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Hynes Blog

4 Science-Backed Ways Engineers Can Boost Creativity

Posted by Cody Hohmann on April 19, 2017

Hynes-Creativity-for-Engineers.jpg“Let’s schedule a brainstorm meeting to come up with some new ideas.”

How many times have you heard this phrase? We’ve all been subject to brainstorm meetings, and often the result is a lackluster, unfocused plan. Why does this happen?

The answer is simple—you can’t schedule creativity.

Research tells us that the most creative time of day is immediately after sleep, but chances are you won’t want to hold a meeting in your bedroom. What’s more important is the fact that every person is different.

Creativity for engineers is particularly important, as it’s needed to develop new products, solve problems and maintain your organization’s competitive edge. 

So how can you boost creativity and break away from meeting doldrums? Below are four proven strategies to help engineers generate creative thinking.

1. Try “Brainwriting” Instead of Brainstorming 

Traditional brainstorming sessions are not as effective as individual thought. In a 3M Company study, the results showed that four individuals working separately yielded 30 to 40 percent more ideas than four people working together. Brainstorming inhibits your ability to think of your own ideas, and instead causes you to assimilate to others’.

Try writing ideas first and then talking about each idea after, an idea offered by Leigh Thompson and Loran Nordgren, professors at the Kellogg School. To avoid a popularity contest, she also recommends keeping each idea anonymous until they have been discussed.

2. Take A Walk

Walking increases blood flow to the brain. We’ve probably all heard this by now. However, there are a few other reasons you should consider taking a stroll when you need a creative boost.

Walking requires only a small amount of attention, creating leeway for our minds to drift. This, in turn, can put us in a mental state that studies have linked to innovation and insight.

Additionally, walking creates an “unadulterated feedback look,” described by Ferris Jabr in The New Yorker:

“When we stroll, the pace of our feet naturally vacillates with our moods and the cadence of our inner speech; at the same time, we can actively change the pace of our thoughts by deliberately walking more briskly or by slowing down. 

3. Doodle

Have you ever been caught doodling in school, or a company meeting only to be scolded by a teacher or boss? Well, it turns out that doodling can facilitate thinking. In fact, companies like Dell, Zappos and Disney encourage employees to doodle on the job—and even pay consultants to help them.

“I can’t tell you how important it is to draw," says Sunni Brown (@SunniBrown), author of The Doodle Revolution and CEO of creative consultancy Sunni Brown Ink. Brown teaches "applied visual thinking" to coders, designers and even journalists because "it gets the neurons to fire and expands the mind." 

Brown also suggests that the best time to doodle is during lessons or presentations.

4. Add A Little Ambient Noise

Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign tested the effects of varying levels of noise on participants’ creative thinking skills and found that, “those exposed to a moderate level of ambient noise significantly out-performed those in other groups.”

These methods are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bolstering creative thought, but they are a great way to help encourage people to find new ways of solving complex problems.

Looking for more time to be creative? Download The Modern Engineer’s Guide to Getting It Done and make the most out of every minute.

Download the Guide

Topics: engineering