Spotlights

Looking for a creative spark? Sawyer says practice lights the flame

Stuck in a rut? Trying to come up with something new?

Keith Sawyer, the Morgan Distinguished Professor in Educational Innovations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Education, has tips for you.

Sawyer, author of "Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity," shared with Inc.com his steps for cultivating the creative spark in the article "25 Ways to Be More Creative."

Among Sawyer's tips for exercising your creativity muscles:

  • Become an expert. "Successful creators don't just like knowledge, they thirst for it," Sawyer says in his book. "They can't stop asking questions, and they always go beyond what they've learned from teachers and books. Important: Get a mentor.
  • Play and pretend. Time away from work allows the mind to roam, making space for creativity to grow. Try something new. Juggling?
  • Generate a lot of ideas. Play mind games, such as listing unusual uses for household objects or making up new words.
  • Fuse ideas. Combine things that don't usually belong together. Try this: Go to page 56 in two books and find the fifth sentence. Next, make up a story that explains the connection between the two.
  • Choose the best ideas. From among your new ideas, pick the best ones. Trust your intuition. Go with the simple and elegant ideas that are robust, meaning they can stand up to adversity. Edit your list of ideas. Get a devil's advocate who can point out the reasons why your idea won't work.
  • Make something out of your ideas. Draw a picture, make a collage, build something with Silly Putty or Legos. Sawyer says he keeps a bag of Legos in his briefcase so that he has them for his down times.

Sawyer, a research psychologist, joined Carolina's School of Education this year, coming from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. He studies creativity, innovation and learning, with a focus on collaborating groups and teams.

His research is aimed at answering such questions as: Which teams are more creative? What team processes result in greater creativity? Which groups are more likely to contribute to more effective learning?

In his current research, Sawyer is studying how teaching and learning are organized in professional schools of art and design, with the goal of identifying features that can be used to design more effective learning environments.