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.

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.


what is your humor persona?

Humor is a skill that can be learned. And when used correctly, it is a superpower that can be your greatest asset for building a happier, healthier and more productive life.  See for yourself...

you might also be interested in...

Deliver Stand-Out Innovation with this Stand-Up Technique

By Andrew Tarvin | January 13, 2009

Looking to innovate holistically, quickly, and in a way that actually pleases your customers?  Take a bit from stand-up comedy […]

Read More
humor awards banner

2018 Corporate Humor Awards Winners

By Andrew Tarvin | May 5, 2018

After much debate and many cups of coffee / tea, the Humor That Works Award board has selected the winners […]

Read More

Team Building Activity – Telephone Pictionary

By Andrew Tarvin | July 6, 2011

Have to organize a team building activity and don’t know where to start? Want to include fun team building games […]

Read More

3 thoughts on “Want to Be More Creative? Be More Obvious”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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,

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top