Excerpted from an interview with David Kord Murray, author of Plan B and Borrowing Brilliance. The final segment will be posted on Friday, April 27.
AI What are some basic mind exercises people can do to enhance their ability to think creatively?
DKM: Well, of course there are a few things that you can and should do consciously. Build your foundation by defining the problem, then to go out and gather your materials by asking “who’s got a problem like this and how are they handing it?” Then you take on the process of putting ideas together in creative re-combinations, then look at the positives and negatives and keep making enhancements. This is all on the conscious level of the steps you take.
But you can also teach your subconscious to do it, and that’s when you tap into some incredibly powerful creative solutions. The subconscious is like a parallel processing computer. It can be gathering materials and making combinations in many different ways all in a flash.
In order to listen to the subconscious, you have to quiet your mind. Everybody usually refers to the shower experience, the moment of saying “a-HA!” and having an insight while taking a shower. I began to wonder why it was so common as to be bizarre, and then it became clear. The shower is one of the few times in the day when you’re not thinking. We need to cultivate the ability to pause so the creative mind can pop up and say, “here’s an idea for you.”
One exercise is to take a nice, long walk every day. It turns out when you study the biographical material that most creative people are walkers. I visitedDarwin’s home in theUKwhich features something he called “the thinking path.” Every afternoon he took a walk on the thinking path as a regular habit, and this is where he came up with a lot of his ideas.
A long walk calms your mind, and you can stop thinking. I like to go on a walk with three subjects in mind. I tell myself “you can control the subject, but not the content. The content is free-flowing.” But I consciously pick three subjects, say a chapter of the new book I’m writing, a project at work, and the girl I’m dating. The next step is to think about only one of the subjects for five minutes, then switch to the next subject. You’re telling your brain what to think about.
Once you’ve developed the ability to change subjects or trains of thought consciously, then trick the mind by putting a “blank” subject in there…a pause. Stopping thinking is a hard thing to do, we all know this. Buddhist monks study for decades. But this is one way to fast-track it and give the subconscious a little of the space it needs.
The world is ruled by randomness. Your job as a creative thinker is to take and shape that randomness into solutions to the problems you define as meaningful.