be More Obvious


What’s the first thing people say when it’s time to be creative? “Let’s think outside the box.”  But for those of you who have sat through countless brainstorming sessions, you know that doesn’t always work.  In fact, in many cases, it leads you further away from solving the problem.

photo by gastonmag

What should you do instead? Follow the advice Patricia Ryan Madsen gives in Improv Wisdom: “Try thinking inside the box [just] look more carefully.”

What does that really mean? Be more obvious.

The Problem with Outside the Box Thinking

Thinking outside the box has it’s value–when a problem has never come up before or something 100% original is required.  But for the other 90% of the time, you don’t need the most “original” solution, you need the right one.  And so often the right one is sitting right in front of you, you just can’t see it because you’re too busy looking for a box to think outside of.

Creativity through the Obvious

Instead, start with what is most obvious to you, because that is most likely not what’s most obvious to the other people sitting around the room.  We all heard growing up that “Everyone is special.”  And as hokie as that may sound, it’s true.  No other person on this planet has had the same life as you–they didn’t have the same parents, the same childhood, or the same schooling (unless you have a twin that you did everything with, in which case you’d probably be awesome on $10,000 Pyramid).

But that experience gives you a certain level of uniqueness, and that uniqueness alone provides you with the skills to “think differently.”  If you pay attention to your thoughts and trust your instincts, your ideas will be different and creative to other people, even if they seem obvious to you.

See Obvious in Action

Still clinging to your box so you can look outside of it?  Go to a comedy club and watch some stand-up comedy. Comedians are in the business of pointing out the “obvious,” but they do it in a way that is unique to their perspective, from their experiences, and that makes us laugh.   We all know that going to the dentist can be unpleasant, but to hear Bill Cosby tell us about his experience is unique, creative, and uproariously funny.

So the next time you need some “creative problem solving” try being a little more obvious and see if you don’t find the solution right in front of you, nicely wrapped up with a bow, sitting in a box.

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{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Drew January 12, 2010, 2:46 pm

    Thanks guys!

    @Patricia–thanks for putting it so well in your book, it really is about looking inside the box.

    @Karl–You’re right, starting with the obvious and molding it will lead to much faster and better results than trying to think of the perfect idea.

  • Karl Staib - Work Happy Now January 11, 2010, 6:14 pm

    It’s funny how people think that they need to come up with the perfect idea that knocks everyone’s socks off. This of course never happens.

    Taking the time to start with the obvious and keep on molding it until something good starts to come out is the key. Of course we want the quick fix, but this also never happens. We have to share, try, fix, and try again. Eventually we’ll get the solution that works best.

  • Patricia Ryan Madson January 11, 2010, 4:10 pm

    I’m delighted that you chose this concept today. I think the notion of “being obvious” is the single most useful and underrated idea for the would be creative. I’m starting two large classes of improvisers at Stanford tomorrow and I’ll send a link to your blog entry. You make the case very well.
    Warm thanks for mentioning Improv Wisdom again in your column. May ;your new decade be filled with agreeable improvisations,
    Warm regards,

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